VJs — It’s not about being cheap

Permit me a rant.

By now you know that ABC News announced a big round of buy-outs and layoffs (300–400) and a switch to more of what they call “Digital Journalists.” At AR&D, we call this concept MMJs for “Multimedia Journalists,” but the original moniker was created by Michael Rosenblum. He calls them “video journalists” or VJs.

I wrote about the ABC announcement for our newsletter this week:

The decision has set off another round of arguing about the comparative value of “one-man bands” versus the two-person “crew” (reporter/photographer) of traditional newsgathering. Many, many people feel threatened by the concept of multimedia journalism (MMJ — our term) and see only the downside for themselves. In so doing, they can’t see past the threat to embrace certain positive realities about the concept, such as individual control over every element of storytelling, more feet on-the-street to cover the news better (yes, better), and that technology has forever changed the Hollywood model of newsgathering that we’ve had for 50 years…

…The VJ or MMJ or DJ model is going to be the standard model for most newsgathering in the years ahead. There will always be a need for “some” specialists on both the reporter and photographer side, but it just makes so much more sense — and not just from a cost standpoint — to go with the technological flow.

Now comes a Wall St. Journal article that calls the concept the “cheaper” way to gather news. Such ignorance! Here we go again.

Richard C. Wald, a former top executive at ABC News and NBC News, says the big broadcast networks suffer, in part, from offering a mass-audience product in a news environment that has splintered into niches.

They absolutely must change,” said Mr. Wald, noting that Mr. Westin’s move to wider use of “one-man-bands” could spread: “The minute he has any success, it will be widely copied,” he said.

…The cuts have unleashed a wave of uneasiness in TV newsrooms.

…“Maintaining the quality, or enhancing the quality, but for much less money—I think that is a very viable business model,” Mr. Westin said.

So to the Wall St. Journal — and those “uneasy newspeople” — this is all about money. Money, money, money. Let’s do it on the cheap. Trust me, I’ve heard that for almost ten years, because I was an early proponent of this style of newsgathering.

The problem with all of this is that it’s not about money; it’s about a new way of gathering the news, and where it has been implemented, it gets rave reviews from both the managers and the street people. Why? Because they overwhelm the competition by putting more cameras and feet on the street, which is where the news battle is won. We have clients who are bursting with pride at the way they now totally dominate the market, so can we please drop the money-grubbing corporation meme and look at this realistically? Is it possible to save money? Of course, but that’s not the point. Welcome to the friggin’ 21st Century!

Look, nobody likes to change. We’re comfortable with what we do, but it cannot last, and I wish that media outlets covering the changes in our industry, like the Wall St. Journal, would get it right. To keep pounding the “cheaper” drum does a gross disservice to the many fine men and women in the trenches who are making this real.

Oh, and here’s another note for the WSJ: The Newark Star Ledger was nominated this week for seven (count ‘em, seven) local emmy awards for their video work. All of them for VJs.

On the cheap? I don’t think so.

Why are we all so angry?

Television news director blogs are a growing sector of new media, and I wish I’d had one back in the days when I was in that chair. A news director’s view of culture is unique, and what they have to say is an important part of the news conversation, just as are blogs by editors and publishers.

In Eugene, Oregon, news director Jenny Kuglin blogs at Fisher-owned KVAL-TV and this week posted an important thought about news audiences these days. I strongly recommend you read this — and especially the comments — because she’s nailed a very important cultural “problem” today. She asks a question that I want to try an answer: “Viewer anger: What is behind influx of rude and angry comments?

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to the negative feedback. In fact, I really appreciate it when people comment on our stories — or our people — because it gives me a chance to find out what our viewers are thinking.

When someone tells us we are wrong, and we are, I make reporters and anchors go on-air and apologize. If someone asks us a question that I feel other people might have, too, we address it on-air. This is important transparency for a skeptical society.

