Archives for January 2004

The Future is Multimedia

The Future is Multimedia
Here is the latest essay in the series, “TV News in a Postmodern World.” This one is addressed to those who work in the news business, specifically television news, and offers suggestions for a new skill set required to be successful in a reporter/producer, multimedia news environment.

Blogging is fundamentally Postmodern

Blogging is fundamentally Postmodern
In my studies of Postmodernism and attempting to apply it to today’s culture, I often come up against a dividing line between it and Modernism. The two cultures live side‐by‐side — with Modernism on the descent and Postmodernism on the ascent — and clashes between the two are usually obscured by the rush of life. When I am able to see the conflict, it’s generally when logic and reason attempt to understand or define things Postmodern. It just doesn’t work, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

This is the case in the ongoing discussion of the phenomenon of blogs and blogging. The idea of interconnected citizen journalists and the role they can (and do) play in the business of news is simply unapproachable to the Modernist mind. Even people who do “get it” fall into hierarchical thinking, because that’s the way we’ve all grown up and have been trained. A case in point is an op‐ed piece in The Star‐Ledger by Jeff Jarvis. Jeff is a very smart guy with a deep background in the media. He’s also a prolific blogger and considered by many to be somewhat of an authority on the subject. His blog is in my RSS reader, and I pay daily attention to what he says. In a Postmodern sense, you might say he’s a member of my “tribe.”

But in this piece, he makes what I think is a Modernist judgment about the future potential of blogs. To establish context, he’s writing about Howard Dean’s use of blogs in the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination. His point is that Dean’s blogs only allowed him to hear from his supporters, which may have given him a false sense of political reality and, therefore, contributed to his 3rd‐place finish in Iowa.

Weblogs — the citizens’ weblogs outside the Dean tent — could have helped Dean avoid these pitfalls. For the true strength of weblogs is that their links bring you fresh information, diverse perspectives, and the real buzz of what the people are saying.

That is why the first response of those in power — in politics or media or business — should not necessarily be to write weblogs but instead to just sit down and read them. For the first time in centuries, weblogs have given citizens the power of the platform and the printing press. It is their turn to speak, and it is time for the powerful to listen.

I love, respect and admire Jeff’s idealism, but there’s a problem. Reading citizen blogs to get an overall sense of how the public feels is impossible. It’s a fulltime job reading Jeff’s own blog, let alone hundreds or thousands of others. That means, there would have to be a filter or an A‐list, B‐list, etc., and both ideas are contrary to the very essence of blogging.

If blogging in any way results in power and influence to the few or even layered power, it will ultimately self‐destruct as just another form of mass market communications. The beauty of blogs is that they put the reader right on the street with the people. An overview (such a Modernist term!) requires separation, and therein lies the rub.

The problem is that no matter how you stack it in a Modernist world, the pyramid has a very wide bottom, and blending the Modern with the Postmodern is always a risky task. Blogs are anti‐hierarchy, so we ought not be surprised if a hierarchical “read” is problematic. This is why trying to predict how these things “fit” into an institutional world often makes the “fitter” end up looking like a fool.

The Internet (the people thereof) simply will not and cannot be manipulated for individual gain, and that is the real lesson of Jeff’s piece. Howard Dean’s legacy (that is, Joe Trippi’s and Jim Moore’s) is that of trailblazer in the early history of this new communications form. That alone is sufficient for my respect.

Letting consumers choose advertisers? Brilliant!

Letting consumers choose advertisers? Brilliant!
The idea of a single sponsor during a user’s surfing is something I’ve advocated for a long time, and now the folks at WeatherBug have taken it one step further by allowing users to actually select the advertiser. I think this is outstanding, for it fits beautifully into a post‐mass market world. Previously, WeatherBug permitted users to select an advertiser for a couple of days, but now that’s moving to a whole month. Here’s now MediaDailyNews describes it:

“We decided to give consumers complete control over their ads, instead of giving them a sponsor for a few days,” says Andy Jedynak, WeatherBug’s senior‐VP and general manager. “Once they’ve selected their sponsor for a few days, all the [other] ads go away for the rest of the month.” The ads, mostly rich media‐enabled, link directly to an advertiser’s Web page. The goal, according to WeatherBug, is to deepen the relationship between the marketer and the individual to deliver better results. At the end of the month, consumers are asked to choose another advertiser from among the WeatherBug categories.
Customer conversion rates are better, because the advertiser has several opportunities to develop a business relationship with the user.

Postmoderns (Pomos) reject the passive role of “viewer,” especially as it relates to advertising. Why do you think Madison Avenue is so afraid of TiVos? The Internet is fertile ground for creative minds, those who would rewrite the rules of advertising in a Postmodern world. By empowering its users, I think WeatherBug has taken a major step forward in this creative process.

The press is a player, believe it or not.

The press is a player, believe it or not.
The tenets of “professionalism” prevent them from admitting it, but the press has become essential role‐players in our electoral process. Jay Rosen’s argument is brilliantly crafted and must‐reading for students of the subject.

And here’s William Powers of National Journal on the inside baseball approach: “The class of true political obsessives is tiny, and the media feel a little guilty about belonging to it, about behaving less and less like everyday people and more and more like the political operatives they cover.”

