Dear Parents and Grandparents

The Scroggins Family of St. Louis

I want to speak to you here as a person with a peculiar study focus. I don’t know why or how, but I’m able to see what appears obvious to me, the birth and growth of the Postmodern Era in human history. Modernity with its logical systems focus has painted itself into a corner and must give way to the new. As modernity was birthed in the printing press, postmodernity was conceived and delivered from the womb of the web. I do not speak of philosophical postmodernism, but rather the changing of the eras in history. The mantra of modernity is “I think and reason, therefore I understand” but it has changed to “I participate, therefore I understand.”

Are you with me?

We must be able to see what’s coming in terms of the big things as this era develops further. We may not be around for the payoff that our children and grandchildren will experience, but there are ways we can equip ourselves to help them today, beginning with an acknowledgement that life is definitely changing. It’s super important for them to participate, even though we’re making this up as we go along.

We are all connected now. That means I can connect directly and sideways with everybody else or just a select few. This is something completely new, and we can’t even image how much life on earth is being and will be changed as a result.

First, a warning. You either do this for them, or somebody else — with less concern for their individuality — will do it for them, and this is not a best practice for tomorrow.

Even to the young man, let’s say, who’s only interested in working in the trades, either for somebody or as an independent contractor, even he will sink or swim on his ability to use the network effectively. It’s the way of future competition, and nobody will be exempt.

Our digital identities will actually be more important than what we know under the sun, and this is where we can help our progeny.

  • Equip them before they are even able to help themselves. Buy domains. Secure usernames. Sit with them and help them develop their online IDs. If they don’t control their own brands, someone else will do it for them.
  • Show them the dangers, but don’t dwell on it, for it’s their creativity that needs tapping more than their security needs protecting.
  • Teach them about links and how everything is linked together. Links are the currency of the web, and you need to teach them why. These links teach a practical lesson in deconstructionism, something that is of enormous value in helping our children shape their lives. It must be taught early and often.
  • Do not discourage their involvement in video games, because they teach mental and manual dexterity and mind-to-finger channeling, skills they will likely need downstream.
  • Teach them to avoid being herded into traps by the lust of their own eyes.
  • Buy a generator for your home, so you can teach the value of being prepared for anything.
  • Show them that their attention is the only real scarcity in the commerce that’s being brought into existence, and as Kevin Kelly says, “We should be paid for it.” This means that postmodern advertising will seek out customers and pay them to watch their ads. The logic of this is solid, but feathers will be ruffled in the process of its development.
  • Teach them to back-up their work before they go to bed at night. Use a form of a server in your home that can serve as storage and back-up for everything.
  • Put searchable books in your digital library, including everything they’ll need for school and the interests that they display.
  • Get them private lessons in Google/YouTube, coding, Photoshop, WordPress, and social media. There are people in your community who will do this on any level you wish.
  • Teach them to think of school as a place where they can practice their branding, to not be swayed by eyes that are being exposed to cultural fads and stereotypes. Just keep them pressing forwards.
  • Show them that the more dependent we become on electricity, the more vulnerable are EMP weapons. Personal protection against such will be a thriving business downstream. Think “shielding” or similar responses.
  • Teach them all you can about human nature, and how it doesn’t change in the digital world. Teach them to study the whys of human nature, which will open the door to better understanding motive. A certain degree of cynicism is healthy, because they will certainly be exposed to propaganda in their search for truth. Teach them discernment.
  • Personal branding belongs to each and every person on the block, and it’s perhaps the most important subject to learn while growing up.
  • Do not forsake teaching them grammar and good English, for technology is still learning nuance.
  • Teach them the true nature of God, for God is most certainly One who participates with us in our everyday lives and provides an internal governor for our behavior.

No matter how much modernist people insist that IRL is better than URL, we’re learning in the 21st-Century that the efficiencies of URL render much of life to be wasteful. Take the current kerfuffle over the Post Office and mail-in ballots. Do you honestly think we can’t eventually create a secure voting system online? The web may lose some of its anonymity, but would that really be all that bad?

I see the day when the opportunities of the web vastly outweigh concerns from our old ways of doing things. We will listen to the naysayers and thank them for their concern, but we must never put them in charge.

Modernity is done; long live the Age of Participation.

Are You (and your kids) TV Ready?

