Thursday, December 25, 2008

How the Media Perpetuates Stereotypes

I was thinking about this recently after reading Maureen Dowd's profile of Tina Fey in Vanity Fair. 

Fey was known on Saturday Night Live as "Herman the German" for her ability to make a plan, stick to it, and get the job done. Dowd even threw in a Rommel reference - the Nazi general from World War 2 who was called with admiration the Desert Fox by his competitors in the battlefield. He's also one of the "good Nazis" for his role in the plot to kill Hitler, and he committed suicide in 1944.

It was an interesting stereotype about Germans, one which they love: sort of the hookers with the heart of gold spiel, like Rommel, who ignored orders to kill Jewish civilians. 

This stereotype was popular during the 1950's in Germany, thanks to media representations. Des Teufels General, a play about the moral conflict of a Nazi officer; The Enemy Below, which has a very moving speech by the German submarine commander: "it's not a good war". In their context, these were real breakthroughs: Germans not being painted as cruel oppressors, much in the same way blacks emerged in films as more than slaves or stupid house help through more complex roles. 

But I wonder what the new stereotype of Germans will be, as the baby boomers get older and die in that country. They were caught in the middle, too young to be personally guilty, but desperately questioning their parents and relatives to understand their role in the national mass hysteria of National Socialism. Americans are easily impressed by Germans who come here to work and study - their Herman the German mentality is efficient and let's face it, they do follow orders very well. 

But a few friends of mine who work for German companies in American offices point to lack of creativity, off color remarks about minorities, and a world view that is resistant to change, even in the face of the most compelling evidence otherwise. These are the reasons why German companies in Germany are recruiting international candidates for top positions in German companies - the country is very good at producing worker bees who are easily trained - but not so good at developing leadership. We have the opposite problem in the U.S. - everyone wants to be in charge and thinks they should be! 

Because the baby boomer population in Germany is incredibly large, I expect this to dominate for another 20 years. They didn't have a boom in the late 80's and early 90's as we did, so their younger generation's voices get drowned out, and the fall of the Wall means that we will continue to be deluged with stories from the former East German Republic in our media landscape, some grim (The Lives of Others) and some nostalgic (Goodbye, Lenin!)

I suspect we may be forever stuck with the Herman the German stereotype - but in fact Tina Fey is undeniably American. I can't think of her German equivalent - as I can't think of one for Jon Stewart. So that's what I look forward to - the media political cartoon that at once confirms stereotypes while at the same time destroying them. 

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Generation Gap of Interactivity

I attended a live television broadcast the other day - the governor of Ohio came to the southeastern part of the state to hear ideas about how to make the school funding formula more equitable and understandable. A discussion worthy of live television.

Here's the thing though: the host rather half-heartedly asked viewers to email their responses during the broadcast to the governor as part of the broadcast's interactivity. However, none of the emails ever made it to to the governor. 

So what makes this interactive? As far as I could tell, it was still uni-directional transmission of information. 

The other thing that struck me as I sat in the audience was how carefully orchestrated the event was. Now I know television is rarely done live, off the cuff - this was a major criticism of Barack Obama and his reliance on teleprompters - but he did in the end agree to those town hall meetings. 

The entire broadcast wasn't scripted, just the part where the governor explained the current funding formula for Ohio's school districts, and then he listened to responses from the audience. But the average age of people in the audience must have been 50 (and probably would have been higher if it hadn't been for me and the 3 other thirty somethings in the audience.) 

I came away with this realization: the technology was not being effectively utilized. The public station, who organized the whole thing, and taped it, didn't engage its viewers through its website. The governor's staff had a website, which they directed people to, but in the interest of a partnership, couldn't the public station, and its website, have been leveraged more? The conversation ended at the moment they hit the stop button on the cameras - and it got me thinking how public broadcasting could be more of a tool of a civic engagement, and revitalize itself, if it could figure out how to connect the audience with its content via the web. 

There are stations, and programs, already doing this - but it just hit me as I sat there, watching the traditional model of "interactive" media, that we have a generation gap about what interactive even means. And of course, one could argue that the purpose of the forum wasn't to make it interactive - it was to allow the governor the opportunity to hear from people he doesn't normally hear from (although I really question that - the forum sounded like an education conference with the familiar refrains of calls for all day kindergarden, lengthening the school year, and redistributing taxes more equitably to fund more impoverished areas.)

Clearly, public broadcasting has the ability to pull off what I saw this weekend. But I wonder what it will take for them to take it to the next level of "interactivity". 

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Do We Need So Many Reporters?

An article in the NYT caught my eye: fewer reporters covering Washington as papers either cut or entirely close their Washington bureaus.

But one line in particular got my brain pumping: "Those that remain have cut back drastically on Washington coverage, eliminating hundreds of journalists' jobs at a time when the federal government - and journalistic oversight of it - matters more than ever."

This is where I get myself into trouble. This is where I commit heresy, but I'm going to do it anyway. 

I have to question the part where the reporter writes "and journalistic oversight of it - matters more than ever". First of all, doesn't it always matter? Didn't it matter more than ever when the Bush administration was making the case to go to war, one of the most significant decisions a president can make? And where was the NYT? They took a pass, nee, they encouraged it with Thomas Friedman and Judy Miller getting suckered like 1st year journalism students who find out later the police chief or the mayor lied to them in an interview. Meanwhile, they ignored the work of Knight-Ridder reporters who didn't buy the weapons of mass destruction line. 

Here's my second beef, which is much more academic: when our press has failed us in so many ways, and recently too - I'm not just talking about the failure to report the Great Migration in 20's and 30's or the reticence of American journalists to cover what was going on in concentration camps - isn't that the time to say, we made a mistake and we need to make some changes? How about addressing the lack of trust of the press? How about cultivating a sense of information stewardship on the part of your audience, who probably know things that are important? 

Or how about acknowledging that the technology doesn't necessarily mean you need as many reporters? I don't have any hard evidence to support this, but my hypothesis is that one of the reasons we may be seeing a decline in reporting is that the old dogs haven't learned any new tricks, or are struggling to learn them. That's probably the fault of management, who are cutting everything to save a few bucks for their shareholders. 

Some news organizations are developing very sophisticated databases to help them sort information better - in the way the microchip revolutionized investigate reporting, so are computer programmers who come up with the code to sift and mine and analyze. True, you still need someone to go out and do the shoe leather work. Or you could post your data graphically on the web and ask your audience to contribute video, pictures, some text - there are alternatives to the traditional reporting of the past thanks to the World Wide Grid. 

Here's what a boils down to: journalism has attracted a lot of wanna be writers. Not all, but it's there. But because the medium has shifted, the need for the narrative may be less relevant. I'm not saying it will go away - if anything, I love it when the NYT posts audio slideshows of photojournalism. That's a narrative. And the traditional tools to create it - pen, paper, typewriter- have now now expanded to Flash, ProTools, Final Cut. 

So we have a crisis going on in the U.S. Several even. 2 wars, a financial meltdown, corporate corruption. But I would ask, is the problem that we don't have enough information, or is the problem that we, the people, have stopped trusting the entities who deliver it? 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When Social Networking Sites Merge with News

I was checking my as usual and something caught my eye. LinkedIn, the professional networking site, is teaming up with the New York Times to create customized news pages for LinkedIn users. So lets say I, who work in public broadcasting, sign up. I would get articles related to that industry. Or maybe you're a school teacher, or an engineer. You would get info customized to your area of expertise.

Whoa. It's so simple it's brilliant. And possibly bring in additional revenue? Too soon to tell, although this article was interesting.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cuts, Layoffs, Oh My

I recently went on a fact finding mission to Washington D.C. with my cohort in the public broadcasting program at Ohio University. As luck would have it, the day we left was the day NPR announced their cuts...including my mentor and friend, Doug Mitchell. Jeffrey Dvorkin, the former ombudsman at NPR, wrote a glowing tribute much more eloquent than I ever could. (Jeffrey's a great guy as well - I talked to him for maybe all of 10 minutes about reporter training, and the following week I found a package in my mailbox on NPR's reporter ethics guide with a personal note from Jeffrey. That's what we call classy. The man is after all Canadian.)

Chicago Public Radio also laid off 9% of its staff, including a few from its new venture, The CEO's previous decisions to cut music, especially jazz, on WBEZ has now bubbled to the surface as angry listeners question his leadership. 

