Monday, July 21, 2008

Dr Galloway!

And while we are talking about finishing doctorates: Anne Galloway of Purse Lip, Square Jaw, is done with her Ph D! Congratulations!!!

Journalism and research

One of the things journalists always want more time to do is investigative research. They want time to dig into the facts of a case. They want to study more than one or two sides of it. They want time to interview a lot of people. They want to go to the depths of the case and find the truth. Investigative research or "gravende journalistikk" in Norwegian is the holy grail, the justification for all the other work journalists do, the reason why we need those who find and spread the real truth about society.

As long as the investigations concern something OTHER than journalism.

My colleague Jan Fredrik Hovden has just finished his Dr. Polit. on journalism and the cultures of journalists: Profane and Sacred: A Study of the Norwegian Journalistic Field. In his work he interviews journalists in order to understand their practice in relation to the concept of "social fields" by Bourdieu:
The first objective of this thesis is thus to study the practices of Norwegian journalists (how troublesome this word is going to be!) as located in and structured by a social field, using the theoretical tools and empirical investigations Bourdieu has made of other social fields as guidelines. In this way, this thesis is a contribution to the debate on the role and function of journalism in the public sphere and the understanding of journalistic practice more generally.

With Pierre Bourdieu as his model, guide and inspiration, Jan Fredrik has embarked on a long and painful project, as ambitious as it is important: To understand how Norwegian journalists practice their job. He has spent more than four years on this, an amount of time no Norwegian journalist can afford to spend on understanding a case. He has collected the facts systematically and from a very large number of sources:

In contrast to what seems to be the case for most prosopographic
analyses of social fields, the field analysis in this thesis is not based on (secondary) data of known individuals (e.g. biography collections), but on anonymous data collected by a survey questionnaire to a sample of Norwegian journalists and editors in 2005 (cf. appendix 1 for more details). Such an anonymous/survey-approach to the construction of the field – if with its own share of methodological problems – has some compensations, making it possible to incorporate a large number of individuals and variables in the analysis, which for example makes it feasible to include both dominated and dominating agents in the same field analysis.

Jan Fredrik Hovden has not only done the work, but like a good sociologist (and he is good, no doubt about it when you read his work) he also opens his methods up for criticism by publishing those. When did a journalist tell you how they made the decision to use this source and not that? When is there a methodological discussion attached to the article you read? When do you hear about the phone-calls, the strategies, the discussions about how to find and confirm a "case"?

One of the few times you do that in Norwegian journalism is actually in the much despised and deputed book "En helt vanlig dag på jobben" by Håvard Melnæs, former journalist in Se og Hør, a weekly magasine concerned with the lives of Norwegian "stars" (in a very loose sense of the word). Without any comparison to the work of Jan Fredrik Hovden, "A Regular Day at Work" by Melnæs was received as a betrayal. Melnæs describes how he cultivated the father of princess Mette-Marit, the commoner and single mother wife of crown prince Håkon of Norway. In this work he also describes the culture among the journalists and editors, and the lengths to which they were willing to go for a "case", up to creating cases themselves by arranging weddings and parties and paying for vacations and other services offered the subjects of their journalism.

Jan Fredrik Hovden's work is specifically not a subjective one-person view on an extreme case, as Melnæs' biography is. Hovden comes out of a tradition where access to his material and methods is as important as the conclusions. Exept for the anonymity of his sources the material he builds on is available for his critics, and others may check if they want to draw the same conclusions. And while journalists have the desk to read through their material and check if it is worthy of publication, Jan Fredrik has had three professors read and think through and criticize each word of his thesis, not in 10 hurried minutes while more cases scream for attention, but after months of deliberation.

So, how do the journalists receive his work? By claiming that academics have no substance to their criticism. As Per Edgar Kokkvold, general secretary of the Norwegian press union, says:

– Det er all grunn for mediefolk å være åpne for kritikk, og å engasjere akademikere til å se på om rollen som den lille manns forsvarer tas alvorlig nok. Jeg har ikke noen kvalifiserte synspunkter på dette. Men denne avhandlingen og andre rapporter om hvordan mediene utøver sin makt, og hvordan de retter et kritisk søkelys på alle maktinstitusjoner, viser at vi må nærme oss akademia og kritikere med et åpent sinn. Det er imidlertid ikke alltid disse har noe å fare med, sier Kokkvold til Journalisten.
To translate and summarize: Journalists should be open to criticism, and engage academics to see if the role as defender of "the little man" is taken seriously. But this and other reports about how journalists use their power shows that we have to approach academia with an open mind. However, not all have any substance to their work. (My emphasis).

