It’s time for the press to grow a spine

bigjsmallIt’s amazing to me that for all of the studied, intelligent, imaginative, and articulate journalism observers we have among us today that none of them — not one — will touch the living, breathing J-Lab that is the Middle East. Here we have a daily demonstration of all that’s wrong with humanity along with a press that embraces narrative rather than facts. What do we do with it? Absolutely nothing.

That it is too complex and multi-dimensional to study is a convenient but unforgivable excuse. It’s all there; everything, but what it needs is some really courageous aggregating, filtering, and analyzing. In other words, serious reporting, the kind of which is completely lacking on the matter today, and that includes the New York Times, which embraces only one of the narratives. Instead, most journalists act only on fear: of being wrong, of being on the wrong “side,” of alienating important others, of showing bias, of the appearance of impropriety, of being called “anti-semitic,” of being called out by peers, and of many other things, both religious and secular.

For all the talk we talk about journalists being truth seekers, the reality is we’re afraid of what we might find here, and so we simply ignore the situation entirely. All this accomplishes is to advance the status quo, which is violent and ugly and has been so for decades. One-state solution? Two-state solution? Solution to “what” is the question. What’s the problem that needs solving? Is this really something that journalists of today can ignore forever?

And it’s damned important for us to study and report about it, for to do nothing is to look the other way as false history is being written about both sides. We’re talking about the cradle of Western Civilization, folks, and what could be more important than that? Moreover, the situation is a perfect laboratory for studying everything related to the core concepts of professional journalism.

Here are 10 examples:

  • It’s way more than a simple “he said/she said.”
  • Actual human beings are being sacrificed and killed.
  • It’s a war of narratives about history.
  • It’s filled with social media participation.
  • It’s a U.S. story, because the we’re involved up to our necks.
  • It’s a checkerboard of international politics.
  • It’s overflowing with emotion and drama.
  • It’s a study in human nature at work.
  • It cries out for a kind of deconstruction that only an involved press can provide.
  • It demands at least the spirit of objectivity.

We may occasionally get into reporting about one or more of the above, but nobody is looking at how all of this is intertwined in the story of human conflict and resolution. Is that too big a story? I don’t think so. In fact, I think the human race is not only ready for it but is begging for the opportunity to participate somehow in undoing the manipulation that makes us all feel so powerless. Journalism should be our servant in this noble task, but its self-absorption prevents it from reporting on the very people they work so hard to rub elbows with. Journalism is the one institution of all that cannot and must not allow assumptions to substitute for truth.

This is life! Why are we so consumed by surface stuff when technology has given us the ability to see with our own eyes, connect with all sides in an open conflict, and make sense where we never could before?

It’s a matter of shame for an institution that used to be important and necessary.

CBS disses affiliates with Star Trek announcement

CBS announced today that it is creating a new version of Star Trek for distribution in 2017. It’s not a shock, because the show’s 50th anniversary is coming up next year, and Star Trek is one of the all-time greatest franchises, regardless of the iteration.

What is going to shock the universe in the days ahead is the announcement that the program is only going to be available “exclusively” via the CBS All Access streaming service, according to the CBS press release:

The première episode and all subsequent first-run episodes will then be available exclusively in the United States on CBS All Access, the Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service.

The new program will be the first original series developed specifically for U.S. audiences for CBS All Access, a cross-platform streaming service that brings viewers thousands of episodes from CBS’s current and past seasons on demand, plus the ability to stream their local CBS Television station live for $5.99 per month. CBS All Access already offers every episode of all previous “Star Trek” television series.

No reader here will be surprised by this, because it’s been inevitable since the dawn of the Web. Let’s face it: direct to consumers is the most efficient way to distribute programs, and this announcement will be just the beginning. Watch for major conflicts over this and what will ultimately become the preferred method by which the legacy networks speak to their viewers.

The broadcasting industry, however, is not going to be happy, and I expect its objections to be loud and often.