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Pubcasters around the country are hurting - even powerhouse Minnesota Public Radio had a recent sobering meeting about their budget, and shortfalls in fundraising. 

In my previous post, I wrote about the dangers of nostalgia clouding strategic judgement of public broadcasting. But I think one thing the emotion aroused by these cuts show is that public broadcasting hasn't done a very good job about being transparent. I'm not talking about pleasing everybody. I'm talking about public relations and making the case to listeners, who for the most part, are pretty reasonable, especially when presented with options. 

Public broadcasting isn't a direct democracy, nor would I advocate that it turn into one. But the folks who run the stations are accountable to their stakeholders, some who give money, most who just watch or listen, and now is the time to rally them. Maine Public Broadcasting held a town meeting before making any decisions about layoffs or cuts - what a novel idea. How great would it be if Talk of the Nation did a national call in show with with a group of public radio CEO's and took questions and recommendations. Air it out. Let the sunshine disinfect. 

Let's bring the public into public broadcasting. 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

When It's Time to Let Go: the Danger of Nostalgia

An NY Times article caught my eye: the trend of departing long time local television anchors.

I'm pretty open about my distaste for local television, even though I have been spoiled by a decent glut in the Twin Cities. KSTP, FOX 9, WCCO have all had their moments (but not KARE 11, someone please make the Kare Bears go away). 

I think the nostalgia for local television news is similar to the same nostalgia for what my former professor Stephanie Coontz referred to as 'The Way We Never Were'. Her book explained how the 1950's ideal of the nuclear family came into existence - and how it shaped sexist, and harmful social policies. 

This article reminded me of the danger of getting too nostalgic. When we lose a news personality, we feel it personally. We get angry. We saw this in public broadcasting when the long time Morning Edition host Bob Edwards left NPR. I have been in so many situations where people have decried his departure and looked to me to back them up. I can't - I do think he had to go. I do think Morning Edition needed new energy. I do think he'd been there too long. And I like Bob Edwards - but my inner news manager recognizes that the industry is changing, and if you're people aren't, you have to find new people. 

And this is where the nostalgia can get dangerous. We start talking about "the good old days". When journalists were real journalists, when newspapers were real watchdogs, conveniently forgetting massive failures of our press, and recent ones too. 

Is this a reason to dismiss the independence of our press as a failure? Of course not. But we can talk about how to make it better. And it starts with acknowledging, in the words of Billy Joel, that the good, old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems. 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Killing Newspapers Softly

Sitting at a coffee shop in Minneapolis, I glance at the newspaper stand stacked with USA Today and my adopted hometown's daily newspaper, the Star Tribune. I almost pull out my wallet to buy one, and then...


Who needs a paper when I can log on with my handy laptop? Which is exactly what I'm doing. I want more information about the violence in Mumbai, I surf around to a few online staples: the NYT, Wash Post, and blogs I check out. And the Star Tribune has a website too.


Coffee shops have always been the enclave of the reader. Parked in the corner with his or her espresso or tea (or in my case hot chocolate), they provide at once privacy and a social scene. Where we come together to be alone. Except now with wifi we're not alone anymore. We're emailing, posting comments, blogging in my case, posting pics, maybe even a few adventuresome folks are cutting up some audio or video for their own purposes. As the violence in Mumbai, India, however, drags on into day 3, I was struck by how meaningless the local daily paper is when international crises occur. The headline above the fold is "Mumbai hunts for survivors".

But I go to the New York Times online, and there's an interactive map, a photo gallery, analysis from reporters who've covered the region in depth. Before the world wide grid, the Star Tribune had a captive audience. People needed them to bring international and national news to their backyards. No more. I can now surf the world.


I have to give the Strib credit: they are still putting up a good face, doing what they've traditionally done. And by the way, the Strib has done some phenomenal work with their website on Minnesota issues. But it does beg the question for these legacy media outlets: how do they respond to these international crises? It's one thing when the bridge falls down in your background as it did in 2007, or when the Republicans come to town to nominate their presidential candidate, but what's your role as a statewide paper when the proverbial international shit hits the fan?


I'm not saying the Strib shouldn't have put the Mumbai headline on the paper. Its magnitude is too large to ignore. But what I would love to see is a sort of Miracle on 34th Street moment. Santa Claus, who is hired by Macy's to play Santa Claus, tells parents where they can get better deals at a competing department store, Gimball's (sp?).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Why Media Access Matters

I'm back in my adopted hometown Minneapolis for a holiday visit and have been listening to my former employer, KFAI. KFAI's model is volunteer-based and they've made it work. A lot of my German colleagues scoff at this - they have something called "open channels" in Germany that in my opinion is a system set up to fail - but I'm listening to Truth to Tell as I write, and the host and executive producer, Andy Driscoll, has marshalled his granddaughter, and her classmates to talk about racial integration in school.

The show is terrific. The young women, who are 7th graders, are talking to a teacher, a policymaker, and a student who interned for KFAI's Youth News Initiative. Nissan produced a very personal radio story about her experiences as the lone black student in a wealthy, white, suburban public high school. Out of all of the students I worked with during the program, Nissan's was my favorite.

What I find most moving about this program though is when the 7th graders ask the adults "what do we do about racism in the schools" or "how do we address this". And the adults, who are accomplished and educated, respond in Adult Speak. "This is a complex issue" and "That's a big question". For at least this hour on the airwaves, I as a listener got to see the world through the eyes of a 12 year old, and to hear them talk about these issues re-energized me. It also struck a chord because for some reason I decided to revisit J. Anthony Lukas' classic Common Ground, his detailed reportage of the forced busing to achieve "racial balance" in the Boston school district. The recent presidential election has created a period of hope for the moment, but let us not forget our previous policy blunders.

Without media access, we wouldn't hear from these young women. The way most broadcasters are set up, there would be no forum to look at the world through their eyes for awhile. But KFAI does. It's a small, clear bell in the cacophony of the media landscape.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Hero of Media Reform

I caught Lawrence Lessig on Charlie Rose before heading out for the Thanksgiving holiday, and was reminded of a great speech he gave in Minneapolis at the media reform conference this year. It's worth revisiting.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Online Incursions

I was sad to see KPBS bid farewell to its Citizen Voices project, but excited about what kind of results they'll find. I took the survey - and perhaps because I've just spent a quarter studying research methods in mass communication - was a bit disappointed at how they seemed to be measuring success. One of the questions on the survey was if you had changed your mind about who to vote for in the presidential election.

The implication is that the people who read the citizen blogs are seeking another portal with which to inform themselves to make decisions as members of a democratic society. And that's a fine thing to want to know - are the blogs useful to that end?

But there's another question that could be pursued: did the blogs stimulate discussion amongst you and your social network? I think this is one of the issues that public broadcasting is finding tough to measure: to what degree do people refer back to the content they hear/watch/read? And does public broadcasting play a role in stimulating civic engagement?

I hope more funding will become available for projects like this one at KPBS - and also that public stations will think about carving out some dollars to make space on their websites for participation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Big Media Covers New Media

Interesting tidbit from the New York Times: how citizen journalism projects are uncovering stories in different parts of the country. 

I'm a bit disappointed though - they tend to focus on the big venture capital invested projects like Voices of San Diego and MinnPost. (Minnpost by the way approached the Twin Cities Media Alliance, which I helped found in 2005, about a content sharing agreement before they rolled out. I left the board of directors shortly after the presentation, so I don't know what happened with the relationship.)

I wonder if these citizen journalism projects like what we started in the Twin Cities with a start up grant from the J-Lab Institute will go the way of neighborhood newsletters started by unions and immigrants in the United States. Forgotten except by a few academics are dig into their meaning. Maybe that's the nature of news media - the big ultimately subsume the small. The big wait for the small to experiment with ideas and then incorporate them. 

There's something a bit sad about it. Maybe it's because I'm rooting for the little guy. Because I like to see media from the bottom up. Not from former editors and publishers and reporters of the era of newspaper hegemony. Not from venture capitalists. 

But on the other hand, it is gratifying to see people willing to spend the dough on an unsure model. Because we don't know what the model of news production looks like - we just know that we need news and information. 

