ON STRINGERS | 2019-02-14

From Wikipedia:

“In journalism, a stringer is a freelance journalist, photographer, or videographer who contributes reports, photos, or videos to a news organization on an ongoing basis but is paid individually for each piece of published or broadcast work. […]

The etymology of the word is uncertain. Newspapers once paid stringers per inch of printed text they generated. The theory given in the Oxford English Dictionary is that a stringer is a person who strings words together, while others use the term because the reporter is “strung along” by a news organization, or kept in a constant state of uncertainty. Another possibility is that using a sports analogy, the freelance journalist is seen as a “second string” whereas the staff journalist positions are more of the “first string”. (This in turn comes from music, where the first string is the premiere violin in the orchestra, the second string is the next most talented player and so on.)”

It is arguably no debatable issue that nowadays journalism – dwelling within a fully digitised, grassroots bottom-up social media era – is pretty much dead. Or perhaps, it is reborn and come back to life by way of a previously unrecognisable shape, depending on which side of the fence you’re on. This holds true at least as far as its modern conceptualisation as enlightened classic fourth-estate goes, residing alongside centuries-long bred societal pillars and acting as a watchdog of sorts against disenfranchisement and corruption. Yet somehow, as per their crowdsourced definition above, it is probably not so far-fetched to view stringers as the true first scattered networked social media contributors, vastly predating Facebook, Twitter and co (the irony of it coming from the most famous crowdsourced knowledge platform is not lost on me…). Stringers were, in other words, the OGs of citizen journalism, ostracised to the outskirts of corporative newsroom boundaries yet ever so critical and paramount for that sensational breaking news story-piece every news director is constantly chasing. Bear with me here.

Enter Louis Bloom, a character stemming from the mind and pen of American screenwriter and director extraordinaire Dan Gilroy. Lou is the lead protagonist in Nightcrawler, an outstanding 2014 motion picture film written and directed by Gilroy himself, chronicling the rapid and exponential rise and parallel moral downfall of an aspiring DYI stringer hustling through the nocturnal streets of an irresistibly sensual Los Angeles. Now the thing is that, after devouring the movie for the umpteenth time, the penny dropped for me. That is, I was very surprised to come to realise that there was in fact a hidden, secret, and decisively revealing narrative carved in-between the fatty lines rounding up the edges of the official acted script. A script within a script. Deep down. A story we weren’t supposed to fetch and grasp at a first superficial glance, but one that in reality unveiled so much more beneath the surface about modern neoliberal markets, philosophy, and existential musings. Dub it whatever suits you best, I just went ahead and took the official movie screenplay apart, unpacking anything I could find while looking for that mysterious feeling that the film as a whole was somehow able to convey. Seeing is believing.

Luckily for us, I think I was able to catch it. I got it out. Extracting selected excerpts from the full script – incidentally all Louis Bloom lines – helped revealing a whole entire new storyline stuffed with elevated teachings about life and beyond. Camouflaged and packaged within a Hollywood blockbuster, there is perhaps one of the most daring and radical educational deliveries that contemporary mainstream mass cultural production has ever seen. Enjoy and consume it responsibly:

 

LOU
Sir, excuse me, I’m looking for a job. In fact, I’ve made up mind to find a career I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard-worker, I set high goals and I’ve been told I’m persistent. Now I’m not fooling myself, sir. Having been raised with the self-esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered. But I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those who work their asses off, and that people such as yourself who reach the top of the mountain didn’t just fall there. My motto is if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket. Did I say I worked in a garage? Sir, I think you and I could work well together. So how about it? I can start tomorrow or even why not tonight?

LOU
This is a custom racing bicycle, sir, designed for competitive road cycling. This bike has a lightweight, space-age carbon frame and handlebars positioned to put the rider in a more aerodynamic posture. It also has micro-shifters and 37 gears and weighs under six pounds. I won the Tour de Mexico on this bike.