But I’ve been noticing a fairly disturbing trend lately. People are being mean in greater numbers than I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve also been personally screamed at, called names, and hung up on countless times. So have other members of my staff. I’ve talked to other people in the news business, and they are reporting the same trend.

I published an essay in the fall of 1998 upon retiring from TV News that is pertinent to Ms. Kuglin’s question. In “The Lizard on America’s Shoulder,” I borrowed a metaphor from C.S. Lewis in “The Great Divorce” about a ghost with a lizard on his shoulder trying to enter heaven. The lizard relentlessly whispered filth in the ghost’s ear, but when the angel attempts to remove it (“You can’t go in there with that!”), the ghost jumped back and said, “Don’t touch my lizard.” It’s all about the comfort of familiarity, regardless of its effect on the individual.

Local television news, I wrote, is the lizard on America’s shoulder, and so I think a part of this anger that she feels is a direct response to the kinds of things we’re delivering to people day-in and day-out. When the first ten minutes of “the news” night-after-night is man’s inhumanity to man, it has a negative impact on the psychological well-being of the audience, although I can’t cite you chapter and verse on how. I have many friends who’ve given up watching the news, and, to a person, they describe a more peaceful life.

But this is only part of the answer. The much bigger response is that the people formerly known as the audience (TPFKATA) are now able to do something about it. Everybody is a media company today, and that anger now has outlets that it never had before. What Ms. Kuglin is experiencing is an empowered culture able to do something about their anger, and that is something new under the sun. We’re all connected, and information is at our finger tips. That some people are exceptionally ugly is, well, welcome to the human race.

I think this is going to get worse, because it’s bigger than just the news. There is an incredible dissatisfaction with the fruit of the modern era. People look around a see nothing but failure. One tenth of our labor force is out of work, and all around people see our institutions gasping for survival. Created to serve the common good, institutions now find themselves completely self-centered, and the people know it. Nobody’s in it for us; everybody’s in it for themselves.

We’re in the midst of the second Gutenberg moment in the West. The dawning of the age of participation (what I call “postmodernism”) is upon us. We’re tired, for example, of the relentless carpet bombing of marketing, and so we’re fighting back. Why, Ms. Kuglin? Because we can.

We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore. You think the last ten years have been interesting? Wait until you see what’s coming.

I appreciate your courage in bringing it up. Keep up the great work.

The lonely journey of Tiger Woods

Writers write, and so I write.

The Tiger Woods event today has really torn at my heart, and I find myself incredibly sad. I’m so sad, in fact, that I don’t believe I can move on unless I share that sadness here, in the place where those who know me so well have been with me through thick and thin.

In the days leading up to this event, I have read, watched and listened as observer after observer shot holes in what Tiger was about to do. It was a staged PR event that “legitimate” reporters would do well to avoid. The golf writers association actually boycotted the event, saying — are you ready for this? — that to attend would lend credence to the canned event. They wanted a news conference to ask questions. Shame on them. As I heard on the radio this morning from Colin Cowherd, “This is their superbowl, and they’re not attending.”

Observers called it every ugly name under the sun, and now, in the hours following his statement, I’m reading words like “pathetic.” Pathetic?

So let me say what’s on my heart, and you be the judge.

What Tiger Woods did today was straight out of the rehab recovery manual, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. If you’ve ever been there, you know that addicts need to make amends in order to find peace, and that’s exactly what I saw today. Every sentence in that statement was carefully worded to accept responsibility for his behavior, acknowledge those he had harmed, and state that talk is cheap, and only future behavior (what’s known as “living amends”) really matters. Moreover, I felt genuine contrition in his statements and a ton of self-loathing and anger. He acknowledged a return to a higher power, and his description of why he did what he did — “I convinced myself the normal rules didn’t apply” — came not from a man who is trying to get his kingdom back but from one who has confronted the humbling reality that he is not God.

