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New ACCC guidelines for online reviews

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Sunglasses

By Kaye Blum

As a 21 year old emerging writer, I was incredibly excited to land my first writing job reviewing gigs in a popular weekly street press magazine. I wouldn’t be paid for my work of course – the publication was free to readers and relied on advertising revenue to survive. But I would get a byline – my name would be in print – that was exciting! And that was over 20 years ago, well before the emergence of the internet. These days pretty much anyone can have a byline online.

I didn’t see myself as a critic, more of a reporter, providing punters with an insight to a particular performance or event as I’d experienced it. As a local music fan, I was thrilled to get my name on the door to see some of my favourite bands.

But I soon discovered it wasn’t all fun and games, I had to work. I needed to take a few notes (pre-smartphone-with-recorders era), which I preferred to do discretely (not easy in a dimly lit room with no tables). I had to stand where I could get the best quality sound, which was usually by the mixing desk. But I also needed a clear view of the stage and I’m not very tall. Needless to say, I had to be on the ball, so drinking wasn’t an option. And back then, I was fond of a bevvy or three at a gig.

Then came the actual writing process. And this didn’t come easily at first. I was a perfectionist and wanted my piece to sound as good as the music I’d heard. Well, close enough, anyway. I remember at times toiling away on a draft all night, sometimes until dawn, to file my review before deadline. Lead times were short – there was an editor and a pre-press process to go through before hitting that marvellously historic invention, the printing press.

When the weekly edition hit the streets, I’d race out to the nearest distribution point (usually a pub or record store) to grab a copy. I’d flick through the pages at lightning speed until I found my article. Week after week, my reviews were published verbatim.

One week, however, it was possibly my eighth or ninth review, I read my work in print and the colour drained from my face. It had been changed. A whole line had been removed and another added, which clearly altered the opinion I had articulated from my viewing experience of the gig. These were not my words, and they did not reflect what I had witnessed. But the review still had my name on it. 

I raced home and rang the editor. Why did you change my piece? What was wrong with it? Well, she explained, the headline artist’s record company is a major advertiser in our magazine; and your review wasn’t very favourable of him. What? It wasn’t directly critical or blatantly negative. Why couldn’t you call me first to discuss it with me? If it really had to change to something I didn’t actually experience I’d have asked you to take my name off it altogether. I put down the phone.

I never wrote for them again. In fact, I never reviewed again, until the past year. After living in London for six years from the mid Nineties and witnessing how some critics, particularly theatre critics, would sit in the front row with their pen and pads practically waving about as if to say, look at me, I’m very important to your production. And unfortunately, they did have the power to make or break a production with their reviews, depending on the publication they wrote for.

But isn’t a review just an opinion? It might be an educated and informed opinion, it might not. The reviewer’s experience can be impacted by so many factors – an exhausted performer, dodgy equipment, a catastrophe in the kitchen. There are factors that might not be apparent. And how informed is the reviewer? Are they an expert in the field they’re critiquing? Or are they just another punter? It varies. Dramatically. Especially now with the internet, because pretty much anyone can publish a review on a wide range of platforms, from TripAdvisor to their own blog.

Some review platforms publish anonymous reviews, so there is little or no accountability. Anyone can say anything. And they do. Everyone’s a critic. When it comes to online comments, anonymity gives some cowards the opportunity to say things they wouldn’t dare put their name to.

But maybe not for much longer.

Late last year, YouTube changed the way comments are managed* and moderated by requiring a Google+ ID login to comment. In a recent SlideShare presentation from JWT Intelligence called 101 Things To Watch In 2014*, slide number 97 predicts verified reviewers as the way forward, citing platforms such as Amazon and Google Play as already utilising a form of verification.

In an effort to address the increase of fake positive reviews and potentially business-destroying defamatory ones, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) published new guidelines to online reviews* for both businesses and review platforms in November 2013. While honest reviews can be helpful for consumer decision-making, the increase in fake positive and contrived negative reviews has serious implications.

The ACCC publication provides guiding principles on transparency of commercial relationships, reviews presented as impartial that are not, and editing or omission of reviews that can be misleading.

