Digital Storytelling Teaching and Learning

Week 1 DS106 Continued – White Heat

Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” – Cody Jarrett

In the second half of the first week of ds106 for York students, I broadcast live earlier today to showcase some of the great progress students were making and to let them know I’m still there for them. My class is a ‘hybrid’ class, so there is to be an online half to the class, though it seems silly to layout what that might look like given the nature of the open-online community of ds106.

Here’s the archived talk, which was a bit rough (apologies) as I was playing with some new tools but more importantly a bit flustered by an email exchange with a journalism colleague of mine at York. Given the nature of ds106, which leans heavily on remix culture and mashup as tools for creative endeavors I felt it would be useful to try and describe some of the recent exchange.

I’m still looking to better articulate my feelings about the interaction, so I’m going keep trying to figure this out here. First off I actually can’t say enough about this colleague as he’s a true professional that gave decades of his life pursuing stories about crime in the New York City area and writing in a local newspaper. There’s dogged dedication to hanging around courts, cops, and criminals to construct as much of an objective perspective as possible about events.

We’ve had a few casual exchanges about the newspaper industry and social media – I’d occasionally forward links to articles that surfaced on my Twitter feed via Jay Rosen or Chris Anderson (a CUNY mate). And as someone who’s also read and deeply influenced Clay Shirky’s ‘Thinking the Unthinkable,’ I was always interested in what he thought about the upheaval in the newspaper industry resulting from the rise of the participatory internet.

He’s of course a much better writer than I, and he would always find a way to answer any recent development with a proverbial, ‘pe shaw!’ I was for the most part fine with this until recently when things got a little more heated. He recently sent me a series of links that touted the value of the newspaper vs. social media via polls and an increase in the number paywalls being constructed around news. Newspapers will live on!

One poll described ‘newspaper sites coverage more popular than Twitter’ which I found completely unsurprising as in conflates information sources with conversations about information. Not that there isn’t overlap, but people obviously still prefer to go to a news website first to get their news (particularly for heavily covered mainstream subjects). Now if one were to ask the question, where is there more conversation about news stories, in the comments section of a newspaper website or on social media sites, that’s apples to apples in my mind.

The other tidbit shared by this colleague was about the aforementioned paywalls which were rising again in the newspaper industry. I again as a non-journalist, described my experience with the NYTimes and how one might circumvent their ten story per month limit if I stop loading a story’s webpage before the “Wait this is just getting interesting,” pop-up appears. I went on to describe large media companies’ unwillingness to create a ‘satisfying product at a reasonable price’ which lead people to ‘steal’ media. I meant stealing as discovering alternative outlets to consume media, which is not necessarily torrents and the like, one searches and finds all kinds of media – often even on Youtube which has full length movies oddly. Also I was thinking about the bundling of channels in cable, crappy incomplete libraries in streaming video services, and even newspapers that force you to buy a whole package, but didn’t describe either of these (again I’m not the most organized writer). This was apparently a comment that went too far.

The reply started with ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Listen Mikey Boy Rockets Genius…’ And from there went on to describe my notions as ‘troubling, highly subjective and morally corrupt.’ Finally there was the playful suggestion of a duel via the CUNY Academic Commons or pistols. So again he’s willing to add some humor in an effort to diffuse.

I was getting sick of what I ultimately saw as snark. An attitude, that said, ‘don’t tell me about journalism’ and what I felt was worse, that I have nothing to offer regarding my perspective on technology and online interactions. Many a time he’d tell me the digital tools are just ‘add-ons’ or ‘window dressing.’ I should have walked away as I’ve been trying my best to steer clear of this kind of attitude that arises in the egomaniacal world of academia. I’d rather focus on collaborating with people that are willing to learn from one another, rather than cleverly tell me how much smarter they are.

But I went a little blind, White Heat blind actually. I animated GIF bombed him with the James Cagney two framer above. I also told him that I was corrupt and going to hell (just like Cody Jarrett) and that I’m taking my students with me. Over the top? Yes. Outrageous. I don’t think so.

If you thought the few lines above were a little rough. Well here comes the real stuff:

I get the whole idea of telling students, “Get out there, do something create something,” and then maybe it will be rewarding, but ripping off everyone who laid the tracks for you? What message does that convey down the line? Doesn’t matter what you do, steal from anybody and everybody, and guess what? When you’re stolen from, shut the fuck up and stay broke-assed and poor, you have no rights under the US Constitution because you broke the laws first… I prefer to encourage students to be original. Seek out colleagues who are making art, sounds and visions, and collaberate. Not ripping off the geezers who came before them.

And it actually got worse. I was called to task for depriving the offspring of Cagney of the reward of his enriching work. And signed off on the email asking that I never contact him again. Two frames of Cagney as a metaphor for going to hell and taking my students with me for teaching them to ride the remix train. Bad, bad junk I guess to an old school journalist.

Two things I’m coming to terms with, one I have to work harder at explaining why I do what I do. Why I believe the GIF above is an homage to Cagney’s work, and fair use at that. Not only was it a seriously limited use, but it was used for satirical purposes. I’m also realizing that this kind of stuff doesn’t matter to some, it’s stealing and unoriginal and uninspired. Copyright is copyright is copyright. As if these laws we’re divinely inspired (and term limits forever extended with his blessing).

So I will get better at articulating how and why I work and, I will figure out how to lay spare track while moving at full speed.

But it’s going to be a life long effort.

6 replies on “Week 1 DS106 Continued – White Heat”

[…] Michael Branson Smith writes of a disagreement with a colleague over the idea of remix/reuse vs. copyright. His colleague apparently takes a hard-line legalistic view that copyright rules should be followed strictly, and that remix/reuse = theft. But intellectual property and copyright are legal inventions, of fairly recent vintage at that, and their extent and limitations ought to be subject to the will of the people. As I understand it, even our founding fathers thought property less of an inalienable right than the pursuit of happiness (NB: IANAHistorian). The law of the land says that the whole point of intellectual property is to encourage creativity, and that intellectual property rights hold explicitly for a limited time. […]

Man, that is one hell of a toxic exchange. Talk about shutting down the discourse in an institution of higher education. This is an issue that I imagine Journalist professors would be wringing their hands over intellectually rather than dismissing an entire cultural wave as pirating. When someone shuts down on the intellectual questions that undergird their entire discipline, and then turn it into an obnoxious personal attack, well then all bets are off and it is time to cut a colleague loose. I wouldn’t beat yourself up over an disagreement like this, it’s gonna happen and a rough email exchange is certainly not the worst way it can end. Ideas have repercussions, and this has value to—you are now some the wiser.

So true. I’m definitely at fault here as well and should have disconnected from the conversation after the ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ email. My emotions got the better of me though, and it shouldn’t have been about that. I think we should have signed up electroshock aversion therapy. You know where you get to push a button and electronically jolt a fellow academic every time they’re not listening?

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