Why I Love Free Speech

I was reminded recently why I love free speech. Frequently, it's uncomfortable. I always seem to be in a state of agitation, yelling at the television set at some pundit, or deeply moved by a comment I hear on a radio program. My relationship with media is an emotional roller coaster. 

I was moved yet again when I got a strange note in my email inbox about a New York Times Special Edition. Imagine my surprise when I read the headline that the Iraq War was over. Huh? 

And then I looked a little more closely at who sent the email: it was from the Yes Men. (To truly experience their satirical gloriousness, I highly recommend the interview my hero Bill Moyers did with them last year, hyperlinked for your convenience.)

The New York Times spoof wasn't just done by the Yes Men. In fact, there's a degree of mystery about who all was involved, because, dang! Doesn't it really look like the New York Times?

We all flex our free speech muscles in some ways, mostly small ways. I recently attended a protest. And we all take for granted that we can say in public how much we hate this politician or that law and not get arrested. It's so every day that we don't even notice it! 

But these guys are heavyweight lifter, pushing the limits of our great 1st Amendment. I'd like to see a Constitution with a six pack. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Public Radio is on a roll!

Just when I thought I couldn't be more impressed with public radio with the announcement of hiring a former online operations guru from the New York Times to the Big Public Radio Sandbox in D.C., I get a note from one of the many list servs I am on.

The Public Radio News Directors Guide is born.

I remember when PRNDI first started working on this, and the Local News Initiative. This is the first tangible fruit of the labor.

One thing I like about it is the acknowledgement that public radio is poorly equipped to produce for the web. We don't have pictures! Or video. We're sound artists, and we have to be brought kicking and screaming into the brave new world. Well, some of us. 

The public media landscape ranges from stations doing a lot of experimentation (they tend to be stations with a lot of dough, though not always) and stations uncertain about making steps towards developing a digital roadmap that will generate revenue, bring in new listeners, and perhaps attract foundation funding. 

The other notorious aspect of public radio is the decentralization. On one hand, this is great. Localism is at the heart of radio. But it makes change across the public broadcasting system incredibly inefficient, and uneven. Some stations have very savvy fundraising and diverse revenue streams, like Minnesota Public Radio, in a large market. They can afford change. But other stations, perhaps in more rural areas, and where there is more need for innovation and change, can't. So that's why I'm glad to see a place online where we can be inspired by each other. 

It's nice to see a group of public radio heads come together to share best practices. All of us is stronger than one of us. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stop the Presses! Oh wait, this posting is about public radio

Vivian Schiller is moving from the New York Times to NPR. Holy cow. Talk about a sign of the times. 

Schiller ran online operations for the good ol' NYT - NPR announced her as the new CEO. 

If this seems inconsequential, consider the recent hire of Kinsey Wilson, former executive editor of USA Today, by NPR. Check out the interview with Forbes about upcoming changes to NPR and its relationship with affiliates when it comes to digital distribution. 

These hires are interesting on a couple different levels. One is the ability of NPR to attract big guns from commercial media. Rats fleeing the sinking ships of newspapers? I don't really think so, but I've said for a long time that public broadcasting represents a potential model of what might work in the digital age of news. It wouldn't be unheard of for digital media people to want to move to public broadcasting, which is still just testing its toes in the waters of digital media. NPR may also be in a position to offer more financially as well as a result of the Kroc Pot of Gold, but I don't know that for sure. 

The other level is the tone these two will set for the organization. NPR is not unlike other news organizations where veterans have balked at executive decisions to push eyeballs to the web, rather than ears to the radio. I've heard stories at newspapers where reporters refuse to file a piece when it's done, because they want it to come out in the paper first, then posted on the web. 

According to the Forbes interview with Wilson, those days are over. NPR is pushing digital distribution of their content. 

Well, I'm excited. Never a dull moment. Back to analyzing focus groups as a methodology. 

Europe is Color Blind, right? Riiiiiiiight.

I can't tell you how many times I've had arguments with Europeans about racism in America. As my ex-French boyfriend would point out, "We have laws against hate speech. You don't."

Poor example on his part. And let it be on the record I am a rabid 1st Amendment supporter, and that includes protecting the right to make bigoted comments. This makes me unpopular even in my own country. But I don't see the correlation between curbing speech and protecting the rights of minorities. I would point out that we have much stronger administrative laws in the U.S. about discriminating against people applying to rent an apartment, or buy a mortgage. Does racism still occur? Of course. But we have the rule of law to bend the arc a little closer to justice.


I wrote earlier about why I thought Obama would face more difficulty getting elected in Germany. I'm not alone in this view. I saw Chris Wallace from Fox News Sunday on the Daily Show, and he compared it to an Algerian getting elected as president of France. I agree with him. When a German party appoints a Muslim, or a German with Turkish roots, or a Jewish-German (yes, there are Jews living in Germany, quite a lot actually, and politically active) as chancellor, I don't think the American press would make the comments prominent European journalists and papers have made, even before Barack Obama got elected. In fact, I think the American press provided a measure of meritocracy when Angela Merkel became #1 of the Christian Democrats in 2005. It saddened me greatly to hear young German women talk both sides of the sexist coin: Frau Merkel either rose to the top because she "acted, or looked like a man" or because she submissively manipulated the mostly male party. Cheap shots at a clever politician.

But now, Europe, is revealing the racism they are so good at concealing in a recent Washington Post article.


"Integration" as its known in Europe is an increasingly sticky problem. The problem is this: most of the immigrants who come to western Europe are pretty socially conservative. The countries they emigrate to are socially liberal. So when conservative Muslims want to arrange marriages for their 14 year old daughters, there's a clash. And because they are nice, social welfare states, countries, such as Germany and Holland notably, have adopted a "transfer-heavy, service-light" model. That means the state puts money on a regular basis into bank accounts...but offers very few services to integrate immigrants into mainstream society. (Transfer-heavy, service-light is a political science term. I'm not smart enough to come up with this stuff.) While this means no one goes to bed hungry, it also means they haven't quite figured out a roadmap for immigrants to be economically productive, as well as socially secure straddling mostly white, Christian Europe and their own identities.


So they're afraid. Do we want to live in a society where we ignore the rights of 14 year old girls not to get married because we embrace "multiculturalism"? To what point do we respect the right of communities to live by their own cultural rules? This is what western Europe is grappling with at the moment, and is perhaps at the root of the comments made by prominent European journalists and policymakers.


Here's a taste of one of comments from the Washington Post article defending Europe:

"One cannot take reference in the least democratic politicians remarks which represent 1% of the european politicians. Stop taking sensational news at first level, look deeper and read more international news... the majority of European were looking forward to this election and celebrated with CHAMPAIGN even though this election was not theirs... but this may have been ommitted in the news... read deeper then condemn Europe."

The reader is right...but I think misses the point about the influence of the press and the leaders. The reason these remarks are disturbing is because they're being made by people who set the agenda, who hold prominence. The politicians may feel political repercussions...but who holds the press accountable?


I watched the European Cup at a former high school classmate's house in Germany this summer. As he watched the German National Team, he shook his head, and said, "This is probably the last time we'll see German names on the national team." (He's German by the way.)

I didn't press him - I was a guest in his home, and I didn't want to get into something that could erupt into unpleasantness.

But maybe I should have. Maybe that's what needs to happen in Europe: people who stand up and say, what the hell is a "German" name anyway. These conversations are probably happening already. And they're going to occur more frequently. Because like it or not, Europe is becoming more diverse. History will judge how well they handle the issues that arise, as it has judged the United States in the last 200 years. Let's just hope we learn from it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Digital Media Economy

I hear a lot of talk about the green collar economy. Training people as technicians to fix solar panels, wind turbines, other renewable energy sources. The government hiring researchers a la the Manhattan Project to think our way out of our dependence on oil and curb emissions.

But who's thinking our way out of the collapse of the media industry, which seems to hemorrage more jobs every month?

Conde Nast Publications announced a deal with Brightcove to start producing advertising-supported videos for the company's website. You've seen these already: the 15 second ads that play before a New York Times video starts, or my personal favorite: the Daily Show's website, which allows you to pick different segments of the show, gotta wait for the video ad first!


It's not suprising Conde Nast has waited this long. Its boutique publications (The New Yorker, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and so many others) caters to a hard copy audience. They have an older, higher income niche market, and dammit, they want their print!

