NASAspaceflight.com: A shining example of new media

Starship SN9 loses a Raptor during flip. RUD comes as future Starships line  up - NASASpaceFlight.com
Remarkable photo of SN9 by Jack Beyer just prior to crashing

I spent much of my day Tuesday with YouTube watching the drama at the SpaceX testing facility in Boca Chica Texas as the company successfully launched its prototype Starship SN9. The drama, of course, was centered around whether SpaceX would stick the landing, which it didn’t. The drama ended quickly, and now it’s on to version SN10, for SpaceX is a company determined to rewrite everything when it comes to rockets and space exploration. For a guy from Huntsville, Alabama — also known as Rocket City — this is great fun.

I watched this with 300 thousand others worldwide via the live stream of one of the most shining examples of everything that’s new in news coverage these days, NASASpaceflight.com. I need to talk about this, because it’s a shining example of how to do live coverage of news events in 2021, and my hat’s off to Chris Bergin and the entire NASASpaceflight.com team.

Back in my early days of writing about how the internet would change media, one of the most obvious trends to people like me was what J.D. Lasica termed “the personal media revolution.” This group of observers included people like Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Dave Winer, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Michael Rosenblum, and a host of others who shared the vision. But, NASASpaceflight.com has laid the foundation for something so completely new that it challenges all forms of existing media for supremacy in covering space and the companies vying for a piece of the revenue pie involving outer space.

Here’s what they do so well.

NASASpaceflight.com is a virtual company, employing several experts from different parts of the world. They are not affiliated with NASA whatsoever. It was founded 15 year ago by Chris Bergin, a British journalist who cut his teeth during the shuttle period of space travel. Others are scattered around the U.S. They have only one reporter on the ground in Boca Chica, but their best source of information at the SpaceX complex comes from a Boca Chica photographer referred to only as Mary (@bocachicagal). To cover the entire area, NASASpaceflight uses robotic cameras controlled by the anchor team themselves from various points around the country.

Without a single direct source from SpaceX, they’ve developed their own launch sequence based solely on observations of the various stages of fueling and launching a Starship. The point is that rocket experts, through direct observation via robotic cameras, are able to build their own loose countdown based purely on observation. They simply don’t need an official countdown to do their job, and that’s part of the charm they bring to television news.

But it is the anchor team itself that brings everything home to viewers, for these people are serious students of science with a touch of nerd humor. It’s their genuine love of rockets that drives their business and their narrative. They are absolutely over-the-top when it comes to science, and it gives the viewers a chance to interact with genuine experts during the long hours of waiting via the chat and super chat functions of YouTube. They lovingly refer to their work as “roadside rocket science.” Their work is expensive but is paid for in a large part by crowd-funding from those viewers they serve so well. The size of the donations — in nearly every currency of the world — is truly staggering, and it’s a model that could be scaled to handle other news niches.

And, there’s no doubting that NASASpaceflight has a very narrow niche, which is another one of the many factors that make hours and hours of live coverage so watchable. They know what they’re talking about.

Another factor is the humor that develops and is continued throughout their coverage. They have an online store of merchandise created from these humorous thoughts, and the biggest problem they have is with their site crashing as so many people rush to buy the shirts, hats, etcetera. There are a great many inside jokes that the newcomer to the coverage are taught through clever mentions of those jokes.

I found myself laughing out loud many times throughout the coverage. It’s fascinating how well humor works in a time of extremely dramatic events. The team has no problem just being themselves, and they often joke about how they could never be stiff-shirted network correspondents. The transparency of this actually adds to the authority of their observations, because it feels exactly like it’s intended to feel — like being invited to watch the launch with a group of extremely intelligent and knowledgable friends.

And, make no mistake, these people know photography, cameras, live-streaming, and video technology better than most so-called professional news people. If you don’t mind the lousy pun, it isn’t rocket science, and smart people can easily outdo the pros who are locked into their systems and deadlines. It’s far more logical to hire scientists and let them practice journalism than to hire journalists and try to make them scientists.

Another thing that’s noteworthy is how well the NASASpaceflight.com team works with YouTube. Google has put in place the tools that the company needs to present their work — at no cost to them — and help them raise money. It’s truly remarkable, but an example of how the personal media revolution has helped itself to the goodies that used to be reserved only for the pros.

So, now it’s on to Starship SN10, but don’t worry. NASASpaceflight.com will put in place a reminder for you when they plan to go live.

I just love it.

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