W+E4DM Web Feature Portfolio Part 4 – Junglist Out

This is part 4 of my Web Feature Portfolio for Writing and Editing for Digital Media. My articles are for ‘the Australian online magazine of culture and the popular arts’, The Enthusiast. My fourth and final article is a feature for their ‘TV’ category.

When casual fans tuned in to ABC’s Good Game several weeks ago, they may have been a little confused. The video game programme’s co-founder and co-host, Junglist (Jeremy Ray), was gone. In his place was a new host, Hex (Stephanie Bendixsen). It was only at the episode’s end that a quick farewell was given to Junglist, without further explanation. Casual fans may have been somewhat perturbed and puzzled by Junglist’s abrupt mid-season disappearance. But for the hardcore Good Game fans, an uproar had already begun.

Three days before the show aired, the decision was announced via an impersonal press release on the Good Game forums, followed by numerous posts back and forth, and finally a slightly more personal follow-up announcement nearly a week later. The lack of openness was galling enough, considering this is a show tagged as being “by gamers, for gamers”. But then Junglist commented on the forums that lies were circulating, only part of the story was being told, and in fact, his axing was forced on him from above, in a stated effort to gain “mass appeal” through a female presenter. Apparently, Junglist had also been contesting the lack of time allotted for reviewing games, or had ‘performance issues’, depending on who you listen to.

The story spread, with articles from gaming websites, mainstream commercial media and the ABC itself. Everyone had their side of the story (as far as possible within confidentiality agreements) and fans voiced their opinions at every opportunity. Amid the secrecy, speculation and internet chatter, the truth is elusive. Of course, a website was also created to redress the problem, or just provide a gathering place of support. In the end, the main issue is that ABC management made another bungle in their handling of this and they neglected their established fanbase. A familiar name shares the blame: Head of Arts and Entertainment, Amanda Duthie, the same woman dumped as Head of Comedy after she gave that Chaser sketch the green light.

Still, the ire has died down somewhat. Hex has been on for three weeks and after a bumpy start, it looks like there may be hope for the show yet. It’s just a shame they chose two ‘casual’ gamers, and removed the differing perspective of an established ‘hardcore’ gamer. This week marked the first time Hex and Bajo even had a significant disagreement about a game; even they felt it was noticeable enough to point out. Bajo and Hex would have been perfect for the upcoming children’s version of the programme, Good Game: SP on ABC3, with Junglist and Bajo remaining for the original and its subsequent increase in ‘mature’ content. Instead, we’ll have to wait and see how it all progresses, and whether ABC has learnt their lesson and will listen to the show’s fans, or at least talk openly with them, before any other drastic decisions are made.

Still, the show is worth watching. Whether you’re a casual gamer, semi-fanatic, or even a non-gamer, there’s plenty to keep you interested. Bajo and Hex even live-tweet the show as it airs every week on ABC2. For anyone who wants an idea of the show, a fond reminder of things past, or, just maybe, a sample of the madcap antics and nerdy enthusiasm that the show could reach again soon, there’s this lovingly made video montage: a tribute to Junglist and the show he helped to create.

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Final words (for now)

Well, besides the pending Part 4 of my Web Portfolio, this is the last thing I’ll be putting up on this blog. But not forever.

Although it was undertaken as an assignment for my Writing and Editing for Digital Media class, I’ve taken a bit of a shine to working on this blog. Once I’ve finished my other assignments, had a bit of a break and received marks that confirm I indeed will qualify for graduation, I’ll be back. The focus of the blog might be a bit more casual, maybe a bit more serious, experimental, diverse, random, focused, who knows! I have a few ideas, but by the new year, I’ll be trying my hand at blogging here anew.

Before then, here’s a list of eight comments, thoughts, musings and things I’ve learned through the W+E4DM class and through my my blog so far:

• I’ve really enjoyed reading a diversity of blogging I otherwise might not have read, on topics from Facebook to fashion to kung fu. It’s great to read things outside my usual bubble of activity. If anyone in my class keeps blogging, I’ll keep reading and commenting.

