Paris Hilton “ad” reveals how much media has changed

The video below is an “ad” currently making the rounds online. It’s Paris Hilton jumping at the opportunity to be herself in response to the dumb move by John McCain’s campaign to use an image of Miss Hilton in a campaign ad comparing Barack Obama to other celebrities. The observations so far have all been political or from the entertainment press, but I think there’s a huge comment to be made about media here.

But first, the video:

In today’s world, everybody is a media company. I’ve been preaching that lesson for almost 10 years now. It’s the essence of J.D. Lasica’s seminal book, Darknet: Hollywood’s War on the Digital Generation, in which he coined the phrase “personal media revolution.” This video by Miss Hilton is a stunning example of that, because she is, among other things, a media company, and, like everybody else, has the resources to put cute little videos out into cyberspace where they can be picked up by others and passed around. In so doing, Paris Hilton has injected herself into the race for President of the United States, or I suppose you could say that McCain did that for her. And here’s the thing: this video is actually more than just cute or funny.

Candidates have to buy time to get their messages out, while everyday people — using back channels — can do the same thing for nothing. I realize this is Paris Hilton and that she carries leverage that others don’t have, but you’d be missing the point to dismiss the bigger picture here. As Gordon Borrell so beautifully put it, “The deer now have guns,” and we need to pay attention to that.

From a postmodern perspective, this incident shows how people are able to participate in the political process in ways never before possible, and it is changing — and will change — things forever.

Mark Cuban is wrong even when he’s right

Mark Cuban is his usual out-of-focus self with a post (Hulu is kicking Youtube’s ass) declaring Hulu the winner over YouTube. The problem, of course, is that these two companies are not now and have never been in competition, although Cuban thinks otherwise. To Mark, YouTube has always been about the theft of copyrighted material, so he never really bothers to examine what makes it hum.

It’s all about the money to Mark. A media business can only exist if its revenue model is built around scarce content, so he proclaims Hulu king and makes a prediction:

…by next year, not only will Hulu have more monetizable traffic than Youtube, but it will have more total revenues than Youtube as well. It wouldn’t sup rise (sic) me if they are already at a higher annual run rate than Youtube.

Here’s the thing. Mark’s probably right, but in thinking of YouTube only in sustainable business model terms, he misses the larger picture and continues to prove himself ignorant about the Web. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to do things contrary to the P&Ls of the past, if they work towards a longer term return (why doesn’t Google sell ads on its home page?). He has always viewed YouTube through biased eyes (those damned thieves), and for a smart guy, he sure comes up short here.

“Youtube hides behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” he writes, as if its reason for being is to steal copyrighted material and profit from it. If it looks like a red herring and smells like a red herring, then it’s probably a red herring.

YouTube is about sharing, people sharing what they see and what they make, things we’ve been doing since before the term “media” referred only to the home of the Medes. In the 15th Century, the Roman Church didn’t want the Bible being shared with the laity, because they felt they “owned” it. I took my 45s with me to friends’ homes back in the 50s, so that they could hear the music too. Back then, the record industry knew that exposing people to the music was the best chance they had to sell another record.

YouTube’s tentacles within the personal media revolution go on for miles, because people don’t use it to view stolen goodies. Its business model hasn’t been written yet, and those who insist on looking for one just don’t have the patience to wait. I use YouTube to post videos that I’ve made on my MySpace page. There are lots of ways I could do that, but the Flip camera and YouTube make other options seem obsolete. How does YouTube gain from that? For one thing, they keep anybody else from charging fees or profiting from interruptive commercials, and in so doing, buy time for an acceptable business model to develop.

But that’s not the point. We’re in another Gutenberg moment here and the “church,” led by priests like Cuban, want absolute control over material the law tells them they own. I don’t think anybody objects to that concept, but the more people like Cuban press the matter, the more unseemly the whole thing seems.

I love Hulu and have expressed that love before. I watch “House” via Hulu, and while I wonder why there’s such an emphasis on clips from shows instead of the shows themselves, it’s a great experience. But I go to Hulu knowing what I’m getting, just as I go to YouTube knowing what I’m getting.

They’re two different things.

Keep an eye on YouTube’s citizen journalism channel

So YouTube has announced the hiring of a news manager and the launch of a citizen journalism channel. Don’t be fooled by the raw nature of this, folks, because you may be looking at not only future hires in your community but also future styles in presenting video news. This is an unorganized group with YouTube (Google) playing its typical support and distribution role in sidestepping traditional media companies to present a form of journalism that most professionals deem far beneath them.

YouTube's Citizen Journalism channel

The news manager is no novice when it comes to citizen journalism. Olivia Ma recently graduated from Harvard and was a regular contributor to Dan Gillmor’s Center for Citizen Media blog.

Gillmor, author of what is widely considered the original manifesto of the citizen journalism movement, We, the Media, told me via email this morning that the YouTube project is another worthwhile experiment, and “I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.”

“But as they monetize this,” he added, “I hope they’re going to find a way to reward the people who are doing the work. I’m not a fan of business models that say ‘You do all the work and we’ll take all the money, thank you very much.’ I also hope they’ll give people a way to post using Creative Commons licenses, which are all about sharing information, as opposed to the currently restrictive terms of service.”

I agree with Dan on the above, and his message is relevant for all media companies trying to “monetize” user-generated content.

