Monthly Archives: July 2011

Sixties-era “underground” newspapers live on in new media websites and blogs

Research Question: What does the rise and fall and assimilation into mainstream press of alternative newspapers of in the 1960s tell us about the likely trajectory and diffusive capacity and ultimate legitimate cultural impact of the blogs and websites which have proliferated this decade?

Think: Rolling Stone magazine, regarded as relatively mainstream these days, it started as an alternative publication during the Summer of Love in San Francisco in 1967. It adapted its editorial mission and business model to survive and thrive.

Method: An Extended Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography to address the research question and lay the groundwork for further study in a larger work that will include a content analysis of and focus on the legacy and lessons learned from the operation of Sixties-era Houston “underground” newspaper Space City News! 

My proposal will consist of a substantial extended literature and annotated bibliography that considers sources that compare and connect the cultural shifts, philosophical underpinnings and technical innovations that led to an explosion of alternative newspapers in the Sixties era and paved the way for online forums and blogs, which grew exponentially around and after the turn of the last century. The review will focus on identifying and appraising the most valid sources that locate the nexus where the egalitarian ethos — the DIY mentality and postmodernist sentiment against absolute meanings — of both eras intersect. Moreover, it will aim to address why after so many years of relative neglect, “underground” newspapers have this year become the subject of books by academics, have recently resurrected as online blogs, and whether participants in the new media blogosphere can learn anything about survival from the tale of the rise and fall of the alternative Sixties era press – and perhaps, its rebirth. Wherever possible, it will inform further research approaches on how to frame the contributions if any of Houston’s Space City News!  

Interdisciplinary journal articles, book reviews, books, websites and other such works by scholars in the fields of journalism and American history as well as similar works published in the popular press in print or online will be considered including:

Pictured Below: Thorne Dreyer with Victoria Smith in the offices of Space City! in Houston 1970

Ultimately, this research will inform an ongoing project on Houston’s Montrose Counterculture that I initially began as part of my master’s report for a degree in American Studies from UT Austin in 1999, and which has remained on “my radar” ever since. Thanks to advances in archiving and digitizing documents that date back to the 1960s and 1970s, research problems regarding accessibility issues involved in doing this project have been resolved. Moreover, in recent years, after hardly any such instances, all sorts of projects related to my research interest have popped up online and elsewhere: a short broadcast on PBS on Montrose, a film on the Montrose area music hall, Anderson Fair, the longest continually running such space in Texas, rivaling even the Armadillo World Headquarters and The Rag: A Film (scroll down on right side of blog for link), the legendary Austin underground newspaper founded by some of the same folks who founded Houston’s Space City!

When I was growing up in Houston, the place to find anything hip and cool and cutting edge – if you could not leave town and move to Austin – was “The Montrose,” an area inside the “Loop,” on the edge of downtown. You’d find a 24-hour walk-in drug crisis center, Townes Van Zandt playing at Anderson Fair, A Moveable Feast health food store and food co-op, The Grass Hut head shop and the “heads” at Good Karma auto garage would give you a fair deal when they worked on your car. The area had a counterculture alternative to just about everything one might need – including “underground” media on radio and in print.

Houston was an unlikely counterculture post because the city was known for its oil industry, kickers a la Urban Cowboy, mosquitoes and dreadful humidity, not soil fertile for the roots of a progressive culture. But it is where the Ku Klux Klan blew up the city’s Pacifica radio station’s tower in May of 1970, just a few days after the National Guard killed student protesters at Kent State. It was also the site of the Moody Park Four clash with police in 1977.

This proposal will inform a larger work that will argue for a greater appreciation of the Montrose Counterculture of Houston and the sequence of related events dating back to the 1970s that may very well have led to the 2009 election of the city’s first lesbian mayor, long-time Montrose resident, Annise Parker. Back in 1970, when communal living and co-ops abounded in The Montrose, one of the first such residences was The Westmoreland World Cartel, founded by “radicalized” Rice University architecture and media students. One of the residents was Travis Morales of the Moody Park 4, who lived there when he was a pre-med student at Rice. Today, it’s Mayor Parker’s home.

