Efficiency Is Key To Me

If we really want to robot-proof our jobs, we, as leaders, need to get out of the mindset of telling people what to do and instead start asking them what problems they’re inspired to solve and what talents they want to bring to work.” David Lee, TED@UPS, July 2017

Regardless of all of the discourse about how automation is the inevitable future of work, I must admit I had rarely thought of AI as being a concern for my career in journalism. Instead, I concerned myself with the more obvious worries; the impending death of legacy media, lack of jobs in the industry, and the fact that journalism is quickly becoming a career viable only for the wealthy.

But automation in journalism is a very real risk, just like it is in most other industries, and while it has been predicted that new jobs will be created to replace those taken over by AI, it’s still something I’ve started to consider. Automated journalism bots can aggregate large amounts of information exponentially faster and can more efficiently monitor worldwide trends than a human being, and in the 24-hour news cycle, efficiency is key.

I know that I value efficiency in my own workplace, as the assistant editor for a digital women’s publication. This is the value which I now understand is often bubbling under the surface when I come home exasperated after a long day at work, ranting and raving to my partner about all of the things which frustrated me that day.

In a 2017 TED Talk, writer Emily Esfahani Smith, explained what she found out about what made people happy.

“The fourth pillar [of a happy life] is storytelling, the story you tell about yourself. Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity. It helps you understand how you became you.” Emily Esfahani Smith, TED2017

“Creating a narrative from the events of your life brings clarity”, she said. Later in the talk, she explained that people could change what stands out in their life stories:

“…just by reflecting on your life thoughtfully, how your defining experiences shaped you, what you lost, what you gained.” Emily Esfahani Smith, 2017, TED2017

This, to me, is very accurate. We do tend to live our lives through narratives, which is why I feel narrative practice, often used by in therapeutic settings to deal with trauma, is an effective way to learn about yourself and your values. We use small stories to interpret our feelings as “the buzz of sensory experience would overwhelm us without some frame of reference… so we collapse our experience into narrative structures, or stories, to make it intelligible,” (Springen 1995). This works within the self, and within the workforce.

By following the narrative principle of the “absent but implicit”, which involves really listening to someone’s story – or your own – to find what they’re not saying, which will reveal a hidden and implied value of the storyteller. During this process, we ask ourselves “What are the subjugated meanings that the problem story relies upon for its expression? How do these connect with stories of preference and how can we bring them forward?” (Carey, Walther & Russel 2006, p 3). This implicit value will reveal how we wish something was, which leaves us better prepared to take action resulting in the desired outcome.

Following the narrative map which aims to identify the absent but implicit element of stories, a particular “small work event where I was annoyed or frustrated” came to mind, as I experience it almost monthly.

My boss hates technology and each month she requests that I print the content schedule spreadsheet which is used by writers across the world so she can mark off stories as they are handed in. However, the spreadsheet is an ever-changing beast. If one of our New York writers has a question or amendment to a story, they leave a comment on the spreadsheet. It allows for writers to select from a drop-down menu when a story has been assigned, started, and handed in. All of these imperative functions are defunct if the sheet is printed at the beginning of the month.

But each month, I spend time printing the spreadsheet, and then constantly answering my bosses questions, queries and following up on issues she has with writers, which they have already addressed on the online spreadsheet, as requested of them. It is, in my opinion, a massive waste of my (already scarce) time.

When I spent time reflecting on this annoying work experience, the absent but implicit element of this story is that I clearly value efficiency, and want my workplace – which is made up of a team spread across different countries and time-zones – to run as smoothly as possible. Interestingly, even though my partner acknowledges I value efficiency at work, he pointed out that I am terrible at my own time management. I can efficiently run a global team of freelance writers, but when it comes to being efficient in my own personal life? Well, that’s a reflection for another time.

Considering one of my most valued – and marketable – work skills is efficiency, and the reality is I will never be as efficient as an AI, this could be cause for concern for me. But one aspect of the future of work is that robots will never be able to replace humans in terms of empathy or creative thinking, or a number of intrinsically human traits and skills.

Using narrative practices, like absent but implicit thinking, can help us to identify these values, and work on developing them so we are the best version of ourselves we can be, both in and out of the workplace.