So, when a journalist writes about the practice of others, that's an important function for journalism, protection of the democracy and main goal of journalism. When a journalist writes about the practice of journalism it's a betrayal. When an academic writes about the practice of journalists, he doesn't know what he is talking about.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

WoW insider and the anthology

Jessica Langer has just been interviewed by WoW-insider. It's a nice interview, and the comments were pretty good to us as well!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Norwegian vacation

"Do you all have summerhouses and cabins?" the foreign students asked my daughter, as she and her friends planned to bring them out to a family-owned cabin for a real Norwegian treat. The Norwegian students looked at each other, trying to figure out how to explain that it was not the luxury of the wealthy they were talking about when referring to the places they all used to go for vacations. The pool-cocktail-leisure-factor is very low on a regular Norwegian cabin vacation. My daughter tried to explain. "My grandfather spent years building the boathouse. All pitched in. He got the materials from houses he disassembled, clearing out sites for others, and it's really simple. Now my mother owns it with her sisters. We could never afford to buy anything like that." The other Norwegian students in the group told similar stories, stories of effort, passion, summers filled with work and common labour. These Norwegian students weren't children of the Norwegian "nouvaeu riche", but of very regular people, living regular lives and working for their bits of the good life.

However, when you struggle for daily survival and you know it's possible to make the equivalent of a yearly income at home in two months if you can just get a job in Norway, the Norwegian idea of working for "fun" becomes somewhat absurd, and the way I have just spent the last week becomes ridiculous. So, what have I been doing?

My mother's childhood home is still in the family. My mother shares ownership with another relative, and since there is some insecurity about the future of the place, we have just been making sure the house doesn't fall down and the forest doesnt' take totally over. But this year the house really needed to be painted. Four academically educated adults have just spent a week of vacation doing something a couple of Lithuanians would have done faster, better and cheaper, if we calculate the accumulated salaries of us wannabe painters. And to top the irrationality, I spent most of the time cooking and baking for the other three in a kitchen with no hot water, barely any running water (drinking water must be carried from far off), and a not-exactly functioning stove, putting together elaborate meals from scratch, to keep them working with full bellies and happy smiles. I am just glad we had electricity - kind of. Now I am exhausted, hurt all over, and stink from days of hard work and no shower. No water closet either, btw.

So, why do something like that, and even enjoy it and keep the object that causes repetitions of such experiences?

There's something so extremely satisfying in staying alive and leaving a physical mark from your passage through time, that it is almost a national cult. Not all do this by cooking under extreme conditions or painting run-down buildings in fresh and inspiring colours. Some do it by walking to the nearest mountain just to look down and think: "I was down there, now I am here." And afterwards: "I was up there, now I am here. I did it, and I am alive." Others do it by catching their own dinner. Then, when you eat the catch, you can think: "I caught this, I killed it, I cleaned it, I cooked it. I know how to feed myself, and I am alive." Or you can sit inside, feeding the fire with wood cleared from the patch on which your little cabin stands, eating food carried up on your back, listening to the rain and watching the fog and the clouds, thinking: "I am warm, dry, full, in shelter and alive."

I think the Norwegian vacation is all about being alive and seeing the act of living confirmed and reconfirmed by covering distance, physical labour, hunting, gathering (there's something extremely "alivish" about gathering liters of fragrant mushrooms or juicy berries from the forests and mountains) and fishing. Kneeling on the ground in front of a pot full of self-caught fish just cooked in sea-water over an open fire, the whole scene bathed in the light of the midnight sun, a cousin expressed his profound sadness, his pity, for the rest of the world. They had no way to experience this: the circle of labour and life, of struggle and blessing.

To work, to eat, to work, to eat, and to do it all so directly was the most beautiful thing in his life. Of course to him the mountains, the fjord, the sky above us, the family around him and the low light of the sun at midnight was the only thinkable scenery for this experience, and part of his lament. Poor world, not kneeling on the ground about to partake in the simple bounty of one of the harshest climates of the world.

And so, while I hurt so badly I am in tears if I turn wrong, I am also deeply grateful that I can feel this. I can care for those who rely on me in the most direct manner, by feeding them and easing their day. I can leave a trace of my passage through the world, not by publishing something nobody reads, but by painting a wall and seeing the colour change with each stroke. And by doing this I care for others again, as that wall will shelter them and keep them warm. Fed. Sheltered. Now all I need is to start knitting again, and they will also be dressed.

There are still Norwegians who consider rediscovering these aspects of life in it's most clear and simple reality to be a luxury, a priviledge and a way to gather strength before long winters in jobs many times removed from the simplicity of human survival. Normally I am not one of those, but this summer I am revisiting this realm of my upbringing and my summer paradise. And yes, it hurts, literally. But it also warms, as my father said of the wood we'd cut, clear, transport, cut again, stack, dry, chop and carry in to the fireplace. It warms more than once.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Back from Umeå

And while I have the blog window open: I have moved back from Umeå, and am in Volda, about to start moving into my old office. Feels good, although there's a lot I am going to miss about HUMlab, the department of Culture and Media, where I was situated, and the colleagues there. But it feels extremely good to be here, tucked in between the mountains and the ocean. It feels like home.

Surveillance and democracy

This morning the Norwegian paper Bergens Tidende had on their front page a case about blogs and bloggers. A group within the European Parliament have voted over whether blogs should be controlled and registered - and they were 33 for, one against the proposition. for more information on this, have a look at Jill Walker Rettberg's post on the topic, which has interesting links and a well-informed commentary.