Speaker by Various Artists

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Reimagining the Media: a call for contributions

by Barnaby Bennett

I’m one of the directors of a little publishing cooperative called Freerange Press. We publish books about the city, design, politics, and pirates. We’ve been doing this since 2007 (as a formal cooperative since 2012). We are making a book about the media in New Zealand and this is a little bit of writing to explain why we think this discussion is important now, and how you can be involved.

Contemporary society is relentlessly confusing, characterised by a lack of justice and fairness, and yet profoundly rich and vibrant. It’s this sort of messy, intriguing framing of our modern world that the cooperative publishing company Freerange tries to bring attention to.

Over the past nine years we (six directors, 20 first mates and hundreds of contributors) have focussed our collective attention on issues important to us: the city, violence and gardening, the role of the trickster in contemporary society, feminism and technology, the commons, loving our institutions - and many others.

Most recently, and I think most importantly, we have have published a number of books telling stories of post-quake Christchurch. Few places in the world bring together this confusing, lacking-in-justice and yet filled-with-promise vibe more powerfully than Christchurch. Watching and documenting a city fall apart then slowly piece itself back together is likely to be the most intriguing and difficult thing I will do in my lifetime.

The thinking of American philosopher John Dewey has become important to me: chiefly his views on the ways in which complex issues are understood in relation to the public, and what the role of a publishing company in this context might be. Dewey wrote around the turn of the 20th century, a time very different to ours but in a society sharing a similar sense of profound change.

Radio, trains, international trade and complex global wars were challenging the models of democracy on which the West is based. The idea that neighbourhoods, cities and city-states can best manage their affairs by engaging the people that live in them in decision-making processes was being challenged. Along with the young liberal journalist Walter Lippman, Dewey identified the impossibility for even the most attentive and gifted citizen of understanding the rich and complex networks affecting their lives and the world around us.

Dewey and Lippman diagnosed a feeling many of us share today. The sense of complexity, helplessness and excitement that comes from confronting difficult things.

Both suggested that "the public" is not an abstraction to be measured and polled when needed, but a grouping that could instead be better understood as "publics" that activate, agitate and spring into action when issues relevant to them emerge.

They suggest that it is issues themselves that pull publics (groups of interested people who don’t necessarily agree) together around a problem. Publics are verbs, temporary formations of people activated around something that concerns them. Issues like land rights, economic growth, post-quake housing, mental health, climate change, neighbourhood protection, cycleways, post-colonial justice.

These publics gather around the smallest of issues, like who mows berms, to the most complex problems we’ve ever faced as a species – such as climate change and energy production. From classic progressive political issues like gender equality and worker rights to conservative positions on rates, taxes and migration.

The experience of publishing in Christchurch, and about Christchurch, has forced us to start asking questions about the role of the media in how publics form. What is the role of the media in the changing landscape of the internet, global networks of ownership, and its ability to discuss, confront and provide space for the important issues of our time? This question happens to coincide with a more general turbulence in the media landscape worldwide. Freerange Press’ next non-fiction publication, Reimagining the Media, will investigate the media as it once was, as it is today, and as we imagine it to be and what it might become.

At Freerange we like to tap the wisdom of the crowd. We aim to locate and give voice to groups, expert citizens and concerned professionals that are trying to articulate and respond to the problems they see. We make beautiful and important books with writing that is easy to read. We want to be part of the very that is a public calling attention to a problem, and by doing so hopefully, in some small way, contribute to understanding and acting on it.

We are calling out for journalists, commentators, theorists and users of the media to participate in this reimagining and to examine how New Zealand understands and defines itself via the media through reflecting on issues, ideas and controversies that have proven significant in recent times. We wish to work with collaborators to build an in-depth discussion about the media and the opportunities available to it (and its users).

Through carefully themed chapters and quality writing that engages the public, the book will be a case study of a radically changing industry: the quantity of media content continues to increase exponentially; new media technologies sit in tension with an aging population; the impact of social media and of citizen journalists is on the rise. Within this ever-evolving landscape there is a (perhaps misplaced?) nostalgia for the good old days; there are questions over the standards of the profession, the role of journalists and the media’s function as a public space.

Reimagining the Media will be curated and edited and include articles, case studies, interviews and visual essays. The collection of diverse perspectives and great writing ensures that the book will be a significant contribution to this subject and a valuable resource. The book will be launched with a panel discussion and event on the last night of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival in August 2016.

Please send your pitches on reimagining the media (by media we mean platforms that bring information into the public sphere) and expressions of interest to   by 20 December. Pitches should be maximum one page and include a description of the idea and relevant experience. If accepted submissions will be due in mid-February. Freerange will pay  a contributors’ fee for those pieces that are accepted.

The editorial steering group for this project is: Giovanni Tiso (Bat Bean Beam), Russell Brown (Public Address), Rosabel Tan (Pantograph Punch), Sarah Illingworth (Impolitikal), Barnaby Bennett (Freerange Press), Emma Johnson (Freerange Press).

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About Freerange Press

Freerange Press publishes books and journals about cities, design and politics. Freerange has an extensive distribution network and produces high-quality books, journals and other media projects. Freerange Press has experience in carefully managing publications with difficult topics and competing interests, and has the ability to turn complex issues into cohesive and well-designed objects.

Our last two books have proved successful commercially, in reviews and through participation in a series of public events. Christchurch: The Transitional City Part IV is in its third edition and has sold close to 2000 copies. Graham Beattie, called it "an inspiring piece of publishing". It has been reviewed on Scoop, covered in The Press and has featured on numerous blogs. Once in a Lifetime: City-building after Disaster, with foreword by Helen Clark, was launched at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival in 2014. It has sold more than 1000 copies to date. Wil Harvie from The Press called Once in a Lifetime "the most important earthquake book so far". It has had wide-ranging coverage: TV3’s Firstline, National Radio, The Press, The NZ Herald, Idealog, Architecture NZ, Scoop.

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