Disclosure of any incentive given to review is vital. When I added a review section to Tweed Scene last year, I updated my About page to disclose my reviewing principles in an effort to maintain the integrity of the site. After completing MEAA’s Australian Media Law and Ethics training in December, I was glad I’d instinctively chosen transparency on Tweed Scene, but even more grateful to have a deeper knowledge of Australian defamation laws.

Personally, I’m all for transparency, integrity, and reviewer verification. So I hope JWT Intelligence’s prediction for 2014 comes true. Meanwhile, for all those reviewers and bloggers out there who aren’t accredited journalists, best you familiarise yourself with the ACCC’s guidelines, pronto 🙂

*Accessed 15/1/14

Written by Kaye Blum

January 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm

X Media Lab & KR8V masterclasses – Sydney, June 2013

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By Kaye Blum

Harbourview Terrace, MCA

View from the Harbourview Terrace, MCA

For the past five years I’ve been trying to attend a X Media Lab (the “X” in X Media Lab stands for cross-platform, cross-disciplinary, and cross-cultural) conference, but for various reasons, missed out. This year it was back on home turf to celebrate its tenth anniversary after holding events in over a dozen countries.

Founded by Brendan Harken, X Media Lab events have covered as much ground in digital topics as it has geographical locations. Themes have included global media cultures and ideas; the future of journalism; animation and games; location based services; storytelling in the digital age; digital music; cross-platform and immersive media; and, in Switzerland this month, transmedia (wish I could be there). 

This year’s event comprised a highlights day conference designed for “time-poor” creative industries executives, held at the stunning Museum of Contemporary Art’s (MCA’s) Harbourview Terrace; plus two days of KR8V masterclasses, held at the University of NSW College of Fine Arts (COFA).

The highlights day featured over a dozen national and international academics, digital professionals and artists; each limited to a snappy 20 minute presentation (the full list of keynote speakers can be found here). Here are my picks:

Kristen Taylor, Digital Community Strategist for Al Jazeera (previously at The Huffington Post, FourSquare and the BBC New York) shared some poignant insights to why a digital community needs narratives. She talked about context and curating an archive that accrues value over time, such as tumblrs by The New York Times and National Geographic’s ‘Found’. Tumblr and Instagram are her preferred social media channels.

Key take-out from Kristen: “The internet continues to run on kindness… networks have self-healing properties – they heal themselves through kindness.”

Kate McQuillen from Mememe Productions had just won an interactive Emmy award for dirtgirlworld, an “organically designed transmedia project” including an animated kids TV series, merchandise, website, live events, garbage trucks, seeds, and more. There are only eight Emmys in Australia so it’s a fantastic achievement. It was fascinating to hear her journey from having the seed of an idea based on core values such as love and sustainability, and meeting future colleagues in the loo at X Media Lab ten years ago.

Key take-out from Kate: “We wear our hearts on our sleeves and don’t apologise for being ‘out there’.”

Author and presenter Dominic Knight talked about story and structure; the hero’s journey (Robert McKee, Joseph Conran) and the importance of knowing the rules, but where you can innovate.

Key take-out from Dom: “Stories are the conceptual framework that help us understand the world.”

Alvin Wang Graylin, CEO of minfo (China’s leading mobile search service), and founder of Guanxi Inc (a location-based social discovery platform), provided an overview of what it takes to be a tech entrepreneur. And judging by the long list of criteria he shared, there’s obviously a lot more required than just having the idea.

Executing the idea is only the beginning, he explained. A strong work ethic is critical, and being prepared to do the stuff that no one wants to do. Self-esteem, focus, creativity, patience, selling acumen, passion, in-depth industry knowledge, and having a strong team around you were just some of the points he covered. Having savings in the bank and being in a position to take risks were other crucial points – ones that often get ignored, usually to the detriment of the start-up.

To help get investors on board, Alvin provided a list of critical questions that need to be clearly and confidently answerable.

Key take-out from Alvin: “Be healthy – it gets tiring.”

I attended Alvin’s Masterclass on Saturday to hear him share a generous amount of detail on creating integrated mobile marketing campaigns. He also provided some terrific insights to the mobile market in China.

