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 Cincinnati.com 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 Cincinnati.com. “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 Cincinnati.com 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.

What makes us so uncomfortable about Wikileaks?

Lord ActonIn a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, British historian and moralist Lord Acton said these famous words: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” This utterance of human nature can be found throughout history, regardless of the politics or culture involved. There’s something about being in charge that causes those in charge to need more.

I like to write about human nature, because it’s one thing that never changes. Whether you believe in God or not, the evidence is pretty clear that man wants to be his own god. That’s why we need an internal governor to live with each other and get along. Either that, or an external governor will rule us, although another group feels we can educate ourselves to a better place. I’m unconvinced but willing to give it a shot.

Wikileaks is arguably the biggest cultural event so far of the 21st Century, and while others are debating the many issues associated with it, I want to talk about culture and human nature. Wikileaks makes everybody uncomfortable, but why? I can think of at least ten reasons.

Before I go there, however, a little review is in order for those unfamiliar with my work and philosophy. The hyperconnected Web is pulling us into an eonic cultural shift, from modernism, with its hierarchies, to postmodernism, with its participatory nature. What exactly we’ll end up with is unknown, but it won’t be what we’ve had. If you don’t like “postmodernism,” try post-colonialism, for the world of hierachies fits very well into the colonialist mindset of “the masses NEED the élite.” In a hyperconnected universe, this isn’t necessarily true, and so we have a cultural conflict that some have described as a “war.” I don’t think it’s a war; it’s just the passing of the times. And just as modernism didn’t “replace” the faith of its predecessor, postmodernism won’t entirely replace modernism either. Change, however, brings discomfort, and that’s the biggest problem with Wikileaks.

So here are ten things that make us uncomfortable about Wikileaks:

  1. We can’t trust authority. Modernism needs that trust in order to function. It’s a world of oaths and promises, which are problematic in a trust-less culture. Wikileaks clearly shows that the secret world of diplomacy is very different than the one that we’ve been led to believe exists. This lack of trust is pandemic in our culture today, which is one of the reasons we’re looking to each other instead of “up” to culture’s leadership.
  2. Leadership lies to us. This directly impacts trust, but there’s an even bigger issue. If we can’t trust our leadership to tell us the truth in the bigger matters of life, how can we believe they’ll tell us the truth in the mundane? “He who is faithul in little will be faithful in much,” but the opposite is also true. Nobody likes to be lied to.
  3. We’re just pawns. We go through our lives knowing but not admitting that we’re really powerless, and we search for power everywhere. The demonstration of how our government routinely pulls the wool over our eyes or hides things from us screams of our powerlessness, and we feel used. That makes us uncomfortable.
  4. Powerlessness leads to fear, and that threatens the basic concept that we’re safe. Wikileaks makes us feel we’re unsafe, because the façade of control presented by our government is really a house of cards, according to what we’re learning. We don’t like how that feels.
  5. That leads to the next thing that makes us feel uncomfortable about Wikileaks: we wonder what’s going to happen to us? Fear seeps into our lives in ways we’re unprepared for, and this is complicated by what appears to be the collusion of the press in keeping us “down here.” The sources that the press quotes, after all, are the government. They lie, and the press passes it along. Nobody has prepared us for this, and we’re frightened.
  6. We’re disillusioned, because we thought that our interests were “the country’s” interests. Clearly they are not. To the extent that big business and the banks represent “our country,” you could say that foreign affairs are about us, but Wikileaks is showing us that in all the ways that matter, our government is interested in what happens to the haves, not us.
  7. We are not the “government of the people” that we were taught in elementary school. We are, instead, a government of the élite, who play us and other citizens of the world through secret dealings with other elites, regardless of their affiliation, but always to the end that the rich get richer.
  8. Our institutions are not infallible. We go through our lives in the hope and belief that those in charge work on our behalf, but Wikileaks shows us that they work on behalf of themselves. This, we discover, includes every institution, and this disillusionment makes us feel uncomfortable. All are run by humans, and humans with power…”
  9. The real government isn’t the one we see. The shadow government revealed by Wikileaks is really in charge, and they answer to no one but themselves. Its power is derived by keeping the truth to themselves, so what appears to us to be black can, in reality, be white. We can handle the truth, but it’s kept from us in the name of “need to know.” This is what hyperconnectivity disrupts so very well.
  10. Finally, we’re learning that our global reputation is earned. All along, we’ve thought that “they” were nuts, and we’ve never quite been able to understand why “they” don’t like us. Well, hello! Those in charge here lie to “them,” and at least some of “them” know it. This makes us super uncomfortable, because we suddenly realize that anger over such can cost us lives in the name of war.