Image from pixabay.com

REFERENCES:

Carey, M, Walther, S & Russell, S 2006, ‘The Absent but Implicit – a map to support therapeutic enquiry’, Adelaide, <http://narrativepractices.com.au/attach/pdf/The_absent_but_implicit_-_A_map.pdf>

Springen, K 1995, ‘Rewriting Life Stories’, Newsweek, published 16/4/1995, <https://www.newsweek.com/rewriting-life-stories-181860&gt;

 

 

 

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Co-Productions and Cultural Significance

“The Australian International Co-Production Program encourages creative exchange between partner countries and the development of screen projects of cultural significance.” Australian Government Department of Communications and the Arts 

The Australian film market, however you look at it, has been having issues for years, caught in a cycle of relative success, followed by periods of significant market failure. This ‘boom and bust’ cycle can be attributed to a number of factors, including the fact that Australian films have low production and marketing budgets – they’re made cheaply, and barely advertised –  and are considered to be poor investments (Burns & Eltham 2010, p. 111).

But a major issue is also the fact that Australian audiences often do not want to watch Australian stories on the big screen, and global audiences can feel isolated from our culture, or have a warped understanding of what it really is – how often do regular Aussie’s actually say “G’day”? When have you ever heard someone say “throw another shrimp on the barbie? The global image of Australian culture is often a stereotype and caricature which isolates Australian audiences who do not identify with these characters. This leads to another issue.

In order for a movie production to receive funding from the Australian government film funding agency, Screen Australia, it must contain ‘significant Australian content’, whether that be in content, where it was made, nationalities of cast and crew, or ‘any other matters that Screen Australia considers relevant’ (Middlemost 2018). But, considering that Australian’s often don’t want to see significant Aussie content (SAC), forcing Australian film-makers to include it in their movies is almost setting them up for a ‘bust’ outcome. This leaves them with two options; make an Aussie film Australian’s want to see, potentially isolating international audiences and limiting financial gain, or make an Aussie film international audiences will enjoy, filled with stereotypical Australian culture which will isolate Australian audiences.

The way around this is to go down the path of a transnational co-production; a production program which encourages international film producers to film in Australia, and allows for Aussie film-makers to by-pass the ‘SAC’ rule.

Co-productions offer many different advantages; larger audience pools from all countries involved, bigger budgets and crews, as well as the alluring factor of amazing special effects and behind-the-scenes industry. It allows for a film to be ‘Australian’ without being weighed down with ‘Australian-ness’, and are “better set up to attain a global reach compared to a typical Aussie feature that may do well domestically but subsequently has to rethink and drastically rebrand in order to be competitive in foreign markets,” (Bosanquet 2018, p. 120).

Co-productions have no need to include Australian content from a funding perspective and have the potential to grow our film industry without telling Australian stories, but allowing Australian producers, actors, directors, and crew to gain momentum. But it can be argued that the representation of Australian culture, stories and characters are important to our collective consciousness and for protecting our culture.

Co-productions could very well be the way forward for showing modern Australia – a multicultural, complicated country with diverse and contemporary people – to the world, as multiple cultures work on the film and have an impact on the story being told.

REFERENCES:

Bosanquet, T 2018, ‘Picture Partnership: Co-productions and the Australian Screen Industries’, Metro, no. 185, pp. 120-123

Burns, A & Eltham, B 2010, “Boom and Bust in Australian Screen Policy: 10BA, the Film Finance Corporation and Hollywood’s ‘race to the bottom’”. Media International Australia, no. 136, pp. 103-118.

Middlemost, R 2018, ‘Co-production Treaties: Successes and Gaps’ BCM289 Lecture, Week 5, 2018. 

 

The TV Genre We Really Love To Hate

The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Idol, Project Runway, Masterchef, Big Brother, Love Island, Survivor, Insert-Country-Here’s Got Talent, The Voice, X Factor, The Real Housewives, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Next Top Model, The Biggest Loser, Married at First Sight…

All of these television shows have at least three things in common; they are all reality television programs, which have versions in multiple different international countries, and all have audience engagement through social media.

Reality television is an interesting beast. While there are typically two common agreed upon characteristics of reality TV – non-actors or real people as the main characters playing themselves, in an unscripted format – these are just the basics of what ‘reality television’ is. There is also added elements of narrative format, filmed in situations, as opposed to on a set or with a live audience, and with the primary purpose of entertainment (Glascock & Preston-Schreck 2018, p 428).