But beyond that, this move by YouTube demands our attention for its assumption that anybody can “do news” and distribute their work for free. The pamphleteers of journalism’s past would’ve loved it.

(Originally posted in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

A brilliant deconstruction of the Keen argument

One of the great things about the Web is the immediate access to knowledge and information, something about which I’ve written here often. All of the institutions of colonial modernism are under attack, in part, because their place in the culture — their authority, if you will — is granted by access to protected knowledge. This culture clash is uncomfortable for those whose position is being picked apart, and so they’re fighting back with arguments that are often specious, at best.

One such argument has been thoroughly dissected here, that of terrified elitist Andrew Keen and his assertion that amateurs will surely destroy the world. This meme — this attack on everyday people with access to knowledge — has been picked up by others with something to lose in the culture clash and is now rather widespread among all elites.

And it’s absolutely wonderful to find the occasional person who kicks back against this crap, and I was introduced to a spectacular example today in the form of Mike Caulfield, his blog and an entry titled If a Columnist Calls a Tail a Leg…

In this outstanding piece of work, Caulfield elegantly deconstructs a Keenish form of argument by Monica Hesse in, of all places, The Washington Post. Her column is provocatively called “Truth: Can You Handle It?” She attacks what she pejoratively calls the “wiki-world” and uses what she feels is a false quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln to make her point.

Unfortunately for Ms. Hesse, HER Lincoln reference is the one that’s wrong (Oops!), and Caulfield’s legwork on the matter is worthy of any journalism award.

Go read the whole thing. You’ll thank me later on.

Sports Journalism’s Pissing Match

In a Vanity Fair article, Buzz Bissinger explains his tirade (tirade here) last week on HBO’s Costas Now against Deadspin blogger Will Leitch. Bissinger later apologized, not for his feelings but for the manner in which he expressed them. It was a classy move.

But the Costas segment was a stunning illustration of the real angst between mainstream sports writers and the sports blogosphere, which is increasingly setting the agenda for all sports reporting these days. As a guy who’s been following this for a long time, I found it painful to watch Bissinger make a fool of himself, and I felt equally uncomfortable watching Costas try and defend the status quo. Both are incredibly smart guys, but they’re blinded by their own perspective.

Costas referred to sports writers with “real credentials and real access.” The comment was obviously meant to separate “real” sports writers from (unreal) bloggers, and this doesn’t get anybody anywhere.

He also referred to the “legitimate complaint” about the sports blogosphere, namely the tone of gratuitous potshots and criticisms. Both Bissinger and Costas used quotes from commenters to make their case, which caused Leitch to note that, “surely we can differentiate between the blogger and the commenters.”

As I’ve written in the past, sports journalism has changed dramatically since Watergate brought to the surface the form of journalism known as “gotcha.” It has gone from entirely cheerleading to some excellent and insightful work by serious writers, be they mainstream or other. There’s still the sense, though, that access to athletes is a gift granted by their owners (yes, they are “owned”), and that this can be a significant conflict of interest, especially when such access crosses from professional to personal. Professional sports leagues are going out of their way to restrict access, because they want to control their message, and the extent to which the mainstream press is forced to go along with this is sad.

One of the very definitions of “news” goes like this: dog bites man, not news; man bites dog, news. So the norm is not news, and therefore when athletes perform according to their gifts and expectations, it doesn’t fit the definition of news. The exceptional athlete — Tiger Woods, for example — is certainly newsworthy, but the PGA’s slogan is “These Guys Are Good.” In that light, a “good” performance isn’t news, but a bad performance is. Yet we rarely see stories when “these guys are bad.”

Hell, show me, shot-by-shot, the 15 that John Daly scored on number 9, because that’s news.

So there is a symbiotic relationship between sports and sports writers, and that’s okay. But that isn’t the only form of sports journalism, for the output of this symbiotic relationship is fair game for observers (and fans), because both (the sport and the pro writer) are on the same pedestal. News about the news is one of the hallmarks of the blogosphere, and it may make the mainstream press uncomfortable, but it is every bit as much “journalism” as that which is published by the pros.

Moreover, I most disagree with the assertion by blogosphere critics (such as Bissinger and Costas) that bloggers are a part of any real or perceived “dumbing down” of the information stream. Any time I hear that, I’m immediately drawn to the Lippmannesque reasonings of colonial thinking, that culture must have an élite class to lead the ignorant and emotionally-driven masses. That is insulting and just plain wrong. The voices from the mass may seem crude to the pedestal dwellers of the culture, but those voices count as much as anyone’s.

Informing each other of Heston’s death

Charlton Heston is gone and all of Life mourns his passing. But here’s an interesting tidbit from my friend Holly.

I was reading a discussion board at 11:10 (last night, central time) when someone posted that Charlton Heston had died. A few minutes later, I went to Wikipedia to look at his Wiki entry. Yep, already there. It beat the front pages of all the major news sites. It’s not on CNN’s front page as of my clicking Compose Mail to send you this.

Like it or not, mainstream media, this is the way it is.

A week ago, I wrote about the concept of “finding” news consumers based on a comment from a student during a focus group. “If the news is that important,” the young man said, “it will find me.” How does that happen? Word-of-mouth and examples like this.

The change to Heston’s Wikipedia page could have come from his own people, or it could have come from a fan. But the fact that it occurred ahead of major news outlets is a stunning example of how people are able to sidestep the gatekeepers in the quest to be informed.