But Conde Nast also got into reporting on the digital media business, publishing Wired. A new market for them. Still rich, but younger. In the Brightcove deal , Conde Nast is also expanding video options for, direct competition for People magazine. And don't forget, which rolled out in print in 2007. They are gunning after the already saturated business news market, competing with Bloomberg News, and of course, the Wall Street Journal.


The verdict is still out. Print ads still dominate the revenue for newspapers and magazines. And Conde Nast recently shed 5% of its workforce. But the fact that Conde Nast is teaming up with a video production group (who also by the way manage the New York Times video submissions from the public), indicates that the jobs are most certainly in production. And not only that, but it's a helluva lot easier for a print organization to hire out the production, than manage their own production crew on top of managing their writers and graphics folks.


The crossover between broadcast and print has been interesting to watch in my adopted hometown of Minneapolis. A multimedia producer for my adopted hometown's paper even wrote about it. I've never heard of a business like Brightcove at the local market level providing the multimedia services - dailies seem to be investing in hiring their own talent. They seem to think, unlike Conde Nast, that they can provide the content as well as the packaging just as well.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Proud Progressives...and Americans Too!

Very sad to lose Studs Terkel and John Leonard. It got me thinking about how the world perceives the United States. 


I spent all of last year in Germany, mostly in Berlin. I was saddened to see the limited vein with which Germans view the United States. Some German papers, like the Suedeutsche Zeitung, have relationships with the New York Times to reprint excerpts from the Sunday Times. On one hand this is great...but the New York Times does not reflect all of America. 


It's hard out there in the world to be an ambassador to the United States. But Studs Terkel and John Leonard made it easier for me. I would remind my German friends, as I am reminding the international students I meet here at Ohio University, that the United States has a great progressive tradition. In fact, it was born out of the failed revolutions of Europe! Russian Jews starting unions in sweatshops of New York City; Scandinavian farmers running as Socialist candidates in Minnesota and winning (until the labor unions and the Democrats sold them down the river)!; Mexican activists demanding public school access for children of migrant workers. 


These two grew out of that tradition. Studs Terkel listened to the diversity of Americans and transcribed their experiences. History is not written by kings and prime ministers - Studs Terkel made sure of that. 

And John Leonard holds a special place in my heart. I knew him best as a film critic for CBS Sunday Morning when Charles Kuralt was still the host. He firmly believed directors had a social obligation to the audience, and his prose cut like a scalpel. I later read him in the Nation magazine when my grandfather bought me a subscription (he called it protecting his investment.) 


Progressivism still lives vibrantly in the United States, even before this presidential election. Look at how American cities are defying federal immigration law, telling their police officers to not inquire about immigration status. Look at how mayors are signing off on green zoning policies (and in Portland, Oregon, have for a very long time.) And my personal favorite is when Somali mothers in my adopted hometown Minneapolis started their own parent advocacy group because they felt like their issues weren't being addressed by the school board. These stories aren't getting to the world audience about the United States. 

Studs Terkel and John Leonard wrote about these things, in different forms. Eloquently, powerfully. If you have room on your book list, check these two out. And if you're a young European who's worried about leftist values in the United States, let these two put your mind at rest. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Show me the money!

I was in WOUB's election HQ last night updating the results from Athens county. An exchange student from Germany, a young woman, made a remark about how the German election system is better. 

"We have 5 parties," she said, referring to the most addition of the Linke, or Left party. This populist group was catapulted onto the national German stage by winning over 5 percent of the vote in several state elections this year. 

Beside the fact the young woman has a simplistic understanding of western political science (ummm, are we really going to hold Italy's bajillion multi-party system as a model of democracy? They've had 50 different governments since 1945 and umm, Berlusconi....well, need I say more?), it was also clear to me she hasn't taken a very close view of how this particular American presidential election was won. 


Barack Obama outspent John McCain by opting out of the public financing system, a significant departure for a major party candidate. McCain, champion of campaign finance reform, stuck with the public money route. You could say Barack Obama beat the Republicans at their own game: the GOP is well known for their flush coffers from major donors and PACS. George W. Bush well outspent John Kerry in 2000, and even Al Gore too in 2000. Money talks, and money wins, as Barack Obama has proved yet again in this presidential election. 


Barack Obama's money came from a mix of lots of small donors and big ones. I think this is what non-Americans, especially our horrified democratic brothers and sisters across the pond, find so shocking: no limits. Let's take our German friend mentioned above. Her experience of political campaigns is that they are short, they are heavily regulated in their funding, and let's face it, German politics are pretty boring. No Barack Obama equivalent running for office in Germany. Not even a George W. Bush for that matter, although the CSU, the ultra conservative party, provides no end of amusement for Germany's liberal media - but they're not a major party in Germany either. 

There's no doubt in my mind that this election was not won on a level playing field when one candidate chose public financing and the other didn't. History shows us that every single president outspent his opponent. But we believe campaign donations are also a form of democracy - free speech if  you will. Obama not only proved his merit as a candidate on the issues: he also persuaded lots of people from diverse groups to give him money. That says more to the Democratic Party than anyone else, but it also shows a degree of civic engagement that does not exist in Germany. In fact, they are punished for it. 


One of the arguments I made against Germany's election system (where the party decides by a list who runs things, instead of directly electing a candidate) is that it limits minorities from participation. She of course adamantly denied this - Germans are sensitive about these things. But it could be worse for immigrants and minorities in Germany: they could be living in France

There's a great little book by Mely Kiyak, a Kurdish-Turkish-German, called 10 for Germany. Fuer die Deutschsprachigen das Buch heisst 10 fuer Deutschland: Gespraeche mit tuerkeistaemmigen Abgeordneten. It's a collection of interviews with politicians with Turkish roots in Germany. It's next to near impossible for minorities to get elected off the list within the parties in Germany - they have to be elected by mandate.  Like how we elect politicians in the U.S. - your name appears on the ballot. 

Kiyak provides one interview that I think is a classic example of what new Germans face when they choose to engage in the political process if they have a little initiative. One young gentleman ran with the Green Party for a local seat, he knocked door to door, and get this: he spent a few thousand euros of his own money to buy lawns signs and campaign literature. Sounds like a typical American campaign. 

He got into trouble. The Green Party slapped him on the wrist for violating campaign finance laws, which are quite strict in Germany. He won the election by quite a bit - surprise! Connecting with voters actually works. When he decided to run again, he fled the Greens and went to the FDP, the free market, libertarian party. What I love about this story is that the Greens hold themselves up as the party that defends the rights of immigrants and minorities (and I'll give them some credit - they thankfully changed Germany's racist citizenship laws in 2002 during the coalition government with the Social Democrats.)

If this guy ran in a local election in the U.S., at least where I'm from in Minnesota, he'd be courted to serve on boards of directors, courted by policymakers to work for them, or parties to run a race for office. But in Germany, this type of thing is frowned upon, nee, illegal! Barack Obama could not win in Germany, at least not at the speed which Obama has ascended to the presidency.


It's true: Europeans love him. The world loves him. They are enchanted with the cult of his personality, as some were by Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy. But I would argue that Obama benefits from a political system like the U.S. So this young German exchange student, who loves Obama, but hates our election system, is in a bit of quandary. Her European contemporaries think he's got it right on the issues - but what about how he got elected to office? If you're a true western European, you believe in public financing - and Obama doesn't. (Actually, I think he would argue that he used true public financing - by getting lots of small donations for his campaign.

But it's easy to love America, just as it's easy to hate America. It's a frustratingly complicated country. It's even hard for me as an American to understand the idiocy of policymaking, and yes, my fellow Americans. 

And yet I still believe the United States is the place for those who want a second chance. Or a third. Or a fourth. A place where the rule of law can devastate human rights, and then reinvent itself to create one of the freest societies on the planet. I suppose that's the great story of the presidential election: our ability as Americans to reinvent ourselves...and indeed, redeem ourselves. A lesson for the world to learn from, and a responsiblity we should not take lightly. 

Friday, October 31, 2008

KFAI Podcasts!

KFAI, my former employer in Minneapolis, will be podcasting its locally produced news program. Full disclosure: I was the News Director at KFAI (2001-2006).

