The power of personal media

I had the good fortune of spending a few minutes today with Amy Wood, the social media pioneering TV News anchor from Spartanburg, South Carolina (WSPA-TV). Amy has an enormous following online and was a very early practitioner of personal branding. Far more people in the market follow Amy than the TV station she works for, which is the point of working social media as a single entity over a “brand.” Her father recently passed away, and the outpouring of love she experienced online was absolutely overwhelming. Enjoy the next 16 minutes and learn a few of Amy’s secrets to success.

Passages (again)

grappa4When my lease expires here in Frisco, Texas at the end of July, I will be relocating back to Huntsville, Alabama to be closer to my two daughters, my son-in-law and my granddaughter. I was the news director of WAAY-TV in Huntsville in the mid 1990s, when it was still family-owned and operated. I have good memories of that place and the people, many of whom still live in the area. I got sober in Huntsville a long time ago, so I have friends there outside the news business.

I’m going to continue working with AR&D and its clients in a variety of capacities including webmaster. We’re building a training portal for people in the TV News business, and that’s pretty exciting.

I went back to Huntsville at Christmas and knew that I had to move back. There’s nothing like being a “grappa” to a little girl. My other grandchildren all live in Amman, Jordan, and I miss them every day. I’ve missed watching them grow up, and I don’t want that to happen with this and future grand babies. As my fellow boomers know, there’s absolutely nothing like grandchildren in all of life.

The interesting thing about this to me is that Huntsville, like Amman, is just a node on the network. Geography doesn’t mean what it used to in terms of commerce or work, which means I can participate in what really matters — family — and still remain connected and relevant in the only space that’s essential for work anymore, cyberspace. We’re such infants here.

And so for the second time in my life, I’m leaving Texas. I will miss it. Despite a regrettable personal valley, North Texas has been good to me. I’ll be back to visit, and I don’t leave until this summer.

To my friends in Alabama and Tennessee, look out; here I come.

Passages, my own

I’ve kind of given up on my blog, and that bothers me. One of my categories here is “Passages,” those stories about people moving along from one part of life to another, including death. I’ve been going through my own passage, and it’s kind of disrupted everything about my postmodern message and beyond. I’ve been writing for dear friends at Street Fight and will soon be cross-posting original versions of those pieces (or you can find the edited versions here). My good pal Gordon Borrell said it’s some of my best work, but I don’t know. Like I said, I’ve been dealing with personal issues, and I really haven’t been myself.

This week, I’m beginning a Wednesday feature on NetNewsCheck called “Reinventing Local Media,” the title of my books. This publication is more focused on my old business — broadcasting — and thus more in line with the industry I hope to influence. Broadcasting is in trouble, which is the theme of tomorrow’s first piece.

I’m also reactivating The Pomo Blog, because there are many other thoughts and ideas I wish to express. It’s odd, but the older you get, the less you realize you actually know, and that provides a license to speak with a certain boldness. Culture in the West is confused and burned out, and it’s pretty clear that our leadership isn’t doing much in the way of leading. We need to reinvent “government of the people,” and I have as much to say about that as I do media.

I’ve also discovered, as I’ve gotten older, that the line between one with integrity and one who screams “Get off my lawn” is very, very thin. I hope you’ll enjoy discoveries like these and more as I reopen the door with a sincere “welcome.”

The prophet Aaron Swartz

Writers write on this Internet Freedom Day, and so I write.

In 1985, an unknown songwriter named Julie Gold birthed a tune that would become one of the classics of a generation. Always a favorite regardless of who recorded the song, it wasn’t until Bette Midler’s version in 1990 that most of us heard “From A Distance.” Do yourself a favor right now, and click on the link below and watch and listen.

The hook of the song is the powerful and emotional refrain that, from a distance, “God is watching us.” This song came to mind over the past week and wouldn’t let me go as I read about and pondered the death of Aaron Swartz, the techno-prodigy-rockstar who took his own life at the age of 26. Never before have I witnessed the denizens of the network come together in harmony around the death of a pioneer-legend, and it has been a rare kind of corporate look into the soul of Western humanity. It reminds me very much of the counterculture soul of the 60s, and perhaps that’s why I feel so deeply emotional over this tragedy.

