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Influx interview- mark deuze- author of media work (outsourcing in the world of media)

August 31, 2007

Mark Deuze works at Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications in Bloomington, United States, and as Professor of Journalism and New Media at Leiden University, The Netherlands.  His latest book Media Work explores the rise of outsourcing in the media industry. I sent him a few questions to learn more about how the media world is being impacted by the outsourcing trend.

1. Can you describe your background and what you currently do?

I have a joint appointment at Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications in Bloomington, United States, and as Professor of Journalism and New Media at Leiden University, The Netherlands. As a former journalist, I have always taken a special interest in the management of creativity within media organizations: how can media workers truly be creatively autonomous? How can an individual culture creator really do what he or she wants to do? Under what conditions will media deliver the best entertaining and informing experiences for producers as well as consumers? My research, which is largely based on interviews with media professionals, tries to come up with answers to those kinds of questions. I have worked as a journalist in The Netherlands and South Africa, and as an academic in The Netherlands, Germany and the United States. At my main job at Indiana University, I am fortunate enough to be part of a department that is among the few in the country (and indeed, the world) to develop a professional/academic hybrid graduate program in media production and management. Publications of my work include five books – most recently Media Work (Polity Press, 2007).

2. What is the premise of your new book Media Work?

The book deals with the working lives of professionals in the four key media industries: advertising, journalism, film/TV production, and digital games. Collaborating with colleagues and students in South Africa, The Netherlands, New Zealand and the United States I interviewed hundreds of media workers over the last couple of years, basically asking them only one question: “so what is it like to do what you do?” The book serves three purposes: first, it allows me to tell our students – who all want to work in “the” media – exactly what that means. Second, understanding media work contributes to critical debates about and within the media professions, for example about the impact of new technologies, the globalization of production networks (for example through outsourcing), and the management of creativity and innovation. Third, I assume that citizens of wired countries all over the world are increasingly behaving like media producers – uploading pictures to Flickr, videos to YouTube, and everything else to MySpace or Facebook. This makes the lessons learned by media professionals also increasingly relevant to everyone else using media.

3. What type of outsourcing are you starting to see in the media and creative industries?

Outsourcing is a trend that has unique features for each media profession, but it also affects all media workers in similar ways. Some examples of how outsourcing takes place within specific disciplines are:

Advertising: offshoring of creative accounts to India & China (see the recent announcements from for example the Publicis Groupe: merging/convergence of teams within holding firms (under the much-hyped yet diffuse banner of “Integrated Brand or Marketing Communications”), outsourcing work to consumers through viral/buzz/word-of-mouth/interactive marketing campaigns (consider for example the Doritos commercial at the 2007 Superbowl which bypassed Omnicom as the firm of record for Frito-Lay:

News/journalism: subcontracting newswork to copydesks and international news agencies (like the Associated Press and Reuters, see for example: convergence into multimedia newsrooms, and outsourcing of work to non-salaried (…) consumers under the header of “citizen media”.

Film/TV: phasing out of “below the line” labor by a surge in special effects/CGI-laden scripts, and runaway production (shifting production to tax-friendly and low-cost labor countries like Mexico, Canada, India, Australia, Malaysia, and South Africa).

Videogames: outsourcing original creative work to specialized companies (for example: middleware development, game soundtrack production, and localization services), often located in countries in South-East Asia (Vietnam, South Korea) where governments invest heavily in the development of software industries (for example waiving compulsory army conscription for those willing to work in the game industry, and naming locally developed computer and video games as the core export product of national culture, see for example: .

Beyond these particular examples, the global development is the gradual integration and convergence between all kinds of media industries and services, facilitating global production networks, cross-media production, and integrated media franchising, licensing and promotion practices such as perhaps originally introduced by George Lucas with his Star Wars franchise.

4. Why now? Outsourcing has been with us for years, but why do you believe it’s only now impacting the creative business?

The engine for the current acceleration and amplification for all these indeed historical trends is globalization, and its fuel is the widespread adoption of digital networked technologies. Decades of gradual outsourcing have benefited local development of skills and expertise, and the diffusion of technologies has increasingly eliminated the central role of place in the production of culture. Furthermore, rising levels of economic development worldwide have in effect created a global market for cultural products. These were first served by a centralized and homogenizing approach: think CNN and MTV in the 1980s and early 1990s, basically broadcasting the same bland message across the continents. That model has failed – the market today is “hyperfragmented”, which means people (as audiences, consumers, target demographics) are clearly scattered across the planet, yet they are also connected to each other through for example internet. This is sending the media industries into overdrive, and it has increased the precariousness of labor throughout – even though it at the same time significantly increased the opportunities for exciting and compelling creative work.

5. Agencies used to pride themselves on specialization are you seeing a change there, with more consolidation happening between functions?

What I’ve found my research is, that under the banner of Integrated Marketing/Brand Communications and the shift towards full-service agencies a lot of work within holding firms has been overhauled, reorganized, and disrupted. To some, this meant increasing centralized control and monitoring of work, less attention to unique interests of the cultivation of specialized talent in favor of unified management strategies.

Other companies, while using the same terms and concepts, used this trend to increase the autonomy of multi-functional teams, and started programs to facilitate knowledge sharing throughout the many agencies within larger firms. The problem is, that media workers are a special breed of people – they tend to be more interested in getting their own creative voice across and receiving peer acknowledgement than securing benefits or a steady paycheck. That makes them more vulnerable to exploitation (of labor), and the consolidation of agencies certainly can be understood in this context. However, as most media work takes place and gets organized through informal and personal networks, individual professionals can have some tactical impact on company strategy beyond the often hollow rhetoric of “integration”, “convergence”, and “synergy”.

My book is intended to focus on those kinds of tactics. I am concerned, however, with the growing discrepancy between the exciting creative opportunities offered through new technologies, and their use by companies and corporations to cut costs and “depopulate” the industry (using technology as a labor-saving tool rather than anything else). I understand it from a business perspective – a machine does not ask for a raise, does not get offers from competitors, does not require benefits, nor can it complain about achieving some kind of work-life balance. But I must admit I would rather see more people employed, doing cool work in an environment that supports their unique voice, that enables them to come up with the best possible entertainment and information that a media-saturated society needs.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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