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Libraries & Information in Media: The Daily Planet (as in Superman: Earth One)

Superman: Earth One (2010) represents a re-imagination of Superman’s origin story. Written by the author of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski, it is set in the time when Kal-El leaves Smallville to go to Metropolis. I find some elements of his take more believable (yes, I know the idea of a Superman is not so believable). For example, when Kal-El’s ship crashes, the Kents of course find it, but there is a shady organization looking for the object that crashed, which they retrieve and keep looking for its occupant. This graphic novel has some of the qualities I expected from Straczynski, as with Babylon 5, he delivers an engaging, interconnected and entertaining story. Although I expected more. Perhaps Superman fans would enjoy it more than I did, as I’m a Batman guy. But enough background. In order for this to fit in this section of the blog, I wanted to point out some things related to libraries and information present on this piece of media, in this case: its portrayal of some issues around the Daily Planet (Metropolis’ newspaper), which is journalism. Ah, journalism.

It’s funny to note that although Perry White (editor of the Daily Planet) advices Lois Lane to “write about what you are writing about, not about you writing about what you are writing about”, what we see in her enclosed pages of the Daily Planet is the latter. I think this was either a bit silly, or very faithful to her character, as she often gets away with being a smart-ass. Lois displays some soul on her writing, but White also advices to use soul on news writing, so I don’t find this very congruent within all his recommendations. Because, is it ‘writing about you writing about what you are writing about’, putting some soul into your writing? (See the last part of this post, where I write about this issue further).

Jimmy Olsen seems to be taking at least 12 megapixel pictures, hence, ‘chocking the server with the files’. Shouldn’t a newspaper have a better server? If the server chocks with a picture, what would happen with regular, worldwide traffic? Perhaps a 20 Mb picture is not good for a printed black and white newspaper, but we see in the enclosed Daily Planet pages that you ‘may find more about on dailyplanet.com’. It would have been very clever for White to point out that these pictures are good for the website version of the paper, but advice him to crop them for the print version, put them on a grayscale, or something. This might be extreme librarian nitpicking, but ‘the devil’s on the details’.

Now the most serious stuff, and I must cite White more extensively as he states “Thanks to the Internet, every yahoo with a keyboard thinks that just because he can type, he can write, as for you [referring to Clark] look, I read your articles, and they are fine, but nothing special. A good writer writes from his soul. You write like you’re holding something back.” I find his two statements about Internet journalism and writing from his soul, not too congruent between them. Furthermore, they are not congruent with the guidelines given to Ms. Lane. Firstly, his position towards Internet journalism is very understandable, coming from an editor for a ‘Big and Old Media’ device. Although showing perhaps too much contempt for an alternative journalism that is becoming more and more valid everyday, this adds to his character. But it’s a worn out and expected discourse from an old business model perspective. We see traditional media, or as I like to call ‘Big and Old Media (BOOM)’ as failing to inform, to entertain, and let alone: educate. Fox News anyone? We see a highly sensationalist BOOM, one that miserably copies models from new media in order to keep being pertinent (SMS, social media integration or attempts to do so). And we see BOOM giving wrong publicity through their misguided scandals regarding videogames (for example the case of Rapelay, or P2P technology). These scandals create the wrong effect, instead of raising conscience or awareness towards and issue, they promote it through scandal and sensationalism. Thus turning low profile and extinct topics into high profile, blown out of proportion problems. So, perhaps BOOM exhibits too much soul, or no soul at all by doing these things. Apart from this, BOOM is against soul, against personal perspectives, or it displays too much of it, it’s not a consistent criteria, being in news or scholarly/scientific communications. New media on the other side, has a personal commitment and often a disregard for corporate or financial interest within its content. Moreover, it has crowds approving or disapproving, and adding value to the information. Is this not better? Who knows…

Libraries & Information in Media: Memory Alpha

This is a new experiment on this blog. Libraries & Information in Media explores and analyzes portrayals in different media of libraries, librarians and the role of information in general. Within this new section, I am going to write a short post about how libraries and information are portrayed in books, movies, series, comics and videogames. I hope you find it interesting.

In this first post, I take a look to Memory Alpha, as it appears in the episode “The Lights of Zetar” (1969) of Star Trek the Original Series (TOS for geeks). Memory Alpha is a planetoid which houses a huge library complex set up for academic purposes. This library contains the total cultural and scientific knowledge of all the planets that are members of the United Federation of Planets. Memory Alpha is also the very apt name chosen for one of Star Trek’s wikis on the Internet.

In this episode, the action takes place in the planetoid. However, not much is said about the library itself nor it is an important plot device on itself. According to the Memory Alpha wiki, “as of 2269, the library complex was an array consisting of five large and seven smaller domes on the surface of the planetoid. Aside from the technicians, the occupants of Memory Alpha varied with the number of scholars, researchers, and scientists from variousFederation planets who were using the computer complex at any given time.” The most relevant element that I can bring to this post for discussion is that there is an attack on Memory Alpha and then Mr. Spock comments regarding the nature of the library that because they considered that the knowledge stored there is to be accessible to everybody, they did not put a force field to defend the planet. A force field in Star Trek is an energy field put into place around ships or places as a line of defense and it prevents life forms to “beam” or being teleported to a place without permission.

This is a very interesting point, if we think about the history of libraries, the first libraries were reserved to the elites, usually knowledge was only accessible for members of the royalty or religious people, and not the general public, which is all the purpose of libraries of the current age. It is a shame that because of enforcing to the limit a free access to knowledge, this library was vulnerable and attacked. There is no easy answer on how to provide universal access and at the same time protect the place where information is stored. Even so, this is the most interesting portrayal of libraries in Star Trek TOS. I see that Open Access is a common trait on the handling of knowledge and information policies in the Star Trek universe (at least by planets of the Federation). I can guess that in posterior series computers get a major upgrade in storing space as we can see for example Captain Picard (The Next Generation) browsing through music or also Captain Janeway (Voyager)  using the Federation digital library to bargain for a transportation device. An interesting topic to debate from Star Trek mythos is Copyright an Open Access. However, that is a topic for another instance of Libraries & Information in Media.

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