The Dying Advantage of Concurrent Viewers

Human attention gatherer” Joe Marchese is a smart guy and a long-time acquaintance. He’s not an old media apologetic, which at least one person is suggesting today, for while he’s currently employed to boost the digital efforts of Fox, he’s been both a network entrepreneur and long-time head of Mediapost, a company that studies new media. So his recent argument — May I Define Your Attention, Please? — that comparisons of television viewing and online views of video are bogus is surprising only in that he doesn’t include why such comparisons are irrelevant in the long run.

To be fair, Joe is responding to the opposing view of venture capitalist David Pakman — May I Have Your Attention, Please? — that makes the case that online “views” are the same as broadcast “audiences,” and he’s right that Pakman is wrong in so doing.

My problem is that the argument is specious, because concurrent viewing, a.k.a. “broadcasting,” is ultimately anachronistic in the digital world, so what’s the point?

It’s true, as Joe states, that using a concurrent model to judge online video views reveals a great weakness in online viewer counts, but it’s also true that when advertisers buy online views, they do so for targeting purposes, not the reach and frequency counts required for the mass marketing model that broadcasting provides. Moreover, and this is incredibly important, technology today is helping people overcome the relentless bombardment of those endless commercial breaks required for reach and frequency measures. Audiences, it would appear, are no longer content with being captive, and so they switch channels, thanks to the convenience of a remote, turn to secondary screens for a few minutes, turn the volume down, or leave the room, to name a few things. Of course, the one that gets the most attention is ad-skipping via DVRs.

The point is that the concurrent model is what’s being disrupted by the network, and as the advertising industry adjusts, those whose core competency depends on reach/frequency models will have to adjust or ultimately go out of business. That may not happen for years, but happen, it will, because the people with the money — the advertisers — are increasingly demanding accountability for where and how they spend all that cash.

Besides, you’ll never encounter Joe Flacco learning how to host a party anywhere else but online (and who wants to miss that?):

FBI Director Says Cameras Increase Crime

Let’s review: One of the “sure bets” for the future is the continuing cultural disruption of what Jay Rosen tagged “The Great Horizontal” — everyday people being connected and able to communicate as media companies across-the-bottom of culture. Every top-to-bottom institution of the West will be disrupted, assuming net neutrality continues to be the law of the land. Of course, the predictable reaction to disruption is to defend, and we’re seeing this in ways big and small.

As I recently wrote, for example, the Israeli narrative machine is finding it harder to maintain hegemony in the face of citizen videos, like this one, that show a brutal and mistaken arrest.

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

Last week, during a forum at the University of Chicago Law School, FBI Director James Comey actually said that police anxiety over ever-present cellphone cameras and viral videos partly explains why violent crime has risen in several large U.S. cities. According to CBS News, Comey said it has negatively impacted relations between police and citizens.

Ya think?

“I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year, and that wind is surely changing behavior,” Comey said.

He added that some of the behavioral change in police officers has been for the good “as we continue to have important discussions about police conduct and de-escalation and the use of deadly force.”

Comey likened the strain between law enforcement and local communities to two lines diverging, saying repeatedly that authorities must continue to work at improving their relationships with citizens. But he added: “I actually feel the lines continuing to arc away from each other, incident by incident, video by video.”

We’ll all just have to adapt, because this is only going to get worse for institutions that depend on information control in order to function. We’re going to require tort reform of some sort to deal with the liability issues that will arise, but mostly, we’re just going to have to function as better citizens, all of us.

We’re also going to be seeing a lot of “what if” stories in the press from various players who have a lot of lose in flow of information at the bottom. The institution of medicine, for example, will fight hard to keep others from what they will call the “practice of medicine” along the bottom, which they will lobby hard to protect. Think of tools, for example, that have the best interests of the patients in mind — like the sharing of individual experiences — rather than those of the institution. Third-party insurance will be impacted, because cost is such a big part of medicine.

So get yourself ready for a bumpy ride and keep the network free. The cries of Chicken Little will surely be heard, because institutions don’t know how to function absent equilibrium.

We’re going to have to learn.

One size fits all (or not)

With the dawn of the network age, institutions that used to flourish in the analog communications era (every year since before the network) continue to respond as if nothing has changed. Nowhere is this truer than with broadcasting, where its audience has become atomized in and by the network. But it’s more than that. People now have weapons to actually assist their escape from actual audience seats, which makes ignoring reality even more dangerous. And rather than invest in the very real opportunities of the network — especially at the local level — broadcasting continually works to redefine the disruption as just another obstacle to overcome in routinely trudging the road to its money tree.

