Katie Donnelly

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been occasionally highlighting the most interesting of the recent parade of books on new media and public engagement. Unfortunately, we can’t review them all here, but here are two especially enlightening recent publications worth checking out.

 

How Entrenched Interests Control Audience Metrics

Audience Evolution: New Technologies and the Transformation of Media Audiences  is a 2011 book from Philip M. Napoli, professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business and director of the Donald McGannon Communication Research Center. Audience Evolution builds on Napoli’s previous book, Audience Economics, and could serve as a particularly useful text for university or graduate level communications coursework.

The book examines how developments in new media technologies have led to audiences that are increasingly fragmented into groups and across platforms. At the same time, new media has helped to empower audiences as more than just passive consumers, which poses a challenge to traditional metrics for measuring audience. (We’ve examined the problems with traditional audience metrics and the need for new measurement tools before.)

Napoli analyzes the challenges associated with measuring new audience information systems in detail, discussing new audience measurement tools and techniques that focus on emerging factors, such as appreciation, recall, engagement, and behavior. Napoli also considers the effect of various political and economic forces on the evolution of the media audience. Using relevant examples, he demonstrates the ways in which political and economic stakeholders have exercised their power in shaping new audience assessment tools and approaches.

For example, Napoli discusses initiatives like Nielsen’s Local People Meter, an effort from Nielsen to measure local television watching habits through electronic meters instead of paper diaries. This change, which has the potential to better capture actual audience viewing habits, has been met with tremendous resistance from stakeholders, particularly local broadcasters. As is the case with many new audience measurement tools, stakeholders with vested financial interests and traditional conceptualizations of audiences have been slow to come onboard.

Napoli points out that we are inexorably moving toward a new definition of what “audience” means, but he cautions that “the dominant institutionalized conceptualization of the media audience will not change unless the ability to gather alternative audience information is accompanied by a substantial breakdown in audience information systems.” He notes that it is highly unlikely that stakeholders who benefit from the current status quo will embrace new systems with open arms. This tension between political, economic, technological and cultural forces will continue to shape the evolution of the rapidly changing “media audience.”

How Voice Can Challenge Neoliberalism

08oeb_arrival3Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics After Neoliberalism, a book by Nick Couldry, professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, was published last year. Why Voice Matters is primarily a critique on neoliberalism and its market-driven values. In this rigorous book packed full of theory, Couldry puts forth the argument that “voice,” which he defines as both a process and a value, can pose an effective challenge to the current neoliberal paradigm.

Couldry breaks down the ways in which our current media systems fail to provide people with the opportunity to have their voices heard, arguing that in doing so, media serve to amplify and reinforce the current system of neoliberalism. He also makes the point that simply having more voices enter into public conversation is not enough to change the status quo.

Not only do people need to experience effective opportunities to speak and be heard, Couldry argues, but we also need to know that our voices matter. We’ve grown accustomed to a system in which people assume that our voices will not make a difference, particularly when it comes to the political and economic arenas. “Making voices matter is hard,” he writes, “It is even harder, amid the proliferation of new voices, to challenge the hidden forces and dislocations that prevent them mattering when it counts.”

Yet Couldry ultimately takes an optimistic view, recounting the many ways in which new technologies are helping to shift the current paradigm: through an influx of new voices, mutual awareness, new scales of organization, new understandings of the spaces required for political organization and new intensities of listening. These changes, he suggests, could very well be signposts on the road toward a post-neoliberal society.