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.