It is also one of the most popular television formats; in 2016, reality television made up 50 percent of the top 50 Australian television shows.

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AdNews analysis: The top 50 TV programs of 2016

Why is the genre so popular? And why do so many reality television shows cross borders, getting their own local version of a show created somewhere else?

Firstly, if a show is popular in one, two, or three other countries, it is appealing to international media companies and television producers, as there is a minimal financial risk and a proven track record of it working with at least one, and often multiple, different audiences (Oren & Shahaf 2013).

This is because the themes and content in reality television programs are often uniquely positioned to speak to universal national identities; family, home, love and competition, to name a few.

Also, in 2018, reality television is easy to market and gain traction through the use of social media. “Live tweeting” during airings of shows such as The BachelorMarried at First Sight and My Kitchen Rules, is now almost part of the show itself, and definitely makes up part of the entertainment. For example, the hashtags for the reality shows are often trending on social media on the night the shows are airing, and articles are written in the days following, made up almost exclusively of the funniest tweets from the show that week. This engagement by the audience on the internet is carried over through the creation of memes and gifs.

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Meme created from the 2018 season of Married At First Sight Australia

Another contributing factor, and one of the most universal, is the fact that “reality television is a staple in contemporary television and is a site of a considerable amount of aggression enacted by its male and female stars,” (Scharrer & Blackburn 2017) and audiences love watching ‘real people’ engage in drama and have disagreements, conflict and fights on-screen.

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gif via tenor.com

This is evident in the casting choices – there is always a ‘pot-stirrer’ character, or conflicting personalities, no matter the type of reality television show or the country it is set in – and in the tweets sent in by audiences, proving that those watching reality television are there for the fights, controversy, and to passionately rally against or with certain ‘characters’. Whether it is because we love sass, schadenfreude or seeing people fail (or succeed), the fact is, people love to watch ‘real life’ drama, hence, the popularity of reality television.

The proliferation of reality television merging with social media and the internet shows that people in today’s media landscape want to engage with the shows they’re watching in more than one way, and reality television is easier to do this with than other television genres.

REFERENCES:

Glascock, J & Preston-Schreck, C 2018, ‘Verbal Aggression, Race and Sex on Reality TV: Is The Really The Way It Is?’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol 62, no 3, pp 427 – 444, (link).

Oren, T & Shahaf, S 2013, ‘Global Television Formats: Understanding Television Across Borders’, Routledge.

Scharrer, E & Blackburn, G 2017, ‘Is Reality TV a Bad Girls Club? Television Use, Docusoap Reality Television Viewing, and the Cultivation of the Approval of Aggression’, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, vol 95, no 1, pp 235 – 257, (link).

Dear US: Please Stop Recreating Our TV Shows. Sincerely, The World.

Growing up in Australia, a lot of the television shows consumed by myself, particularly dramas and comedies, originated from the United States, who arguably dominated the market.

However, there are some shows created in Australia and the UK which I really enjoyed, one of which being Skins. This show was both funny and dramatic, but above all, accurately showed what it was like to be a teenager. The cast felt real, it was gritty, the language use was that of young people at the time, and it didn’t shy away from showing the glamourous and the not-so-glamorous aspects of being a teenager in love, going to parties, navigating school and relationships and the world at an age when you felt like an adult, but was still very much a child.

It was a very successful show in the UK, and so the US decided to make their own version of it. The pilot was almost shot-for-shot a remake (they also did this with The Inbetweeners, another UK television show about teenagers).

Instead of taking the basic essence of Skins – the realities of navigating being a teenager – and adapting it for an American audience, using US culture and experiences, they just took what was a largely UK experience, watered it down for an MTV audience, and expected it to work.

But they took out the thing which made Skins, Skins. They removed a lot of the partying, sex, drugs, alcohol and swearing. They showed a cleaner version, effectively removing the reality, and therefore the relatability, of the show.

