Tag Archives: Q&A

Q&A: Damien Stankiewicz on ARTE and off-screen viewer engagement

Following his recent article in Television & New Media entitled ‘Regathering the Imagined Audience: Shifting Strategies at a Trans-European Public Television Channel’, I got in touch with Damien Stankiewicz to ask him a few questions about his research.

I found your paper really interesting, particularly in regards to how ARTE engages with audiences off-screen through cultural events. How did you come about choosing this as an area of research?

I actually encountered ARTE as an undergraduate while studying abroad in France and found the project fascinating. I ended up writing my undergrad thesis on its transnational mission and then continued on to a doctoral program, at New York University, in an anthropology department where several anthropologists were doing pioneering work studying media producers. At first, I was very interested in the “European” mission of ARTE—how it sought to cultivate “European” belonging and loyalties in its transnational audiences. But during fieldwork in 2007-2009 (and this past summer), I began to also pay close attention to the issue of the “digital transformation” of television and the implications of this for ARTE. One thing I found, which the article reflects, is that this transformation isn’t always happening in predictable ways—it isn’t just about web streaming, etc., but about multiple strategies (some off-screen) to remain visible and relevant.

Beyond programme strategies and branding, while undertaking your research did you gain a sense of how ARTE saw its role in fostering off-screen engagement with the arts through the sponsorship of cultural events?

Yes, well this is why I wrote the article—to draw attention to an oft ignored aspect of media industries: their “off-screen” presence, marketing, sponsorship, etc. During fieldwork I noticed that ARTE was particularly interested in drawing connections between its on-screen programming and actual places and people, many of which were part of its on-screen programming. So for example, they might broadcast a documentary about the European elections and have some kind of debate event at the Maison de l’Europe in Paris the same week. I saw this happening often enough, and amidst ongoing anxieties about connecting with audiences, that it seemed to me an interesting parallel and strategy. People at ARTE were having trouble locating people as audiences and so I argue that these events, engagements, sponsorships, performances, etc., allowed them to reconnect with their viewers. As I state in the article, much of ARTE’s programming is explicitly about performance or arts, so this wasn’t much of a leap for them to make—and in France especially there is a long tradition of “actions culturelles.”

As you discuss in your research, television professionals are now able to interact with viewers on social media, as well as face-to-face through various events. In light of this, do you think the concept of the ‘imagined audience’ will become obsolete for broadcasters like ARTE?

A good question! and one that Graeme Turner has addressed in his excellent work on national broadcasting. I think the answer is complicated. On the one hand, the idea that by watching and encountering media together (whether on-screen or off-screen) people come to share understandings of themselves as belonging to communities of various kinds—I don’t think this is a model (or ideology) that is going away any time soon. On the other hand, I think the actual mechanics of this—the multiple and parallel and messy ways that people actually encounter media as knowledge about the world(s) “out there”—I think we’re needing to rethink Anderson’s model, which, to be fair, describes an 18th and 19th century (mostly Euro-American) media world. “Old” media, new media, and face-to-face interactions operate in ways that much of our theory—the “imagined community” included—cannot quite capture or explain. Part of the work I was trying to do in this article was to interfere with overly simplistic ideas of the “television audience” in a 21st century context in which the “audience” holds very little referential or explanatory power—not least because, as I hoped to suggest, they are often off-screen, on-screen, and encountering media in newly complex modalities.

 

Q&A: Kip Jones on the Art of Academic Blogging

UntitledKIP JONES, an American by birth, has been studying and working in the UK for more than 15 years. Under the umbrella term of ‘arts-based research’, his main efforts have involved developing tools from the arts and humanities for use by social scientists in research and its impact on a wider public or a Perfomative Social Science. Jones is Reader in Performative Social Science at the Centre for Qualitative Research at Bournemouth University.

I recently interviewed Jones to find out more about how he uses social media to share his research and his advice for other academics who want to try their hand at blogging.

You have created quite a prolific online presence with regular blog updates and use of Facebook and Twitter to share your research. Why is this important to you?

