Loved your post! not least because it featured my former co-worker and all around genius Mary Matthews! There is a huge elephant in the room when we talk about new media/social media/web 3.0…in that users are generating content for which they are not paid. Witness the lawsuit against the Huff Post http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/apr/12/arianna-huffington-post-sale.
One of the former Huff Post workers reacted to the lawsuit, saying, "Huffington bloggers have essentially been turned into modern day slaves on Arianna Huffington’s plantation…people who create content … have to be compensated."
So the question is are we all being turned into modern day slaves on the Web plantation?
BTW, Current TV is actually modeled — unconsciously or not — on public access TV, which is where a lot of its producers started out. Unfortunately, the P in PEGTV or Public Access is dying out thanks to cable and telecom companies shirking their public responsibilities and the rise of the Youtube generation.
Adam, just a quick inquiry: I’m wondering your opinions of last year’s Interactive Media Emmy winner, Star Wars Uncut (disclaimer: I’m a friend of Jamie Wilkinson, one of the creators). The video you linked to, for the CurrentTV example, complains about low pay and not getting an Emmy for user labor. Star Wars Uncut, though, paid no participants, and yet there’s still an issue of user labor. Hoping you can use a parallel example to tease out the issues you’re thinking about.
Thanks for this really thought-provoking post! Your post makes me wonder if a channel aspiring to inclusion on satellite and cable TV lineups that wants to earn per subscriber fees and increase ad revenue (I’m assuming Current TV is an ad-based channel) can be truly innovative or whether the most these channels can do is to provide windows of innovation. This pattern of stressing the new and then ditching the new at the moment of profitability or mainstream attention can be seen in Fox and Logo. Your post nicely addresses the politics of “post-network” television production.
One of my capstone students this semester is reading Tim Wu’s book, and your post makes me interested in reading it this summer to see how we might extend Wu’s observations beyond the borders of media policy into discussions of labor that, perhaps at first glance, don’t fall squarely within the borders of “official” policy.
I really like this clip, and I can see many of us using it in our classrooms along with your post to stimulate a lively discussion.
One challenge with the Huffington Post example is that very few of the authors make a living directly off their writing, especially on the site. Many are paid as professors, lawyers, or journalists by other organizations; some use HuffPo precisely and explicitly as a platform to lead users to other, often long-form works available for purchase. In fact, one could argue that the HuffPo writers do what they do for similar reasons that many of us choose to contribute to online venues such as In Media Res and normal”>Flow – building networks, increasing social and/or cultural capital in one’s field, “crowdsourcing” a review process, and floating ideas that will eventually become a part of longer works.
Let’s historicize free labor. I’d love to see more nuanced takes on Hardt and Negri and the writings of Tiziana Terranova, whose AOL “netslaves” considered themselves exploited workers in ways that many contemporary professional and amateur laborers and fans do not.
The challenge is figuring out how we recognize and analyze moments and patterns of self-description that take place in specific contexts and mix this analysis with an analysis of the field of power relations that construct the choices available. We must acknowledge personal positions and not render individual and communal voices silent in macroeconomic analyses.
How can we critique and problematize the rise of the neoliberal entrepreneurial subject while still taking seriously a range of choices made by creative and media laborers in a time of dizzying change? To paraphrase/twist the words of Patricia Clarkson’s character from Six Feet Under, we make different choices, and they are all hard ones. We often presuppose that giving away work for free is an easy choice, when many times it is anything but simple.
Great post! Sorry to be a little late on posting my comments, but I think you do a great job of flagging invisible labor that is so important to ensuring that games technically work and that games can be played successfully by a human operator.
From the clip, it appears that “professional” playtesters receive training and are likely overtly subject to a regime of best practices in quality assurance. I’d be interested to see if these trappings help employed playtesters talk about their work differently than unpaid playtesters and/or how playtesters discuss their involvement in the industry and the ways that playtesting is a path into the industry but increasingly not a road into the game design community.
Indie firms and small design teams seem to use amateur playtesters because smaller game budgets demand it, but how do they train or orient players to identify and record key flaws and to act like professional playtesters? Or, is the approach to playtesting different for indie developers?
I’m also interested in how we can borrow from and add to the concepts and language of usability studies, mixing this field of knowledge with the hybrid mode of cultural studies and political economy that is so fundamental to present media scholarship. How can we borrow from and add to fields such as interaction design?
