Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Don't Knock Government Subsidies, Mr. Sweeney!

I was fortunate enough to attend the Future of News in the flesh last Monday (rather than the 1600 online souls who tweeted and posted comments through an online forum). The scrum that ensued between the Star Tribune with Mike Sweeney and Nancy Barnes on one side and Minnesota Public Radio's head news honcho Chris Worthington on the other was fun to watch.

But I was a bit dismayed at Mr. Sweeney's editorial, which ran in the Strib, lambasting government support for journalism, such as Minnesota's Cultural and Heritage Legacy Amendment which is going to put over $5 million over the next two years into the state's public broadcasters, including TPT, Minnesota's PBS affiliate and the 12 stations that make up the Association of Minnesota's Public and Educational Radio Stations (AMPERS).

Here's the thing: it's not technically "government" support. It's taxpayer support: the money is coming from three eighths of a sales tax that goes into a fund to public media. Like the BBC, the government collects the money, and then it gets sent on to the private, non for profit entities who decide independently, without government interference what to spend it on. I do admit that there is a potential for stations to produce what they think the government wants to keep the money coming in - in that regard, Mr. Sweeney's objections are totally valid. But it's the same issue for commercial media: for all of commercial media's insistence that there are robust firewalls between advertisers and editorial, let's not kid ourselves.

Also, newspapers are under the gun to produce content that generates revenue. The profit margins that supported content in the public interest are over (and indeed some would argue, those reporters often had to fight with their newspapers and television networks to get the support). So are we to expect benevolent sponsors and advertisers to fund reporting that investigates the comfortable and the powerful?

My point is it's not all or nothing. Because public media is getting additional support, doesn't mean they are avoiding covering the government, in the same way that I suspect newspapers will continue to try as much as they can afford to investigate wayward companies who advertise in their pages. What is important to remember is that there is room for both, and in fact, I would argue desirable. The newspapers can keep an eye on the government - and public media can keep an eye on the corporate advertisers who -dare I say it?- subsidize newspaper journalism.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Insurance Debate: Excuse Me While I Let Out a Wheezy Sigh

Wow. Just when I thought broadcast news couldn't get any worse, it sinks to a whole, deeper, scummier, darker level. I say broadcast news, but the newspapers are just as bad. If I read one more poll from USA Today or NBC News, I might be forced to take direct action.

I thought the media, and the news media in particular had a public interest obligation. That's what I always hear the print dinosaurs whining about whenever I read yet another cliche about being an ink-stained wretch who wanted to give people the information they needed to function in a democracy. Ummm, apparently those days are over.

The coverage has turned into a window on the bizarre, and yes, I even admit, entertaining, match between the psycho anti-reform folks and the remarkably inarticulate, ill-informed elected Democrats who can't seem to answer the most basic questions about the proposals on the table. (I believe there are 5 - that's what PBS told me, and they are the most trusted news source in America, believe it or not.)

So I was quite gratified when My Man, Bill Moyers brought in his old buddy, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and another guy to talk about how the media is covering this. But it got me thinking how hard it is for media outlets to make rational, thoughtful news decisions - in this case, broadcasting over and over again the marginal crazies who scream out questions and won't wait for an answer (and lest I am unclear, I am including the single payer folks in this. They are behaving in some cases equally shamefully.)

The toughest part, and I speak from personal experience, about being a journalist is standing by your work. It's even tougher when your organization abandons you (like Sulzberger abandoned Judy Miller, like CBS abandoned Dan Rather). It's tough to stand alone. But if two news people come together to tell the status quo that the news media is covering this "discussion" to the detriment of the public interest, then they're not alone anymore. If we all had a little courage to voice the absurdities of this most recent exercise in news insanity, then maybe we wouldn't be alone anymore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Congress may be in summer recess, but the goliaths of commercial broadcasting interests are settling in for more battles in the debate over the Performance Rights Act.

In a nutshell: the Recording Industry Artists Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, formerly allies in the fight against "illegal" downloads of music, are fighting over the remaining crumbs of profit left from the broken business model of commercial radio.

The fight is really nothing new. RIAA has been agitating for performance royalties from commercial radio since forever. But what's relevant is that NAB is now feeling the pain of legislation is lobbied for to kill online streaming (and which RIAA was happy to endorse as well) to keep listeners tuned in over the air.