But feeling guilty and changing your behavior are two different things. Spin Alley is absurd, and called so by journalists. But Spin Alley is there after every big debate, and it still draws the journalists. Why is this?

The answer involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst… the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for. So while the press likes being a player, it does not like being asked: what are you for?

In fact, the instructions are not to think about it too much, because to know what you are playing for would be to have a kind of agenda. And by all mainstream definition the political reporter must have no kind of agenda. The Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNN, Newsweek, The Des Moines Register, and all similar competitors, are officially (and rhetorically) committed to “no agenda” journalism, also known as the view from nowhere. So while it might be recognized that the press is a player, journalists also see an unsolvable problem if they take one more intellectual step. So they dare not.

This conundrum is the inevitable fruit of living within Walter Lippmann’s smokescreen of a “professional” class of journalist. As I’ve noted many times here, Lippmann and his cronies on the Creel Commission invented the concept of public relations, and Lippmann’s vision of democracy was that it should be run by an educated class of elites. Is it any surprise that the mainstream press now finds itself privately knowing its role and liking it but unable to acknowledge it?

The chuckle is that public knows (or senses) this too.

Postmodernism is all about power to the people, people who survey the landscape of Modernism, with its worship of logic and reason, and find ruin. Pomos detest hierarchy and being “managed,” and the irony is that the technological inventions of modern times have made it possible for them to call a spade a spade. The higher up the Modernist ladder one gets, the quicker the bottom is rising up to meet them, threatening to swallow them whole.

When polite downloads become impolite!

When polite downloads become impolite
The ad world is seemingly all atwitter over the unveiling this week of Unicast’s new Web video format and the advertising giants who are lined up to try it during a six‐week beta test. An article in MediaPost’s MediaDailyNews oohs and ahs over the format, calling it “a new format that is capable of rendering conventional 30‐second TV spots online with hardly any of the excruciatingly long download times or bandwidth required of streaming video formats.”

If the test proves successful, it could be a boon to the burgeoning online video advertising marketplace, and could encourage many top marketers to finally take online seriously as a major advertising medium.
I hate to pop the bubble, but this is Unicast, a company that has raised hyperbole to an art form. While everybody’s panting about the quality of the spots, nobody seems to be paying attention to the details. Here’s a paragraph buried in the story:
The Unicast spots accomplish this via a patented technology that allows the 2 megabyte video ad files to pre‐load into cache without a user being aware of it and then launching at the exact time the user and the publisher choose. As such, Unicast’s new Video Commercials will become the closest thing yet in terms of replicating a TV commercial advertising experience. Of course, they will go conventional TV ads one better. They will be interactive.
Okay, here’s a little truth. These files are 2 megs, 2 MEGS! That alone should at least make people sit up and take notice. These files are downloaded to your computer without you being aware of it! This is similar to the way ESPN Motion is done, with one rather glaring exception. When you sign up for ESPN Motion, you give them permission to download the streams in the background, something known in the streaming world as “polite” downloads. With the Unicast brainstorm, you don’t have any choice. Do Internet users really want Web publishers — regardless of their character — downloading files to their hard drives without their knowledge? Ah, I don’t think so.

But there’s more. Do you have any idea how long it takes to download a 2 meg file? Long enough for you to leave the Website and go elsewhere. Will the advertiser get charged for an impression that nobody ever sees? You bet! This is not a good idea.

I opted out of ESPN Motion after having it for a few weeks. Why? Because the process was fed to me in the same manner as broadcasting, forcing me into a passive viewing mode, something I’ve come to the Web to avoid.

For streaming, my money remains with the folks at EyeWonder, whose playerless technologies keep improving. No waiting. No downloads. The user is in charge, and that’s the way it should be.

God bless the RIAA (with a brick)!

God bless the RIAA (with a brick)!
I’ve waited a day before commenting about the RIAA’s latest round of suing its customers, because I wanted to read what The Register wrote about it. They didn’t let me down. The headline: “RIAA goes hunting for 532 more file‐traders — Only 50 million to go”

The RIAA has launched Version 2.0 of its lawsuit filing program, suing 532 music fans in Washington and New York.

The music label mob scrapped Version 1.0 of the lawsuit program after a federal appeals court blocked the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) from acquiring file‐traders’ identities from ISPs via subpoenas. The RIAA has now been forced to file suits against “John Doe” defendants and to acquire their identities through a longer, more costly legal process.

The pigopolist mob reckons most of the 532 consumers had more than 800 files on their PCs. Once the trader’s identity is discovered, the RIAA has graciously offered first to try and settle out of court for thousands of dollars before wringing its customer base through the legal system.

I love The Register with its UK sarcasm and Postmodern approach to everything. They’re the only media outlet I’ve seen that has consistently called this for what it is — an industry ploy to cover the real reason for loss of sales: crappy music.
With tens of millions of people trading files online, it will take the RIAA many years to complete the copyright sweep in the courts. To its credit though, the lobby group has implemented a firm, military approach to its program that could push things along.
(Full disclosure: I have an illegal copy of Eddie Arnold’s “Cattle Call” on my hard drive.)