It’s because Swartz’s life wasn’t so much about his immense talent as it was about how he used his talent, for the liberty of all. As Jay Rosen pointed out beautifully, Swartz could have been a billionaire but chose a different path.

He could have tried to develop the next YouTube and sell it to Google for a billion dollars, he had the skills for that, but the only thing that really mattered to him was the fight for Internet freedom, which included taking part in democratic politics. That conception of the good, in someone so young, is deeply moving to me.

I didn’t know Aaron, though I knew of his legend, but from what I have read about him he was one of those people (Timothy Berners Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web and Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement, are both like this) who believe that if someone is in need of knowledge and you can provide it, but you don’t, you are guilty of a crime against the human spirit. (See this.)

The cause of Internet freedom, which is very often a radical cause, is radical in just this sense: let all who are hungry eat. Farewell, Aaron, my child. Your cause is just.

I feel similarly touched by this, but my thoughts are drawn more to those of the spirit of humanity upon which Jay touches. We’re coming up on the 52nd anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy as president. I remember his speech well, and the charismatic and forceful way in which it was delivered. Communism and the bomb were common enemies, and Kennedy had a wonderful way of threatening our foes while at the same time putting his arm around them. Of course, the speech is remembered most for its conclusion:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

The counterculture movement in the U.S. was energized that day, and it has lived on in the likes of people such as Aaron Swartz. The press saw it as one thing back then, but those of us engaged in its mission were aroused and inspired by President Kennedy. We were devastated by his murder in 1963, but the cause — as he framed it — lives on even today.

I have to hold back much of what I feel in the wake of Swartz’s death, for to do otherwise would open the door to a form of criticism that I don’t wish to entertain right now. Some day, perhaps, but not now. We ARE spiritual beings, however, and suffice it to say that God IS watching us (from a distance and from within) and talking to us at the same time. Life (with a capital L) talks to us in many ways, and the prophets of history have all paid a stiff price for the privilege of carrying the message.

Prophets were and are interesting and unusual people. They’re not necessarily the kinds of folks that you’d want to bring home to mom with a big grin, saying, “Hey, everybody, here’s my friend, prophet Harry.” The status quo doesn’t generally care for prophets, preferring profits instead. Yet, our history is filled with the wisdom of those who’ve “touched” the raw creative energy that is Life and tried to pass what they found along to the rest of us. Usually, however, we seem unable to “listen” or breathe in that which they are trying to impart. Argue with me if you wish, and if it’s necessary, call me a nutcase, but Aaron Swartz was a prophet, and I know that for two reasons. One, his knowledge was almost otherworldly and could only have come from that same raw source of creative energy, what Richard Adams called “The Unbroken Web.” Those who touch this have always been in our midst, and they’re always a bit “different,” for a venture near the edge cannot help but influence the lives of those who’ve been there and often with tragic results. Two, he eschewed the trappings of the world to teach us that there was serious evil in our midst, although we didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t recognize it. Most of all, the way he gave of himself was godlike, and so I am deeply touched by this man and this event.

The difference between a criminal and a prophet is often in who’s telling the story.

Your concept of evil is based on your world view. Look around. Whether it’s a hypothetical “perfect” girlfriend for the “perfect” football player, a maniac mass murderer loose in a movie theater or elementary school, or our Congressional representatives playing with destroying the economy, it’s safe to say that not only is there something terribly wrong with us, but we seem powerless to do anything about it. Our networked world won’t stand a chance, if every node on the network is in it only for themselves.

Can we learn to ask not what Life can do for us but what we can do for Life? Aaron Swartz thought so.

The postmodern world of which I write is one of participation. Whereas modernity celebrated the ability to study, chart, reason, and, in so doing, understand the unknown, postmodernists develop their understanding on top of all that by including what they’ve experienced. Therefore, the mantra of postmodernism is “I participate or experience, therefore I understand.” God in the postmodern world is removed from His formerly hierarchical throne — a place where He speaks to people through the priests of the hierarchy — and is spread across all of humanity in a form that Biblical scholars would call “the Holy Spirit.” If there is to be a vast spiritual awakening in our world, it’ll be everywhere and in the streets, not in the superchurches of America’s suburbs.

We will be hypernetworked if and when the awakening happens, and it won’t take place unless the network is free.

Thank you, Aaron, for your tireless efforts to that end.

Happy birthday to me!