The local news program (6pm-6:30, Mon-Thurs) was always considered the natural laboratory for podcasting at KFAI. The journey of podcasting at a community station I think provides important lessons for anyone working in independent public radio.

Lesson 1: Starting with news avoids -for the moment- the murky copyright laws governing streaming and archiving music online. KFAI archives its locally produced shows for up to 2 weeks. The local programming is mostly music, but there are locally produced public affairs programs like Catalyst and Northern Sun News that could be podcasted. And that's exactly what KFAI is doing.

Lesson 2: The move to podcasting developed over a long period of time. The station, which is a non profit, conducted a strategic plan in 2005, which I was a part of. At that point, podcasting was identified in a democratic process as a necessary move for the station. This was key for KFAI, which has community contributors since the station went on the air in 1978. There was an information gap, and strategic planning provided a venue to inform stakeholders about new technology and distribution platforms.

Lesson 3: Creating success to make the case for more podcasting! The idea is to show stakeholders that KFAI can increase its listenership through podcasting - and the all around consensus is that it will. And with that comes the potential for generating more revenue for the station. NPR has been working on the idea for the last few years.


Public broadcasting is somewhat insulated (though not by much) from the pressures of the market. The United States has a tradition of philanthropy, and luckily, we've got some rich folks out there who appear to love public broadcasting (like Joan Kroc of McDonald's money fame.) But there's no doubt that public broadcasters will have to look at moving more resources to distributing across mobile platforms (like iPods, like cell phones) rather than completely investing in their websites. And I will write more about how one ginormous station is banking on that later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008, or Crack to Feed My Addiction to Media Related Info

I just got turned on to's site. I think I died and went to heaven. You can see for yourself, but it aggregates articles about what's going on at newspapers (job cuts), upcoming votes at the FCC (November 4 for anyone who's interested) and general info on the topsy-turvy world that is media.

I knew about the Benton Foundation, but I didn't really know what it was for. It says they are about providing a public interest perspective in the digital media landscape or something like that. Fantabulous! I can't believe it took a funder of public broadcasting efforts to say what public broadcasters should have been saying for awhile. Let's take the mission to the web! Let's create access to information to people who have limited access! Let's give people the digital tools and media literacy they need to make successful choices as citizens! 

I must be channeling John Dewey tonight. 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Millennials Go A-Voting

Warning. This is not a posting about the media. But I can't seem to find a venue to post this hypothesis. 

I've been hunting around the web (because everything must be on the web!) about the impact of the millennial generation on this year's presidential election. The boomlet peaked in 1990 - and I believe the arithmetic means over 4 million 18 year olds could potentially head to the polls this year? And that's not counting the millennials who were born before 1990, the 19, 20, and 21 year olds who are also first time voters. 


I would suppose Barack Obama's campaign does. Doesn't he have super smart people working for him who think about this stuff?  When the kids do elect to exercise the franchise, they tend to vote Democratic. A couple political scientists have written a book about it - check it out. And some brains at USA Today broke down the demographics in a recent article that has nothing to do with the coming of age of the current boomlet and their impact on this election.

It seems this is like a perfect storm for Barack Obama's campaign: the convergence of not only an unpopular president, but of the GOP; bad economy, scratch that, make it depressingly grim economy; and a swell of first time voters who can't remember a life without Internet access, a computer, and the dull memory of a Facebook-less existence. Combine that with the Internet-savvy Obama campaign, and all Barack needs to do is get a good interior designer for his new digs.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The iReport Factor

I've been giving some more thought to the iReport - you know, unfiltered, unfettered postings on CNN's website (or some kind of affiliate site - it doesn't really look like CNN's site.)

This changes the name of the game. If CNN pulls this off, they will have altered the labor formula for producing content. But is it news? 

There is probably some form of news lurking in there. But I'm wondering if iReport is now getting in the business of just producing CONTENT as opposed to NEWS CONTENT. Is that the new world of information? We don't distinguish between news and other forms of content? 

For some reason, this is twisting my brain around. I have figured out the significance of it though. By creating a space for unedited content production, CNN has attached its brand to citizen journalism. That means it can use its primary platform - television - to push people to this website, contribute more content, and generate more revenue potentially. 

Must think about this some more. I feel like my sense of the universe has fundamentally altered. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

iReport: i can't believe it!

Fade up the theme music to 2001: A Space Odyssey. 

CNN is posting unfettered, unedited, unfiltered user-generated content on its iReport site. This is the first time I've seen a major news organization reach this far into the scary underbelly of participatory journalism. Sure, news sites solicit video and pics from cell phones, but they get edited and vetted. This is the unadulterated stuff. 

What can I say: this is bold. And what does it mean for the broadcast journalism profession when people are doing this stuff for free? This raises a lot of questions, opens the door into the Great Terrifying Unknown. Either this project will die a miserable death - or will it transform journalism. It will reveal our incredible potential as humans to connect with one another in a meaningful way - or it will expose our inability to show individual responsibility for information production. 

It is a new world. I hope we'll be brave about how we exercise our power within it. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Bottleneck: Curse of Public Broadcasting

Someday I'm going to make a movie riffing Pirates of the Caribbean, only it will feature Radical Public Broadcasting News Managers terrorizing the Tired Befuddled Ancients to get them to put more content on their website.

I've figured out the problem: it's the bottleneck. WOUB has tons of content being produced by students - they're just not being posted to the website. Instead, the Athens Midday instructor, Mary Rogus, has them posting to a blogger account. Go to to check it out.

Google has figured out what public broadcasters haven't, or at least WOUB: using web-based platforms like Blogger to support content. Now, Athens Midday is somewhat restricted in that the links to the videos are supported by WOUB's server, BUT it's still a huge advantage over having students tied to the old newsroom model and waiting for the editor to post material. Here they can post it, Mary edits it, and then gives it the green light, and voila! It's up!

When I talked to Mary recently, she was a bit perplexed about why I would want my material on WOUB's site. She said something about overcoming barriers, and she's right. And she's found a way to bypass the bottleneck by just getting a new bottle.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

News Blues

Maybe it's the changing weather maybe it's post traumatic stress disorder after the week of financial havoc around the world, but I've been feeling a bit blue about my profession. 

I know, nothing new. Major job losses at newspapers. Shrinking revenue streams for traditional news outlets, print and broadcast, and no clear answer as to the future. Actually, Bill Kling, mastermind of how to make a lot of money from a non profit, and public broadcasting empire, articulated it quite well in his keynote to this year's batch of grant winners for innovations in journalism. 

No, I think my blueness is more about the disappointment of the once bright promise of the web. I suppose this happens with new technologies. You see the enormous potential, the possibility of a new society! Call me naive, but the possibility of a fairer world. I think of Francis Ford Coppola, who's great wish for the future of filmmaking was that some fat, 1o year old girl would be able to take a portable camera and make a beautiful movie without huge Hollywood budgets, without crews, without the crushing EGOS that goes along with making a movie. (If you I think I'm inferring that there are crushing egos in're right! Gold star.)

That was my great wish for the web, and to some extent it's happening. But I see large companies appropiating ideas, using citizen journalists as excuses to cut staff, and continuing their same business practices. And you know what? They can. There's no law requiring thoughtful, responsible stewardship of information. (I find it amusing how reporters are decrying the loss of information and complain about the lack of restraint of citizen journalists and bloggers, but cry foul when they get criticized.)

I had hoped for a Copernican style revolution. One where our fundamental assumptions about our place in the media landscape changed irrevocably. Down was up, up was left, right was wherever. A revolution that opened the gateway to another Enlightenment period, perhaps. 

But the Enlightenment also went hand in hand with mercantilism and the foundation of economic practices that gave birth to capitalism. And that freaked out the princes and the Church that you had a more mobile, and flexible class system questioning the existing power structure. I think that's what we're seeing: the Internet has allowed us to reframe our media consumption - and production!- to question the power of the traditional structure of news industries. 

My real fear is that web-based news is going to create a more elite class of content producers, and this will divide us even more so, from the criticism of the right that the news media is biased to the left, to the criticism from the left that news media isn't responsive to the needs of citizens (and residents too for that don't have to be a citizen to be affected by issues!)

But we're also not far off where we could shoot and edit a film on our cell phones. So maybe my blueness means I'm not thinking straight. 