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What the world needs now is social media that can help solve social problems: Is there an app for that?

To paraphrase a song from the Sixties, what the world needs now is solutions, sweet solutions. The latest celebrity gossip or whether someone that I hardly know ate blueberry pancakes for breakfast is all well and good. But after awhile, going on and on about such trivialities is a waste of resources. I think of time, energy and the brains behind such mathematically complex concepts as Google Ad algorithms as resources.

My vision for the future of social media would include using “the wisdom the crowd” and real-time communication systems to find solutions to long term problems. In his TED talk, Clay Shirky talked about the uses of Facebook and Twitter to help Chinese citizens participate in bottom-up real time news reports, illustrating that social media can spread egalitarianism. I’d like see what Google-like algorithms might turn up for solutions to mass unemployment, global warming, and so on.   I’d like to see social media crowd sourcing and algorithms used to generate solutions to the national debt crisis,  rid Congress of the political gridlock that characterizes its proceedings on just about any issue, and figure out how to help the housing market recover. It would be nice, also, if we could figure out how to assure that no one goes to bed hungry in this country. I can imagine a lot of beautiful connections if a match.com meets twitter application was designed to help resolve real world social problems.

But let’s start simply, thinking locally, imaging how social media might “make a difference” in the daily life of one Austinite stuck in traffic.

Old media style traffic reports via local radio or TV broadcasts only scratch the surface. Reporters hover in the air in helicopters telling us the obvious every single day: It’s congested on Interstate 35 and Mopac and 183 between the hours of 7 to 9 a.m. and 3:30 to 7 p.m.  It sure is! What a waste of resources – all the way around. Reporters say the same thing on the few stations that still report local news. People stuck in traffic, sit idly while the fumes from their cars pollute the air.  Imagine all the people, being able to — without violating the no-texting while driving rules – communicate in“real time” solutions to traffic problems.  We could tip off folks headed to the location: “Steer clear of Wm. Cannon exit  I35.”

This idea came to me a few weeks ago. I’m driving from San Marcos back to Austin after my late night class at Texas State has ended. It’s around 9:30 p.m. I’m cruising along, thinking about what I will fix to eat when I get home, when abruptly, I slam on the brakes, and go from 70 mph to less than zero in less than a minute.  What I wanted to know right then and there: What is happening? Is this road construction? Is there an accident? How long is this going to take? What information can help me to decide whether to exit and take an alternate route or stay on I35 and where can I get this info? Where can I get the data I need now? I try old media, I turn on the radio. There’s nothing about the incident on the few truly local news operations. KUT’s playing somebody else’s idea of jazz. KLBJ-AM is airing yet another right-wing blowhard’s talk show. How prehistoric!

If I could have seen above the numerous Mack trucks ahead of me, I might have seen the sign (another older form of media) that blinked: “Lanes closed.”  Meanwhile, huge trucks usually relegated to only the middle lane, are competing with cars to merge into another lane, one that appears to be moving a tad faster than the others. But as far as I could tell, no one can tell which lanes up ahead are closed. Everyone’s playing musical chairs, changing lanes in an effort to position themselves in the lane that might eventually be the fastest one.

As my car has come to a complete stop, I’m in no danger of violating the no-texting while driving rules. I use my cell phone to search for traffic updates. I find no info. I call my boyfriend to ask him if he knows of anything. I ask him to go  online and check the Texas Department of Transportation’s website for road work closures. No info.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that ALL the lanes are closed. Police officers direct traffic to an area left of the “fast lane” that’s become the ONLY lane open.

In all, I spend over 30 minutes driving a stretch that I’d usually speed through in under five minutes.