RIAA is now seeing their members, performers, are better served by a different compensation model. One that targets the multiple platforms where music is being consumed, such as iPods, laptops, mp3 players and so on. I listen to all my music on my laptop, hooked up to speakers that I downloaded from iTunes. I maybe buy 3 CD's in a year; I bought 10 albums on iTunes.

Time for NAB to upgrade its business model. Time for them to get some technological savvy. Time for them to play some music people might actually want to listen to.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Not Your Mom's God

Got a nice email from the folks at NPR about their new website set to launch July 27. Scott Simon led a video explanation of what to expect and how the features would be different.

All I can say is: thank the Lord. I remember the first website, the one before what they got now. And when they finally updated it in 2006/7, I remember thinking: this is it?

I'll stop complaining, and just say, the preview looks great. They've added a much more powerful search engine, and the layout is significantly more accessible.

Maybe PBS can toodle over to NPR HQ and get some pointers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Company Man

Lot of lamenting going on with the death of Walter Cronkite. I'll throw in my two cents: he was the start of the decline of broadcast news, with Murrow and Friendly at the peak.

Certainly the man deserves credit for having the courage (and corporate authority of CBS News behind him) to point out the obvious in Vietnam. And as Media Channel's Danny Schechter talks about on Democracy Now! Cronkite did speak out against media consolidation, albeit well into his retirement.

But when Murrow and Friendly couldn't get CBS to back their investigative ventures, they paid for it themselves, like Harvest of Shame, a 1960 documentary about migrant workers. Covering wars and the White House are very sexy, but I gotta go with the guys getting close to a group of people utterly forgotten and taken for granted.

I suppose, like all of us, Cronkite did the best he could given his environment. We all make our compromises to get along in an unjust, badly managed world; some of us not at all. Conkrite was a person, no more, no less, subject to the powers of the structure that doled out his paycheck and maintained his influential public image. And who could blame him?

I recognize the impact Cronkite had on future television news anchors (great, what a legacy), but it's easy to laud the folks who sat the on the fence and didn't provoke us into action.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cover It Live...But Expertise Helps

I'm watching the Sotomayor hearing on the Washington Post website (NPR's website was a pain in the ass...not everyone can listen to a radio at their desk, NPR! You lost me.) WP is using software called Cover It Live to provide live updates from their reporters. It's terrific, especially for me, since I am chained to my desk digging into research about public media models for Free Press.

Folks like me can post questions on to the blog, and the reporters respond in real time. Everything from how long can we expect the confirmation to take, what are the politics behind the Judiciary Committee, etc.

Cover It Live is facilitating an interactivity not even broadcast can replicate. But it did get me thinking: you still need people with knowledge of Senate confirmation hearings, ideology, and the politics of U.S. Supreme Court nominations. You still need reporters!

However, to some degree you need fewer reporters. One of the ways Free Press, where I'm working over the summer, is experimenting is crowdsourcing. Cover It Live could be a tool to solicit experts - constitutional law professors, executive directors of watch dog groups like the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, etc. - to contribute. I don't know if Cover It Live has this capacity, but I saw a demonstration of a program used by qualitative social science researchers, AtlasTi, that allows the researcher to group themes across media (so you could have pictures, audio, text cross linked and grouped according to themes you set up). That could be a very powerful tool for reporters to monitor trends or identify issues that come up during events like confirmation hearings.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Al Franken's Future: Remembering Paul Wellstone

As I sat at my desk glued to live vlog streams, press conferences online, and real time blogging when the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Al Franken would indeed be the next U.S. Senator, I felt a great sense of closure.

Franken's entrance into politics began on October 25, 2002, a date that will remain ingrained in my neurons for as long as I live. The incumbent Senator running for reelection that year was Paul Wellstone, a former political science professor who was challenged by one of his students to put theory into practice. With no money, no party endorsement, and certainly no physical grace to recommend him in our prettified, make-up television world, this improbable candidate won a U.S. Senate seat in 1990 and kept winning.

Wellstone died in a plane crash on October 25 in northern Minnesota, 2 weeks shy of a close, bitter race with the Republican, Norm Coleman. His memorial service brought the Clintons, Ted Kennedy, Wellstone's great professional and personal friend, Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa, and Al Franken. I can still hear Harkin's speech: "Will you stand up for your friend? Will you stand up for Paul Wellstone?" It's corny, but it still makes me teary.