Looking ahead, Wikileaks could very well be the major catalyst in the cultural transformation that’s been brewing since the 60s. Those in charge don’t like it, because the fatted calf being whacked here belongs to them. I genuinely like the forced transparency that this has caused, because, like many of my contemporaries, I’m just sick of all the bullshit. Yes, we have it good in this country, but that’s because we have a Constitution written by some terribly wise people with funny wigs, and the extent of our discontent lies with how far we’ve drifted from that document. If this helps us get back to that, then I say that’s a good thing.

I also think this leads to an opportunity to shine for those intellectuals who believe so much in education. If we truly want to govern ourselves, we’re going to need a boatload of information upon which to base our decisions. That, too, seems like a good thing to me.

The prophets of the 60s spoke of all of this, and perhaps that’s what makes some of us most uncomfortable.

Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

And, of course, Dylan:

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s naming.’
For the loser now will be later to win
And the times they are a-changin’.”

Education is the next disruption

education is nextRupert Murdoch’s hiring of New York City Schools chancellor Joel Klein offers fascinating insight into the innovative thinking at News Corp these days. There was preciously little specificity in the notice of the hiring, as News Corp would only say that Klein will advise Murdoch “on a wide range of initiatives, including developing business strategies for the emerging educational marketplace.”

In a press release Tuesday, Murdoch said that Klein’s record of achievement provides “a unique perspective that will be particularly important as we look into a sector that has long been in need of innovation.” That sector is education, what I believe will be the next big disrupted institution (media was first) that technology will utterly destroy. Murdoch apparently wants in on the destruction, because he smells profit.

Klein noted News Corp’s history of innovation in expressing his delight with the new position, because he was excited “to have the chance to bring the same spirit of innovation to the burgeoning education marketplace.”

What exactly is the “burgeoning education marketplace,” and how can a media company get involved in it?

The Washington Post has been funding its newsgathering operations in recent years through its reliable profit center, the Kaplan Higher Education division, one of the growing number of for-profit colleges that the government is increasingly trying to regulate. The profit comes from government-backed student loans, which some see as a money tree for unscrupulous capitalists.

But beyond the visible examples of for-profit education, that pesky old disruptor, the Web, is providing a challenge to any institutional infrastructure, as noted above, that is built on the sharing of information or knowledge. Separate the knowledge from the institution that exists by providing it, and you have a serious problem for that institution. There’s gold in them thar hills, too, for the smart entrepreneurs who exploit the disruption.

Is Murdoch that smart? We’ll see. In the interim, it’s smart for all media companies to consider the possibilities in this arena, because education — at all levels — is so ripe for disruption. Like media, “the system” gets a lot of complaints from parents and taxpayers, and today, those people can do something about it. I’ve advised clients in markets with a major university that this will be THE ongoing beat for years to come. Will those institutions get involved in the disruption? Not likely, because they have to protect the traditional infrastructure in order to sustain themselves, and that will be their clear mission. It takes considerable courage to cannibalize yourself in hopes of future relevance. It hasn’t happened with media and it won’t happen with education either.

Meanwhile, there’s a significant opportunity for media companies to play a role in the disruption. Why? Because the path is all about growth, and we don’t have a dog in the fight to protect the institution.

