Archives for January 2012

SOPA/PIPA isn’t a business problem; it’s a culture problem

I am not an eyeballIn the wake of this week’s remarkable SOPA and PIPA turnaround in Washington, Christopher Dodd, the former U.S. Representative turned U.S. Senator and now chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, thinks that Hollywood and Silicon Valley need to meet. “Mr. Dodd said he would welcome a summit meeting between Internet companies and content companies, perhaps convened by the White House, that could lead to a compromise,” according to the New York Times.

Prominent New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson essentially accepted the invitation, saying we need a new framework that is based on a shared set of goals and objectives. “The PIPA/SOPA framework was litgation heavy and very invasive,” he wrote. “It was “we are going to do this to you.” It’s not surprising the tech industry didn’t like it one bit.”

As much as I respect Fred Wilson, this is a clever way of positioning “the problem” as one between two industries, entertainment and technology. Okay. That’s fine, but “the problem” is really between the MPAA and RIAA and the people formerly known as their customers. If you think Fred Wilson speaks for the people, you’re mistaken. Fred is one of the genuinely good guys, but his view is quite business-centered. So who speaks for us in these negotiations?

This isn’t a business problem; it’s a cultural problem, and it must be framed as such in order for these businesses to get it right. It is indeed a legal issue, but it tends to get framed in an archaic setting. That’s the real problem here. If you really want to understand the scope of the issue, take the 14 minutes necessary to watch Clay Shirky’s explanation or read his take here.

Shirky notes that the copyright cartel wants to eliminate the sharing of creative works, just as they’ve wanted since creative works first became an “industry.” As a creative person who’s published books and songs and performed those songs as well, I don’t believe the arts are industries, so they shouldn’t be treated as such. The only fiscal beneficiaries of the arts should be the artists and that begins with being seen, read, heard, watched, etc. I oppose the suggestion that the sharing of works costs artists jobs, and I resent it when this is used to justify arguments that prevent people from seeing, reading, hearing, watching, etc. I further reject the suggestion that a self-serving “professional” hierarchy should the sole determinant of what is seen, read, heard, watched, etc. We’ve  gone nuts with deep pockets needing to protect their status, and this has blinded everybody to the revolution that’s taking place around us.

I have a lot of books in my library and continue to obtain both printed and electronic versions. But I’ve given away more than I actually possess, for I believe that artistic works should be consumed. That’s their purpose. The copyright industry tells me, however, that if my friends who “borrowed” those books wanted to read them, they should have bought them for themselves. This is why I’m so vehemently opposed to legislation such as SOPA or PIPA. At core, such thinking is unnatural, for the artist benefits in ways beyond monetary compensation.

Besides, the harm that these companies are experiencing is self-inflicted, because these industries profit by manipulating and gouging the very people their products are intended to entertain. Treating customers as “eyeballs” for profit is not only disrespectful; it is contrary to the very essence of creativity’s gifts. We hear about how artists are   disrespected in our culture, but that disrespect begins with the industry that exploits their gifts for profit alone.

People have had enough, and the disorganized, chaotic demonstration against it last Wednesday evidenced a dissatisfaction far beyond what a simple business negotiation can deliver. Copyright is not property. Period. Let’s get that right, and the rest will fall in place.


A postmodern lesson in deconstruction

deconstructing cultureA great many people (e.g. here, here, here) have commented about Tim O’Reilly’s dramatic question in response to a White House weekend blog entry about legislative efforts to stop online piracy. The blog entry/press release includes the assumption — as stated by the copyright industry — that legislation is needed to give them the power to control “their” intellectual property, because it’s harmed theirs and the nation’s economy. O’Reilly, however, isn’t so sure.

“In the entire discussion, I’ve seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm. There’s no question in my mind that piracy exists, that people around the world are enjoying creative content without paying for it, and even that some criminals are profiting by redistributing it. But is there actual economic harm?”

I wish to point out that this question is an outstanding illustration of the philosophical concept of deconstruction, a key process involved in postmodernism (to which this blog is dedicated). Deconstruction is the great threat to our hierarchically-driven culture, because it proves that much of it is based on unproven and self-serving assumptions, like the one to which O’Reilly is referencing. In the one-to-many media world, it was easy to get away with this, because the channels available to dispatch sweeping narratives was extremely limited. Today, that’s not true, and it’s only just begun. The essential function of a hyperlink is to practice deconstruction, and a culture armed with this ability will not sit still for anything resembling bullshit.