Life is short. Time lost sitting in traffic isn’t recoverable. It’s gone.  I’d like to have an app or some sort of messaging device that connects me to other drivers up ahead of me so we could chat. Maybe it would be like a Facebook group page for only people on I35 heading north? I don’t know how it would be defined. But I imagine I would be able to get information from someone – an authority, another person sitting in their car, but further up ahead of me, who could tell me what they see ahead and help me determine a course of action. Perhaps this device would interface with my cell phone’s GPS and allow me to communicate to my fellow drivers. Perhaps we could “crowd source” our way toward some “real-time” solutions. Imagine if I had a way to tell the guy next to me who ignores my turn signal, who turns his head when I look at him, that I don’t want to “cut” in front of him and make his journey longer. If I could I’d say to him, maybe something clever, in twitter speak, about how I just want to get in front of him, just for a moment, just en route to the next lane.

I imagine that this form of media would operate mainly through voice activation so you wouldn’t have to text while driving or read texts while driving.  Ideally, there would be some place I could turn to that would give me the info before I needed it. I’d be alerted to fact that ahead was traffic and be offered a recommended next available exit and alternate route with directions. If so, I could have avoided the traffic, gotten home sooner and who knows what I would have done with those extra 30 minutes. There are many ways to make the world a better place, and I would have been available to do my part.

Oh, imagine that.

The new terms of engagement

As I have just returned — again! — to graduate school while the “media landscape” is in flux, the articles in this course are a welcome orientation to what’s current in research on “new media” and “interactivity.” I have spent countless hours over coffee – okay, maybe it was something a little bit stronger – pondering with colleagues the nature of new media, all that it encompasses and implies, and how it’s changed our lives. Like a pebble thrown into a pond, the ramifications exponentially expand and interconnect into a dizzying array of configurations. We all have our stories about how in the last few years media technologies have changed our everyday lives. More importantly, how new media and interactivity have changed the way we do our jobs.

For me, the impact is often personal. The fatality count climbs daily on Paper Cuts, a website and blog that tracks the loss of newspaper jobs. Recently, the generation of reporters and editors that started in journalism right before I did at the Austin American-Statesman accepted early retirement buy-outs. Those of us with graying hair that can remember when cigarette smoking and pica rulers were common in newsrooms can get really passionate about what all this means. And yet — let’s hear it for “new media” and “interactivity” — how did I find out about what was going on with my friends? On Facebook. Via email.

Again, much of what I think about when I think about new media and interactivity is anecdotal without a theoretical basis or reference point. To even talk about these issues seems to require at the very least, a common vocabulary. So when we discuss “new media” and “interactivity,” what exactly are we talking about? As it turns out, even the “experts” don’t know, according to the findings in an academic journal article we will discuss in class tonight.

In the meta-analysis published in New Media & Society, researchers Tami K. Tomasello, Youngwon Lee and April B. Baer looked at publication trends between 1990-2006. From the onset, the task required ascertaining “key words” commonly used in database searches for studies in which different researchers used different terms in reference to new media, interactivity and so on. Various publications contextualized and framed issues in accordance with various disciplines.  Essentially, again, the problem seemed to be one of defining terms. Although “new media” and all that it means overlaps with concerns common to various disciplines — sociology, education — it turns out that the majority of the work, according to this study, is being conducted in communications-related disciplines. Also, by applying the diffusion theory articulated by Everett M. Rogers, one of the readings covered in last night’s discussion, researchers suggest that the field of research on “new media,” itself, is operating or diffusing in the academic journal community much as it had in the culture, through a process of early adoption, transmission and so on, and made obvious when during this time period several journals changed names. The Critical Studies in Mass Communication became Critical Studies in Media Communication, and Journal of Broadcasting changed its title to Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media.

While the Rogers article we discussed last night was published in 2003, this one is more current, covers a larger period of time and talks about diffusion as a process of assimilating a new focus within a discipline not just in a culture or marketplace. In their conclusion, these researchers articulate an astounding paradigm shift in terms of prior approaches to media studies: … “from examining media effects to studying how individuals and groups adapt to and reshape new communication technologies.” An acknowledgement that studying “new media” involves dramatically rethinking basic theories about communications and the nature of the communication. Media “effects” then is no longer one-way. It’s “interactive.”

My definition of “new media”?