• Blogging is pretty fun and addictive. I didn’t realise what a sad little thrill it would be to check out my blog stats thingo every day. People visited! People linked to my blog! People clicked my links! People searched for ‘peter bakowski blog’ and found mine instead! (it’s here btw). And best of all is when people read and comment and it seems like they’ve genuinely engaged with what I’ve written, even if it’s just in a small way. Or when your blog opens up opportunities to interact with people you’ve only briefly met, people you’d only heard of, or even total strangers. I didn’t think this blog would have an audience outside the class, let alone get visits from other acquaintances, established writers or a random dude from Copenhagen! All of this kind of stuff can be great motivation.

• The areas of writing, editing and publishing are changing alongside emerging digital media and technology. I’m keen to continue being involved in all of this, because there’s a lot of possibilities when everything is in a state of transition, uncertainty and experimentation. And I’m interested to see what role the internet and other related technologies will play in the ever-more unpredictable future of the planet and its inhabitants.

• Hardly anyone on the internet seems to pay much attention to copyright and I don’t really blame them. But I figure if you’re going to publish something for the entirety of the interwebs, you’d better make sure you can stand by all of it. And embrace Creative Commons and the like, because it’s awesome.

• I think my blog already needs a redesign. What do you think? The column layout seems a little off. And apparently white text on black is bad. I kind of like it, but maybe not as much as I used to.

• I think there will always be a need for people who can write well, think creatively, see things differently, speak the truth, or just make awesome things, be they stories, songs, visual art, games, articles, or software. The internet can help with all of this of course. But don’t forget that no matter how ubiquitous it seems the internet and all the latest newfangled iGadgets seem, there’s always the rest of the world. Instead of refreshing your Facebook feed again, try starting a garden, riding your bike, making something tangible and tactile with your hands, travelling somewhere new with some friends, attending a protest for something you believe in, practicing an instrument, or writing a letter to a friend. Yes, a real letter. They’re actually pretty special.

• A huge proportion of the world’s population do not see digital technology as an all-pervasive thing. There is a significant digital divide. The Internet has a long way to go before it’s a truly global and egalitarian network.

• Above all, remember: the internet is crazy.

CRAZY.

And that’s that! Thanks to everyone who has visited and read and commented and clicked my links and everything! Please do come back when I come back. Keep me on the good ol’ Google Reader! Until then, this is Duncan at DuncanWritingEditingPublishing clicking Publish and signing off.

W+E4DM Web Feature Portfolio Part 2 – Review: Rooftops by Mandy Ord

This is part 2 of my Web Feature Portfolio for Writing and Editing for Digital Media. My articles are for ‘the Australian online magazine of culture and the popular arts’ The Enthusiast. My second article is a review for their ‘Books’ category.

7/10 Stars (again, no Enthusiast star images or sweded images)

Rooftops is ostensibly about a day when Mandy Ord watched Ghostbusters at the cinema with some friends, then drove home and had chatted with her housemate. Simple. But it manages to be, in a gently odd way, an absorbing and thoughtful story.

This is Mandy Ord’s first book-length comic, which I suppose you’d call a graphic novel, and it was published by Finlay Lloyd. They have a frustratingly creaky-looking website, but their books are often thoughtful and beautifully made essay collections, like When Books Die and Animals. Ord did feature in the latter though, so clearly she’s part of their efforts in new directions.

Despite being more of a graphic novel, it retains Ord’s preoccupation with the little things that stand out amongst the ordinary and mundane. In this way, the story’s subject matter and conversations cover coincidences, the search for meaning, Bill Murray’s career and the literature of mystics and philosophers. Her overactive imagination regularly merges with the everyday and she further illuminates the narrative with thoughts and visions conjured by a mind that loves scaring itself. A demonic imp-like man climbs over a toilet door at her. Images of Ghostbusters ghouls and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man fill her head, her life and her panels.

From every black page spread, four equal panels of white and black pop out. The panels are filled with Ord’s wobbily handwritten speech bubbles, realistic cityscapes and urban interiors of Melbourne, and distorted but curiously realistic cartoon figures, most notably the one-eyed protagonist herself. These slightly twisted figures reminded me at times of Albert Tucker’s work. Her drawings from movie scenes are also evocative and spot-on, yet still true to her overall technique.