LOU
Well, I’m selling this particular piece for ten thousand. I think at that price there’s a lot of value in it for you.

LOU
Thank you. I’m just beginning so praise from someone such as yourself, well you can imagine it means quite a lot.

LOU
It’s a fine opportunity for some lucky someone. I’d like to know about your prior employment and hear in your own words what you learned from each position.

LOU
I’m giving you the chance to explore career options and gain insight into my organization. It’s not at all unusual for me to make full-time job offers to my interns.

LOU
Don’t rush you. Okay. Good, I can use that … You see, Rick, they’ve done studies, and they found that in any system that relies on cooperation, from a school of fish or say even a professional hockey team for example, these experts have identified communication as the number one single key to success.

LOU
I liked how you handled Frank. You didn’t soften the truth or dilute it. I think being clear with your objectives is more important than trying to present ideas in a non-confrontational manner.

LOU
Well, all sorts of things, actually. I’m on my computer all day. I haven’t had what you’d call much formal education but you can find most anything if you look hard enough. Last year I took an on-line business course, for example. I learned you have to have a business plan before starting a business, and that why you pursue something is as important as what you pursue. The site advised you to answer the following question before deciding where to focus your abilities. The question was ‘What do I love to do?’ The site suggested making a list of my strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? And what are you not that good at? Maybe you want to strengthen and develop knowledge about the things you’re already good at. Or maybe you might want to strengthen your weaknesses. I recently remade my list and I’m thinking now that television news might just be something that I love as well as something that I happen to be good at.

LOU
Rick, I’m really pleased with how you’ve progressed and you’re doing a great job. However you just spilled gasoline on my car, which will eat the paint. I’d like you to tighten up a bit on this, because if you fill it like that again I’m gonna terminate you immediately, I promise you.

LOU
I’m focusing on framing. A proper frame not only draws the eye into a picture but keeps it there longer, dissolving the barrier between the subject and the outside of the shot.

LOU
Cabanita has been called an authentic taste of Mexico City. Most evenings there’s live music, but on Saturdays classic Mexican films are shown. Do you want to go with me? I think it would be fun if we went together.

LOU
Thanks for offering me the position but working for myself is more in line with my skills and career goals.

LOU
I feel like grabbing you by your ears and screaming in your face I’m not fucking interested. Instead I’m going to drive home and do some accounting.

LOU
Not me. I want to be the guy who owns the station that owns the camera. The business is doing well but I’m ready to grow to the next level. To do that I need to stay one step ahead of my competition and take risks. I also need financial support to implement expansion. Would you like another margarita?

LOU
I recently learned, for instance, that most Americans watch local news to stay informed. I also learned that an average half-hour of Los Angeles television news packs all its local government coverage — including budget, law enforcement, education, transportation and immigration — into 22 seconds. Local crime stories, however, not only usually led the news but filled 14 times the broadcast, averaging 5 minutes 7 seconds. And K.W.L.A. relies heavily on such stories. With Los Angeles crime rates going down I think that makes items like mine particularly valuable, like rare animals. I imagine your needs will only increase during next week’s rating sweeps period.

LOU
There’s certain good things in being alone. You have time to do the things you want to do, like study and plan. But you can’t have dinners like this. Or be physical with a person, I mean beyond a flirtationship.

LOU
You’re the news director on the vampire shift at the lowest rated station in L.A. I have to think you’re invested in this transaction.

LOU
You’re not listening, Nina. I happen to know you haven’t stayed at one station for more than two years at a time, and you’re coming up on two years soon. So I can imagine you have a contract for that length of time and that ratings during the next week will directly affect that.

LOU
Actually that’s not true, Nina. Because as I’m sure you know … a friend is a gift you give yourself.

LOU
It’s half-dozen of one, six of the other. What I’d like is for you to admit that you didn’t read what you said you did. I think you know that I’m a reasonable person, but no one likes to be lied to.