The only person who can say that Tiger Woods is an addict is Tiger Woods. From what I saw today, he is behaving like an addict who is trying to find his way home, and anybody who has been there knows that is a lonely journey. I’m not suggesting feeling sorry for the guy or that you consider him a victim, for as he admitted himself, he’s guilty of despicable behavior that he brought on himself. I do believe, however, that addiction is a dark, dark place, and only those with the light of experience can bring others out. If he finds his way home — and I certainly hope that he does — he will have a light that he will carry himself to help others find their way out of the cave as well.

Addiction is a form of insanity, and what is the behavior of one of the most recognizable people in the world orchestrating dalliances with porn stars and prostitutes if not insane? Any non-addict would view this as impossible. “He’d never get away with it.” But not an addict, for the addict lives by intentions, not behavior.

If you’ve never read any literature about sexual addition, I encourage you to look at the seminal book on the subject, “Out of the Shadows” published by Patrick Carnes in 1994. It is a chilling look at the life events and conditions that shape people with this horrible affliction.

Addicts feel unloved and unlovable, which means other people cannot be depended on to love them, so their needs will not be met. The resulting rage becomes internalized as depression, resentment, self-pity, and even suicidal feelings. Because they have no confidence in others’ love, addicts become calculating, strategizing, manipulative and ruthless. Rules and laws are made for people who are lovable. Those who are unlovable survive in other ways. (pg 84)

Addicts confuse nurturing and sex. Support, care, affirmation, and love are all sexualized. Absolute terror of life without sex combines with feelings of unworthiness for such intense sexual desires. Sexual activity never meets the needs for love and care, but continues to be seen as the only avenue to do so. Addicts have a high need to control all situations in an effort to guarantee sex. (pg 85)

To us, Tiger Woods was a child of privilege, because he could hit a golf ball better than anyone twice his age, and yet none of us knows the price he paid inside to do that. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not blaming his environment or upbringing, but we know so little about what disconnects addicts from reality or at what point in life. The bottom line is that at some point — if he is indeed an addict — Tiger Woods made decisions based on self that later put him in a place to get hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.”

Here’s another matter. Celebrities have problems with rehab, because their “handlers” force them back into the limelight before they’re ready. Addicts shouldn’t even open their mouths — except for 9th Step amends — for at least a year. Why? Because they know nothing. Zip. Nada about which they wish to speak, and to do so is, again, selfish. They want to brag about how well they’re doing, when the very act of doing so is self-centered and almost guarantees failure. Life is filled with such sorry creatures. Relapse is an indescribable hell, if one is truly trying to find their way home.

Take questions?” What a moronic thought that is. He doesn’t even have the first idea of how to answer them. He should not answer questions, and the answers are really none of our business in the first place.

The question for Tiger is not how does he get his wife back or how does he get his family back or how does he get his life back or how does he get his adoration back or even how does he get his swing back. Much more than that is on-the-line here, for a young man’s very life is at stake. Tiger is, after all, a human being, and as a very wise fellow told me a long time ago:

Human beings are like snowflakes, all the same, yet all different. Put a flame to the snowflakes, and they melt. Poke humans with an icepick, and they bleed. Poke the psyche of humans with a figurative icepick, and they bleed, sometimes even worse.

Tiger Woods is a human being, although he has been thoroughly dehumanized by those who view themselves as better than him. It is, after all, so much easier to point fingers of scorn and ridicule when the object is less than human.

Again, Tiger brought all of this on himself, but the thing is he now knows it. And it appears from this heart that he’s acknowledged that there is a higher power, and It isn’t him. That’s a powerful starting point, for he’s going to need all the strength he can get to ever hold his head high again.

How dare we call that pathetic? How dare we judge him by that with which we judge ourselves?

Shame on him? No. Shame on us.

It’s all about people (not “consumers”)

It's all about peopleIn my early presentations to groups that wanted to talk about disruptions to media, I always began with a slide that said, “It’s not about technology; it’s about people.” For those who’ve not read or heard me on the subject, let me give you the basics, because I need to answer a question posed to me by colleague Jim Willi over the weekend on his blog.