This is the fundamental flaw with a lot of US remakes of other countries television shows, because “transmedia strategy towards television fictions means involvement with the viewers, but also, and maybe most importantly, an engagement which generates a fan phenomenon, or at least the hyping of its possibility. This is especially relevant among teen television fiction and its teen viewers, since they are the kind of audience that uses new technologies and social networks on a regular basis,” (Grandio & Bonaut 2012, p 571). Because the US Skins took the material from the UK version, kept it the same but watered down, they didn’t add anything to the show – in fact, they actively took away one of the key things which made the show popular with fans. They then expected these same UK Skins fans to enjoy the new version.

In today’s digital world, where people all over the world are not restricted to watching shows from their direct locality, this eliminates the need to create a show without adding anything new to it.

While many different transnational television works, sometimes even better than the original – for example, the US The Office is considered superior to the original UK version – they still face the same hurdles in attempting to create something which is respectful of the source material, but that serves the new version as well in order to make something which is quality television.

REFERENCES:

Grandío, M & Bonaut, J 2012, ‘Transmedia audiences and television fiction: A comparative approach between Skins (UK) and El Barco (Spain)’, Journal of Audience and Reception Studies, vol 9, no 2, pp 558 – 574, (link).

Making Hard Choices

Something uncanny happens almost every time someone asks me to talk about a time I did something. Whether it’s in a job interview and I have to discuss a situation in which I have shown problem-solving skills, or a university seminar asking me to think of a time I made a decision which turned out well, for some reason, my entire life is wiped from my brain the second the question is asked.

Nevertheless, I pushed through my momentary memory loss and realised that my most recent major decision worked out well. In fact, better than I could have possibly imagined. Which was interesting, as it was a decision I would normally have never made.

Making the choice to go spend two weeks in Rwanda for my journalism internship, and another two traveling to Kenya and Tanzania, was something I still cannot believe I did. I had never been overseas before going to Africa. I was going over with a group of complete strangers and casual acquaintances. As someone who has high levels of anxiety and a very restricted comfort zone which I am always reluctant to leave, telling family and friends I was going to Rwanda resulted in exclamations of shock, albeit followed by excitement and well-wishes.

The me from before the trip made a decision about my life which was extremely unlike me, but after returning, I’ve realised that choosing to go to Africa is something I would do one thousand times over, and is actually a very ‘me’ choice. Because it turns out I am a person who will take on new experiences, and try to better myself. I experienced many things in Africa, and learned more about myself in four weeks than I have learned in 24 years.

I’ve learned how to appreciate my own work, which is something I have previously struggled with. I’ve always found it difficult to look at something I have written or created and say I am proud of it, but I am immensely proud of the work I did in Rwanda, particularly the photographs I took of my team undertaking their project and the community we were working in.

I’ve learned the value of being able to work in different countries and within different cultural environments, and the power of human ingenuity to solve problems with limited resources.

And above all, I think I’ve finally learned how to be proud of myself in a professional work capacity, and own my achievements, which is something I never thought I’d truly get a grasp on.

 

Should we give up on Australian content? Did Darryl Kerrigan give up on his home?

The way forward for the Australian film industry is unclear, but giving up is not an option. When big bureaucracies came for the Kerrigan’s home, they didn’t give up, they fought them. And when Hollywood threatens to take-over the Australian film industry, we shouldn’t give up, either.

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Australian’s are bored with films claiming to represent Australian culture, because, in the past, these films have over-simplified and butchered what most Aussies consider to be their national identity. This overwhelming feeling of ‘cultural cringe’ means fewer Australians are seeing Australian-made films, at least at the cinema.

Once a film does well overseas, then Australian audiences become interested in the film, maybe because they trust overseas audiences more than anyone else, especially when limited releases in Australia means even good-quality films bomb at the Box-office.

Maybe that’s the way forward. It is true that “commentators are arguing that the measure of what constitutes a successful film needs to change, that the obsession with box office should be replaced with an assessment of the total audiences who are watching that film across all different platforms over its life,” (Kaufman 2009) and if this simple change was made, then Aussie films would fair a lot better. After all, The Babadook only made $258,000 at the box office in Australia, but around $7.5 million worldwide after it did well at film festivals and in the US. Critically, The Babadook is a success, but looking at box-office takings alone, it’s a flop.