LOU
Rick. Trying to leverage your salary in this economic environment is near impossible. Most firms have set starting wages. Ideally, you could leverage with other offers but that is just not the case in your situation right now.

LOU
I thought you’d worked in other factors. If I didn’t think you could do better I wouldn’t ride you about routes. You have to know that, Rick. I think it’s just possible that I have a higher opinion of you than you have of yourself.

LOU
You should have walked in and looked, Rick. If you were half-curious. That’s what I’m paying you to do. You need to show initiative. There’s no better way to achieve job security than by making yourself an indispensable employee.

LOU
All the more reason. You might have helped me. You might have learned a new skill that made you more useful and put us on a track toward growth.

LOU
I’m not going to list the many benefits of this piece. I think it’s best that you probably just watch it for yourself.

LOU
Those were poor Mexican people in a roach coach. Two of them were illegals. These are three wealthy white people shot and killed inside their mansion, including a suburban wife shotgunned in her bed. I know you, Nina. I know your interest and excitement in this product is greater than the amount you’re offering.

LOU
What if the story’s not over? The people who did this escaped. They’re still out there, walking around with the rest of us. If I had a family and I lived in a home that might make me nervous. I would want updates on what was going on. With this footage people will turn to your channel for the story. Now I like you, Nina, I look forward to our time together, but you have to understand that 15,000 isn’t all that I want. From here on, starting now, I want my work to be credited by the anchors and on a burn. The name of my company is Video News Productions, a professional news gathering service. That’s how it should read and that’s how it should be said. I also want to go to the next rung and meet your team and the anchors and the director and the station manager, to begin developing my own personal relationships. I’d like to start meeting them this morning. You’ll take me around and you’ll introduce me as the owner and president of Video News and remind them of some of my many other stories. I’m not done. I also want to stop our discussions over prices. This will save time. So when I say a particular number is my lowest price, that is my lowest price and you can be sure I’ve arrived at whatever that number is very carefully. Now when I say I want these things I mean that I want them and I don’t want to have to ask again. And the last thing that I want, Nina, is for you to do the things I ask you to do when we’re alone together at your apartment, not like the last time.

LOU
I don’t usually share my business plan with you, but a moment has arrived that could allow the company to make enough money to expand to the next level. We could call this the critical moment. I’m inviting you, Rick, to be part of the team that pounces on this opportunity.

LOU
You’ve been asking a lot about your performance review. Well, for starters I’m seeing a great improvement with regards to your overall focus and order following. Given complex problems you’re developing a real ability to find clear, simple solutions. I’m also aware of your increased enthusiasm. It’s great to see how your eyes light up when you’re working on new ideas. I hope you’ll be inspiring us with your innovative thinking for years to come.

LOU
What makes a job desirable isn’t just the dollar amount attached to it, Rick. You’re on the ground floor of a growing business. Your reward is a career.

LOU
We can reopen negotiations, Rick, but remember that when it comes to your work reputation you can’t un-ring the bell.

LOU
What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.

LOU
I can’t jeopardize the company’s success to retain an untrustworthy employee.

LOU
That’s my job, that’s what I do. I like to say if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.

LOU
Congratulations. Your selection by Video News Productions is evidence of the hiring committee’s recognition of your employment history and unique personal qualities. It is my hope that through hard work and commitment you will move through the intern program and continue to pursue your career goals as full-time employees of Video News. I can tell you from experience that the surest way up the ladder is to listen carefully and follow my orders. You may be confused at times and other times unsure but remember that I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.

 

Nightcrawler’s full screenplay can be found here.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

nightcrawler_Car

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THAT TIME I RESEARCHED THAT THING U2 DID WITH APPLE | 2016-03-26

One of the useful things that I did in the past few years was completing a Master’s programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). In order for me to obtain the degree certificate and therefore complete the curriculum I had to undertake an extensive and comprehensive research project that would broadly fall within the field I studied, what others, especially in the UK, usually call a dissertation. I decided to explore the public and media cataclysm that exploded after legendary Irish rock group U2 and the biggest brand in the world Apple decided to partner on an exclusive promotional deal for the band’s latest album “Songs of Innocence” in September 2014, realising it for free for over half a billion iTunes customers. I did this not because it was – and unfortunately in many ways still is – highly fashionable to criticise and be against U2, but rather for the exact opposite reason: I was excited about the distribution strategy and couldn’t really understand all the rage and resistance that was being put forward by not only the public but also by social and mainstream media outlets themselves.