I saw Franken that night after the memorial. (Disclosure: I was the News Director at KFAI Radio at the time and coordinating coverage of the fallout of the Senator's death.) He was crying, his face splotchy. He was moved by the intensity of the events, as we all were, even reporters like myself who knew Senator Wellstone, had been on the campaign trail. I remember one of my reporters couldn't stop crying at the memorial. I wanted to shake her and tell her to keep it together, but it just seemed inhumane. I gave her a hug, and asked her if she could make it through, and she did. I wanted to cry too, but I had promises to keep.

Franken moved back to Minnesota after that (he grew up in Saint Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis) and started raising money for the DFL (Minnesota doesn't have Democrats, we have Democrat-Farmer-Labor, thank you very much.) 2002 was a devastating year for the DFL, and Democrats nationally. His hard work paid off: when he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate, he had won over the notoriously averse-to-change party politics of the DFL.

Franken announced his candidacy in February 2007, won the DFL endorsement that summer, and ran an organized, tight campaign against a tough incumbent, Norm Coleman. The rest as you know is history.

I couldn't help but think of Al Franken's friend, Paul Wellstone, when the judgement came down from the Minnesota Supreme Court. His political career is the phoenix rising out of the ashes of Paul Wellstone's death.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


I'm watching the Uptake's live coverage of the news about the Minnesota Supreme Court decision to cede the U.S. Senate race to Al Franken over the incumbent Norm Coleman. It's a mix of citizen journalists, independent media organizations, and a few staff to cover press conferences at the Minnesota capitol, at Norm Coleman's house, at Al Franken's apartment, and they're doing a decent job.

However, it wasn't good enough to keep me because the audio wasn't terrific so I switched to KSTP. But I like the format of bloggers giving the blow by blow with people calling in. It was fresh, and engaging. Now we'll see what the legacy media does with it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Moved to WordPress Partially

I've moved blogging about things media reform related to my Word Press blog, It's protected, so if you want in, send me your Word Press username, and I'll approve you (and then later I'll have to kill you for viewing it - but it's a small price to pay for my brilliant insights.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My People! My People!

Driving across New York State on my way to Northampton, Massachusetts, I checked in to the local NPR stations. This is my favorite part of driving around the United States. NPR affiliates tend to have quirky, local programs hosted by the town intelligentsia/elders.

WAMC is the affiliate in this neck of the public media woods, and sure enough, I hear the telltale tone of local hosts talking about their issue of choice. It was the Media Project. This is going to be good, I thought. I love listening to analysis of media issues, especially from a local perspective.

I was soon to be disappointed. The discussion focused on the woes of the media industry and its effect on journalism in print and broadcast. A few items:

1. The host, Rex Smith, talking about how much he loves advertising. True, advertising has paid for some pretty good journalism. It's also paid for some lazy reporting, serious breaches of ethics, and my personal favorite, led us into a war based on misinformation. One thing was clear: Mr. Smith is holding on to the cultural legacy of advertising supported journalism. I'm not saying there isn't a place for it; however, there are alternatives. Which leads me to point 2:

2. Making the case for alternatives. Mr. Smith's partner in crime, WTEN's Elisa Streeter, at one point glibly responded to a valid criticism of profit driven journalism, with "what's the alternative". I awaited the academic's response, who also turns out to be the executive director of WAMC, Alan Chartock. Here was the moment where a public radio executive could make his case and espouse the ability of public media to take up the mantle. But he had no alternative to offer, which saddened me, but did not necessarily surprise me. Mr. Chartock is one of several public media administrators who have little to offer in the way of innovation.

The broadcast encapsulated in a nutshell the problems facing news managers, who are trapped in the thinking of conventional news production, and public media leaders, like Mr. Chartock, who appear weekly to make curmudgeonly comments about the state of journalism.

These are my people: public radio people. Except that they're not. One came from a newspaper, another was a commerical television anchor, and the lone public radio voice didn't have the knowledge to make a coherent argument about what next steps could be taken to bolster journalism, to bolster public media, to redefine the flow of information.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Follow the Money

The Corporation of Public Broadcasting announced special funding for stations to cover the economic crisis. 