Adweek was given a preview this week of Nielsen’s new multiplatform measuring tool, total audience measurement. This is Nielsen’s attempt to take that atomization and shove it back in the bottle from which it came. Here are key takeaways from the Adweek article:

…total audience measurement is real and, given the industry’s growing cries this fall (in the face of more live TV viewership declines) for a tool that will finally allow them to fully measure and monetize viewers, it’s spectacular…

The result is total audience measurement, Nielsen’s single-sourced platform to account for all viewing across linear TV, DVR, VOD, connected TV devices (Roku, Apple TV and Xbox), mobile, PC and tablets…

(Nielsen evp Megan Clarken) “What we’re acutely aware of is our measurement underpins $70 billion worth of advertising,” she added.

Make no mistake, this is entirely about advertising and the potential collapse of the top-down, stage-to-audience hegemony that runs everything. Why else use the word “audience?” With that word, Nielsen is saying, “Hey, everybody, nothing has changed. You needed us to figure out how to crunch these numbers to tell the story of how relevant you’ve stayed through this whole disruption mess. Thank God, right?” With $70 billion at stake, the back pats are deserved.

Or not.

“Audience” is defined as “the assembled spectators or listeners at a public event, such as a play, movie, concert, or meeting.” Mass media requires a mass (an audience) in order to get paid by advertisers who want to reach those audience members in order to advance commerce. Audiences are captive. They sit in seats and pay attention.

Or not.

Everyday people — those who Jay Rosen brilliantly tagged 10 years ago as “The people formerly known as the audience” — are using technology in their war against manipulation by forces that could do whatever they wished in the mass marketing era. Television advertising still works and probably always will, but it’s nowhere near what it used to be. According to the Adweek article, “live” television viewing makes up only 45% of a program’s total “audience.” Those technologies that Nielsen is putting together include those that run without commercials or can be skipped. Moreover, even if people don’t change the channel during commercial breaks, they are on to secondary screens, and their attention is diverted. Not all views are equal in the eyes of increasingly educated advertisers.

$70 billion is a lot to lose, and to a certain extent, defensive strategies like this are to be expected. What’s hard to fathom, however, is that in a competitive environment like the network, it’s fiscal suicide to only play defense. Meanwhile, money continues to flow to those in Silicon Valley (and beyond) that are doing the innovating in playing by the network’s rules.

They should. After all, they invented it.

Acts of citizen media

For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been saying that the ability of everyday people to communicate across the bottom of culture is a disruptor that will completely alter the modernist world. This is because those influences that have always spoken from the top-down are no longer the only ones capable of speaking to everyone. The price of participation in the process is no longer reserved only for the elites. Dan Gillmor was the first to really explore this with his brilliant and prescient book “We, the Media.” In his book, Darknet, J.D. Lasica coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to define the phenomenon of everybody functioning as a media company.

I’ve long used the Middle East as an illustration of this, and while the subject truly angers those who unconditionally support Israel, citizen media in the region is making it harder and harder for Israel to maintain the narrative that it is always the victim. In the news today is a report from a human rights organization that describes the matter perfectly. From its press release:

While the Israeli government has to date escaped serious accountability for repeated human rights violations, “citizen journalism”—in which excessive acts of force are caught on camera—now is making it more difficult for the acts to be obscured or brushed aside, says the report.

“Thanks to the courageous acts of activists, family members and bystanders, Euro-Med has collected video footage and eyewitness testimonies documenting numerous, egregious abuses by Israeli soldiers during the last few weeks, which we believe is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Daniela Dönges. “In our report, we name eight of them, because they are not just numbers. They are human beings with stories that must be told.”

Here’s the video itself. It’s not easy to watch.

The Middle East is a laboratory in which this cultural disruptor can be studied, and yet, very few do. That’s because it shakes us to the core and raises the difficult question of the permanence or reliability of anything.

That may be discomforting, but this is only the beginning.