As a digital producer, Galvin Scott Davis has developed top lifestyle apps, business apps and kids games. He is the founder of Protein One, a boutique digital design and development agency in Sydney. His presentation opened with the question: are you a “why” or a “why not”? Creatives realise early on that they are “whys” – they’re always asking questions even as young children, he explained, then they realise it’s more fun to be a “why not”.

It was asking “why not” that pushed him through the challenges of creating a children’s app that required a technology that hadn’t yet been developed. (This process was explained in his masterclass.)

Key take-out from Galvin: “Creatives have imagination, innovation, and talent. We forget to have bravery, stubbornness, and persistence. We need all of the above.”

And one more: “if you’ve got stories, don’t let other people saying ‘no’ get in the way…. Embrace your hurdles – it can be dangerous but rewarding.”

Galvin also delivered an information-packed Masterclass on Saturday, called Reversing The Publishing Model – How To Reinvent Your Story Across Digital Media To Getting A Book Deal. Using the creation of his Dandelion e-book app as a case study, he generously shared the process from concept development through to reaching the Number 1 downloaded app in the Australian AppStore, then scoring a 3-book print publishing deal with Random House. It was fascinating, informative and inspiring stuff. 

Adam Good, director of digital media and content at Telstra Media, also had plenty to share in his presentation. He explained his concern with creative leadership in business and the two areas where he believes more training is needed. Strong leadership is one mandatory skillset; creativity is the other. “You need to flex both of those muscles to succeed” he said, naming Steve Jobs as an example. 

Adam believes there are not enough CEOs in Australia that have both of these attributes, with many coming up through financial management but lacking the sales/marketing/artistic side. He said he sees a lot of businesses failing due to this; there are not enough of these type of leaders here. I wanted to ask him why – is it because our culture places less value on creativity? If you’ve grown up enduring more than an occasional ribbing for being creative like I have, then it’s easy to assume so. But that’s a debate for another time…

The MCA Vivid Festival

The MCA illuminated for Vivid Festival

Back to Adam’s presentation, which moved on to Telstra’s future vision. There were many informative stats but 20 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time and the presentation ended prematurely, with the promise of providing the rest via a Twitter link (which I followed up on). 

Key take-out from Adam: “We need to change the mindset of people who don’t pay for content.”

Michael Naimark, media artist and part of the original design team for the MIT Media Laboratory; and Horst Hörtner, founding member and Director of the Ars Electronica Futurelab, a world leading interdisciplinary research project uniting art, technology and society in Austria, both shared some valuable insights in their presentations.

Key take-out from Michael: “Wearable tech is inevitable.”

Key take-out from Horst: “The next revolution: key technology that has the potential to change fundamental paradigms of our society…. 3D printing, we believe, is the next revolution.”

Vivid Festival and the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) were held in Sydney at the same time as X Media Lab and the city was literally bursting with creative energy. By night, Vivid’s stunning light projections transformed the Opera House, the MCA and other city buildings into dazzling palettes of colour and light. The post-conference networking event on the MCA’s balcony provided a spectacular view and an impressive end to an information-intense day.  

Bookcamp: the story of the future @ MWF2011

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By Kaye Blum

Retired content delivery devices find a new purpose.

Retired content delivery devices find a new purpose.

Describing itself as an ‘unconference’ with a mission to explore the future of new book technologies, this day-long session on Friday 2nd September was the highlight of the MWF program for me in terms of e-writing and e-books. Presented in partnership with if:book Australia, speakers included Kate Pullinger (author and co-creator of Inanimate Alice) from the UK, Kassia Krozser (booksquare.com) from the US, and Hugh McGuire (LibriVox, PressBooks) from Canada.

Facilitated by if:book’s Simon Groth, the ‘unconference’ format enabled participants to help decide the topics for discussion and set the agenda for the day. With three rooms available at the Wheeler Centre, sessions were divided by topics and designated a room.

For the first session, I decided to attend non-linear narratives, a topic set by participant Jeni Mawter, a writer and teacher. It was a lively discussion with participants providing some interesting examples of existing interactive and non-linear narratives. I’ve since connected with Jeni on Digital Book World’s forum via LinkedIn, where I found a robust discussion from a range of writers interested in this field, whether it be transmedia, multimedia, or interactive.