Excellent, especially in a time where newspapers are crumbling and the money honeys' brains seem to shrink in proportion to their already anorexic dress sizes. 

But I was reminded of how not to always believe what's written in front of me. Public radio in particular likes to emphasize the decentralized system - the affiliate system puts more boots on the ground, allowing Papa Bear NPR to distribute "real" voices. And they do. 

However, my prediction is that most of the money will go to the Central Intelligence of public broadcasting: KQED, Minnesota Public Radio, PRX, and it doesn't reflect this in the statement issued by CPB, shows produced by Minneapolis based Public Radio International. Bruce Theriault is the senior VP for radio at CPB; his previous position was a senior executive at PRI. 

I'm not saying they don't deserve them. These stations have the capital to match with CPB; they have proven track records. The powerhouses, like Minnesota Public Radio and KQED, are well ahead of NPR in developing new technology and interactive games.

But the stations most in touch with their communities - and very marginalized members of mainstream society, like migrant workers, refugees, union activists - will be pushed to the side. On one hand the normalization of public media is great: growth in audience, growth in financial support (for radio, not television), growth in creditability. 

On the other hand the stations that have tried to remain as connected as possible by sustaining access, encouraging media engagement, and open doors to the public, are penalized for sticking to a mission that says even if you're in the minority, you still deserve a place on the airwaves. I wonder with public media nesting in the mainstream, where will that place be where the marginalized, the media disenfranchised, those of us left out of the Grand Narrative told by those who don't know us, and don't care. Who will support those stations who are too controversial for CPB to fund because rather than shrinking from the cacophony of voices, they revel in it? 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where are the Watchdogs?

One of my professors returned an analysis paper I had written for a reading: Who is watching the watchdogs? a report done by the Center for Public Integrity awhile back about the Federal Communications Commission. This opaque agency through structural regulation (mostly deregulation) is responsible for the media landscape we enjoy (suffer?) today in the United States. 

He liked my points but commented that I while I have many insights into the problems of watchdogging the media, I offer few solutions. Fair enough. I did talk to him later and pointed out that I do have some ideas, but a 5 page analysis paper would have morphed into a 12 page start at a thesis. 

So here are my ideas on what possible solutions may be: 

We (the royal we, like the FCC, Congress, the American people) need to rewrite the framework for communications policymaking. The rest of the world doesn't get our slavish devotion to localism. I don't think it has to be an either/or proposition, localism vs. regionalism vs. internationalism. My dream in setting up was that users, on one website, could see how they were connected to each other, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, country to country. The idea of glocalism is strong on the website, but users can also venture out into international waters. How about a news website that shows users the rest of the world is a click, or two, away? The BBC is already doing this quite effectively, much more so than the NYTimes. 

The Internet must be at the center of communications policymaking. I can't take credit for this idea - there's a very smart lady at the University of Michigan Law School who's written quite a bit about this, and I'm persuaded. I heard a classmate last week bring up her concern about audience fragmentation on the web - this is where the FCC, or Congress, could create comprehensive requirements for what must be included on a website. Similar to the rules (which are long since gone) that every radio station had to broadcast five minutes of news at the top of the hour, every Internet provider would have to have prominent news and information links on user's home page. I would even go so far as to require ISP's to pay into a news and information fund to pay for news outlets to generate original content - they do this in Holland with 10% of the revenues for public broadcasting program guides going to newspapers. You could also start by requiring every public library in the United States to have a news site as a front page on their computers. Which leads me to my next solution: 

Public Libraries: I'm sure I've written about this before. I don't know why they go overlooked, but it seems obvious to me spending a lot of time in various public libraries that they serve an important social function. I spent a couple hours with reference librarians trying to dig up sources for a paper I'm writing - these folks live to learn, and they live to help other people learn. It's their tradition, and they've changed many a life by doing so, Frank McCourt to name one, and one closer to my heart, my grandfather who happened to have some freak gene in his poor, Irish, fisherpeople DNA that sent him to the New London library to read and dream about something greater than himself. 

