In the old days it was simple – media students knew they had to analyse films, TV programmes (news, documentaries, crime dramas and game shows), newspapers, magazines and if they wanted to get really daring and cutting edge – advertising. But that was it.
This was ironically known as ‘broadcasting’ – ironic in the sense that the options don’t seem that ‘broad’. Now the media texts that are analysed are far more centred around ‘narrowcasting’ – that is texts that are aimed at specific or niche audiences rather than a vaguer aim of general consumption. Again, the ironic sense kicks in, with the ‘narrowcasting’ range of media forms seemingly huge.
One of the most controversial media forms today is Twitter. Should something that can be no more than 140 characters, including spaces, really be considered a media text? Is something that seems so self-obsessed really worthy of academic consideration? Do the opinions of Gary Lineker about almost anything, or even Cilla Black’s untimely death really warrant detailed consideration?
Perhaps not at first glance. But would a tweet qualify in Media Education terms? Professor David Buckingham, Emeritus Professor of Media Education at Loughborough University and an internationally recognised expert on media education, does think digital media should be a central plank of media education and he feels that it is not enough for young people to be able to use new digital media but they must also be able to analyse them critically. Interestingly he feels that this analysis can best come from ‘writing’ digital media rather than just ‘reading’ it. The Web 2.0 approach of experiencing the digital media is also backed up by other commentators such as Gauntlett and Jenkins.
David Buckingham refers to a conceptual media framework that has 4 aspects – media language, representation, production/ownership and audience. So how would a tweet measure up?
Well in terms of analysing media language, there’s not much to go on. You can perhaps do a little with capitalisation and a colloquial voice but nothing that seems really significant – perhaps the tweeting of pictures/images can have some claim to complexity of construction, but to me it does seem that a lot of Twitter’s images are capturing a moment and the moment is the message, rather than really utilising a media language.
But after that it does get interesting. Twitter nowadays plays a central role in production/ownership, providing a real-time commentary and communicating an image (representation) of an institution, company or individual to an audience. Can you think of a company that doesn’t have a Twitter account? Why is it so important? Individuals not using Twitter are almost more noteworthy than those that do, and tweets are read and used in so many different ways.
Trolling of social media users also raises important legal issues of privacy and regulation – big issues for Media Studies. Caroline Craido-Perez’s campaign, and the reaction to it, asked fundamental questions about the role and representation of women in our society. And the debate was played out on Twitter.
And Twitter has played a role in global politics as well. The impact of Facebook on the Arab Spring and in the role of the opposition to a theocracy in Iran is well documented. Twitter has also played a larger role in Western politics since the Democrats utilised social media as part of their 2008 campaign to elect Barack Obama for his first term.
Of course, what is not clear is how important social media was in all these examples. It might have been central, but it also might be no more important than the amount of Nike clothing being worn, or the percentage of iPhone users.
But at the time of writing, new Media Studies subject content is being written. Would the inclusion of Twitter ‘future-proof’ this content – or will it become as relevant as a MySpace page, or knowing what the one of the first big internet search engines was in a pre-Google era (do you remember AltaVista?). In 2015 what is a media text – and perhaps more pertinently, in 2020 – what will be a cutting edge media text? Answers on a postcard – or should I say a twitter feed? @OCR_Media_Film
Tony Fahy - Subject Specialist - English and Creative
Tony joined OCR in June 2014 having been a teacher for 28 years and having spent the last 12 as Head of Media and English at City & Islington 6th Form College. Throughout those 28 years Tony always taught Media and taught the first cohort of A Level students in 1991. Tony has moderated and examined Media, at both GCSE and A Level for 18 years. Tony has led INSET for the EMC, BFI and has also taught on the NYU summer school.