Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day 2: Citizen Journalism

Fan production is about roleplaying! Some fans fantasise that they are film-makers or actors, artists or writers. Others want to be involved but have different talents, such as sound editing, managing a website or carpentry which are all very useful to a production group. Citizen journalism is halfway between. It is creative yet practical by reporting on what the fan productions are doing or commenting on it on forums, websites, Blogs, fanzines and podcasts.

This was the news and the way it was reported by the fans, for the fans, in 2009.

Perhaps a better way of putting though is in terms of fan interaction. Interactive media is a buzz word bandied about by critics and media commentators that covers the need of audiences for involvement in their entertainment. Citizen journalism is just another way for fans to interact. Some do it consciously - the podcasters, fanzine contributors and bloggers - but all fans do it at some level every time they discuss Star Trek with friends or pass on news or comment about a new FanFic or fan film online.

The base level of the information that we get is our day-to-day interaction with our peers, the type of thing we do without even thinking. Whether it is five minutes at the water-cooler shooting the breeze with work mates, casual conversation with someone you know on the train or phone conversations with family and friends. The internet represents a wider, worldwide community and our attitudes and decisions are increasingly shaped and directed by our interaction online.

Social networking can permeate our smallest steps as can be seen by the controversial popularity of twitter, but from a creative aspect all I've ever heard coming from it have been "Twitter novels" which evidently are an attempt to emulate the runaway success of Japanese keitai shousetus cell phone novels in English. It has been used to disseminate news, but frankly the size of the messages doesn't lend itself to discussion, it tends to be more focused on what the user has done or their feelings. Other social networks, such as MySpace and Facebook allow more freedom for expression and communication but they still revolve around the person or group who started the page so that they are useful as a way of Groups getting out information to their followers.

Internet "Groups" are losing their popularity as a discussion forum, the main thing that keeps them going I think is the ease with which you can start and maintain a group that has all the online tools you need. In this respect, Yahoo Groups are losing out to Google Groups because the latter have more options for saving files in the Group area - I find them particularly useful as a closed discussion network for production groups. Yahoo Groups won't be disappearing any time soon though! Even Usenet groups have gained a new lease on life with Google mirroring them in their Google Groups and some are almost institutions in themselves, such as the starfleet-l mailing list and alt.startrek.creative.

Forums are the medium of choice for the majority when it comes to online interaction since they tend to focus on companionship and the chance to discuss things with like-minded people from all over the world and to a large extent they have taken the place of the old message boards and Groups. Ning seems to have breached the gap between the social sites like MySpace and Facebook and the forum or group by giving people the tools to join existing social networks or create their own for their specific interests. This makes it possible for a user to have their own webspace on Ning and still be part of a network of other Star Trek fans, the largest network being TrekSpace.