Public media: this is where the government can play a significant role. We got our 1st Amendment issues about the government getting involved with newspapers. OK. But we already have a public broadcasting system in place with established rituals of funding and firewalls in place to prevent the government from interfering (Congress forward funds public broadcasting by 2 years). A restructuring is in order: regionalizing the existing decentralized system; and expanding licenses for low power FM. Also, a public media trust fund so that member stations can innovate without fear of offending their aging major donors who want things just as they are. 

The master plan behind all of this is simple: the more people are involved in the media, the more they'll pay attention to how it affects them. To those folks who say 'I don't want to be involved in the media, I don't have time' - I say fine. That's why we need regulations in place to make sure people are exposed to relevant information as much as possible. 

Where are the watchdogs in all this? We are! 

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Centralizing the Decentralized

We Americans love our local autonomy. It's everywhere in our society from the power of school boards to include intelligent design in science curriculae to the pro-choice and gun rights groups: movements: protecting the rights of the individual.

Our broadcasting system is much the same. Despite mass media's homogenizing influence, we intuitively believe in the uniqueness of individuality, and that it's important.

That's why localism is such a big deal in broadcasting. Our European brethren and sisters across the pond don't get it. Too much navel gazing, too little international reporting. The good of the group must be weighed with the good of the individual - and the group is probably more important in the end.

So I was intrigued when I read this article in the public broadcasting trade rag Current about the new CEO Vivian Schiller.

"NPR doesn’t want to “control and dominate” the web sphere via," Schiller said. “If we are successful, it will morph into this constellation of sites” from local stations, allowing listeners to experience public radio “on whatever platform they prefer.”

Schiller's allegiance to NPR's member stations are understandable: just like every other legacy news distributor in the United States, they are trying to keep their revenue streams flush while trying to figure out new ones.

And who are the cash cows that keep NPR afloat? Member stations. They pay millions to carry All Things Considered and Morning Edition, the flagship news programs. If you've ever volunteered for a pledge drive, you know when you ask why they are pledging, national programming almost 100% of the time is at the top of the list. They like the local stuff too, but it comes later. How do member stations stay relevant when audiences can stream online at or get podcasts dumped by subscription on their iPods? Schiller thinks it's by bolstering the local relevance of stations.

She'll have many things to overcome, but the largest is the software most stations use for their websites: Public Interactive. NPR bought it last year from Public Radio International, the good folks in Minneapolis who bring you This American Life and the BBC. PI has the advantage of automatically updating a local station's site with content from NPR...the problem is with their small staffs, and I would also argue to some degree, staff who lack competence in new technology, can't create similar local content. You can do all those things on PI - but imagine you've spent the last 20 years making public radio news, and now they want you to take a picture and shoot some video. Some have embraced it (and take damn good pics!). Many have not.

Schiller and Co. will have to overcome, just like newspapers, a technological generation gap on how to produce information, and understanding how it's received and consumed. She knows this, and I say Godspeed to her as she tries to overcome the inertia of a decentralized public broadcasting system.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I've become increasingly irritated with columns that speak platitudes about why newspapers are important for American democracy. It's not that I even disagree with them - I just think they could come up with better arguments.

David Simon wins the prize: a great article showing what happens when you don't have people (reporters, citizen journalists, whoever) exercising our formidable public information laws. I used to have this experience with international students who would do reporting internships with me when I would send them, as any good intern should have to, to get public records, or attend police precinct meetings, or in one infamous case in my career, have to make a stink because a government funded neighborhood group invited us to cover a candidate forum at a building built by taxpayer dollars, and then said we weren't "allowed" to tape it. Right. (We ended up taping it in the end.)

The students from non western societies I could understand being amazed at the amount of access granted to reporters, but German students thinking they were barred access from a sub committee meeting at city hall? This is America, baby! Seriously, it was good instruction about how little the American press tradition is understood by other nationalities, and the international students, particularly from Africa, really ran with it once they realized what was available. 

The point is, as Mr. Simon articulates, we all need to flex a little muscle in access to our government. And we need to find an allies as he did to enforce our great public information and government access laws. 

Monday, March 2, 2009

Schiller On the Media and News

Vivian Schiller started her new job as CEO of NPR last month, and she's hitting the circuit. 

Her National Press Club speech today (March 2) emphasized the need to maintain the localism of affiliate websites and acknowledged that the "system" doesn't work well together. So true. 