While everybody points fingers of blame this way or that over what’s been taking place with media companies over the past few years, we would all do well to look in the mirror. The Internet has brought Western culture to a new place, and here’s what’s important to know: the Web is unlocking deeply-held feelings and awakening new possibilities for everyday people. To begin with, people are able to be better informed about a great many things today. And if information is power, then people are more powerful today. On many fronts, they are enabled to do something about their former helplessness. They’re involved in their lives and the lives of their friends, families and communities on levels never known before, largely because they’re all connected and can respond on a dime to anything. This is new under the sun, and we cannot look the other way.

This is why I say that technology may be providing the means, but it’s what’s being released in people that’s generating the heat. In my view, we are in the midst of the second Gutenberg moment in history, and it will have profound ramifications for all of culture.

So when Mr. Willi wrote this weekend of the failure of Superbowl advertisers to successfully drive viewers to their websites, the question about why is rather simple.

Apparently Super Bowl advertisers missed the mark in their attempt to extend their ads from the big game by using social media to give life to their brands beyond one multi-million dollar spot within the most-watched event. I leave the diagnosis of why this effort missed the mark to 2.0 guru’s like our Terry Heaton — but I find the information fascinating.

Jim wrote of strategies by advertisers to involve social media in their ads, but noted that research after the fact showed that few people actually were moved to do anything. “The advertisers’ goal,” he noted, “was to drive the viewers to go on line and chat, Tweet and become a Facebook fan.”

When marketing people use phrases like “drive the viewers” — and media companies are certainly guilty of this as well — we dismiss any notion that, just perhaps, people don’t care to be so driven. In the seminal book of the new revolution, The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls wrote extensively about this. Here’s a key paragraph:

So the customers who once looked you in the eye while hefting your wares in the market were transformed into consumers. In the words of industry analyst Jerry Michalski, a consumer was no more than “a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash.” Power swung so decisively to the supply side that “market” became a verb: something you do to customers.

If you’ve never read the book, I strongly recommend you make it your weekend project. It’s free as a PDF online.

The point is that people are tired of the relentless carpet bombing of unwanted messages, and so they’ve turned them off and tuned them out (think TiVo). The marketing world’s response is to try and jam more into every conceivable sight, sound, touch, taste or smell. If it can get into your brain, marketing will try to get in there with it, or at least that’s the way it used to be.

Newscasts and news departments, for example, that radiate a “watch or you might die” persona are challenged, because people know it’s just not true. Hubris is our big enemy, along with the presumption that we can say or do anything — no matter how it challenges the integrity or intelligence of the audience — and they’ll respond the way we want them to respond.

This is why Jay Rosen refers to them as “the people formerly known as the audience.”

So why didn’t people respond to those ads? Well, it certainly could be lots of things, but the place I’d begin is the presumption in the first place that they would. Social media isn’t a place where we can butt in and take over. Just because you’re a big brand doesn’t mean you have a license to treat people as pawns on your self-serving board game. Until mass marketing accepts the new realities of life in an empowered culture, they will continue to find failure with old thinking. People simply need to be treated differently.

Here’s Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, and formerly Starcom’s chief innovation officer:

(We’ve entered) an empowered era in which humans are God, because technology allows them to be godlike. How will you engage God?

Douglas Rushkoff in his book, Get Back In The Box:

The internet is not a technological or even a media phenomenon; it is a social phenomenon. And in this sense, interactivity has changed everything.

Chris Anderson in his book, The Long Tail:

As the tools of production and distribution are democratized, institutions lose power and individuals gain it. As the Web becomes the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier in history, consumers learn to trust peers more and companies less.

So I’m not surprised when marketing fails today, and the lessons for all of us are pretty clear. Old assumptions about people, especially those that involve fun verbs like drive, move, shift, and my favorite “reposition” must be carefully reconsidered in our dealings with our audiences. New words like participate, involve, transparency, and friend are strong but only if we deliver what we promise.