The seminal marketing (see Doc’s comment below) book for the digital age was The Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in 1999. The first thesis was “Markets are conversations,” and I immediately sensed that this line of thinking would become my own, for I couldn’t argue with the book’s wisdom. It is still highly relevant today, especially if you’re lacking some foundational thinking about the web. It’s available for free here.

Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media” in 2004 and J.D. Lasica’s “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation” in 2005 were the first two books to generally describe the disruption of personal media. J.D., in fact, coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to tag what was about to descend upon our culture. And, oh boy, has it ever! I was so convinced of its certainty, that I dedicated many years to study it and report back to television clients about the enormity of it all.

Nobody cared. They were making too much money doing things the old way, and that was professional media’s great downfall. These executives could only see as far as their business model could carry them. They were married to one-to-many marketing and too blind to even see the disruption of targeting individual browsers. Online, I would tell them, afforded two-way advertising wherein the ad was served to eyeballs, but the server received information back from the ad. It was obvious to some of us that the pros were doomed.

When I was teaching college students, they’d ask, for example, what’s the best way to get to be a sportscaster? My response was always, “Just BE a sportscaster. Establish your brand. Blossom where you’re planted. You don’t need the institution to ‘do’ sports, not when you can do it on your own.”

The web loathes filters and their roadblocks, which it views as inefficient annoyances that serve no useful purpose. The web’s basic function is to connect people in a 3‑dimensional media form. It can be one-to-many, many-to-one, and most importantly, many to many, thus turning every browser into a form of media company itself, including the people formerly known as the advertisers.

The personal media revolution has advanced so far today (and it’s got a long, long way to go yet) that everyday people have been able to exploit the free time granted them through the coronavirus to explore beyond surfing or connecting via social media. No institution has been more impacted that adult entertainment. Yup, that’s right; good old porn. For the uneducated, Only Fans and many other similar sites offer software that enables anybody to become a porn star and get paid directly by the audiences they “serve.” This same concept is giving new light to each of the arts, and this is a good thing for our culture.

While this is highly chaotic to many other institutions of the West (and I could go on), but the aspect of this that needs the most discussion is how TV itself is being reinvented. The very definition of the TV is changing. In the beginning, it was reserved for broadcasters only. As each new form of video delivery appeared on the scene, they, too, were tagged (by the disruptors) as “TV.”

And today, YouTube is exploding with fresh content posted by this personal media revolution, and they are called “TV.” In the world of Reality TV, the vast majority of contestants are seasoned TV performers before they set foot on the set. In truth, those who apply to be on reality shows see the experience as a way to dramatically increase their individual influence on social media as experienced TV performers.

On the show Married at First Sight (MAFS), this same thinking applies, although this show can involve some very unusual contestants. Take Henry, of Henry and Christina, one of the couples married at first sight in the current season. Henry is, well, a little quirky with quite an awful set of parents who doubtless contributed to his lack of social skills. Reddit, that online gathering of talkative people with opinions who enjoy the company of others of a similar ilk, has a whole section on MAFS.

One Redditor (as they’re called) who goes by NoWayJeFe, had this to say about Henry: “Decent guy just not TV ready.” It would seem being “TV ready” is a prerequisite for appearing on these sorts of shows, but it speaks volumes about where we are as a society. It would seem that from the earliest years, kids are now learning how to be “TV ready” from the time they face their first cameras and microphones, even if it’s just an iPad.

There’s the Barbie TV News Team dolls, where little girls can pretend to be the real thing. Take a quick look at YouTube’s kids channels, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids playing TV. It’s almost a rite of passage these days, and in so doing, these kids and teens are learning what we all have known for a long time in the world of television news: it’s just not all that hard to do. Sorry if I’m toe-stepping here, but it’s just much, much easier than all the “broadcast” schools would have us believe. I mean, where’s the money for an industry that can be easily duplicated with an iPhone?

Think TV has shot its wad in 2020? Think again, because there are no rules to these youngsters as they invent their own uses for the video medium. They start by copying but soon move to innovating. Those who pretend its rocket science are slowly going to fade into the setting sun.

To parents and grandparents, are your kids TV ready? If not, that would be a great investment for their future. Get them what they need to make media. Buy usernames or obtain them for free on the various sites that require them. They will fight their own media wars downstream, and those who’ve been properly prepared will have a head start.

But what do I know, right? We’ll see. Maybe I won’t see how far it goes, but you certainly may. And, those kids of yours will be the ones who’ll need these skills the most.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey local TV. This remains a viable business opportunity. You balked at it all those years ago, but it’s still there. Who better to teach local people to be TV ready than local TV?)