Despite the twisted style and imaginative divergences, it’s essentially a work of realism, possibly memoir. These are musings, moments and memories from an individual perspective. There’s no clear moral lesson, no ‘heroes journey’. This is real life and there’s rarely a big answer or resolution at the end of each day. Her story goes on, continued in her other comics, in bits and pieces. Rooftops itself is not an amazing work, but still a pleasant, leisurely and enjoyable read.

In any case, I’m still a fan and I’ll be keeping an eye out, watching her progress as an artist and storyteller. In fact, after reading Rooftops I noticed her work popping up all over the place: in recent issues of The Lifted Brow; a serialised historical comic/essay with Kate Fielding in Meanjin; in Sleepers’s wonderful Conceived on a Tram; in the Paper Life Boat exhibition during the Fringe Festival; and in myriad comic anthologies, zines and small press endeavours. Clearly prolific, she also sporadically updates her blog with sketches and character portraits – they’ve taken on rather hirsute qualities lately. Amongst all this, I hope she’s still finding time to put effort into another long-form work. Until then, I’d recommend checking out her stuff. Rooftops serves as a great introduction.

W+E4DM Web Feature Portfolio Part 1 – Review: Attract/Repel

This is part 1 of my Web Feature Portfolio for Writing and Editing for Digital Media. My articles are for ‘the Australian online magazine of culture and the popular arts’ The Enthusiast. My first article is a review for their ‘The Stage’ category.

Starring: Jing-Xuan Chan, Fanny Hanusin, Georgina Naidu, and Terry Yeboah
Directed by:
Ming-Zhu Hii
Venue:
The Storeroom at Parkview Hotel, Fitzroy

9/10 Stars (unfortunately, I don’t have The Enthusiast’s star images, nor their flair for sweding images)

Terry and Jing-Xuan in rehearsal. Image: Buxton-Walker, Fringe Publicity http://www.buxtonwalker.com/fringe/media/

Terry and Jing-Xuan in rehearsal. Image: Buxton-Walker, Fringe Publicity

To quote a song from Avenue Q: everyone’s a little bit racist. But Attract/Repel, which just finished a rather successful run at the Fringe Festival, confronts issues of racism without being flippant, and asks why we’re still being racist, without heavy-handededness. In fact, it stands as an honest, challenging and compelling piece of theatre.

But to call it theatre is almost wrong, at least in the traditional sense of theatre. It was more like we were eavesdropping on the casual conversations of four people getting to know each other. Rather than performing, they seemed to be discussing and we were silent witnesses and participants.

The actors take turns introducing themselves to one another, giving their names and backgrounds. They recount their memories; real stories, both humorous and horrible, surrounding their experiences with racism, how they perceive their racial identity and, all in all, candidly sharing their thoughts.

Accompanying their conversations: blackboards waiting on the walls and fluorescent tube lighting scattered around the stage. Both features play an integral part. The actors pull out chalk and mark their place on the ‘chink scale’ – do they blend into Asian stereotypes, Australian ones, or somewhere else on the spectrum? Georgina and Terry scrawl racist slurs across the walls and throw ironic racist jokes at one another, which soon becomes hurtful. Then the conversations continue, almost as if nothing has happened, but with uneasiness bubbling away underneath.

Soon, all of this gives way to several abstract and surreal interludes. The fluorescent lighting flickers out, and the actors roam the dark stage in anger, bashing against the walls. They hold fluorescent lamps and scrutinise one another’s bodies. Terry dances frantically. Jing-Xuan is excluded, trapped and crying in a prison of light while Fanny cackles at her. Towards the end, perhaps in some parody of ‘integration’ and ‘acting white’, Georgina puts on white gloves, Jing-Xuan squeezes into a white corset and Terry’s face is daubed with white makeup, bringing to mind the infamous Hey Hey blackface sketch.

All in all, Attract/Repel was structurally and stylistically unconventional, but utterly potent, with the perfect mix of hilarity, honesty, confrontation and worthwhile discomfort. The everyday met the abstract, with a lasting final effect of thoughtfulness, humility and appreciation.

In its production, casting and conversations, the play raises issues of diversity in theatre, particularly ethnic diversity. Director Ming-Zhu Hii wrote about this in both the Age, and on RealTime Arts and it’s recommended reading. Beyond that, go to The Melbourne Town Players’ website, check out some great photos from the show and read what other reviewers reckon. Attract/Repel was definitely among the best of this year’s Fringe Festival and it deservedly won the Kultour Tour Development Award at the awards night, so undoubtedly we’ll see more great stuff from this team soon.

