CNN’s most important contribution

While everybody’s lifting a glass to celebrate CNN’s 25th, let’s pause to toast Ted Turner’s real contribution to television news. It’s not 24/7 news. It’s not the global reach of cable. No, the network’s most significant — but seldom mentioned — contribution to TV News was taking the production of graphics out of the hands of (union) engineers and putting the task in the hands of artists. This was huge, and I remember the whole industry rushing to imitate the vertically mounted cameras and character generators that revolutionized the whole notion of making graphics for TV News.

This was a precursor to many other innovations that gave TV news people freedom to create, and it goes down in my book as CNN’s most lasting contribution to the medium.

You can’t “create” citizens media

The Boulder Daily Camera’s “MyTown” experiment in citizens media isn’t working, according to Poynter’s Steve Outing. In a post called Write, Citizens! Please, Write!, Steve, who’s a local guy, notes that two big weekend events in Boulder produced only a smattering of entries.

In its print edition (as well as online), the Camera had been heavily promoting MyTown in advance of these events, specifically urging people to submit their stories and photos to special areas devoted to the Festival and the Bolder Boulder (10K race).

For the Creek Festival, the paper ran stories giving attendees an “assignment” to “cover” the event, as though they were amateur, unpaid journalists.

Alas, I’d have to say that it didn’t work out.

Steve offers suggestions for this model, but I’m not sure any will make the concept “work.” Here’s why: local communities don’t need anybody to build a blogosphere, because one already exists. I’m sorry, but giving people access to tools under a canopy isn’t the blogosphere, and I’m not surprised people aren’t breaking down the doors to get at it.

Citizens media isn’t something you can manufacture. It’s already there, and the wise mainstream players will find ways to support — rather than try to own — what’s going on.

The personal media revolution is a bottom-up affair, and there’s just no way to turn that into somebody’s hierarchical command-and-control mechanism (to profit from it). When will we learn?

Got a secret? This blog wants it.

Lost in all the public arguments about the politics of the blogosphere or the sheer number of blogs is the reality that there is some really amazing stuff out there (in here?). A case in point is PostSecret, a place where a growing community of people post their secrets in postcard form. The site may offend some, but it is art personified to me. It also touches deep places within my soul. If you’ve ever known deep hurt, these simple little postcards offer a soothing balm.

And the New York Times has found it. Nice article.

TV stations must embrace personal media tools

Here is the latest in the on-going series of essays, TV News in a Postmodern World. This is the 46th entry in the series and is cross-posted at morph, The Media Center’s blog.

This essay examines the conundrum of professional specialization, and how it becomes a net liability when technology takes the place of specialists. Too many television stations ignore the incredible flexibility offered everyday people — thanks to disruptive technologies — and, instead, fight them tooth and nail in the (mistaken) belief that a single individual can’t possibly do their job. In so doing, stations are missing cost-effective opportunities and running the risk of losing the video news niche in their markets downstream.

BONUS: Fred Hutchinson emails from the deep end of the pond:

The eighteenth century was the era of the versatile generalist.

During the next century the rise of the era of the credentialed specialist began — which was good for technology but bad for general culture. I wonder if the blog world is a swing back to the generalist? I am a versatile polymath, facilitated by the www.

To which I responded: This is excellent, Fred. I’ve grown from a credentialed specialist to a versatile generalist, and I think the change strikes at the core of postmodernism and will impact things far beyond the media. The difference between the old versatile generalist and the new is that technology is replacing the specialists for us by providing easy access to knowledge. I believe even the institutions of law and medicine will be inevitable victims of this, because a database search can replace even the sharpest legal and medical minds. These two institutions will fight the hardest for the status quo.

Stay tuned, folks.

Podcasting’s allure to broadcasters

Everybody’s a’twitter over podcasts these days, and why not? The announcement that iTunes will soon be podcast-friendly was a biggie. ABC and CBS have announced their plans to podcast, and the snowball effect is underway.

While I recommend that my clients podcast (It’s more “you can’t not.”), I have doubts about the long-term legs of the genre for broadcasters, unless it’s used to deliver different types of content. I’m just not convinced the concept has been fully thought through. The idea that Dave Winer and Adam Curry first innovated involved podcasting as a way anybody could record and distribute an audio file via the Internet for playback on an MP3 player. So if I wanted to, say, make a regular audio “letter” to family members, I could record it, put it on my server, and distribute it to family members via RSS. Same thing with a group of friends, or business, or church, or civic group, or social organization. If I had an offbeat niche, I could create a program and put it out there for anybody who might interested. Cool.