My answer to that question keeps changing. From writing instruments and pencils to the telegraph. Now that transition took hundreds of years. Like the rest of you, I feel like I’ve already adjusted to quite a few “new media” upheavals already.

From transistor radios to record players to eight-track cassette players to DVDs. I can now store all my music in my cell phone.

When I started writing, I pounded out my thoughts and feelings on a manual typewriter. And I do mean “pound.” The sheer muscularity involved caused me to intensely focus on every word — as well as the fact that if I made a “mistake,” I’d have to rip the paper out and start  over. No, I don’t remember having any qualms about “what is the world coming to…” and thoughts about the future of literacy and writing when the IBM Selectric appeared. My pinkie finger quickly found the key marked “X,” the self-correcting feature. That technological innovation was obviously instrumental in improving my writing! When I could move paragraphs and words around on a page on a computer screen, free from the limitations of the manual typewriter and the finite space of a sheet of paper, now that felt like progress.

Obviously, this “new media” is different. It’s not like going from pencils to typewriters or typewriters to computers with keyboards. It’s the convergence and the interactivity that’s changed. But like Thoreau and his qualms about the telegraph, I, too, wonder if what we say to each other while we use this “new technology” is really all that substantial, or just a lot of “nothing.”

Who, What, When, Where and Why

Spoiler Alert: This is kind of long and complicated but that’s hard to avoid after one has lived past age 40; as I hope, my fellow classmates, have the opportunity to discover.

I learned the “five Ws” of journalism at a community college in Houston in 1975. Yes, I know that date may freak some of you out as you may have been “busy being born” back then, but that’s not what I want to communicate in this post. More important, after that first journalism course, I decided to major in Psychology because of all those questions, the one I was most interested in answering was “Why?”At the time, I had no idea that “feature writers” do get to explore the “Why?”or that “service articles” can supply the “How?” And that’s how I ended up being a feature writer for so many years, and not a news reporter.  It’s also why when I got my first master’s degree it was in American Studies, not journalism. I thought American Studies would best serve me in my work as a magazine feature writer.  But since the advent of the world wide web, the market for long-form journalism has declined.

On a more optimistic note, I’m a believer in life long learning, and that through mindful living and critical thinking, we are continually re-inventing ourselves and adapting, an apt  approach for someone who is what used to be called “middle-aged” and is back in grad  school while media is in “transition.”

At this juncture, I’m registered as a student in the English department’s Rhetoric and Composition program. This is my second semester at Texas State. I have concluded that my calling is teaching writing at a community college, helping students starting out where I began. Now, wouldn’t that give this narrative a tidy ending? In fact, I’m already there — sort of. When I decided to go back to grad school — and needed a relatively undemanding job with flexible hours — I was hired to be an English/Writing tutor in a Learning Lab at Austin Community College.  I am inspired daily working with students who are “inadequately prepared” for college work but determined to succeed nonetheless.  I can see myself growing old, happily continuing to work with these students. For many of them, English is a second language. I’d like to use journalism to teach those students how to write clearly and think critically.

But there are more jobs in teaching basic writing courses, critical thinking, literacy and English Comp I. After all, it was the writing and thinking and being engaged with the issues of the times that drew me to journalism, and I can get some of “that” in the English department. And, I’ve also been “out there” recently, and though I was paid well as a blogger and “content provider,” the work I was doing was closer to advertising copywriting than journalism. I love teaching more, which is why I’m in this class.

I need one more graduate course in journalism to go back to teaching journalism as an adjunct at Austin Community College.  I already have more than 18 hours in graduate journalism courses that I took at UT Austin as part of my masters degree. But on my transcript, those courses look more like American Studies courses than J courses, and thus, according to accreditation regulations, do not qualify me to teach journalism.

But there’s another reason I’m in this class. The lure and love of  journalism. It’s been my “home” for so long. I don’t know if I can stay away, whether I can “convert” to being more of an “English” teacher than journalism teacher. Maybe it’s like that line in The Godfather … “I keep trying to get out….but they keep pulling me back in.”

Hello there Issues in New Media Grad class Summer 2011

When I started writing it was a much more isolated activity