Writing and Editing for Digital Media Assignment 1: Evaluating Web Writing

The litblog, short for literary blog, is a rising force, not just in the blogosphere and on the internet as a whole, but as part of a diverse multimedia landscape. They may be written by individuals or groups, but generally focus on literature, books, writing, publishing and associated events and issues. But beyond this, litblogs vary significantly in many ways: their intended audience, their writing style, design, layout, and what sort of literature they focus on. They offer a community hub for those enthusiastic about literature and a choice of alternative news, reviews and opinion from that of traditional media. They recognise their differentiation from traditional media outlets and embrace the online medium in myriad ways. As I will explore, litblogs range from the well-established to the emerging, but they all have their own strengths and weaknesses as individual websites.

LiteraryMinded is the online presence for Melbourne writer Angela Meyer, or Miss LiteraryMinded. It is one of the many blogs on the Crikey blog network and although the blog previously existed on Blogspot (it migrated to a WordPress platform when adopted by Crikey) it retains its individuality; beyond some links on the edges of the website, one could quite easily read the blog without ever reading about Crikey’s other content. Its focus is of course largely on Angela’ news, reviews, interviews and musings on literature, books, writing and publishing, with a particular emphasis on Melbourne and Australian events, authors and the like. True to the flexibility of the format, her blog often contains other styles of posts, such as book excerpts, poetry, competitions, ‘confessionals’ and periodically a ‘guest author’ post. She embraces the online medium in posts such as her ‘responsive interviews’, where she will email an author a series of questions in the form of a word, phrase, hyperlink, picture, audio file or YouTube video, and the author then responds, with the same multimedia freedom.

The main page, topped by the LiteraryMinded masthead, shows the ten most recent blog posts in their entirety. Beyond external ads, and ads for Crikey, the side panel contains numerous navigation tools: an About page link, links to her Twitter account and Shelfari page, her blogroll, recommended links and RSS feeds. Navigation to other parts of the website is fairly straightforward: there is an archive, a short list of categories and a list archived posts. Each post also has extensive tags, but these can strangely only be read once reading posts in the archives, not current posts. It seems to be only through the archives that one can browse by tags, which could be off-putting to some users. The Google search box is also somewhat out-of-the-way and tiny, but works well. Beyond the aforementioned external and social media links, community interaction is encouraged. Each post has the opportunity for readers to comment, and discuss with Angela and others readers.

Overall, the main page is well-designed and easy to navigate in a number of ways, but perhaps rather long and text-heavy to an unfamiliar reader. The writing for her posts is often long-form, divided into a number of different topics. The option to view a ‘summary’ or ‘list’ view of more of the most recent posts could be beneficial, containing just a headline, kicker (currently not used), categories and the under-utilised tags. As it stands though, readers can scan the page fairly easily, as while the text is rarely in very small chunks, there are descriptive headlines, bolded keywords, regular use of images and clear division between different topics.

In one recent post, ‘Queensland Poetry Festival special: Elizabeth Bachinsky’, the content is well-balanced and optimised for the web, although it is perhaps more concise and focussed than other posts. She uses an introduction (highlighted in blue), to provide context and link this post to other related posts in the series. She gives a brief outline of an author and a short interview/bio, interspersed with a picture, an embedded video and further related external links. The text is fairly well chunked and uses bold highlighting of key words to aid in scannable, easy-to-read text. The focus is on giving the reader all the information they may want on the topic, quickly but in an erudite fashion, utilising multimedia and linking freely. As a representative example of her posts, this is very well-optimised web content. She is not afraid of long-form writing, but generally understands the benefits of hyperlinking and multimedia content, presented in an easily scannable form.

3000 Books is one of the newer litblogs, started in 2007 and run by another Melbourne writer, Estelle Tang. Its main focus is book reviews: roughly one a week, but it also covers general and related literary news. It is based in a Blogspot platform and has a comparatively simple design. The main page is the seven most recent blog posts, again not summarised or in an immediately scannable form. While this may be an issue, it’s not so much of a problem as the posts tend to be quite short, and even those are chunked into small paragraphs. Those posts that aren’t short are single book reviews, identified by a single book cover photograph.

