Week 9: A Research Brief, As Asked

Gosh, it’s hard when you have a research question about which you have big opinions, isn’t it? You sit there looking at it wondering how you can possibly remove your current biases, and try to sift through things you can prove and things you can test. I mean, I have an answer for this. I get asked about this, by American friends, by people interested in Australian media.

So how would I address the question Why don’t Australians go to see Australian films?

It depends on who’s asking, of course. Without getting super cute about it, here are the people I expect to ask this question:

  • The government, as an investor in cinema
  • A movie creator, looking to maximise their opportunity
  • A movie distributor, wanting to decide whether to base out of Australia

Fortunately, for most of these people, there’s a lot of common information that benefits both. I’m not going to go do that research at this moment, just outline what information I’d want. The questions I know I need to answer:

  • Just how do we define successful films in Australia?
  • How many Australians have disposable income?
  • How are Australians partaking in film?
  • What form does film consumption take in Australia?

And, most crucially:

  • What competes with Australian media?

This isn’t a vacuum. With any research project, what you want is to come up with the context, you want to inform the decision your stakeholder makes. Oh, sure, you may have ideas and opinions on this – and hey, I’m keeping a lid on that right now – but what we’re looking for is something that research methods can help.

Okay, so what about these questions? Fortunately, a few of them are reasonably easy to look at. There’s statistical information that you can shake out, already obtained, about the first few questions. Particularly, that last question – about competition – is one we can dig into with qualitive questions.

Fact is, you can talk to anyone who watches films and talk to them about the films they like. And that’s where I’d want to go with this research once I’ve got sufficient data. When I know how much we spent on cinema, when I can do things like juxtapose our consumption on Australian films versus consumption of non-Australian film. Things like the commonality of film visits. Things like the how many people just watch youtube instead?

I’m honestly not sure I want this to be my research question. It’s an interesting question to talk about, but I’m not sure if this is the sort of space my interests lie. Still, the question was to draft a proposal around this specific question, so there we go.

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

Oh hey, it’s this conversation, again!

I’m not being dismissive. But if you’re doing a Journalism subject, you can’t act like you haven’t spoken about this already. If you’ve done three or four journalism subjects, you just might have talked about this four or five times.

The Arab Spring is an example of a revolution where we have a nice, clear narrative. People were able to ‘get’ it, where people in a particular location with a commonality had this narrative point where the internet was able to make a revolution happen.

Of course, it’s not always that simple. Consider that in Egypt, one of the great fears of external observers was that if the military sided with Mubarik, his power would be nearly absolute. But the military didn’t – they refused to open fire, even as they moved around the city in tanks. Tanks were returning to their depots with anti-Mubarik graffiti scrawled on their sides. Military forces were pushed back by people on bikes. Why? Did social media do that?

The military in Egypt were a byproduct of national service; every Egyptian male of a certain age bracket had to serve in the military. When put to it, military servicepeople were not a remote, external power system in the nation, they were considered part of the nation. They were brothers, uncles, fathers. Social media didn’t preserve the people of Egypt from military wrath; the connection between people’s families and the military did.

Similarly, some people point to the fomenting of trouble in Syria through online media as an enabler of the conflict there. Chances are it is; but so too are things like economic oppression, power disparity, international influence and even climate change.

There is a very tempting narrative to say that the social media has done something new and magical. It has certainly allowed people to help one another in different and surprising ways. But consider just how events in Ferguson, Missouri have been influenced on social media, where there’s a war over the information that’s being distributed. Darren Wilson was moved after he’d shed his social media links. GoFundMe, the crowdfunding website, was host to racist rhetoric praising the actions of a cop who killed a child. Twitter itself was washed with outright falsehoods and fake quotes from fake relatives of Ferguson citizens. If you can’t stop the claims, you can add to the noise; you can generate lies and false support – or hell, just enable horrible people.

I suppose the most chilling of these, though, is the moment of watching Palestinian citizens sharing advice to citizens of Ferguson for what to do when a police state throws tear gas at your children.

These systems are part of large, complicated, interrelated systems – but they are still only part of them. People can get drunk on participation – but then they get hung over.

They get bored.

They stop.

Social media is an agent for speeding social action – but it sure seems to speed up how quickly people run out of stamina, too.