I can still remember sitting in an office at Nielsen in Dunedin, Florida and reading comments in diary after diary from viewers in the Northwest begging for the TV stations to stop insulting them with teases. I asked myself, “Do station managers ever read this stuff?” Because if they did, they might have a different view of how we interact with viewers.

(Now that’s not to say we shouldn’t do “teases,” only that we might want to try less insulting approaches than “15 dead in an accident on highway 101. The story at 11.” And it turns out to be pigs. You get my drift.)

In the old world, people couldn’t escape that nonsense. Today, not only can they escape, they are — and in big numbers.

Spam” is a nasty word for unwanted messages via email — or any other delivery system. Think about that before you create some clever way to “drive” people from here to there.

(Originally published in this week’s AR&D Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)

The future of paid content

The hopes of newspapers to shift their Web users from free to paid models suffered a fairly substantial setback this morning with word of a new study from the folks at Nielsen. According to a report in Online Media Daily,

A new Nielsen survey says 79% of users would no longer access a Web site that charges them. The finding also assumes that consumers can find the same information at no cost. The new report from Nielsen surveyed 27,000 consumers from 52 countries.

Looking at new fee-based areas, the survey shows that 71% of global consumers say that if have to pay for online content it must be considerably better than what is currently available for free.

Paid Content conference logoObviously, media companies need to get paid for their efforts, so this disconnect between users (let’s remember that they’re real people, see below) and the copyright community needs resolution somehow, and fortunately, there are smart people trying to work on the issues. A lot of them will be on hand this weekend at a new conference in New York on the concept of paid content by the people who report daily on the subject, PaidContent.org. The scope of “Paid Content, Discussing The Economics Of Content” includes:

  • Business strategy and models that are working across news, information and entertainment
  • The people and companies driving innovation
  • The cross-platform approach to developing these diverse revenue streams
  • Music, TV and movie downloads
  • Subscription streaming
  • À la carte payments, micropayments, subscriptions, donation models, subsidy models, and mobile payments

Staci Kramer, courtesy James MontagueIn other words, just about everything involving people paying for content. I caught up with ContentNext Media EVP and co-editor of paidcontent.org, Staci Kramer, with some tough questions about the idea of paid content:

Q — What is the future of paid content? Content that used to be ad-supported is now competing with content that IS advertising, and I’ve read from many knowledgeable observers that “content” is no longer king. Given that this is the namesake of your company and your conference, what are your thoughts?

KRAMER: Our flagship site, paidContent.org, was founded by Rafat Ali in 2002. As we added sites and other elements to the company, the corporate name became ContentNext Media — chosen in no small part to reflect a constantly changing area. To me, all content is paid content — the differences are in who pays for it. With our sites and newsletters, advertisers pay to gain access to our readers. In theory, and often in practice, readers pay for “free” and ad-supported content with attention. Cable, newspaper and magazine subscribers pay for access and delivery, usually subsidized by advertisers; some are willing to pay more to get media and entertainment without ads. You get my drift.

So what is the future of paid content? Nothing that makes money now is going away any time soon. We’re in an age of maintenance mixed with experimentation — keep as much money coming in as you can while you look for solutions. It’s also an age of opportunity. That’s one reason we’re having paidContent 2010 — to hear about what’s working and to explore the possibilities.

Q — Your speaker list is a veritable “Who’s Who” of the content world. Do today’s “content” people really have a handle on what’s disrupting their world, and, more importantly, what to do about it? I’m partly referring to the issue of aggregators, like Google.

KRAMER: A lot of them do — or at least are trying very hard to get one — and our speakers reflect that. John Squires, for instance, is heading Next Issue Media, the joint venture of five major magazine publishers looking for a solution together, They want to create an electronic newsstand that gives each publisher control over its own pricing, customer relationships, etc., but solved the technological and marketing issues as a group.