Most of the large forums are still around delivering different blends of news and discussion.
  • When it comes to dedicated Star Trek news websites the one to turn to has got to be TrekMovie.com. Since the first announcement of J.J.Abrams as the producer of the latest Star Trek movie, this site, the brain-child of Anthony Pascale, has been the leader in not only Star Trek industry news but fan production news as well.
  • For sheer size, the TrekBBS, is still the first stop for discussion. Its wide range of content and massive membership make it a good place to start a discussion.
  • TrekUnited has always had a large international membership and over the past year has widened its scope and retired the organised Save Enterprise movement although a large portion of the membership is still strongly behind it.
Many groups have found a niche that makes them a valuable resource for specific areas of fandom
  • Gaming sites will be covered in another 'present' but most of the Trek gaming sites such as Star Trek Games and Hailing Frequencies have survived, especially with the revival of the MMOG Star Trek Online.
  • StarTrekHistory.com is an expanding archive of backstage material about the Original Series
  • Star Trek Minutiae has some plausible fanon "references" as well as some very real gems like the scripts and fanon ship comparison charts
  • Scripts can also be found on the Czech Star Trek Sickbay from their home page (RH column)
  • TrekCore is, as always, a goldmine of audio and graphics
  • There have been a number of general fan film websites spring up but none that specialise in Trek, the most authoritative would have to be Clive Young's Fan Cinema Today
    There are a number of Blogsites - individual blogs and collective blogs like the House of L'Stok - that have made made an impression over the year
    • Most noticeably, Barbara Reader has created Star Trek Reviewed. This massive blog has been of great assistance to me in that she has made it amazingly comprehensive so that I am continually finding new media that I have never seen before! Much of the new material listed here comes from leads from ST Reviewed. The size of her body of work is ample evidence that Star Trek fan productions are an expanding genre with wide variations in quality as well as content.
    • That dilettante, Kirok of L'Stok, still posts on his Blogs, Acrux Content, L'Stok ePress and Silvertongue Productions although the subject matter is getting more general as he lazily watches others shoulder the burden of reporting Trek fan production news.
    • Blogs tend to specialise in a certain niche such as 8of5's blog on Trek toys and comics.
    • Another Blog that has a merchandising niche is Have Phaser, Will Travel, the home of Therin of Andor
    It has been very quiet on the Trek fanzines scene this year.
    • Richard Miles, who had such an amazing output last year, has cut back on the number of issues this year (this was his latest) because of real life pressures, one of which is a web design course which should show dividends on his new website. He is planning on getting back into full production next year
    • Jeff Hayes has produced another three of the drop-dead-gorgeous Phase II eMagazines. The quality of his work is the benchmark that any of us producing fanzines must gauge our format and graphics against!
    • However if Jeff is the past master of the graphic arts, Randy Landers of Orion Press is the King of content! Randy publishes one of the last Gen Trekzines, Antares, issue 14 of which was published in April this year
    • An honourable mention goes to Gerry & Eugenia whose GE News has consistently reported on the Australian fan & convention scene for the past year 
    I think of Podcasting as "performance journalism"! It has its roots in radio journalism but it needs to entertain as well - there's nothing more boring than wall of words from someone trying to push their viewpoint on you!
    • Treks in Sci Fi is up to episode 259 in its fourth year
    • That other perrennial favourite, Slice of Sci Fi is broadcasting regularly
    • Trekcast is also still going strong
    • Twerpcast has released their third annual Trekcast (no relation) for the Twelve Trek Days of Christmas
    • Make It So has been in hiatus since April
    • The Fan Film Podcast is very authoritative and occasionally features Trek fan films, as they did in August and September
    • Gaming news is handled by Hailing Frequency. 
    • Gerry and Eugenia of GE News have, over the past year, branched out into podcasting with Women Talk Sci Fi
    • Various fan production groups use podcasts to bring news about their work to their fans including...

    Other than this there are no fan-made video news programmes that I know of. The closest is Fan Film Feeder which is an mp4 video podcast feed of fan films, however what you get are the original fan films rather than news about them. As Clive Young on Fan Cinema Today said though, it beats converting the films into mp4's yourself!

    To me though the most fascinating development in new media is the possibility of an in-game internet radio station for the Star Trek Online MMOG recently announced Kinneas on the Hailing Frequency website this month.

    With every year that goes by I see new opportunities: new audiences, new technologies and new ways of using existing media. The future looks bright for Star Trek fan-media in 2010 with the debut of the new MMOG, Star Trek Online, and the promise of more movies but only if we grasp the opportunities offered us. There is a new generation of fans interested in Star Trek and the Star Trek fan community needs to accommodate them (assimilate them?). To do this fan producers need to think about the content, the format and the media that they use for their work, whether it be for a website, a fanzine or a podcast. 

    After the demise of Star Trek: Enterprise a large majority of commentators and fans were saying to let Trek lie fallow for a number of years. Most of us resisted the idea and created our own continuation of the franchise with fan productions. Well, the studio has ended that "fallow period" with a new movie, a new gaming universe online and a host of new merchandising and licensing.

    Our task now should be to enlarge the community to include the new canon and its fans.

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