There was a 15 minute break allowing participants to choose their next session and make their way across three levels to the appropriate room. I chose a session hosted by Hugh McGuire, titled Why the internet and books will merge. McGuire has been researching and working in publishing and digital media for many years. He’d had a profound epiphany and once tweeted “the distinction between books and the internet is going to disappear” which created a tweeting backlash. He informed us that around 20% of the book market in the US is now e-books; in Australia it’s still only about 4%. While he acknowledged there is a different perceived value between a printed book and an e-book, “e-books are just html shrunk-wrapped into a different format,” he said.

An interesting statement, but I’m not sure I agree with it. I again mentioned the concept of ‘lean back’ and ‘lean forward’ technologies, which I believe is a major point of differentiation between e-books on tablets, compared to the web as viewed on a static desktop computer. Like smartphones, tablets have mobility and portability. They also have the ability to utilise GPS – locative media. This is one of the core aspects of the creative project for my Masters/PhD candidature. But more about that in upcoming blog posts.

The next session was titled Why do we read and what do new technologies offer stories, hosted by Kate Pullinger, co-creator of Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths. As an author of several printed books, she has been looking at new forms of narratives online for some time. Researching new technology has motivated her to ask: why do I read?

“I want a good story, good writing, to be taken away from myself – to be connected to the writing in a personal way,” she said. “It is something intangible, profound… This is the space I want to take you as a writer and where I want to go as a reader.”

She described a p-book (printed) as a content delivery system. I think that’s an entirely appropriate term for the printed book format; but I consider an e-book to be content and the e-reader or tablet as the delivery device. (Incidentally, I find it a little absurd that there isn’t yet a consistent way of spelling ebook, Ebook or e-book.)

Pullinger suggested asking: “When you move beyond the p-book, what are the elements that make it work?”

The discussion opened up to questions, with various threads on multimedia, non-linear narratives and aspects of gaming being raised.

“I am not a gamer,” Pullinger said. “I don’t want to make choices when reading, I want to be told a story.” This seems to be a significant point of differentiation between adult readers and the children’s book market. Children love the gaming element of interactive. Many adult readers want the immersive experience of reading a book without any distractions.

She explained that Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths were both collaborative processes. As she’s also an author of several p-book novels (her last one took her 12 years to write), she likes the contrast of collaboration when working on digital projects. But the creative process is different: “you have to get the script right first before you start making it,” she said.

Pullinger stresses the most important issues to consider are:

  1. How do you connect with your readers?
  2. How do you find your readers?

In retrospect (and because I’m writing this up over a week after the event and my hand-written notes are sometimes crap), I’m assuming this applies to writers, self-publishers, and publishers grappling with the new digital realms.

I found this session to be the most insightful, with valuable knowledge generously shared by a writer who has a wealth of experience both in print and digital media.

It was difficult to choose which room to venture into for the fourth session. Out of sheer complacency I stayed on in the same room for The value of interactive/ personalisation of stories. It was a reasonably interesting discussion which digressed in many directions, but my notes are sparse. I think I did more talking than writing in this one.

The final session for the day re-united all participants to discuss their findings. A valuable point was raised about education institutions and creative writing programs lagging behind in terms of new media. Actually I think the description was “they’ve got their heads stuck in the sand”. Given that I’m researching in this field at a university that’s supposedly pro-technology, my opinion of this is, well, varied. While it’s certainly not the case for journalism and communication courses, I think in terms of creative writing, it’s probably not far off the mark.

Another issue raised was the lack of enthusiasm or interest in digital/new media from mainstream publishers. There were no representatives from the majors at this conference. No surprises there.

IfBook is doing a great job of facilitating further conversations on the future of storytelling. They did a great job of organizing the day’s ‘unconference’, too. While I am still left with some of my core questions unanswered, I’ve realized over the past week that I’m not the only one. On that note, I’ll finish with a quote from another conference participant: “Every person in this room is the future of digital publishing.”

(c) 2011 Kaye Blum.

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