The Re-Rise of the Newsletter

The professional news industry is being forced to return to its roots by a world it doesn’t — and probably never will — fully understand. It began with the industry’s initial response to the digital disruption, which was to reproduce its entire finished product for the web. The web, however, wasn’t built by newspapers; it was built by highly creative and rebellious geeks who changed the world without the status quo telling them it needed changing.

The web was a brand new communications invention, not a new distribution channel for old ways of doing things, and in missing this truth, the industry was completely lost. The newspaper people wanted to present their finished product online, but the geeks knew from the start that this was inefficient and a cheap substitute for what was possible.

Blog software, with its reverse chronological flow, came first, quickly followed by ways to distribute content apart from its host. Social media is, at core, the news “audience” talking amongst themselves, which was contrary to the top-down relationship that the press had with its readers. The shift to mobile brought new challenges, the biggest being a playing field built around scrolling and video in portrait mode. News drifted away from the finished product variety and into the world of continuous news.

Of course, the biggest disruptor by far was how advertising was changing to adapt to the new, and a realization that smart marketers could provide ads at the browser level and based on the behaviors of that browser. This offered a much greater likelihood of advertiser return-on-investment. History books will cite this as causing the death of newspapers, but it’s really more a case of ignorance, for newspapers still lack the technology and the networks to provide this to local advertisers. The industry has ceded defeat to Google without even firing a shot.

And, now comes the newest era of the email newsletter, a technology that’s been around since the dawn of email but generally only used to provide links to the industry’s “real” content online. The shift today, however, includes those who give the energy it takes to produce actual content for newsletters, and it’s a godsend to overwhelmed news consumers. This trend is going to continue until a company’s online newsletter will become the primary method that news organizations use to disseminate news and information.

People can pass them around, which often results in new subscribers.

The first trader newsletters during the Middle Ages — actual letters from observers in far away places — were the precursor to the newspaper industry. Wikipedia notes that “Trader’s newsletters covered various topics such as the availability and pricing of goods, political news, and other events that would influence trade.” This is the essence of today’s developing process, and it suits not only the web’s unique abilities but also that most precious of earthly commodities: time.

I’ll be 74 this summer, and I spend most of my days online in an endless search for knowledge. Even with all that time, I still feel uninformed, because studying modern times is like trying to take a sip from a firehose. It’s the primary reason I’ve turned to newsletters. They’re out there; you just have to find them. Here are five newsletters that hit my inbox overnight or every morning:

The New York Times: While this is primarily a tool to “drive traffic” back to its newspaper site, the content is growing to include small story summaries throughout. It’s a way to follow the Times without subscribing to its main product.

Mondoweiss: I have family of Palestinians that lived in Amman, Jordan for a great many years, so my window on the Middle East is a little different than most. I don’t trust the Israeli’s, and I need an outlet that understands this. Mondoweiss is a terrific example of a point-of-view news organization that represents an extreme minority in the West. I need that to stay informed.

Dave Winer: Dave is one of the real gems in providing important technology news in a highly conversational format. I also really like Dave as a person, and his takes on life in general also give me food for thought. Dave’s is a constant voice on Twitter, and he uses his newsletter to summarize those thoughts. Moreover, and this is important, Dave is always a yard ahead of everybody else, and if he’s taking the trouble to produce a newsletter, it’s something that requires my attention.

Mathew Ingram: Mathew provides summaries and links to the stories he finds important. I trust Mathew and lean on his understanding to help my own.

Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy: CNN’s Reliable Sources is (by a mile) the most useful contemporary newsletter in the market today. It is the model for others to copy, for it’s loaded with content written for readers of the newsletter. What a concept! Oh, it contains marketing and links, but it is written to be read, and the summaries are specifically aimed at people such as myself and all of those who just don’t have the time to invest in reading complete stories.

There are many others out there, and I’ll probably be extending my subscription list as I find those suited to my tastes. The point is that I get to decide what I wish to influence my thinking, not the forced and irritating offerings of the artificial and manipulative hegemony known as objectivity. That old standard disappeared with the advent of continuous streams of news. Journalism has always spoken with the authority of overseers, which is the luxury afforded to those who could afford a printing press. Today, every single person on the net is a media company and able to distribute their content just like the big boys.

