Tagged: Media Industries

My Spring 2015 Classes at Queens College

The spring semester started yesterday at CUNY, and as luck would have it, it came just after a historic significant snowfall that receded in time for the first day of instruction. Also, as luck would have it, I teach two classes on Wednesday this semester at Queens College. This is a welcome relief from the past three semesters: I’ve either taught only one class or have had to make an hour-long, ten-mile slog on multiple days, at rush hour, and in peak-travel direction. It will be much more pleasant to have to only travel one day a week and at midday.

With the semester officially underway, I’m lifting my self-imposed embargo on publicizing the syllabi for my two Queens College classes.

Media Technologies

For the last five semesters, I’ve taught the evening section of this introductory course on the development of communications technologies. In it, we cover the technologies of writing and print, mass culture in the industrial age, electronic broadcast media, and, of course, digital media.

This semester, I changed the textbook from Crowley and Heyer’s Communication in History (retail price: $154.00) to Irving Fang’s Alphabet to Internet (retail price: $60). While the students should appreciate the economic relief, there is a significant trade-off in adopting the Fang textbook. Whereas the Crowley and Heyer book anthology is an collection of condensed writings on communication technologies, Fang writes a more traditional textbook. I usually prefer the former and to read a variety of different writings on a topic especially because it fascinates me how greatly scholarship can vary despite each author writing on the very same subject.

However, I sensed that most students weren’t reading the articles I assigned. With students enrolled in an evening section of an introductory course, almost all of whom are coming from day jobs and have pressing family responsibilities, it’s remarkable to me that they manage to attend class in the first place. Consequently, I have decided to lighten the weekly reading load by adopting a more condensed textbook, and I’ll use our class session to elaborate on each topic.

Media Criticism

To be honest, I always dreaded teaching this class. It used to be a 300-level class, and when I started teaching it, I upped the difficulty to meet my expectations for graduating students. I curated a collection of long, challenging readings; I assigned several writing assignments with a capstone; and I gave in-class exams with difficult essay questions. But after the first few weeks, I realized that I needed to do a lot of remedial work. Instead of having passionate in-class discussions about each reading, I had to teach students some fundamentals, such as how to outline an argument, how to compose a thesis statement, and the importance of opening each paragraph with a topic sentence. One semester, I even taught some research methods, such as searching catalogs and electronic journals, and I spent a whole week on citations and bibliographies. But I stopped doing that after one peer reviewer censured me for teaching so many nuts-and-bolts. After that critical evaluation, I became frustrated and gave up on figuring out how to teach this class. Thankfully, I was not asked to teach it again.

A few years have passed since I last taught the class, and both the class and I have changed in that time. Media Criticism has been reclassified as a 200-level class, presumably due to Pathways reform, and I am more experienced with teaching seminar-style courses, where I can let students talk. I’m now ready to retry teaching it as introductory media theory course: a course where we “criticize media criticism,” as I explained in class yesterday. This semester, instead of “curating” an overly ambitious collection of readings, I had the students buy one textbook, we’re comparing three or so readings each week based on themes that the anthology’s editor, Laurie Ouellette, presumably organized them and based on my own interests in media and cultural studies.

One of the reasons I chose Ouellette’s edited collection is because gender and race aren’t put into a “topical ghetto.” Instead, those are addressed in almost every reading throughout the book. When I explained to my students yesterday about the importance of “studying (or criticizing) media criticism,” I offered the following diatribe:

A few weeks ago, the Academy Awards nominated ten film actors and ten film actresses for best of the year. Not one of them is black, Latino, Asian, or any other American ethnic minority. Are you telling me that there’s not one such actor who was among the best last year, or was it that those in charge of making movies didn’t offer some one “different” an opportunity? Either way, as a country, we have failed when our most visible cultural form disregards our own people…those that make up this country.

It was a rare moment of seriousness for me, and I probably prattled on a bit longer than I should have. But I wanted to make a point about why it’s important for budding creative professionals to study theory. I attribute the representational failures of the commercial film and television industries, as evidenced by 2014’s films and the attendant nominations, to its anti-intellectualism. A little reading and critical thinking could do everyone some good.

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After 79 Years in Print, Newsweek Goes Digital Only

From Reuters:

Plans calls for the magazine to become a subscription-based digital publication rebranded as Newsweek Global. Its current 1.5 million subscriber base – a decrease of 50 percent from its one-time peak of 3 million – will be given access to the digital edition. Some of Newsweek’s content will be available for free on the Daily Beast, which itself is entirely free and advertising-supported.

