On Saturday Digital Communications and Media Studies, Department of the McGhee Division/SCPS presented its first of what the sponsors plan on being an annual event. The agenda was to explore modern communication in the media industry and its impact on our world. The two panel discussion with networking registration breakfast and lunch, entitled "Engaged Media: A colloquium on working as a socially engaged media professional" brought together students, NYU faculty, industry professionals from a variety of avenues as well as activists.
The morning panel, "Social Media" Democracy, Innovation and Meaningful Engagement", took a look at humanities and the political economy of media within the social media realm. Anthony Pennings, Digital Communications and Media, McGhee, NYU, addressed media and democracy, what he referred to as technologies of power in his presentation. Mr. Pennings categorized this political communication (hope I'm getting this right, it was interesting but my notes are almost eligible - even to me) as "blue democracy", "red democracy", "green democracy". For example "green democracy" is local, non-violent, grassroots style communication with concern over relationship with community and environment. Another example is what Mr. Pennings referred to as "counter democracy" which falls under fascist regimes that use monolithic media flows, ritualistic propaganda (i.e. parades) and views democracy as a threat. Mr. Pennings gave an effective and interesting presentation connecting political movements and their styles and forms of communication with each of their communities.
Kristen Sosulski, the Academic Director of the Office of Distance Learning, Clinical Assistant Professor of Digital Communications and Media at NYU SCPS, whose presentation included a video and Powerp\Point presentation. The video was by a third party and although I didn't note the title, it reminded me of the "Did You Know?" videos from youtube with a lot of title cards about the communication revolution of the internet and how fast social media has grown. It is amazing and alarming considering, as the video pointed out, Facebook and social networking sites like it didn't exist 6 years ago. In Ms. Sosulski's PowerPoint, she put online communities under three bullet points, "direct" (an orgs official website, allowing users to create profiles and participate by comment), "managed" (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin) and "participating" (Other representing you/your org. A website about you/your org/your product, but not run by you/your org/your product). Ms. Sosulski also broke down users of these communities into the following categories, "creators", "critics", "collectors" (users of sites like delicious's social bookmarking), "joiners" and "inactives" (people who go online but don't really participate). What I found most helpful about Ms. Sosulski's presentation was her clear layout what to consider when using social media that represent you and/or your brand. She recommends thinking about objectives and goals like increasing traffic, brand awareness and search engine ranking among others. She also provided "smart goals", for example, be specific, measurable and realistic. She then suggested a short list of rules, such as avoiding avatars and high quality content to name a couple. I found her talk very helpful in terms of defining the usefulness of social media and also ways to simplify and create a strong online presence. I personally don't care about social media for the sake of socializing as much as I'm interesting in the ways it can be useful for outreach and creating brand (documentary film, activism or both for example) awareness, so these pointers were great.
The other speaker on the morning panel was Robert Robinson, a Housing Campaign leader of Picture the Homeless. He was a very engaging speaker and although he seemed a lot more interested in talking about his cause (can't blame him, you have to have passion for your cause or nothing will get done) than he did about how social media has assisted him with getting his word out. He did address the subject though and while he spoke about collaborating with videographers and producers to get dynamic material on youtube, his youtube videos were projected on the screen. The videos documented his civil disobedience to promote forced government policy changes in benefit of the homeless. Mr. Robinson said that since he couldn't get mainstream media attention on the subject of homelessness, he started accepting offers from filmmakers to record his rallies and building takeovers to post on youtube. He says he now gets emails from people all over the world and participates in non-mainstream media alternatives, such as GRITtv.
The Engaged Media colloquium included a complimentary networking lunch. Many of the attendees, including myself, stayed and introduced ourselves. The audience for this colloquium seemed broad, from students to active professionals (many from NYWIFT – me too) and everyone was interested in engaging but there wasn't a ton of talk about social media, documentary or commercial media (subject of afternoon panel). Nevertheless it was good to connect.