I thus found myself analysing a whole lot of content and material deriving from traditional media outlets (newspapers) and social media (tweets) trying to make some sense of both the mainstream narrative as well as the opinions deriving from bottom-up reactions of social media users around the globe, all from a predominantly journalistic perspective. Well, long story short, after having handed in my dissertation last August 2015 – entitled “Songs of Guilt”: When Generosity is to Blame – A Content Analysis of the Press and Social Media Reactions to U2’s “Songs of Innocence” Giveaway on iTunes – I was lucky enough to be considered for external publishing and included within a working paper series called Media@LSE MSc Dissertation Series hosted by LSE’s Department of Media & Communications. I wouldn’t onboard on such a shameless act of self-promotion other than for the fact that the research project is now publicly available and downloadable here and maybe of interest of you, esteemed reader. As one does with pretty much anything new that’s being presented and/or launched nowadays (especially cultural and artistic artefacts), I’m attaching the dissertation’s abstract here below as a preview/snippet/trailer/extract in case you’d still wondering whether this whole explorative journey could be something of your interest (though come on, you could still download the freaking file and just skip to the 2-page results section, isn’t this what we all do anyway? Also, some of the figures are cool.):

“The present research project aimed at delivering an update on networked journalism practices within hybrid media systems’ theorisations. It approached such a theoretical framework, completed by the notions of framing and (inter-media) agenda setting, through the consideration of the case study of tech giant Apple and Irish rock group U2’s promotional deal directed at the giveaway of the band’s latest album “Songs of Innocence” on iTunes, which was notably accompanied by widespread disapproval and a questioning of its means. The study set out to appraise and analyse the reactions of the mainstream and social media to the promotional stunt as hybridised phenomena. A quantitative content analysis of 145 English-speaking press articles (further subdivided into general-interest and specialised music press clusters), as well as of over 1200 tweets, published during the course of the operation, allowed the researcher to assess the narratives of the two dimensions in relation to their interactive development.

The research concluded that the mainstream and social media shared various patterns of content development, such as the predominance of negative tone over positive tone and the reliance on framings relating to both the top-down imposition of “Songs of Innocence” and issues of privacy. The study also found that the two media dimensions employed significant cross-referencing, with social media relying relatively more on the mainstream than vice versa. However, key events in light of the overall public discourse concerning the operation were found originating on social media first and being later taken up by the mainstream. Thus, in general the research could further contribute to the conceptual acceptance of a fluid hybrid media system in which traditional and online media ought not be seen so much as replacing each other, but rather as complementing themselves in a fast-paced supportive symbiosis.”

I obviously had to reformat the whole document in order to comply to the series’ standards and I guess that made for a very long article in its final version, but I’d say that in general it’s pretty enjoyable and worth a read if you’re even remotely into music. It was definitely an interesting experience for me as I got to gain really surprising and fascinating insights into people’s perception of privacy and intimacy in the modern social media age as well as key thinkings surrounding the music industry after its digital disruption that happened over fifteen years ago. If any of these buzz words sound remotely exciting for you, I’d say you wouldn’t waste your time reading the research. If not, no problem, there are a lot of exciting TV series out there to spend your time with. If you’re currently searching for inspiration, give Daredevil, Better Call Saul, Mr Robot or House of Cards a try. All highly addictive. Otherwise, simply stop by Kanye West‘s Twitter timeline and that should keep you busy for a good while too. Either way, I guarantee for quality to be found.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

Apple&U2_SOI