Respected observer and friend Jackie Danicki, Director of Social Comms for Weber Shandwick in New York, posted another assumption on Facebook yesterday. An article in her hometown paper began with this sentence:

“With the first drug-related warrant of 2012 under its belt, the Chillicothe Police Department continues to investigate drug crimes and work on making the city safer.”

This prompted Jackie to state, “How blindly these people accept and repeat the disproven idea that the war on drugs is making ANY community ‘safer’. Disgraceful.”

This is another postmodern example of deconstruction, and we’re going to see it more and more as The Great Horizontal advances. Can the public actually know more and better than it’s elected representatives? As the Wicked Witch once said, “Oh, what a world!” It’s what I call “The Evolving User Paradigm,” and it’s going to bite every institution in the rear end sooner or later. 21st Century businesses will be driven by the quality of their products and services to an increasingly hip public. You won’t be able to buy your way to the top by lobbing spit-shined horse droppings at “consumers.”

As Doc says via Project VRM, Caveat Venditor.


Of vinyl records and 8-track tapes

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel AlitoEvery once in awhile a quote comes a long that’s bound to stick around for awhile, one you’ll likely see many times downstream. This one is from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito (a George W. Bush nominee) during yesterday’s hearing on cursing and nudity over broadcasting’s airwaves. Suggesting that the market itself should be allowed to deal with the issue without regulatory interference, Justice Alito made this remarkable statement:

Broadcast TV is living on borrowed time. It is not going to be long before it goes the way of vinyl records and eight-track tapes.

What’s most remarkable here is its source, the mind of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. If this is the way a member of the final court in the land views things, broadcasting has no hope of ever finding relief in the courts against market forces that threaten its existence. The spectrum that the government licenses to broadcast companies is eventually going to wireless broadband, and that will doubtless end up in the courts. Alito is not alone in this belief, but he’s the highest ranking government official that I’ve ever heard say it.

My friend Ethan Beute asked via Twitter “how long?” I think this is going to come upon the industry much sooner than later. It will appear like a thief in the night, although it has been visible and approaching for many years. Broadcasters have been playing defense all this time, while intruders from Silicon Valley and elsewhere have been staging guerrilla and flanking attacks with armies funded by venture capital. Lobbyists representing the NAB and local interests are at war with those representing the Telcos and others, and it will likely be bloody. In the end, though, it’s pretty hard to deny the interests of the public in the matter, and that is strongly tilted to the wireless broadband side.

My advice to broadcasters has always been to move forward strategically on two separate paths. Get as much as we can out of the mass media market available to us via those airwaves and at the same time develop new ways to make money. Mass is shrinking and fragmenting. We can’t “fix” that, but we can find new ways to replace the revenue. We must look outside our comfort zone, but we CAN drive the car and fix it at the same time.

Vinyl records and 8-track tapes evolved, and so can we.

“It served its purpose”

Syed ShabbirVia Newsblues this morning comes word of a young reporter with a new job. He’s Syed Shabbir, and the lucky TV station to acquire his obviously brilliant services is KSHB-41-NBC in his hometown of Kansas City (Market #31). He must be brilliant, because he’s only been in the business for two years, having begun in Topeka (Market #136), where he worked for a year before jumping to WCPO-TV in Cincinnati (Market #35) a year ago.

He told that working in his hometown has been his dream since the 8th grade, and now he’s made it. He’s a big city kid. Good for him. Bad for the business.

“I came to Cincy, because I needed to get out of Topeka,” he tells “It only took me a year before I got tired of the small market stories and small market pay (in Topeka). I knew WCPO was only going to be a stepping stone, so I only signed a one year deal. It served its purpose, and I guess I’m lucky things are going according to plan.”

According to plan. Yep. That’s the way it is. Along the way, everything this young man did was to prepare himself for his dream, and this is the curse of the ego it requires to “be on TV.” Mr. Shabbir’s concern as a journalist in both Topeka and Cincinnati was for what those stops could do to fulfill this dream, not in serving the community. I’ve seen it a million times. The job reel is more important than serving the news needs of the community. Moreover, these kinds of people who are  just having their purpose served have no interest in the roots of their stepping stones, because they’re not really in it for the news; they’re in it for their own purposes, and one foot is already out the door at the moment the other foot steps in.