Panel 2 was entitled Designing for Social Change: Designing for Social Change: Documentary and Commercial Media, and surprisingly the one I got the least out of. I think this because I just didn't feel like I learned much here. Maybe the less experienced and/or young students got more from this discussion, and it had nothing to do with the caliber of panelists either. Some of it was the fact that there were ongoing technical issues with sound and the projector, another was that one panelist spoke much longer than the others and I was already familiar with the documentarians and the films she was covering. So, I believe it was a combination of things.
The panelists overall were terrific. One of the highlights for me was the very talented artist Ellen Kahn and also a co-founder (with her identical twin Lynda Kahn - she wasn't there) of TWINART. She gave a entertaining slideshow of her and her sister's past and present work. From 80's music videos (pre-MTV, I might add) to designing the plane artwork for the Lifetime jet to commercial work. A panelist who brought a terrific example of using social media for social change was Merva Fadoul, who is a Program Manager for Soliya. Soliya is an interactive site that creates communities of young adults for the purpose of promoting cross-cultural understanding in their societies by way of live group video chats with a moderator. These video chats are part of programs that create video and journalism projects. Soliya works with universities throughout the world. The other two panelists were Marsha McCreadie who authored the book "Documentary Superstars", Kathleen Hulley, a Clinical Professor of Literature and Media Studies in the McGhee Division of NYU and Metchtild Schmidt, a Clinical Associate Professor for Digital Communications and Media at McGhee/SCPS at NYU.
Both Kathleen Hulley and Metchtild Schmidt talked a bit about their concern over social media's negative aspects in addition to the positive. Ms. Hulley said she was increasingly concerned over society's preoccupation with their personal devices v.s. their interest in engaging one-on-one with others. Ms. Schmidt talked about "holistic media education", a term used to describe educating professionals with social awareness of what h/she will effect with the work, creating a message with audience, aesthetics and citizenship in mind. She referred to Howard Gardner's "5 minds for the future" being "the disciplined mind", "the synthesizing mind", "the creative mind" and last but not least, "the respectful mind". The last being not just of the mind of tolerance but also one of consideration and thought-fullness. Actually wanting to consider other perspectives and learning from them. In the previous panel Ms. Schmidt (as an audience member) and others discussed the incredible amount of content, how to sort through it and what to consider fact or even take seriously.
I wish Ms. Hulley and Ms. Schmidt's points were discussed more when the time for Q&A came around. I too have a growing concern over the vast and enormous amount of content I'm offered on a daily basis. Content that isn't necessary fact driven but presented as such so I therefore don't always take much stock in it, and more often than not hit "delete" or move on before I'm finished reading much of it (I'll be surprised if anyone finishes this lengthy blog review). I also worry about social media developing generations of societies that are disengaged from lack of real human-to-human contact. I know parents who have to diligently schedule their kids outdoor time because they'd really rather be on their computers. I believe quality of content an issue as well because it seems many media outlets spread opinion as fact. I hope that consumers are savvy enough to wade through this but who really knows. I also believe social media has influenced the way our news is being presented, for the better and for the worse.
In other words, becoming better informed about social media isn't just about learning the best way to get more hits on your website or Facebook account, it's also about responsibility and giving thought to what content you ingest and what content you offer. There isn't only marketing, but social and moral considerations to be made if engaged in participatory media of the modern age, professionally or otherwise.
"Engaged Media" is supposed to be a continuing annual event through Digital Communications and Media Studies, McGhee Division, SCPS at NYU. No doubt there is plenty to discuss and sort through. This was the first and I think there is definitely room for improvement but overall the day involved great panelists and the intended topics to be covered were worthy.
My hope is that next year’s event will be better attended and a little more streamlined. It was somewhat ironic that a 6 hour, two panel discussion about social media and networking (including pointers on how to bring in a larger audience to your brand) didn't get a great turnout. The day was worth the time though and I imagine next years will be stronger.