The Net reveals the Secrets of the Media

Cyberschools Column

First Published in The Herald January 1998

Media Studies enters the curriculum in 1999 as a fully-fledged Higher course. While the subject missed out on the introduction of a standard grade in the 1980's, it will, after all, be available at all levels from Access to Advanced Higher within the next two years.

At university level it is one of the fastest growing subject areas and has extremely high admission requirements. At its core are key aspects, ways of looking at media texts. These fundamentals are already familiar to teachers who have been involved with Media Studies modules. However there are, predictably, implications for resourcing. While many teachers have built up a bank of effective resources for dealing with narrative, media languages, categories and representations, audience and institutions are less well catered for and continue to worry staff. The Internet is set to play a major role in staff development and in the acquisition of relevant information and resources for these key aspects.

"Institutions" demands that students are conversant with the powers and issues which affect media products; the initiatives behind the image, the stages behind the spin. They have to know about ownership and control and comment on the relevance of each. They have to consider how audiences are identified and targeted by media professionals - whether journalists or advertisers - and they have to investigate how audiences react, whether they accept or reject the story they are being told.

In the past finding such information has been notoriously difficult . Those working in the media may have neither the time nor the inclination to divulge the processes and pressures of their jobs, although the film industry has often used "the making of .." as a form of marketing. With the World Wide Web, it is now an easy matter to read news stories in the newspapers published in hundreds of different countries. The cultural pressures are often obvious. Even the Americans and the British present some stories in a very different way. The Internet has opened the doors to a real behind-the-scenes look at media institutions, even local ones.

The Web site for the Glasgow Film Fund explains in detail what types of projects are eligible for funding and how much successful applicants can expect. Previous recipients of such grants include Small Faces and Carla's Song. It will perhaps surprise people to realise that the film-makers don't have to be Scottish to benefit. The purpose is to attract productions to Glasgow so that the local community and economy can benefit. The site contains a range of photographs of potential locations in the city and it is an interesting exercise to speculate what kind of productions would be attracted to each area? One of the Georgian terraces looks ideal for a re-make of Oliver. Students could visit the Web site to investigate the funding available and analyse the ways in which Glasgow is represented.

Scottish Screen also has a site where information about the funding of films is available. This site has details about development and explains how projects are selected and how new writers are nurtured.

It also provides information about production funding and support for films locating in Scotland. A number of initiatives, such as Tartan Shorts, are outlined and there are contact names for each department. At the moment the site is very simple but it's clearly laid out and there's a promise of a relaunch, with even more detailed information, in the new year. More information about the Scottish Film Archive would be very useful.

In terms of television both Scottish Television and BBC Scotland have already launched into the world of the Web. The former site is excellent for investigating a media group which owns both television channels and newspapers. (I say this under no institutional pressure) As well as institutional information about programme output and sales and an investment area which lists financial highlights and supplies detailed figures, there are also up-to-date statistics of the audience share achieved by Scottish and Grampian. For those investigating new technologies there is also a section about SkySport and additional background details about sponsorship.

The newspaper section gives the circulation figures and the advertising rates for both The Herald and Evening Times. In classroom terms the material is ideal for an investigation of target audience.

The BBC Scotland Web site is more of a showcase for its programmes with everything from Hamish Macbeth to Words with Wark. Media Studies teachers could use this site as an effective demonstration of the ways in which television programmes can be categorised again in a consideration of audience.

Strangely radio stations in Scotland seem more reluctant to venture into cyberspace than their television counterparts. The companies which entrust their voices to the airwaves seem less than committed to sending digital information along the superhighway. Scottish Radio Holdings, for example, which owns (outright ) Clyde 1, Clyde 2, Forth FM, Max AM, Northsound One, Northsound Two, Tay AM, Tay FM, Westsound, Downtown and even Cool FM, doesn't seem to have a Web presence for its major stations or at least not one which search engines recognise. In fact after a fruitless search a phone call to the station confirmed that Radio Clyde does not operate a Web site.

However, finding out about radio stations on the Internet isn't a serious problem . Ownership details such as those listed above can be found at home of The Radio Advertising Bureau . For anyone teaching about radio this site is a must for bookmarking. It explains how wireless (their word) works and the ways in which it's different from other media outlets such as television. Schools with an up-to-date version of the Real Audio plug-in will even be able to hear sound samples of adverts - past and present - as well as presentations on the nature of the medium. The history of commercial radio is also supplied at this site.

The resources available on adverting of a non-broadcast kind are too numerous to describe but it's worth starting at the Advertising Standards Authority . Access to the Internet has come at exactly the right time for those planning to teach Media Studies at Higher. Of course the immediate concern is to ensure that staff receive the training to make Internet access effective. All Cyberschools columns (with hyperlinks to the various sites mentioned) can be found at