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Under quarantine, media is actually social

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The flood of status symbol content into Instagram Stories has run dry. No one is going out and doing anything cool right now, and if they are, they should be shamed for it. Beyond sharing video chat happy hour screenshots and quarantine dinner concoctions, our piece-by-piece biographies have ground to a halt. Oddly, what remains feels more social than social networks have in a long time.

With no source material, we’re doing it live. Coronavirus has absolved our desire to share the recent past. The drab days stuck inside blur into each other. The near future is so uncertain that there’s little impetus to make plans. Why schedule an event or get excited for a trip just to get your heartbroken if shelter-in-place orders are extended? We’re left firmly fixed in the present.

A house-arrest Houseparty, via StoicLeys

What is social media when there’s nothing to brag about? Many of us are discovering it’s a lot more fun. We had turned social media into a sport but spent the whole time staring at the scoreboard rather than embracing the joy of play.

But thankfully, there are no Like counts on Zoom .

Nothing permanent remains. That’s freed us from the external validation that too often rules our decision making. It’s stopped being about how this looks and started being about how this feels. Does it put me at peace, make me laugh, or abate the loneliness? Then do it. There’s no more FOMO because there’s nothing to miss by staying home to read, take a bath, or play board games. You do you.

Being social animals, what feels most natural is to connect. Not asynchronously through feeds of what we just did. But by coexisting concurrently. Professional enterprise technology for agenda-driven video calls has been subverted for meandering, motive-less togetherness. We’re doing what many of us spent our childhoods doing in basements and parking lots: just hanging out.

For evidence, just look at group video chat app Houseparty, where teens aimlessly chill with everyone’s face on screen at once. In Italy, which has tragically been on lock down since COVID-19’s rapid spread in the country, Houseparty wasn’t even in the top 1500 apps a month ago. Today it’s the #1 social app, and the #2 app overall second only to Zoom.

Houseparty topped all the charts on Monday, when Sensor Tower tells TechCrunch that Houseparty’s download rate was 323X higher than its average in February. It’s currently #1 in Portugal (up 371X) and Spain (up 592X) despite being absent from the chart a week earlier. Apptopia tells me Houseparty saw 25 downloads in Spain on March 1st and 40,000 yesterday. A year ago Houseparty was nearly dead, languishing at #245 on the US charts before being acquired by Fortnite-maker Epic in June. Our sudden need for unmediated connection has brought it roaring back to life.

After binging through Netflix and beating the video games, all that’s left to entertain us is each other.

Undivided By Geography

If we’re all stuck at home, it doesn’t matter where that home is. We’ve been released from the confines of which friends are within a 20 minute drive or hour-long train. Just like students are saying they all go to Zoom University since every school’s classes moved online, we all now live in Zoom Town. All commutes have been reduced to how long it takes to generate an invite URL.

Nestled in San Francisco, even pals across the Bay in Berkeley felt far away before. But this week I had hour-long video calls with my favorite people who typically feel out of reach in Chicago and New York. I spent time with babies I hadn’t met in person. And I kept in closer touch with my parents on the other coast, which is more vital and urgent than ever before.

Playing board game Codenames over Zoom with friends in New York and North Carolina

Typically, our time is occupied by acquaintances of circumstance. The co-workers who share our office. The friends who happen to live in the neighborhood. But now we’re each building a virtual family completely of our choosing. The calculus has shifted from who is convenient or who invites us to the most exciting place, to who makes us feel most human.

Even celebrities are getting into it. Rather than pristine portraits and flashy music videos, they’re appearing raw, with crappy lighting, on Facebook and Instagram Live. John Legend played piano for 100,000 people while his wife Chrissy Teigen sat on screen in a towel looking salty like she’s heard “All Of Me” far too many times. That’s more authentic than anything you’ll get on TV.

And without the traditional norms of who we are and aren’t supposed to call, there’s an opportunity to contact those we cared about in a different moment of our lives. The old college roommate, the high school buddy, the mentor who gave you you’re shot. If we have the emotional capacity in these trying times, there’s good to be done. Who do you know who’s single, lives alone, or resides in a city without a dense support network?

Reforging those connections not only surfaces prized memories we may have forgotten, but could help keep someone sane. For those who relied on work and play for social interaction, shelter-in-place is essentially solitary confinement. There’s a looming mental health crisis if we don’t check in on the isolated.

The crisis language of memes

It can be hard to muster the energy to seize these connections, though. We’re all drenched in angst about the health impacts of the virus and financial impacts of the response. I certainly spent a few mornings sleeping in just to make the days feel shorter. When all small talk leads to rehashing our fears, sometimes you don’t have anything to say.