Google News’ Josh Cohen is on the news panel so I expect we’ll hear a fair amount about why Google doesn’t think aggregation or search should be the bogey man. Most publishers want to use search literally as an engine for traffic to their sites so cutting it out completely isn’t an option but the “solutions” are all over the map. The FT’s Rob Grimshaw will talk about how they’re limiting full “first click” access from Google, while the New York Times has already said it won’t block in-bound links.

Q — Do you think content people will be able to successfully pull back on “free” content to bring about another revenue stream? This must be a constant source of your attention, so your view is pretty important (I think).

KRAMER: Thanks for thinking my view is important. I’ve been through this drill before. When I was at Inside.com, the site had an enormous amount of buzz from its free content, which was meant to fuel subscriptions. When we went behind the paywall, the buzz died down. If you can calibrate the launch of a new product with a blend, you have a chance at success.

As for “successfully”:– that may depend on your definition of success. If you’re trying to take back something people already get for free — like Newsday did late last year — be prepared to pay the consequences in lower traffic and possibly lower relevance. Newsday and parent Cablevision think they can win by creating a higher-value, more targeted local audience.

On the broadcast/cable side, because so much cable video is out there, most people don’t realize that more than 80 percent of full-length cable programming hasn’t been available free. When Hulu’s’ investors talk about subscriptions, they’re not looking at making everything on Hulu’s’ pay only. The focus will be on video that isn’t out there yet or is made available in different ways That has a better chance of succeeding. Disney’s Bob Iger has already said broadcast programming won’t be moved to pay only.

Q — Finally, like so many people who’ve been around this for awhile, I’m proud to know both of you and to have watched your business — and stature — grow. How have things changed for the PaidContent empire?

KRAMER: It’s been about 18 months since we were acquired by Guardian News & Media, which is the biggest change for the company. We have the resources of Guardian to draw on and share a CEO, Caroline Little, with Guardian North America and operate independently editorially. But our focus and that of paidContent and ContentNext remains the same: doing our best to keep up with this crazy space so we can help all of you keep up with it. We’ve come a long way from 2004 when I joined — with Rafat working from his home in California and me from St. Louis — to a full company with a nice (but not glam) office in New York and staff in Seattle, LA and London. One of the best parts is so many people like you have been on the journey with us.

We’ll be watching the conference closely and hope to report on it next week. Like last week’s conference with Gordon Borrell’s company, this one is being organized and planned by people who really know the space. And the exciting thing to me is that neither conference existed last year. It should be good.

(Originally published in this week’s AR&D Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)

Nashville is Talking” to close

So my old friend Nashville is Talking is closing down. You can read about it here, here, and here.

This is a tough one for me personally. That site is a part of my life, an innovation in local media that accomplished much in teaching us about aggregating and curating a local blogosphere. However, the site didn’t meet the economic needs of its owners, Young Broadcasting, who were going through a severe financial season. In that way, what happened to it is a sad reminder that innovations by companies with serious bottom line issues can’t compete with those funded by venture capital.

A part of me dies with NiT, but here are a couple of thoughts.

In today’s fire hose of content known as the Web, we need curators more than ever. The value proposition of Nashville is Talking always was it was one RSS feed that could give you insight into 400. Who will do that tomorrow (or today, for that matter)?

It’s ironic I’m at a conference in New York with local media companies who are discussing ways to make money locally via the Web, and friendship with local bloggers seems to be high on everybody’s agenda. I disagree with those who say we’ve moved past blogging. Broadcasters tend to understand Twitter and Facebook, because they can function very much in a broadcast mode. The problem with NiT was that we didn’t have time to create the ad network that would have sustained it, and that’s simply a matter of timing. The idea was ahead of the ability to pull it off.

I’m really sad to see it go. Yesterday, I was talking with another company in a bigger market about building such a curator/aggregator in his city. So the concept is still very much of interest to people who wish to help grow the personal media revolution locally. That’s a good bet for relevancy tomorrow.

And who knows if somebody in Nashville won’t acquire the domain and resurrect the original model. For that reason, I’m disinclined to say R.I.P.