It could also be argued that money needs to be funneled away from international production and back into the Australian industry, but when the international films are more likely to guarantee a financial return, the likelihood of this happening is slim. Roeper and Luckman (2009) argue that co-productions are the way forward for a viable and sustainable future because more creative endeavors are possible when working in a collaborative media environment (p. 15).

Considering Australian audiences don’t particularly want to watch Australian films, even though the government and funding bodies believe that these films are crucial to the creation and longevity of the Australian culture, maybe the way forward is to eliminate the caveat of forcing filmmakers to create ‘Australian culture films’. This would open the door to allowing more genre-specific films to be made in Australia which could potentially compete in a global market.

Allowing independent filmmakers to have access to funding without forcing them to make a ‘significantly Australian film’ could also be a step in the right direction, as “the film industry, like many other key creative industry sectors, has long seen much of its most innovative and ground-breaking work done at an independent, unpaid and/or pro-am level,” (Roeper & Luckman 2009, p. 14).

Removing these restrictions on what constitutes an Australian film, and ditching the phrase ‘Australian film’ altogether, will allow Australian creatives to just make good quality movies that people will want to see, thus encouraging a shift upwards for our film industry.  It would stop the cycle of low budgets creating low-quality films about Australia which no audiences want to see.

Instead of ‘giving up’ on the industry, there needs to be a re-evaluation of what works and what doesn’t.

Resources: 

Kaufman, T (2009) “Finding Australian audiences for Australian films” Metro, no. 163, p 6-8

Roeper, J & Luckman, S 2009, ‘Future audiences for Australian stories: Industry responses in a post-Web 2.0 world’, Media International Australia, no. 130.

 

Time to embrace Netflix and chill, Australia

Australia is really doing itself a disservice by neglecting marketing and distribution with its films.

If an Australian-made film is even released at the cinema – around 30 Australian films are straight-to-DVD releases each year, according to Screen Australia – they usually show on less screens, for less time. For example, according to a 2014 The Conversation article:

“In 2012, 43 Australian films screened at Australian cinemas, including 27 new releases and 16 films released in previous years that were still screening in 2012. Those 43 Australian films spent an average of eight weeks in cinemas during the year, and a median of five… they averaged 75 screens across the country, with a median of 17, and at their narrowest, they averaged four screens… Some 23 films reached fewer than 20 screens at their widest point of release, and 19 films ran for less than five weeks.” – Rebecca Mostyn, 2014, The Conversation

So some films are shown on 75 screens across Australia, and some are only shown on four. As stated earlier, all the other films are released straight to DVD. While DVD sales aren’t failing dramatically – Australian’s spent $805 million on DVD’s and Blu-rays in 2016 (but in 2012, only 4.4% of these sales were attributed to Australian films) –  the hiring market is shrinking. A Screen Australia survey found that between 2006 and 2013, the DVD hiring market fell from 57 percent to 37 percent, and streaming and downloading rose to 30 percent.

With cinema releases not pulling in Australian audiences, and DVD releases not pulling in a lot of Australian audiences, and streaming on the rise, it makes sense that this is the step forward for the industry.

Looking at the 2011 film The Tunnel, which massively flopped at the cinema but utilized legal downloading to get the film distributed to relative success, it’s clear the internet is the way forward for not just Australian film audiences, but all audiences.

In 2018, the trailer for the new movie The Cloverfield Paradox was shown immediately after the Superbowl, but audiences didn’t have to wait months until the film dropped – Netflix made it available to stream straight away, which is genius marketing in today’s digital world.

Australian’s now have access to four major streaming services, Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video and Foxtel Now, and if Australian content wants to compete with international content available on these services, they need to fully embrace them. Stan is doing this to some degree, creating its own original content, à la Netflix.

However, in Australia, video on demand services are lacking. “A lack of cultural and commercial imagination is holding back Australian digital viewing culture. Still isolated, still a little parochial, Australia isn’t lacking in options for how to view, but there’s little forward thinking about what’s possible,” and they can be sluggish, unreliable and pixelated, which, considering it’s undoubtedly where audiences are going to consume their content on a day-to-day basis, is problematic.

Over one in three Australian’s have a Netflix account, and the longer the Australian government ignores video on demand services, the more Australian content will suffer. Hopefully, the 2017-2018 inquiry into these services will lead to positive results which can be harnessed by the Australian film and content-making industries.

 

 

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