Keep an eye on News Corp and stay tuned.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel — sign up here)

Education is next. Are we prepared?

education is in disruptionEducation is next, as western civilization’s second Gutenberg moment moves along, and those readers with universities in their markets need to be pursuing this story with all seriousness. I’ve been saying it for years, but now Bill Gates is saying it, so people will have to pay attention (the guy’s pay grade is a little above mine!).

For the unfamiliar, when Gutenberg printed the Bible, he tossed a significant monkey wrench in the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, because access to the Bible was what gave “the church” its role in the culture. There were kings and lords, but all feared the church, because the church controlled the masses. They were the ones who published the Bible, and here was Gutenberg defying them. Damned heretics! When you add John Wycliffe’s common language translation, anyone who could read could access formerly protected knowledge.

This event dramatically changed everything in the West, and the modern age was born.

The same thing is happening today, because the Internet is making formerly protected knowledge available at our fingertips, and any institution — there are NO exceptions — whose authority is based on protected knowledge is threatened. The 21st Century will be one of disruption upon disruption, and what comes out on the other side won’t even resemble what we have today.

Media was first, because it’s so visible. Media controls life’s narratives, and that has worked just fine for culture’s élite, but no so much for everyday people. Journalists like to think that we have some sort of “special” knowledge that enables our trade, but as the tools of personal media have advanced, that knowledge doesn’t seem so special after all.

A lot of writers think that technology is doing the disrupting, but my view has always been that it’s disgruntled people USING technology that’s doing the job. This is why the second Gutenberg moment is so important to understand. Hyperconnectivity is something very new under the sun, and it’s going to continue to get very ugly for the trappings of modernism as this chugs along.

Bill Gates at the Techonomy conferenceAccording to TechCrunch, Bill Gates told the Techonomy conference in Lake Tahoe over the weekend that “five years from now on the web for free youÂ’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university.”

He believes that no matter how you came about your knowledge, you should get credit for it. Whether itÂ’s an MIT degree or if you got everything you know from lectures on the web, there needs to be a way to highlight that.

He made sure to say that educational institutions are still vital for children, K-12. He spoke glowingly about charter schools, where kids can spend up to 80% of their time deeply engaged with learning.

But college needs to be less “place-based,” according to Gates. Well, except for the parties, he joked.

I think Gates’ five year prediction might be a little soon, but I am absolutely convinced that advanced education in the latter half of the 21st Century will be far different from what you and I have known. And when the disruption takes place, thousands upon thousands of people who exist to support the institution of higher education will lose their jobs, and most university buildings won’t be needed. Sound familiar?

Just as we have with media, we’ll hear plenty from education “experts” about why this will be a bad thing, but as they make these claims, the financing for education will begin slipping away. It will be slow. It will be painful. But in the end, our culture will be better educated than it ever has been, which will also be something new under the sun. How can that really be bad?

There’s already an assault on so-called “education for profit” with bureaucrats calling for special regulations for this class of higher education. A recent Frontline report on private sector education was conceived, written and produced from a “this is God-awful…how we gonna stop it” perspective, completely missing the point of the disruption. I expect we’ll see much more of this, because in the minds of higher educators — just as it was with media companies 15 years ago — there’s just no conceivable way that anything disruptive could ever impact them.

Every institution under disruption will, of course, fight for its life, and that will include legal challenges galore. It’s here when the biggest unknowns exist and why seemingly simple concepts like net neutrality are so profoundly important for the future. Net neutrality opposition is nothing less than modernism’s status quo trying to hang onto power that no longer belongs to it. This includes the whole fiasco this week with Google and Verizon “partnering” on self-centered recommendations for net neutrality.

My advice to news departments in markets with a university is to assign someone to this as a beat. Every university in America has had discussions about this, but it’s not something they’re prepared to talk about publicly. We need to talk about it, however, because we are a culture in transition, and our role ought to be one that informs and prepares.

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