May 15, 2008
From Production to Produsage: Interview with Axel Bruns (II of IV)

This is the second part of an interview I conducted recently with QUT's Axel Bruns on my blog.

Your analysis emphasizes the value of "unfinished artifacts" and an ongoing production process. Can you point to some examples of where these principles have been consciously applied to the development of cultural goods?

My earlier work (my book Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, and various related publications) has focussed mainly on what we've now come to call 'citizen journalism' - and (perhaps somewhat unusually, given that so much of the philosophy of produsage ultimately traces back its lineage to open source) it's in this context that I first started to think about the need for a new concept of produsage as an alternative to 'production'.

In JD Lasica's famous description, citizen journalism is made up of a large collection of individual, "random acts of journalism", and certainly in its early stages there were few or no citizen journalists who could claim to be producers of complete, finished journalistic news stories. Massive projects such as the comprehensive tech news site Slashdot emerged simply out of communities of interest sharing bits of news they came across on the Web - a process I've described as gatewatching, in contrast to journalistic gatekeeping -, and over the course of hours and days following the publicisation of the initial news item added significant value to these stories through extensive discussion and evaluation (and often, debunking).

In the process, the initial story itself is relatively unimportant; it's the gradual layering of background information and related stories on top of that story - as a modern-day palimpsest - which creates the informational and cultural good. Although for practical reasons, the focus of participants in the process will usually move on to more recent stories after some time, this process is essentially indefinite, so the Slashdot news story as you see it today (including the original news item and subsequent community discussion and evaluation) is always only ever an unfinished artefact of that continuing process. (While Slashdot retains a typical news-focussed organisation of its content in reverse-chronological order, this unfinishedness is even more obvious in the way Wikipedia deals with news stories, by the way - entries on news events such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 London bombings are still evolving, even years after these events.)

This conceptualisation of news stories (not necessarily a conscious choice by Slashdot staff and users, but simply what turned out to make most sense in the context of the site) is common throughout citizen journalism, where community discussion and evaluation usually plays a crucial role - and it's fundamentally different from industrial journalism's conception of stories as discrete units (products, in other words) which are produced according to a publication schedule, and marketed as 'all the news that's fit to print'.

And that's not just a slogan: it's essentially saying to audiences, "here's all that happened today, here's all you need to know - trust us." If some new information comes along, it is turned into an entirely new stand-alone story, rather than added as an update to the earlier piece; indeed, conventional news deals relatively poorly with gradual developments in ongoing stories especially where they stretch out over some time - this is why its approach to the continuing coverage of long-term disasters from climate change to the Iraq war is always to tie new stories to conflict (or to manufacture controversies between apparently opposing views where no useful conflict is forthcoming in its own account). The more genuinely new stories are continually required of the news form, the more desperate these attempts to manufacture new developments tend to become - see the witless flailing of 24-hour news channels in their reporting of the current presidential primaries, for example.

By contrast, the produsage models of citizen journalism better enable it to provide an ongoing, gradually evolving coverage of longer-term news developments. Partly this is also supported by the features of its primary medium, the Web, of course (where links to earlier posts, related stories and discussions, and other resources can be mobilised to create a combined, ongoing, evolving coverage of news as it happens), but I don't want to fall into the techno-determinist trap here: what's happening is more that the conventional, industrial model of news production (for print or broadcast) which required discrete story products for inclusion in the morning paper, evening newscast, or hourly news update is being superceded by an ongoing, indeterminate, but no less effective form of coverage.

If I can put it simply (but hopefully not overly so): industrial news-as-product gets old quickly; it's outdated the moment it is published. Produsage-derived news-as-artefact never gets old, but may need updating and extending from time to time - and it's possible for all of us to have a hand in this.

Dr Axel Bruns ( is the author of Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage (New York: Peter Lang, 2008). He is a Senior Lecturer in the ,a href="">Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and has also authored Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production (New York: Peter Lang, 2005) and edited Uses of Blogs with Joanne Jacobs (New York: Peter Lang, 2006). In 1997, Bruns was a co-founder of the online academic publisher M/C - Media and Culture which publishes M/C Journal, M/C Reviews, M/C Dialogue, and the M/Cyclopedia of New Media, and he continues to serve as M/C's General Editor. His general research and commentary blog is located at , and he also contributes to a research blog on citizen journalism, with Jason Wilson and Barry Saunders.