To those who would drag out the ol’ echo chamber meme to accuse me of circular logic, let me state once again that my experience in helping to create right wing news means that I know that it’s just political propaganda disguised as news. Give me a little credit for that tidbit, because I’ve already turned the page on it.

If you don’t subscribe to newsletters, my advice is to begin today. Click on the links I’ve provided, if you’re interested in those. If you find yourself being fed content that you find bitter or tasteless, unsubscribing is just a click away.

To those in the news industry, if you don’t produce a newsletter, what are you waiting for? The only rules are that it can’t be a vehicle that merely “drives traffic” back to its point of origin, and ads should be presented as content, perhaps even written by the newsletter’s author(s).

Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”

Okay.

The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective — is there really any other that matters? — there’s no problem.

And so it goes.

Media mergers and hanging on

I need to step away from book promotion for a minute to make a comment the current state of local media. First, there’s the merger/sale this week between Sinclair Media and Tribune Media that will give Sinclair over 200 local stations in the American TV world. In that world (mass marketing/mass media), the bigger the footprint, the greater the profit, for the core competency of media companies is the ability to produce an audience for marketers. Secondly, an interesting article today in the Columbia Journalism Review about the fiscal health of Gannett and its future headlines this way: “Gannett and the last great local hope.”

Sinclair and Gannett will take their places in the halls of commerce as the last buggy whip makers for the mass media industries of television and newspapers, and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with this, there’s a much bigger problem ahead for local communities, and that is the loss of local advertising. I’ve been harping on this for so many years that I’ve grown weary of the sound of my own voice, and while the prophecies of 15 years ago are now coming to pass, the industry still doesn’t understand what’s really taking place.

The old saw about business disruptions goes like this: “If the railroads had known what business they were really in, they would have owned all the early airline companies.” The railroads were in the transportation business, not “the railroad business,” and that was their Waterloo. In like manner, media companies are in the advertising industry, not the radio, television, or newspaper industries. Follow the disruptions in advertising, and you’ll see the downfalls in local media.

But it’s even worse than you think, for the ascending advertising giants are all digital ad exchanges and ad networks. They have the ability to serve ads to any and every browser anywhere and at any time, so the collection of data about those individual browsers (you don’t need a person’s name) has been the task of anyone wishing to remain relevant in the ad space. Local media companies have simply turned away from this most important task (“It’s not our business model.”).

One of the most significant obstacles that the net overcomes is geography, and so local advertisers — who used to spend their money with all sorts of local media companies — are now spending that money outside their markets with people who can do this browser-level targeting.

Gordon Borrell

Ask Gordon Borrell about how much money — real money — is moving from businesses in your community to advertising companies outside your market. You’ll be shocked, or you won’t believe it. These outside interests pay no taxes, support no community chests, employ no local people, and support no local organizations such as youth sports and so on. The money goes straight out of your community and into their pockets. It doesn’t pass go. It doesn’t collect $200. It just strips your community of a vital part of what makes it a community in the first place.

And yet, there is silence where there ought to be cries for help, because local media companies have badly failed the communities they used to serve by assuming that one can remain an analog mass marketing vehicle in the age of digital competition — not for the content they create (which is all we talk about) — but for the money that supports the production and creation of that content.

And so Sinclair grows and Gannett hangs on, both victims of their own corporate malfeasance. One thing they will never be able to say is that they weren’t warned.

You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Going, going, almost gone

It’s time to update my graph of the Gallup organizations “media trust” measurement. In 1997, Gallup switched from taking this pulse every three to every year, and the graph they produce today only begins in 1997. However, I’ve never felt that was appropriate, for it misses a big part of the story, and so my graph goes back to 1973 and is spaced every three years.

galluptrust2016

2016 is an off-year to include, so I’ve projected this year’s numbers forward. That’s because the drop-off between 2015 and 2016 is significant, and I don’t expect it to rebound. Here’s Gallup:

Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year. (Emphasis mine)

The culprit is the election and more specifically the Donald Trump campaign, which has been very effective at accusing the press as being party to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if the accusation is accurate; in politics, perception is truth.

It’s fair to say at this point that the illusion of objectivity in the press is history and that transparency is all that’s left. Americans will never again heed the press as “the voice of God” as we did in the days to which Donald Trump wants us to return. This alone should convince Trumpers to look beyond the slogans, but it probably won’t.

Meanwhile, any media outlet believing it does its work with the public trust is operating daily under a highly fallacious assumption.