I’m at the University of Minnesota this weekend, where Nora Paul has organized a workshop on Newsgames. It’s an excellent group, comprised of equal parts journalists, game developers, and academics.
On the flight over, I read Ivor Southwood’s Non-Stop Inertia. It’s about the precarious nature of work in the contemporary world, but I happened across a fantastically wry and apt critique of the current state of journalism in the book.
Perhaps the most vivid dramatization of placeless anxiety is 24 hour news. With its pumping and draining of personalities and monitoring of vital signs, digital news depicts the world as a continually unfolding narrative of non-places–business zones, transport terminals, entertainment complexes, the news studio, and the Internet themselves–upon which the multi-platform precarity of everyday life is enacted and its blurred perspective reproduced. There is now no time to assess a news story from a critical distance, because the reporter has to comment on the event “as it happens” (or even before it happens) and improvise to fill the space, using speculation or viewer-supplied material if necessary. This is the media equivalent of “looking busy.”
I gave a presentation yesterday, and I was thrilled to be able to include this at the end. One of the primary challenges for newsgames (and for computational journalism in general) emerges from theÂ media industry’s continued obsession with the daily newsroom and the media ecology of stories, videos, images, and so forth. The media makes these things not because they “work,” but because that’s what it means to do one’s job—to press forward on restless activity despite its impotence. It’s not just McJobs and grey cubicles that culture paralysis at work, but also public, high-gloss industries like media.
At the end of Newsgames: Journalism at Play, we tell the story of some of the difficulties we encountered at Persuasive Games publishing with the New York Times. It’s only one example, but it’s instructive, and I think very common. There is a misperception that the problem with newsgames adoption is one of viability or respect—games aren’t a mature cultural form, or they’re just for kids, or they haven’t proven their salt, or they don’t have a viable business model, or what have you. But the real problem is that newsgames don’t match the routine of media organizations. These routines must be maintained at all costs, not to insure quality or success, but to maintain inertia.