Luckily we don’t have to say anything to communicate. We can share memes instead.

The internet’s response to COVID-19 has been an international outpour of gallow’s humor. From group chats to Instagram joke accounts to Reddit threads to Facebook groups like quarter-million member “Zoom Memes For Quaranteens”, we’re joining up to weather the crisis.

A nervous laugh is better than no laugh at all. Memes allow us to convert our creeping dread and stir craziness into something borderline productive. We can assume an anonymous voice, resharing what some unspecified other made without the vulnerability of self-attribution. We can dive into the creation of memes ourselves, killing time under house arrest in hopes of generating smiles for our generation. And with the feeds and Stories emptied, consuming memes offers a new medium of solidarity. We’re all in this hellscape together so we may as well make fun of it.

The web’s mental immune system has kicked into gear amidst the outbreak. Rather than wallowing in captivity, we’ve developed digital antibodies that are evolving to fight the solitude. We’re spicing up video chats with board games like Codenames. One-off livestreams have turned into wholly online music festivals to bring the sounds of New Orleans or Berlin to the world. Trolls and pranksters are finding ways to get their lulz too, Zoombombing webinars. And after a half-decade of techlash, our industry’s leaders are launching peer-to-peer social safety nets and ways to help small businesses survive until we can be patrons in person again.

Rather than scrounging for experiences to share, we’re inventing them from scratch with the only thing we’re left with us in quarantine: ourselves. When the infection waves pass, I hope this swell of creativity and in-the-moment togetherness stays strong. The best part of the internet isn’t showing off, it’s showing up.

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Indonesia approves large-scale social restrictions for Jakarta: media – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s health ministry has approved a request by the government of Jakarta to impose large-scale social restrictions in the city to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, media on Tuesday cited a ministry official as saying.

A health ministry spokeswoman, however, subsequently told Reuters that Jakarta’s request has yet to be approved.

Several news outlet, including news website Detik.com, quoted Busroni, who heads the media and public opinion department at the health ministry, as saying the Jakarta government can decide on the restrictions it wants to impose after approval.

(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo, Fanny Potkin and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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COVID-19 crisis: Most Canadians support bailout for media organizations, poll finds – National Post

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The majority of Canadians support government bailouts for media organizations that are facing a collapse in advertising revenue since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses across the country, according to a new poll.

The survey was conducted by Nanos Research for FRIENDS of Canadian Broadcasting, a non-partisan media watchdog, and was released Monday.

It found that seven in 10 Canadians support (26 per cent), or somewhat support (41 per cent) the federal government sending financial aid to failing news organizations.

A majority of Canadians also agree (36 per cent), or somewhat agree (26 per cent) that Ottawa should treat media bankruptcies and layoffs as an emergency because journalism is essential to “keeping Canadians safe” during this crisis.

A country that can’t talk to itself ceases to be

The survey notes that Canadian media outlets have seen advertising revenues fall by as much as 60 per cent, and nearly 500 journalists were laid off in the first two weeks of the lockdown.

Torstar, which publishes several daily newspapers including the Toronto Star, announced on Monday that it would eliminate 85 positions and cut its operating budget to offset advertising revenue losses.

The government previously announced a $30-million COVID-19 awareness advertising campaign in an effort to support Canada’s struggling media industry. And Ottawa said it was moving closer to implementing long-promised tax credits for newspapers.

However, the measures were widely criticized as too little to make a real difference, including Mark Lever, the president of SaltWire Network, a newspaper chain in Atlantic Canada that laid off 240 employees — or about 40 per cent of its workforce — last month and shuttered several of its publications.

“Many of our most prominent journalism outlets face imminent failure, even after the government’s proposed tax credits and wage subsidies are factored in,” FRIENDS’ Executive Director Daniel Bernhard said. “This is an acute emergency and Canadians want Ottawa to intervene quickly to save these trusted institutions from mass extinction.

“Our democracy and our future as an independent country are at stake. A country that can’t talk to itself ceases to be. If we lose our media, we lose our country.”

When the stakes are this high, only professional journalists can be trusted to deliver the truth

The survey also found that most Canadians trust traditional media more than social media outlets to deliver accurate information during a crisis. Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) think content in social media posts is less accurate. Only 10 per cent believe social media is as accurate as traditional media, while four per cent think it is more accurate.

“Canadians are very clear that when the stakes are this high, only professional journalists can be trusted to deliver the truth,” Bernhard said. “It’s time for Ottawa to end the unfair advantages and preferential tax policies that help untrusted companies like Facebook sink Canada’s newsrooms.”

