David McGillivray

Professor, interested in events, culture, digital participation & sport.

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Mega Events, New Media & Tsunami of Narratives

I’m presenting a paper on ‘Mega Events & New Media’ at the Play the Game: ‘Challenges for Football’ conference (http://bit.ly/k2xIAN) in Aarhus, Denmark on Tuesday and thought it was worth blogging about the discussions I’ve had with colleagues and ex-colleagues before the event and to start a conversation about whether the ‘tsunami of narratives’ (Frew, 2011 – aka @graffiticloud) that defines the new media landscape liberates or crushes the hopes of the critical voices associated with mega events (i.e. FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games).

I’m talking about both mega events and looking to compare how (and why) they differ in terms if their new media presence. Both event owners have certainly embraced new media (relatively recently), though I will argue that their use of these platforms remains restricted by a focus on read-only, as opposed to read-write, forms of communication – based on a desire to control the message in a uni-directional manner. Whilst keen to ‘appear’ to look more participatory, open and willing to listen, I will suggest that these supranational organisations (an their principal commercial backers) have appropriated new media channels (especially their ‘ethos’) to secure greater reach and financial return.

I’ll also be talking about the different mega event phases (pre- event, during, post) and their importance in understanding the construction of new (potentially alternative) media narratives. During the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, for example, media coverage (inc social media) did focus on economic, political and social dimensions i.e.non-sport but during the tournament sporting coverage dominates across every media platform and social media power is certainly not yet strong enough to compete with rights paying media in amplifying socio-political messages for the unvoiced.

That said, an event owner like the IOC has shown signs, since 2009, of loosening its tight grip on the unaccredited media blackout on ‘official’ Olympic content (e.g.photo sharing). It now has a new media guru (@balf) and recognises the growing power and influence of these channels.

The final theme I’ll be emphasising is around the notion of a ‘tsunami of narratives’, a phrase coined by an ex-colleague, Matt Frew (http://bit.ly/grW8Kl). It applies perfectly to the new media and mega events topic as a host of actors try to get themselves heard using the latest in read-write technological platforms. The problem is that the powerful media producers are invading the spaces of what has recently been described as the ‘peoples media’ to capture greater market share – leaving a quandary for proponents of independent journalism or citizen media. Is there a discrete space for all? If people choose mainstream media producers masquerading as citizen media adherents is this not simply an illustration of informed choice? Should oppositional stances be softened to find a middle ground where the cacophony of voices can be heard while not threatening the existing order of things? Hopefully these questions will be the focus of discussions next week – and I’ll be back with more thoughts on the matter then…

David McGillivray • June 17, 2011


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