Or maybe I don't understand what's happening in this industry, and I wouldn't behave differently if I were in charge. And that really gives me the blues. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Thoughtful Pushback

I've been spending a lot of time in an office at WOUB, the NPR/PBS affiliate in Athens, Ohio. There's a guy there about the same age as my dad, and somehow he manages to hold what I would describe as traditional values about the need for thoughtfulness in the media, the media as an educational resource, the need for media to provide information stewardship.

At the same time he also "gets" the web. He sees the complex issues facing not only public broadcasting, where he works, but the media industry in general.

At the moment, he says he's been pushing back a bit on how to use new media for WOUB. Is that the role WOUB is supposed to play? An online resource for local news? A place for web 2.0 experiments? These are fundamental, existential questions about the place public broadcasting websites play in the media landscapes ought to play in the media landscape. And the fear is that the decisions made now could lead to disaster in the future. But at the same time, not to act seems like it leads to slow, painful death.

I just can't believe that public broadcasting is incapable of innovating for the new media world. Not only that, I can't believe that the people who love it, who work in it, will let it flicker before burning out forever. It makes me wonder who is going to chart the future of public broadcasting in the digital world? I think those people are out there, but I'm worried that because of the inherent conservatism of public broadcasting, it will just be slow to change at a time when boldness is required.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What DO journalists do anymore?

Journalists do a lot of things these days. They blog. They shoot video. They collaborate on multimedia projects. They track what other journalists are doing in this age of continuous news.

And academic Jay Rosen says some of them are doing more in his book "What do Journalists Do?" which I recently picked up. It's about the public journalism trend in the early to mid 90's. Very controversial.

The journalists he describes not only cover city hall meetings and investigate corruption, they start non profits, and hold BBQ's, and ask reporters in their newsroom to read John Dewey and Alexis de Tocqueville. Public journalism!

A lot of these efforts fizzled out, although I recently came across some research in a journalism studies journal identifying a few places that still profess to practice public journalism. But in a lot of ways, the web's impact on news organizations has forced them to practice another type of public journalism, participatory journalism. You can see that with iReport on CNN; you can see it on news sites that feature blogs by their reporters and by vetted community members.

This is the battle being fought in professional newsrooms across the country: those who want to preserve the traditional role of the journalist, and those who are curious and want to see where interactivity and participation will lead. As my colleague Art Hughes, formerly a reporter at Minnesota Public Radio, is fond of saying, "There's a room for both."

I agree with him. But the question I would pose - do we need both? That's a different question from, can online journalism pay for itself, but I'm more interested in the existential rather than practical question. But it's a question that Jay Rosen is exploring with his current project, Only time will tell.

Monday, September 22, 2008 Woes

Do public broadcasters need to invest in their websites?

That is the question. At the moment many of them use Public Interactive, which provides a template allowing NPR affiliates to easily update content from the mothership in D.C. But why would I go to my local station's website for news from NPR when I could to It's great for NPR to have it's site linked to an affiliate but what good does it do the affiliate?

Which leads me to my conclusion: affiliates would invest more in creating local content, information, ideas, discussions about the geographic area it serves (although you could argue that through the power of the internet every station really could serve the whole world! That's another blog posting.)

This is not happening at WOUB in Athens, Ohio, though they produce quite a bit of local news and information for their television and radio channels. The copy and video get posted to the website, but no original content specifically produced for the site. So southeastern Ohio has several key races, and get this, WOUB-TV is the only station serving 40 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, and there is no information on their site about these races.

I know, I know. Public broadcasters don't have the resources. They don't have the people power. They're already keeping body and soul together with declining budgets, and desperate pledge drives begging for money. And yet, I beg to differ. WOUB is licensed through Ohio University. As far as I'm concerned, they have a built in labor force of students. So why wouldn't they harness that?

Well, they already do. But as someone at WOUB pointed out to me, they have a well-oiled training machine for television and radio. And it's somewhat of a struggle to maintain the content for TV and radio with the revolving door of students coming in and out. But I don't think it would take that many students to create original content for the web. I went through the training program at WOUB, and during a lull we talked about what we were interested, what we wanted to do. As soon as I said wanting to produce original content for the web, it was like a bomb went off. Even the trainer, a sophomore at Ohio U, said something about the website being "nonexistent". (He was more charitable about the website than I was.)

So you have young people who understand the web, who want to do it. They just need to be organized.

I fear this is a theme throughout public broadcasting, a theme I would call lack of leadership. In some places I could understand where investing in the website makes little sense. Rural areas have limited technological infrastructures or low rates of Internet access that make it silly. But Ohio University has an extensive alumni network around the world who connect with the university through WOUB. Here's this for an idea: how about creating a portal on WOUB's website that would allow alumni to post material? Through a smart membership drive, I bet you could hit up those folks for contributions and make the case that WOUB is serving alumni around the world, as well as the community in Athens.

Every station has to determine its own course in this brave, new digital world. But to say as part of your mission to is train students, and not provide the ability to create original content, even at a public broadcaster, is shortsighted.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Kumbaya Print and Online

I guess they must like me, because I got invited to a Bild party last night. Oh my! Bild girls, corporate execs, and the hundreds of grunts who churn out information for both print and online. Print folks got a button that said "Kiss me, I'm Print" and online "Kiss Me, I'm Online".

Let the healing begin. Apparently, this was the first attempt to socialize print and online departments. As Stefan, who just started working in the video section 6 weeks ago said, "This would have been unthinkable a year ago."

So what's changed? Things have settled down after the big office move; the ship is gliding into the waters of digital nirvana which are not as choppy as many thought; and oh yeah, the bosses say if you don't like it, you can go somewhere else.

But here is one trend I have noticed, well, a couple, I took away from last night. One is hopeful that it could mean a change in the content of the trashy, splashy, unabashedly provocative and political Bild; the other fears a backlash. So here is trend numero uno:

The Bild has hired a bunch of young people who have either worked at small web designer companies or alternative online products. I talked to Thomas quite a bit last night - terribly interested in how the web is being used to distribute information. Clearly a guy with an eye towards the public interest. Needs to pay his rent - so he applied for a job at Bild Digital. He wants to go to Paris to shoot in the fall, is skeptical however that Bild will get him accredited and all that. He says he'll do it anyway - and this is the thing that makes me hopeful - the change going on with the website makes it possible. It gives people like Thomas, a guy with ideas and vision and a conscience, the opportunity to pursue his passion. And as long people are clicking away on, I don't think the execs really care.

The young folks are quite critical of Bild - surprisingly open about it, too. But on the flip side of them you have what I fear may be the backlash: the ex-public broadcasting folks wooed to Springer, I guess with better pay, because I don't think the working conditions are that great with the constant pressure. These guys are very cynical about public broadcasting, the politics of the fee structure used to support it (Stefan told me last night it was a "hidden tax") and the cozy relations between politicians and public broadcasting. You have a group of former public broadcasters who are pretty pissed, and could check the youthful idealism of the younger webbies (the ex-public broadcasters are late 30's, early 40's.)

What to make of all of this? I suppose it's the reason for the party. How do you get these people to work together? I haven't mentioned the old, crusty print guys either - Elmar was quite poetic when I talked to him. An inspiration.

Management understands for this integration to work, to "harmonize" (that's the official corporate speak in the memos), everyone has to get along. I'm rather amazed that things run as smoothly as they do. Sure, there are some kinks (see below), but they got the money to figure it out and apparently the power. Everyone tells me it all comes from Diekmann (Kai Diekmann is some high up executive. Imagine a Sulzberger, or a Graham, or a Murdoch.)

I suspect more parties are coming. And perhaps a button that reads "I bat for both teams."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Working Out the Kinks

The Springer Machine moved its headquarters to Berlin late last year (2007). In those months, the company has been pouring resources into their online department, in particular video.

Because it is such a massive publishing factory of information, it has 3, count them 3, video departments: ASDTV, and It's set up this way so they compete with each other, according to Stefan Tappert, one of the top editors in the video department of ( I guess that means they have 4, count them 4, separate video departments. Whew!) Obviously a sign that Springer is figuring out how to integrate video on the web for its myriad newspapers and magazines. (Springer owns tabloids in Poland as well as niche publications like Bild Frau, for women. I could list all of them but sufficed to say, it's a long list.)

I've noticed a few kinks in the couple days I've been in the division.

So let's go down the line.