A commenter to the story, Steve Gaines, wrote: “loved being your ‘stepping-stone’ ….pls feel free to come back to cincinnati & walk on us again in the future…but honestly, i don’t even know who you are..”

I hate this about our industry. It cheapens what we do and robs smaller markets of what they need and deserve. Parochial news coverage wanted by small towns gives way to the cosmopolitan stories that look good on a young person’s reel. The retort, of course, is “pay me what I’m worth, and perhaps I’ll stay.” No you won’t. It is what it is. What you’re worth? Give me a break! You’re not in this for a “living wage” in a small town, because your definition is a better-than-living-wage. You’ll add “who doesn’t want that?” to which I’ll reply “go to law school.”

Maybe I’m the prick here. Maybe I should instead be chiding broadcast companies for not paying people more. I don’t, because I honestly don’t believe it would solve the revolving door problem. Besides, it’s extremely unrealistic economically. These people likely believe that they’re doing the Topekas of the world a favor by loaning them their brilliance for a year or two. Oh. Right.

Moreover, the egocentricity of young news people is an evolution that took place during my lifetime in news management — on my watch. People used to get into “the biz,” because it was a way to make a difference. Today, it’s all about “being on TV” or “being a star.” Watergate produced Woodward & Bernstein, and they became the poster boys for a new generation of journalists and journalism instructors. Shortly after that, trust in the press began to decline. Around the same time, communications schools began popping up to feed the growing beast known as television news, and the industry borrowed from the newspaper paradigm of small-market-to-big-market.

The Personal Media Revolution challenges all this, and I believe the day is coming when communities themselves will grow their own journalists. The Syed Shabbirs of the world — with their 8th grade dreams — will build and study their craft at home and work their ways into positions with local media companies. They will then be people with roots who care deeply about the communities they serve, whether it is governed by geography or issue. That will be good for journalism, it seems to me, because what we have now are gunslingers passing through towns, people generally who are a mile wide and an inch deep (but look good on TV).

Like Mr. Shabbir, they’re serving the purpose of self, and crapping all over the public in the process.

A bluegrass miracle to start the new year

The Heaton Brothers in Neal Lynch's basementA few days ago, something remarkable happened that I thought I’d share. It’s a testament to the wonder of hyperconnectivity for my generation. I think this kind of thing will only be experienced by those who’ve not grown up with the Web, so these kinds of stories will gradually disappear, but that’s just a guess. Here’s what happened.

Neal Lynch, the brother of a high school girlfriend contacted me via Facebook inquiring if I had been a member of the River City Singers from Grand Rapids, Michigan during the 1960s. Facebook is the source of reconnections so plenty these days that this one would simply blend in with the others were it not for the fact that I’m able to pass it along to you. Neal lives in California, and the circumstances under which he contacted me are remarkable all by themselves, but The Great Horizontal — the connected culture we’re just beginning to know — is what made this possible.

I wrote back that I was indeed a member of that band, whereupon he sent me two photographs of myself and my two brothers playing our music in his basement. He was 12-years old at the time and shortly thereafter picked up guitar and has been playing ever since. The photos were made from old Kodak slides and are the only high-resolution, digital color pictures of the three of us playing together. The ONLY ones, and I’d never seen them before. These pictures blew my mind, because I was able to zoom in and closely examine facial expressions. The experience really took me back to when I was 18-years old. All that I am, I was back then. The experiences I’ve had in the last 47 years have shaped only what I do, but all that is really me — the gifts, the spirit, the emotions, the soul — can be seen in these pictures.

I sent copies to my two brothers and heard back from older brother Jim (the guitar picker). He told me that he was so blown away that all he could do was go sit in his back yard alone and think about our lives as a bluegrass band. I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The Heaton Brothers in Neal Lynch's basementWords cannot express my appreciation for the way Life has engineered this and especially to Neal for contacting me. In the picture to the left, you can see me, as my daughter told me via Facebook, “lost in the music.” This is true, but “lost in the music” can also be a form of “hiding from everybody,” which took a big emotional toll on me over the decades that followed.

My two brothers and I are not close. The Vietnam War broke up our band, and we all went our separate ways. It has been one of the biggest regrets of my life, because I really did and do love my brothers. That fact is inescapable when examining these pictures. We were really good, and to quote Marlon Brando, “I coulda been a contender.” Bluegrass is a music meant to be played, not just listened to. I haven’t had a banjo in many years, but this may inspire me to find something at a pawn shop. I’m playing an old Gibson Mastertone in the pictures. That instrument is worth a lot of money today.