The side panel features a quick description of the site and author, what she’s currently reading, archive of previous posts, RSS feed, blogroll/recommendations and a very extensive list of tags used on the website. The site is very uncluttered-looking, with lots of white space (or yellow and pink space, in this case). She uses labels for most posts and this, paired with the search box at the top, make the site fairly easy to navigate. The use of general post categories could be beneficial though, as there is no way to sort between review posts and other types of posts. Additionally, although she utilises linking fairly extensively, she does not frequently link to other reviews or additional information on the books she reviews. More use of multimedia content beyond the occasional picture could also be beneficial to the site, but perhaps suits the intended bookish audience that may not mind reading mostly text. Speaking of audience, the blog of course has the option for comments.

As an example of a typical post, a recent review post ‘Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned / Wells Tower’, contains a picture of the book, a link to a related review of hers and the review text. While other posts contain more extensive linking, it shows that she divides her posts into two general categories: miscellaneous news and reviews, with the latter being fairly similar in form to a print review, without utilising any of the potential of the online medium. This isn’t too much of a problem though, as she never lets her paragraphs or posts get too long-winded.

Overall, 3000 Books is somewhat plain and simple, but clean in presentation and reasonably easy to navigate. However, the non-review posts are not clearly headlined or tagged. But for a standalone website, it links quite extensively to others in the blogosphere, the writing and publishing community and broadly online. A very solid website, but some improvements could be made.

The Bookslut blog is part of the broader Bookslut website, a monthly web magazine and one of the older and more well-established of the litblogs. It was started in Texas in 2002 by Jessa Crispin, and while she is still the editor-in-chief, the website features a host of staff writers, columnists and occasional reviewers. The blog, however, is largely maintained by Jessa and Michael Schaub.

While the main website is updated monthly with features, columns and reviews, the blog is updated daily and accessible by one link on the homepage. Each post contains the date for a headline and a handful of short paragraphs of literary news, usually linking to a number of other related literary websites.

For such a well-established website and blog, it seems to be hesitant to emerge into the world of Web 2.0. The posts do not have space for comments, although there is a link to email the contributing author. But this lessens the strong sense of community this website could foster. Tags and categories are not used, so searching on a particular topic is left to the search bar. However, this seems to only search for things posted in the webzine, not the blog. I could find no sign of anything resembling an RSS feed for the blog either. Posts older than a week or so seem to disappear at the bottom of the page, with no apparent archive of old posts. A Google search revealed such an archive, but I could find no link to this myself. Finally, there are no pictures or any other multimedia in the blog posts. I would point out most of these issues if I were to suggest improvements, but for a dedicated reader, the site works well enough. As this is an old site for dedicated literary types, this probably partly explains the lack of all these features.

On the plus side, the blog posts are short and punchy enough to be easily scannable. They rarely go beyond a paragraph or two and are usually well-written and witty, which is an achievement for such short posts. It’s just a shame that any posts older than a week are hard to find. As it is, the blog may as well be just the one page, changing daily. Having said that, their content would be useful and interesting to their intended literary audience.

As I have explored, litblogs are as varied as any other website. All of them, from the most well-established to the freshest, have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s important for them to remember their audience, keep their content interesting, accessible and navigable and to remain up-to-date with online developments. If they do, literary aficionados will continue to happily frequent their websites, and they can stand as examples for web users in general of what makes good web content.

References

3000 Books. (2009). Accessed August 29 2009 via website 3000books.blogspot.com

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned / Wells Tower. (2009). Accessed August 29 2009 via 3000 Books website 3000books.blogspot.com/2009/08/everything-ravaged-everything-burned.html

Bookslut. (2009). Accessed August 29 2009 via website bookslut.com

Bookslut Blog. (2009). Accessed August 29 2009 via website bookslut.com/blog/

LiteraryMinded. (2009). Accessed August 29 2009 via website blogs.crikey.com.au/literaryminded

Queensland Poetry Festival special: Elizabeth Bachinsky. (2009). Accessed August 29 2009 via LiteraryMinded website: blogs.crikey.com.au/literaryminded/2009/08/20/queensland-poetry-festival-special-elizabeth-bachinsky/