It’s my birthday (a week in which a lot of creative people celebrate), and my friend Holly asked me a question that’s an appropriate birthday blog entry. She’s in her early 30s.

“Now that you’re 66,” she wrote, “what’s the one thing you absolutely believe today that you never, at my age, would’ve imagined you could ever believe?”

When I was in my early 30s, we didn’t even have computerized newsrooms (today’s producers would be amazed at how we did things), so I’d have to give the following ten answers:

  1. That my phone could be a computer in my pocket
  2. That humankind could be hyper-connected
  3. That media consumption could first be replaced by tape, then by recorded disk, and finally by a digital file in a “cloud.”
  4. That Kodak could go bankrupt, and that Brittanica wouldn’t be the primary encyclopedia
  5. That video rental stores would come into being and go out of being
  6. That I couldn’t share my music collection with my friends
  7. That humankind’s wish to be God (Godlike) would be so close
  8. That tyranny could be overthrown without weapons
  9. That I’d no longer have newspapers with which to wrap glassware
  10. That an African-American would be in the White House within 30 years

The more I think about this, the more answers I come up with. For example, I didn’t even touch on medical matters. It really has been an amazing 30+ years.

Remembering dad on Father’s Day

My father’s heart gave out in September of 1988. He was 74, and it was his second major heart attack. I made a scrapbook to remember him after he died and usually take it out about this time of year. Father’s Day and his birthday were pretty close together, so this is when I remember him.

The scrapbook, I must admit, is a tribute of love to a man I used to despise. It wasn’t until much later in life that my mind was able to understand him, and I was able to let go of all that anger. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say he didn’t believe in “sparing the rod.” When we finally made amends, he told me that growing up on a farm in rural Western Michigan, he had worked a full time job since the age of seven. Imagine the toll that could take on a boy. He had no advanced education but a strong, Calvinist faith that required much of him. He served in World War II, and moved my mother around the country much as I did as a news director a generation later. He was doing the best he knew how to do, and I could no longer hold it against him. I remember that day well. We were together alone overlooking the channel at Holland Harbor on Lake Michigan. It was June of 1981.

It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve come to a place where I believe that we’re all — every one of us — just trying to do the best we can with what we know and have. Yeah, we all tend towards self-centeredness, but that’s because we’re human. The more human we become, however, the better we see the faults of ourselves more than the faults of others, and that becomes its own great freedom. We have a saying in AA: “If you spot it, you got it,” which means that the defects we see in others are really our own, for how else would we recognize them as defects?

My scrapbook walks me through my life up until his death, but it’s all smiles and happy memories. Playing on the beach. Holidays. Trips. Sports. Friends. Music. Vietnam. Brothers. Weddings. And other times, too. In truth, though, I was a lonely, lonely boy. I felt unwanted and unloved — even unlovable — although I know in my head that wasn’t true.

My best friend and my greatest enemy as a child was my imagination. “Stop being so sensitive” would’ve made me rich, if I had a nickel for every time I heard it growing up. The problem was I was also very intelligent. School was easy, but my creative mind took me into illusionary worlds when things around me didn’t make sense. Some of the worst things in my life, the old saying goes, never happened, because they were all in my imagination. Father beats a 10-year old boy’s backside with a thick stick? He must hate the kid. And so it goes…

Freedom from that misery, however, begins with letting it go, and as I learned with my dad that day at Holland Harbor, that’s because only we have the ability to change our past. Actually, it’s not the events that matter; those can’t be changed. It’s our reaction to those events that we control, and that’s something we can change. After all, I’d still been living with the negativity of those wounds all those many years later. Whose fault was that?

So I can say with confidence this Father’s Day that I remember the many sides of my dad. He told me that day at the beach that the most exciting thing that ever happened to him as a youngster was when they built the new gymnasium at his little country High School in Ravenna, Michigan. That puts much in perspective for me, and I celebrate his life by carrying his blood and saying a small inner cheer every time a new gym is built anywhere.

And let me join my voice to others this day who send out a simple note to those with fathers still living: it’s only too late to tell him you love him after he’s gone. I’d give anything to be in your shoes for just a few minutes, to tell my dad what I’ve been up to, show him a little of my work and share my family with him. You still have that opportunity. Please take the time to do it.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads everywhere.