This event in my life has reinforced everything I believe deeply about the enormity of this “second Gutenberg moment” in the history of Western Civilization. We may spit and snarl and fight it all the way, but this “Great Horizontal” is transforming everything about our culture. The more open we become, the harder it is for anybody to live a double life and to present bullshit as a cover story for one’s life. We have to rethink everything, and I envy those who are just entering adulthood, for life will be very different for them when they reach my age. The naysayers shout down change, usually because they have something to lose in terms of their position vis-a-vis everybody else.

I’m incredibly hopeful for tomorrow, because truth weighs far less than falsehood, and we’re all ridiculously overweight. That’s what my view of postmodernism is all about. These pictures have helped me in the ongoing journey to find my truth, and I am forever grateful.

CJR story brought to you by the FCC

Columbia Journalism Review logoThe Columbia Journalism Review has presented — as a news commentary — a piece indirectly written by the FCC that favors the commission’s position in a key legislative issue involving broadcasters. The piece hypocritically trashes broadcasters for the same kind of behavior it represents, and it does so using the popular buzz term “transparency.” This is a smokescreen for what’s really being conveyed.

First, a little background.

Long ago, our government decided that “the airwaves” belong to the public and, therefore, should be regulated by the public’s representatives in Washington. Licenses to “use” the public’s airwaves were granted and maintained by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and so was born an antagonistic relationship between the licensor and the licensees. Broadcasters have long held the upper hand in this antipathy. They are a powerful group with the ability to easily reach the public “back home,” where legislators raise money and votes. The National Association of Broadcasters was and is a powerful lobbying organization.

However, there’s been a recent shifting of that power, and things are a little different today. Armed with knowledge of a real demand for wireless broadband — which would use that same spectrum owned by the public — the FCC is turning up the heat on broadcasters. This will evolve to an all-out war that threatens the core value of all of broadcasting, and as the number of people receiving TV via those airwaves alone dwindles, the case of the whole industry weakens. We’re in a season when broadcasters can extract value two ways: through subscriber revenues from cable providers and via advertising based on reach, at least some of which is over-the-air. As a group, therefore, broadcasters must promote both, and that hands the FCC an industry with a split focus to regulate. The FCC, however, cares mostly about that spectrum.

We can argue that cord-cutting raises the value of that over-the-air signal — especially in high-definition — but the longer technicians are able to innovate and resolve compression and other hi-def delivery problems, the more viable TV over IP becomes, and so we must admit that broadcasting’s “cake and eat it too” has a limited window. Broadcasters are well aware of this “problem,” and are working on so-called solutions that limit broadcast signals over IP to those geographic regions determined by broadcast licenses, thereby maintaining the old status quo. The weakness of one solution supported by the NAB and big broadcast companies (Syncbak) is that it requires the broadcast signal to verify geographic position within the market. This will be a hard proposition to sell Congress or the FCC as pressure mounts for broadband spectrum.

It’s into this scenario that an advisor to the FCC Chairman was begun writing what I would call “attack pieces” published in the Columbia Journalism Review. What or who is being attacked? Broadcasting, specifically television. It would be untoward for me to suggest that this is a deliberate effort to cloud the picture of the FCC versus broadcasting, but it does strike me as odd that such vertically-slanted stories would be published in the high church of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Steve Waldman is the writer/advisor, and his latest (This News Story Is Brought to You By…) is about how some television stations “allow sponsors to dictate content” within or close to newscasts. Mr. Waldman was the lead author of the FCC’s Information Needs of Communities study, which challenged broadcasters and helped lay the groundwork for the above arguments about the best use of spectrum.

One of Mr. Waldman’s major concerns in the CJR article is the use by certain television stations of video news releases disguised as news stories or other methods that those with a position employ to escape the wall of separation between news and advertising via the public’s airwaves. In making this charge in the Columbia Journalism Review, however, Mr. Waldman is guilty of the exact crime of which he accuses broadcasters, namely the presentation of a government position paper as news or commentary. I find it astonishing that the CJR would permit this, and yet, there it is.

That said, Mr. Waldman’s point is well-taken and broadcasters most certainly should be following the law and clearly labeling such as sponsored. But so should the Columbia Journalism Review, for this piece was surely presented — however indirectly — by the FCC.