I have always been keen to reach wider audiences with my work, both my academic and creative outputs. It seems a shame to spend months, sometimes years, working on a project, only to have it end up on a library shelf or in an academic repository. I first used a personal website to get my work out there in combination with email newsgroups. When social media came along, I then began to experiment with Facebook and then Twitter as well to build audiences for my work.

A good example is my PhD Thesis, which I uploaded to my website at least ten years ago now with little interest then. In the past year or so it has also been uploaded to Academia.edu where it has now been viewed more than 700 times. This did not happen not only because of the site, but also because I frequently tweet about it and post it on Facebook as well. The fact that an 80,000 word document can generate this kind of attention is, quite frankly, mind boggling and demonstrates the strength of both social media and the impact of open access publication resources more generally.

My watchwords for social media are ‘Repetition, repetition, repetition!’ Don’t expect an audience to necessarily see your post the first time and don’t forget that they live in different global time zones. I have also been experimenting with what are called ‘tag lines’ in film distribution in writing 140 character tweets for Twitter. Creativity helps in getting attention in a very fast moving (and limited attention span) social media audience such as Twitter! And followers: be good to your followers and don’t forget to retweet their posts as well. Retweets build the audience, I have found.

The film based on your research, ‘Rufus Stone’, has been featured in such media outlets as The New York Times and BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed. What role has social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, played in promoting your work and engaging with wider audiences outside of academia?

In terms of the NY Times or Radio 4, I think ‘networking’ more generally was responsible for those successes. It really was a case of who do you know and more importantly who knows about you. I suppose social media helps a bit too and the Radio 4 producer still follows my tweets as does a reporter from Times Higher Education. So I would say it is mix of networking and always keeping up contacts through social media, which is easier and bit less off-putting then barraging reporters with email messages. If you have an idea for a story for a media outlet, a direct message through Twitter or Facebook is many times enough to create interest, without being too ‘self-promoting’.

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Your blog KIPWORLD covers a range of topics from advice on writing a PhD thesis, to insight into your creative process. What advice would you give to other academics wanting to start their own blog?

KIPWORLD profoundly changed the way I write academically. I stepped into the waters of blog writing a bit sheepishly at first, trying to find both my style and what I might write about. I definitely did not want to make my blog a daily diary of my life or work (and I don’t have a cat). I tend to painstakingly write and rewrite anyway, so putting something out frequently was never going to work for me. I still write for my blog about once a month, although I now write for other blogs from time to time (LSE Impact blog, LSE Review of Books, Discovery Society, Sociological Imagination, Creative Quarter, The Creativity Post, Bournemouth University Research Blog) as well.

At the same time as I was beginning to write KIPWORLD, I was also turning to contemporary fiction writers (mostly to help with writing RUFUS STONE’s backstory). I particularly was attracted to the ‘Conceptual Novel’ approach of writers like Michael Kimball. His lean style and exquisite choice of phrase attracted me because it is similar to the necessity of brevity in script-writing.

Because I was also writing about my own story in constructing RUFUS STONE, I began to use the blog to write about my past as well. I began to develop what I call a ‘fictive reality’ or fiction based in a remembered past. At one point I realised that I had written creative fiction for the blog 11 times over five years and compiled it as one piece, Creative Writing Eleven (short) Stories from KIPWORLD 2009-2013.

All of this experimentation affected my more academic writing almost by stealth; I was writing more clearly, more simply, even more creatively when writing for academic publication. Probably the best example of this is: Infusing Biography with the Personal: Writing RUFUS STONE first published in the journal, Creative Arts Research.

My advice to others? Find your own voice, even your own subject material. Use your blog to develop your writing and your own style. Don’t just assume that it has to look and sound like a blog to be one. Include at least one picture with every blog article. Let people know about the blog through social media—don’t expect an audience to just find it on its own. Promote it. If the most important thing in your life IS to write about your cat, write about it as creatively as you possibly can. Enjoy the experience!