Great video, Adam—your experience at CurrentTV sounds fascinating. I think about these issues quite a bit because of how the discourse usually positions particular people as adversaries. For example, your post led me to wonder if amateurs trying to get their foot in the door need to consider the larger stakes (how they upset the hierarchies and procedures already in place within TV’s industrial structure)—and that is perhaps exactly the wrong question to be asking. In particular, I am troubled by how often the amateur gets labeled as a trouble maker—both by industry heads (annoyed by amateurs in their way) and by below-the-line workers (annoyed that their professional standards are slipping away).
What are the responsibilities of both the workers currently employed within the TV industry and those at the edges trying to enter TV through web-based cultures of production? Is there potential for greater positive change should these forces find a way to work against the (seemingly) inevitable incorporation of independent forces within corporate structures?
Thought provoking post and discussion; part of what it draws out for me is the difficulty of making sense of cultural capital in relationship to video games, a point Matt brought up earlier in the responses. This happens, in part, because most of the scholarship has focused on the reproduction of very particular forms of cultural capital that are somehow canonical. Typically these studies either emphasize "high arts" or, if someone’s being rebellious, in relation to something so seemingly Other (for example, hip hop). In doing so, they tend to emphasize capital emblamatic of some dominant culture which has somehow emerged without the interference of industry. What this misses is the question of the initial production of cultural texts which then reproduce cultural knowledge.
On the other end, political economy has tended to emphasize all interactions with cultural texts - whether in the initial production stages or later consumption - as neccesarily exploitive that treat enjoyment and use in any form as an either/or proposition. I’m reminded of the discussion at a recent conference panel that struggled to negotiate the relationship between marketing and sub-cultures that seemed to want to view the two as distinct theoretical constructs which in no way made use (or resisted) each other. The discussion here, and the area, go a long way to muddying the waters in some very useful ways.
Thank you, Adam, for continuing our theme week with such an interesting post. A couple questions arose as I was reading your post, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on a couple of matters.
How much influence do you think technological formats and industrial structures have on the "Cycle?" As the history of broadcasting shows us, broadcasting technologies weren’t necessarily conceived of in terms of one-way communications. Especially in regards to "amateur" experimenters, radio broadcasting was very much utilized as a two-way technology. However, in the example of TV, the technology was quickly absorbed by professional, corporate interests, and the one-way broadcasting model became the standard. My question is this: does the fact that Current TV is trying to keep its feet in two worlds - cable TV and internet - have something to do with its move towards professional content? Are the industrial pressures of cable TV pushing Current TV in a particular direction?
It’s interesting how much potential “mileage” firms can squeeze out of their betas/demos. As has been noted, they are sites of multiple practices: fan labor, marketing, and data gathering (to name three). But it’s also important to recognize, as Steven does with his NBA Elite 11 example (BTW, who knew there was so much Christian iconography in professional basketball?!?), that demos are not without their own risks.
We’ve seen early paratextual buzz derail projects (e.g., racism in Resident Evil 5, or realism and Six Days in Fallujah). I imagine that there are fewer cases of demos sinking projects because of the license that the trial experience affords the firm. Still, companies do not have complete freedom to fix gameplay issues through additional patching and design work.
Finally, quick media studies(-ish) keyterm question: if the marketing paratext initiates processes of meaning making for the core media text (see the work of Jonathan Gray, Steven Jones), then what do we do with the game demo? Is it still a marketing paratext? Perhaps a proto-text? And does its status vary for different constituencies, reflecting (in part) the expectations that Steven observes between betas and demos?
Thank you, Caroline, for raising such an interesting issue and for continuing what seems to be shaping up as a theme for this week so far: "free" labor.
I found Ellison’s distinction between "amateur" and "professional" to be particularly informative, and this distinction seems to run throughout this week’s posts. There seems to be an increasing expectation that performing work for free as an amateur will eventually lead to a paid position as a professional (we also saw this with the playtesters discussed in yesterday’s post). However, I’m not sure how often this transition actually happens - you might have more hard data regarding this. From things like CNNs iReport to amateur bloggers to TV writers producing web content to, dare I say it, academics, there is a presumption that doing things for free will grant the exposure that leads to a paid job. While there are most certainly other reasons for doing this work - personal gratification, seeing one’s name in print, etc. - there is also often the expectation that eventually, all this work will "pay off." It’s similar to the situation experienced by a PA working on a film who expects to become a film director someday. Sorry, buddy, but it’s probably not going to happen.