Canadians also support (41 per cent), or somewhat support (31 per cent) increasing funding for the CBC.

The survey was conducted over landlines, cellphones and online between March 30 and April 2 as part of an omnibus survey. Nanos Research carried out a random survey of 1,036 Canadians aged 18 and over. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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Top Tabloid Exec Dylan Howard Out at American Media Inc. (EXCLUSIVE) – National Post

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LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – American Media Inc. executive Dylan Howard is out after more than a decade at the publishing company, Variety has learned exclusively.

Howard’s contract, which expired on March 31, was not renewed. Reasons for his departure were not immediately clear, though rumors of his exit had been brewing internally at the owner of Us Weekly and InTouch magazines for weeks, multiple sources said. Howard, an unflinching tabloid editor, became the subject of media storms surrounding Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump in recent years.

Howard and American Media did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.

Howard most recently served as a senior vice president in corporate development, where he was said to be conceiving scripted and unscripted projects in the true crime arena. Prior to that, Howard spent six years as the editor in chief of AMI digital gossip property RadarOnline, and previously served as chief content officer for all the David Pecker-run publications including the National Enquirer, Closer, Life&Style and InTouch.

Numerous media reports over the past year suggested Howard had been sidelined at AMI with his editorial role being minimized, as he’s switched his focus to TV and literary projects.

The Australian-born journalist rose to prominence as a tabloid reporter by exposing major stories like Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rants and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s secret child. He was a key figure in Ronan Farrow’s reporting regarding Weinstein’s enablers with Farrow reporting that Howard was a Weinstein accomplice who dug up dirt on women accusing the fallen movie mogul, who is now serving a 23-year prison sentence for rape and sexual assault.

Howard famously threatened to sue the Pulitzer Prize-winning Farrow and his publisher over his best-selling book, “Catch & Kill,” which is about a journalist being threatened by systems of powerful men. (The phrase “catch and kill” refers to the practice of tabloid editors buying stories and then burying them, so they never see the light of day.)

Howard was also accused by Farrow and The Wall Street Journal of burying stories about President Trump with Farrow writing that the Australian tabloid executive shredded incriminating documents about Trump when he oversaw the Enquirer, which never published the documents.

In 2019, Bezos, who owns the Washington Post, accused Howard and American Media of extortion and blackmail after the Enquirer published an expose about his extramarital affair and included racy texts to his now-girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez, which forced Bezos to publicly announce his divorce. The Amazon founder made his accusations known in a lengthy written piece, where he said Howard threatened to print a nude photo of Bezos and Sanchez, unless the Bezos-owned Washington Post eased up on their “politically motivated” coverage of AMI.

American Media Inc. paid $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed an affair with Trump, to buy the exclusive rights to her story, which never ran. Following scrutiny for the McDougal hush money payout and fallout from the Bezos expose, AMI made a $100 million deal to sell the National Enquirer to James Cohen, the heir to Hudson News, which as of today, has still not closed. A source says the much-delayed deal has not been called off, and prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the buyer was still working through details, but with the economic crisis spurred by the pandemic, business across all industries is on pause.

Howard’s departure comes as American Media announced company-wide salary cuts, in the wake of the coronavirus, though the publishing company was financially troubled long before the viral outbreak. All of the company’s titles, such as Us Weekly, cut employees’ salary by 23% on Apr. 1.

When announcing company-wide pay cuts last week, American Media Inc. released a statement to media, noting that no layoffs have occurred. “American Media is committed to doing everything we can during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure our staff maintain their employment and health benefits,” a spokesperson for the company said.

Prior to the coronavirus-prompted salary cuts at AMI, both RadarOnline and Men’s Journal underwent sweeping staff reductions with the men’s lifestyle magazine relocating to the west coast and laying off New York-based employees. Insiders say RadarOnline was hit the hardest, among the company’s layoffs.

American Media’s pay cuts come as the advertising business has been shaken by coronavirus’ impact, causing other publishing company to slash salaries, including Buzzfeed, which recently announced temporary cuts.

The entire entertainment industry has been deeply affected by the pandemic with production shut down across television and film and deal-making halted in Hollywood, resulting in the talent agencies being particularly hit hard with layoffs and staff-wide salary reductions. Mega corporations, like Disney, have furloughed employees, as theme parks remain closed and chairman Bob Iger gave up his multi-million annual salary.

After a brief departure from American Media when he ran the celebrity site CelebBuzz, Howard had been back with AMI since 2013 and became editor-in-chief of RadarOnline, and later was named editor of the National Enquirer. During his rise at AMI, Howard was a key lieutenant to Pecker, who remains atop the publishing company.

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