Kink #1: Access to Video

Bild has an account with the Associated Press Archive, but it had never attempted to access its video archive until they needed it for a Bush piece (he had dinner with Chancellor Merkel Tuesday evening on his final European tour as president). After an hour or two, poor Sylvia (who I had been shadowing) ended up going with photos googled and youtubed (or geklaut, or stolen as one of the video editors termed it.)

Bild of course doesn't have its own video archive - traditionally a newspaper, not a broadcaster. Clearly an issue for them, but it's a small kink and they will work it out.

Kink #2: Uninformed Video Editors

Sylvia is a video editor - no journalism training. Sure, everything goes by Daniel and Stefan, the heads of the department. She wondered why they needed the Bush piece. I told her because Bush was coming to Germany for his final tour. She didn't believe me, knew nothing about it (it had been on the front page of all the German newspapers, that's how I knew.) That's a problem. Which leads me to the next kink, which I think is part of the problem why Sylvia didn't know Bush was coming to town.

Kink #3: Poor Communication

Part of me wants to blame the passive aggressive German psyche (I do so love to harp on the deep, dark night of the German soul), but in this case I think it's a factor of the managers (Daniel, Stefan) under constant pressure to churn out content for the website. Sylvia told me it's not unusual for her to splice together 4 videos in a shift.

Another person writes the text - I find this odd. Which leads me to the next kink.

Kink #4: Lack of Teamwork

The video section hasn't quite figured out how to effectively combine the video editors with the information side. So you have a reporter or an editor writing text without knowing if there are any pictures, still or moving, to go along with it. I'm not trained in TV, but in radio it's usually a pretty good idea to know what audio you have to work with.

On the flip side there are things that are amazing about this video department, and when you think about the potential this organization has to mobilize its resources, it's like being on the front lines of a world war, or an invasion (and it is war, Bild is gunning for Der Spiegel Online's impressive advertising revenue and ability to draw traffic). They're doing tedious, grunt work, digging the trenches, holding the line.

And the goal you might ask? Well, maybe you won't, because it's obvious, but the goal is always to generate more clicks, more eyeballs, which translates into more revenue coming from advertisers. So the video I worked on yesterday (click on the Truck Weitsprung updated at 11.06.08 at 17.26 Uhr) was produced to do exactly that: get people to hit the site and play the video.

Stefan shows me the stats (they check them at 11:40 and again at 4:40, the peak times.) He also tells me that the video player link on the front page of used to be at the bottom of the page - now it's further. As soon as they did that, he said, they started generating more clicks. If you build it, they will come. If you put it up top, they will click. So simple.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Showing Off the Bild Digital

Manfred, head of Bild Digital, was showing off the Video Department today to a couple guys from BMW. (BMW is giving a presentation this evening.) He kept saying "Das ist die Zukunft" and the BMW suits kept nodding, and smiling, rocking out to whatever cheesy pop bed of music was playing under the graphics.

Some things are changing...but rich guys in suits will always stay the same.

Bild: and covering the European Cup

If you live in Europe, or if you are a diehard soccer fan in the US, you know the European Cup is gripping everyone’s emotions. A good opportunity to talk about how the Bild, and other news outlets are using multimedia to generate clicks on their website.

This is an interesting case study, because of course the realm of major sporting events belongs to TV. Multimillion dollar exclusive contracts signed to networks in the US – like NBC to broadcast the Olympics or in the case of Germany, host of the mammoth 2006 World Cup, negotiating between public and private broadcasters.

Private media outlets, like the Bild, are of course interested in figuring out how their website can generate revenue. The pursuit of the goose that lays the golden eggs. The print version of the Bild is still the economic engine, but last week, the deputy of Bild Digital’s head dude, came down to congratulate everyone on a record 70 million hits on within the last month.

‘Congratulations,’ he told the online staff, ‘and keep it up.’ Lucky the European Cup is going on. It’s the perfect time for the Bild to cultivate online habits of their users.

If you look at their website, what’s interesting is how they keep it to an archive of the past game. So last night, the Germans not surprisingly beat Poland. The Bild’s website incorporated brief video clips, not much more than a minute, embedded with the article.

It’s done in very Bild style, with the bolded text, short sentences, but it uses video to maximize what the Bild already does: simplifying information in a very short space to make it easy for the user to digest. Only now it’s on the web.

I can’t see soccer fans replacing the television with their computers. The same way I can’t see Americans giving up the tradition of sitting around a wide screen TV with friends and family to watch the Super Bowl or the World Series. But I was impressed by the outdoor rig set up by a group in Kreuzberg. They had set up their wifi computer, connected it to a machine that displayed the images on an overhead projector and sat in their garden, grilling, drinking beer, playing a little music in the background. In much the same way that portable radios allowed people to take their media with them, that might be the wave of the future...and it might pose some competition to television broadcasters.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Digression, Brief

Stepping outside of my experience at the Bild newspaper: had the unfortunate experience of reading a headline from the Tageszeitung. If you don't speak German, yes, it is what it looks like.

The paper called the White House Uncle Barack's Cabin, a reference to Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin". It's generated much discussion in the blogosphere.

I'll just say upfront I am disappointed in the Tageszeitung. And not even because I think they are abandoning their liberal/left credentials. It's the hypocrisy. Germany doesn't get American sensitivity to race. They think we're racist, they think we're backwards. The other side of it is they think we're too politically correct. But most Germans don't know black Americans, and most Germans live in a homogenous society. And yes, Germany is still very homogenous, despite enormous growth of immigrant communities, they still lag behind the US. The largest minority, Turkish migrants, runs at about 10 percent. And most of them are unseen outside of the country's metropoli (though on my last visit to my hometown, Pohl-Göns, where I grew up in Hessen, I saw a huge Turkish wedding take place. PG is a tiny, conservative village. I bumped into a former neighbor of ours who talked about 'the coloreds' moving into town. He seemed resigned that the Germany he knew, a mostly white, Christian Germany, was gone.)

Even if communities of color were a significant part of the German landscape, the history is still different. Turks, or recent African immigrants, or Russians were not brought to this country in chains, enslaved, tortured, exploited. They were compensated for their labor at the very least. We have never paid our national debt to progeny of those who were a part of building America, who suffered great injustice and indignity, and who died in American wars for a country that didn't even recognize them as a human being.

I don't think the German press would like it if a Jewish chancellor (how awesome would that be?) were elected in Germany and an American paper ran headline that read "There's a new Führer in town" above an image of the Reichstag. These things are sensitive.

So I'm disappointed in the taz because they claim to be small, they claim to have a conscience, and then they publish something that implies Barack Obama is a sell out to the white establishment. That his achievement as an African American running for president is the result of catering to white sensibilities. There is certainly a place to have that discussion - his ability to attract white voters, Latino voters, etc - but to play on the darkest period of American history - from 1776 until 1863 when slavery stained the fabric of this new experiement - spits in the eye of Senator Obama's campaign. It also sadly shows to me that Germans, even on the left, have a long way to go when it comes to being sensitive about living in society that is the majestic colorful tapestry of the United States.

It also another reminder to me that the American Left hero worships European liberalism (liberalism in the American sense!) without truly understanding the lack of depth missing in German intelligentsia about the United States. American Studies departments are growing in Germany - I think this is a great indication that Germans are curious about the US (I wish more Americans returned the curiousity!) But the same way Germans would like to see more American sensitivity to their issues, the press, as agenda setters, need to scrutinize their own insensitivity - and perhaps learn something that will improve integration in Germany?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bild: The Will and the Money

I opted to do a later shift Friday. I had talked to Alex, from the 16th floor, about shadowing him. He's in the print section, and one of the many who are learning how to use the software to build web pages. I asked him if he had volunteered or if the department told him he had to do it. The order came from above, although he did say that he wanted to learn it, he just wasn't planning on doing it at this time.

Too me it's interesting to see how a clear office structure is set up, in this case, top down. I haven't figured out who is a permanent full time employee and who is a stringer, or temporary, hourly worker. In public broadcasting if you're Festangestellte as the Germans call it, it's almost impossible to be removed. I don't think the online folks are permanent - I think they're contract, but I will have to look into that.