Historically, the weekly newsmagazines such as Time (founded 1923) and Newsweek (founded 1933) were designed to digest the news in a more thoughtful way than the headline-driven daily newspapers were doing in the first half of the twentieth century. I’m not sure that there is not a place for that in today’s publishing world, especially given the instantaneity of online platforms such as blogs and social networking sites. But I’m not sure how much value a digital-only Newsweek can offer either if it remains a general-interest publication. It’s the personalized nature of digital media that probably killed Newsweek more than the digital vs. print issue.

Large Format Ads on Facebook

Why do I see an ad on Facebook.com when I log out?:

When you log out of Facebook you may see an ad that looks like a Page timeline on the homepage. This allows advertisers to show larger format ads on Facebook without interrupting your experience when you’re logged in and connecting with your friends. Advertising keeps Facebook free for everyone.

I certainly don’t have any data on this, but I imagine that very few people actually log out of Facebook instead of just closing or quitting their browser window. And if they do, it’s probably about once a day.

Does this seem like a good use of advertising dollars? I also like the closing line as it implies that users better like the big ad or pay for Facebook.

Too Metaphorically Perfect to Be True

Too Metaphorically Perfect to Be True:

The video is fake. We’re guessing the whole thing is an anti-Shell Yes Men stunt. (Logan Price, the guy who shot the video, was once quoted in a Yes Men press release.) Good one, guys.

Yes, it’s a fake, but I wouldn’t consider this deceptive. This is a great use of public relations tools—a pseudo event, press releases, a real-looking website for a public relations firm, and, of course, a viral video—to bring a Shell Arctic oil drilling project to public attention.

(Via Daring Fireball)

Tell HBO How Much You’d Pay For a Standalone Streaming Service


To help raise awareness of the demand for a standalone HBO streaming service, a new site — Takemymoneyhbo.com — has sprung up, allowing members of the public to say (and tweet) how much they’d pay for the service each month.

I said $8 because that’s the same price as Netflix streaming and a Hulu Plus subscription.

(Via The Next Web.)

Air Talk Surveys the Economics of the Film Industry

As I drove on my recent trip to LA, I heard a segment on the uncertain financial future of the film industry, on KPCC‘s Air Talk. The segment was a very timely assessment of how the Internet and the changing tastes of moviegoers have put film industry in a bit of a crisis mode.

For students in my film industry class this semester, listening to this program should orient them to the issues facing the film industry at this very moment. But by the time we cover Hollywood’s second century in December, some of the crisis may have waned with the big Christmastime boom in attendance.

In either case, the program serves as a good snapshot of the film industry. Some of the issues include:

  • decline revenue from DVD sales and rentals
  • studios “tightening their belts” for “big” budget filmmakers and films
  • consumers and distributors looking to the Internet, albeit for different reasons
  • movie quality and whether audiences will come to bad movies anymore

Have a listen to these reporters and pundits outlining these challenges.

Will Premium VOD be a New Window for Movie Studios?

In today’s New York Times, Brooke Barnes writes about the possibility of movie studios adding a new “window,” or a new run, to the existing tiers of home video sales. The new window, called Premium VOD, would begin as little as 45 days after the theatrical run would start and would be facilitated by video service providers (i.e., your cable or satellite company). The move is done to combat slumping DVD/Blu-Ray sales and Internet piracy.

The main opponents to Premium VOD include the movie theaters, which depend on the content, and the retailers of DVDs. Both fear that customers would opt to watch movies at home for a price that is lower than either theatrical exhibition or video disc sales.

Students should consider this in the context of the old run-zone-clearance system that emerged nearly 100 years ago and was pioneered by studios such as Paramount. Also, consider the digital revolution in media and how this marks another transformation in the film industry.

ArsTechnica writes about the MPPC

Yesterday, ArsTechnica posted an article about the Motion Picture Patents Company, an early 20th century patent pool and cartel established by Thomas Edison to protect the profits of his and his partners companies. Colorfully called, Thomas Edison’s Plot to Destroy the Movies, the article is an accessible summary of the cartel was formed, how it controlled the film industry at the expense of innovation, and how it was eventually undermined by a group of independent filmmakers, led by Universal’s Carl Lamelle.

ArsTechnica writes about this as a cautionary tale of how large companies who control a media industry, such as Internet access, recorded music, or even the movies, can stand in the way of innovation once they grow so powerful and unchallenged by competition.