Then came the pros, and now we have Curry doing a satellite radio program with podcasts and a radio station in San Francisco programming their day with them. Podcasts are viewed — in these applications — as content for mass marketing. This is the same model that has traditional media outlets seeing dollar signs. After all, it’s easy to attach an ad or ads to my “radio” program. And I don’t have to do much work either. It’s just like the good old days — top/down mass media. It’s the perfect repurposing vehicle.

Or not.

The networks and local stations are offering newscasts, sportscasts, weathercasts and a host of other “casts” via the podcast format and technology. And the BIG question is who will download and listen to them? If you’re on the way to work and you want a newscast, well, we already have this thing called radio for that. If you’ve missed the evening news, but you sure wanted to see hear what Ken and Barbie had to say, well, we already have this thing called a DVR. Okay, so let’s say you’re sitting a work and you want to get caught up with the news or the weather or the sports, well, we have this thing called the Internet, and it’s very efficient.

So who wants to download an MP3 newscast? Nobody.

Terry, you’re being cynical again.

Alright, let’s say you’re smart enough to recognize the above, so you plan to create separate, more compelling pieces of content for this. But that means more work for people. There’s thinking and writing and music and production, to say nothing of uploading, labelling and promoting. If you’ve ever done radio, you’ll know what I mean.

So to television stations who are considering (or doing) this, I offer two pieces of advice. One, don’t expect a great return, if all you’re going to do with this is repurpose TV news or TV news segments. Original or expanded coverage is much more likely to be compelling to podcast users. Secondly, don’t let this fool you into thinking you’ve entered the new media/multimedia world. You haven’t. Just like your portal website, all you’ve done is find another way to do the same thing you already do. Repurposed content — regardless of the venue — is just same-o, same-o.

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Meanwhile, the personal conflict between Dave Winer and Adam Curry over authorship of podcasting has now gone public. Alex Beam, a columnist for The Boston Globe, has apparently made up his mind that the title should go to Curry. In a piece called, “Bickering among the ‘Pod squad,” he refers to Winer as a geek and “one who does not play well with others,” while calling Curry, among other things, a “supercool helicopter pilot and promoter extraordinaire.” Hmm.

The issue is a no-brainer to me. Here’s what I said in an entry dated October 7th of last year:

Let me add my voice to those of Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, Dave Winer (the father of RSS), Adam Curry (former MTV jock) and others who are touting podcasting as a major new media development. Curry and Winer are pioneering the concept, which is essentially a radio show that’s included in an RSS feed for downloading (it can be automatic) to your hard drive and then loaded into an iPod for listening whenever and wherever.
This entry was written shortly after Doc began counting Google references to the topic. The point is if it was being pioneered by Curry and Winer (read: TOGETHER), how is it that Adam Curry is now referred to as “The Podfather.” Sounds like it’s that “promoter extraordinaire” at work.

Dave and I have had words in the past, but I support him completely on this one.

The point most miss about the blogosphere

I encourage my clients to get involved in their local blogging communities. I’ve arranged meet-ups and gotten to know some wonderful and talented people. Most observers — and especially those from the mainstream press — fail to understand the community aspect of blogging. This is a critical mistake, in my judgment, because it is the community that will outlive any other aspect of the personal media revolution.

Steve Rubel points to yet another commentary this morning that predicts the blogging bubble will burst. Steve agrees, in part, with USAToday’s Kevin Maney, who writes that blogs will become a part of the overall communications fabric.

So, yeah, blogs are cool. Anything that gives people a voice benefits society and makes us all better and smarter — and, as bloggers have proved, makes established information outlets more accountable. But blogs don’t seem to be the second coming of the printing press. They’re just another turn of the wheel in communications technology.
The problem with this perspective is that it dismisses the community that exists among bloggers, whether that community is defined by geography or common purpose. This is what makes blogging different than anything that has come before it, and it’s what will give it legs.

Think about it for a minute. Maney suggests that a/the purpose of blogging is to benefit society and make us all better and smarter. This is the assumption that “professional” journalists make of their own role, one that is rather quickly being proven false. Blogging IS community, and often at its very best. Most of the local bloggers I’ve met blog because it’s fun and a great way to meet other people. They’ll outlast — by a mile — those who are in it to benefit society and make us all better and smarter.