I don't sense a certain fear in the online department. Everyone is quite collegial and chatty and focused on getting the work done. The will to change course of this massive publishing ship is internalized in every editor in the online department. And most importantly, which I think a lot of people forget, the organization has pumped money into creating a space and providing the tools so that they can do the work.

It sounds simple, perhaps even simplistic. But it got me thinking that perhaps the reason public broadcasting in the US is slow to change is because they see they don't have the tools to pull off a comprehensive content shift to online. In this case, money is key and might even open the door to the will to change things.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Attended a larger editorial meeting on Wednesday. All the print people sit at their terminals in a circle while the online team surrounds them in an outer ring. It reminded me of how traditional elections are held in Switzerland where the men stand in a circle with their swords (1 sword, 1 vote), while the women stand silently looking on, excluded.

Inge tells me the goal is to merge online with print. The latest drama is requiring print to spend a 2 week internship in the online department to learn how to use the system (CMS) to build their own stories onto the website. At the moment, the online department is taking stories from the print side and reconfiguring them for the website, adding video and galleries where appropriate.
I told Inge this is what I refer to as putting lipstick on a pig in English. She tells me the goal in the end is that the online department develops its own content, independent of what’s printed in the paper, though this is certainly years down the road. She even laughs and says "Maybe in 10 years?!" But the print staff is much older, while the online department is quite young. At the editorial meeting there were suits and bowties. The online department is dominated by jeans, and loose t-shirts, a few of the young women careless about bra straps showing. It’s clearly a divide.

But what I’m impressed by is they are even taking steps forward to integrate with print and online, however painful it may be. At RBB and Deutsche Welle TV (both public broadcasters), the online team never contributed anything at the editorial meetings. In fact, at Deutsche Welle, I think the online team is relegated to the basement in some confined space where they just update the video on the a regular basis and make sure the live streams are working. And when Deutsche Welle debuted a new program about globalization, there wasn't even a web page built for viewers to log onto. I'm not even going to tell you what the annual budget of Deutsche Welle is, but even at my little community station, KFAI in Minneapolis, where we don't even have an online department (annual budget: 1.3 million dollars) we made sure the website was updated with a page about new content. So to say that German public broadcasting is oh, like, back in the 90's when it comes to web content would even be charitable. More like, they're acting as though the Internet doesn't even exist.

So the question is how will large news outlets, like the Bild, organize their staff to compete online not only for readers, but now listeners and viewers with the ability to post photo galleries and videos and podcasts. It’s clear they are taking the initiative, while German public broadcasting is remaining stagnant.

This is why I'm excited to start the MA in Public Broadcasting Management at Ohio University in the fall. There is such a gap in what commercial media is doing and public broadcasting. Yeah, I can hear the champions of German public broadcasting ( I would even count myself one of them) talking about how their content is so much better and they do news in the public interest...but what about their responsibility to cultivate a new generation of educated citizens? What about their responsibility to the public interest by providing information on all channels? And to pull this snobby "our content is so much better, that will keep people coming back" is weak. I love public broadcasting, and I still go to the web first. I listen to the radio and watch television, but I'm using it in tandem with my computer. That's how PBS keeps me coming back. That's how Bild keeps people coming back to their site, and getting more unique clicks. A lesson for German public broadcasters to take note of.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Bild: From the Top, All the Way Down

You really know who's running things when the phone rings, and someone says "I want a story about how inflation is hurting the German pocketbook."

I was sitting on the newsdesk with Inge (remember Inge? Caught in the middle of integrating the print people with online?) She's one of the online editors. A hard worker. Reworking copy from the wire services. Knows the system inside an out. Answers all my questions.

I do a little research for her. I find an IMF study about inflation in Germany to provide what we in journalism like to call context.

This isn't useful, she says. She needs to write about how inflation is hurting the German consumer. Period. She's going off some study by a guy who says the consumer price index tally of 3 percent doesn't reflect "the feeling" of true inflation, which he adjusts at over 12 percent.

The purpose of this blog is not to write about the news values of the Bild. But I want to add a small comment about how the web as a powerful tool.

The reason its such a powerful tool for Bild is because they've spent decades building their brand. Unlike myself who intermittently blogs and has no audience. The ability of a higher up to make a phone call and tell the minion to distribute something, the veracity of which is dubious, is nothing new. But she did it in about 15 minutes.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the power structures are still the same. We can talk about the Internet and how it makes us more hysterical, and less community minded. But the truth is, there will always be people who abuse the medium. There always HAVE been people who abuse the medium. We call it propaganda. Only now it's faster and further reaching.

I meditating on some thoughts I have about the potential there is at the Bild to change core values because of competition from online news outlets. More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Bild: Tag 1 (Day 1)

Bad omen: they forgot I was coming. And the lady who set the whole thing up...on vacation until June 10. It must be nice to take 12 day vacations.

But they very graciously fetched me and brought me upstairs. It turned out 2 of the 3 big time editors were also on vacation, and the third hadn't arrived yet (it was 9am). It must be nice to wander into the offices of Europe's largest distribution newspaper sometime later in the morning.

Daniel soon shepherds me. He talks very fast, very authoritatively and it isn't long before he's stopped by a tall, slender woman ( I later learn her name is Inge - more to come on her later). There's trouble brewing, according to her.

Here's the thing: Bild just moved their headquarters to Berlin (formerly had been in Hamburg, media capital.) But Berlin is symbolic, especially for the Axel Springer publishing house. Springer put his building defiantly facing East Berlin. The publications are committed to a few basic principles: a unified Germany, support Israel, a unified Europe, embrace a free market economy, and reject all forms of political extremism.

You might say they have an agenda. In fact, they set the agenda for Germany on several occasions.

But the Bild, and all of its other publications are facing what every printed publication is facing: fewer readers. More folks are going to the web. They've started pumping millions into their online departments. And they're in the process of integrating the print department with the online department.

There's trouble brewing.

Inge in short order informs Daniel that a print guy doesn't want to take part in a session on how to build a web page. Bild Digital has a slick computer system - and its awesome, I want one to play with - where they can build a web page using a template that allows to upload, video, audio, photo galleries, surveys (what they call mini-voting). It's incredibly efficient (what else would we expect from a German media outlet?)

Some of the print guys don't want to learn - they want to turn it over to the online folks. But that's not a very efficient use of resources - Bild wants to free up bodies to generate more original content for the website rather than dedicating resources to reformatting the print content for the website. In short, they want the print reporters to do more work. Capitalism is such a cliche.

Daniel's job is to integrate online with the print department. He's organizing all these seminars. And he tells Inge they have to learn it. Period. That's the order from up high. And it will happen. But he points out they don't have to learn video, they don't have to shoot footage. What they're being asked to do is quite minimum.

They go back and forth. I can tell Daniel is a pit bull. Inge gives up after all, but tells him she's caught in the middle. I feel bad for her - she's on the front lines of the battle to change internalized practices. Short of dragging the print people to the 3rd floor (the print department is on the 16th floor) there's not much anyone can do.

But this is classic. I've heard stories like these before. Tension between online and print. Fear of being asked to do more with fewer resources. Fear that journalism is going to be sacrificed. (This is not much of a concern for the Bild.) But clearly a fear of change.

20 Days at the Bild

The Bild. The mere mention of the Bild in Germany immediately causes eyes to roll into the back of heads, tongue clucking, and an exasperated sigh.

"You're doing an internship at the Bild?"

My poor German friends. It's not their fault they live in a digital wasteland of poorly constructed news websites, no comprehensive blogosphere, and fat, lazy public broadcasters with too many employees, too much money and not enough ideas.

For my American buddies: the Bild is a tabloid newspaper. It's about as trashy as you can get. Barebreasted women tease readers with dull, stupid stares. 24 size font headlines scream catastrophe and doom for the German consumer. To which my American friends may ask:

"You're doing an internship at the Bild?"

To be more specific, I'm doing an internship at Bild Digital, the online department. (By the way, if you want to know why everyone has health insurance in Germany, it's because if you want to do anything in this social welfare state, you have to show proof of health insurance, even for crummy, unpaid internships at sleazy tabloids.)

So for the next month, I am going to blog about what I see there. A modern day Guenther Wallraff if you will. Well, not quite. I'm there under my own name. But I'm hoping it will provide some insight as to how a large news outlet is steaming ahead, pouring resources into online and integrating its bread and butter - the publication - with the digital frontier.