Schiller has an interesting set of challenges as NPR attempts to connect with digital natives, as well as diverse communities. To some degree public broadcasting, while not a slave to advertising, is a slave to listener donors, especially major ones who tend to veer into their last career as retirees. On one hand their sense of ownership of public media programming is charming; but it can also be a choke hold on adapting programming to increase listenership. By that same token, station leadership can also serve as a choke hold on innovation, and this was an issue I think Ms. Schiller addressed in her speech: to create a network, and that means centralization. Not all station managers are equal; some stations are innovating, some are not. That hurts NPR - they're relying on the affiliates to bring in the $$$. 

The web oddly should be able to do just that. It can target niche audiences, and go after new ones with programming that can be distributed across mobile platforms. I subscribe to my nerdy public radio shows; there could no doubt be podcast only programs to serve specific audiences. I suppose this is the long tail theory approach to developing programming. 

Schiller comes from a commercial media background (CNN, NYTimes). It'll be interesting to see how she brings those experiences into her work in public media. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Whither Goes Television News?

There must be something in the air, because I've been reading and hearing a lot about the future of television news. First, this article about the We Media conference. 

Then, a telelecture (I don't know if that's a word, I just made it up - sounds good, doesn't it?) with Bob Benz, formerly of Scripps Interactive, now off into the world of media consulting. The irony of the timing of his lecture was not lost: a former employee of the Rocky Mountain News, he was speaking to us on the day of its closing. And he also pointed out the three newspapers he worked for in his career have all closed. 


According to Benz, some folks in the cable world blamed the newspapers for their own demise: giving away content for free, not coming up with innovative ways to change how advertising reaches readers and thus pay for reporting. To him, newspapers are merely augurs of things to come for cable. The model is based on advertising, just as newspapers. And the technology is available for people to carve out the ads, or watch online, just about any kind of viewing that doesn't involve advertising. 


He's certainly not alone. The We Media conference last week in Miami had all the big guns out, like CNN, thinking about what's next. The major theme: embrace social media.  Embrace "the future". This was Benz's theme as well. I can't remember if he said this, or if someone I was talking to said it, but stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The technology does not fit the financial model of running a business, not just media but in other sectors as well. This is a theme in "The Long Tail", coined by Chris Anderson in an article he wrote, and later developed into a book. Benz talked about it too in his lecture (actually, it's a phrase that gets bandied about quite a bit in the circles I travel in, but it may just be the company I keep.)


Lots of great examples going on out there. The Daily Show's website has got to be generating some kind of revenue. Their video ads are short and savvy - I couldn't believe it when I was actually humming the AT&T tune - they got me! I'm sure the revenues still dwarf in comparison to what it earns through the ads, but the crazy thing is, Jon Stewart just might be able to go completely on his own and support the production of the program through targeted ads delivered not only online but across mobile platforms as well. As Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame has demonstrated, wealth is generated by a company's ability to collect information about its users, and the Daily Show has an audience people are trying to reach. 

We cling to the advertising model because it's proven to generate the most profit which in turn is used to create content. And as long as we buy stuff (which we will, goddamit we're Americans!) we're going to need to know about it. But how We the Consumer go about it is what the news industry is still struggling to find out. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

Rocky Mountain Low

Everyone's taken aback by the Rocky Mountain News closing today (Friday, February 27th, 2009.) 

I'm more taken aback watching CNN right now giving financial advice to the assistant managing editor Luke Clarke. I'm blogging in real time, so I'm going through the motions of horror to being a little creeped out and now I'm at a point where I'm thinking, maybe this is a good idea. 

This is the first time I've seen anyone in the mainstream press look at the personal impact of losing a newspaper job. A lot of kids went to college on those salaries, a lot of houses bought, a lot of middle to upper middle class lifestyles supported. 

I like the fact CNN went into the financials of this particular individual, but now I'm waiting for the "what about civil society, what about democracy" when a newspaper goes away. 

I'd like to see that debate right now. I'm a little tired of reading about "without a newspaper, Watergate would never have been broken as a story." That's kind of the same logic applied when pro-lifers say you could be aborting the next Mozart or doctor who finds the cure for cancer, or AIDS or whatever. I watch/listen/read a lot of alternative press that never reaches a mainstream audience, that you think would cause the mainstream media to forward material...and nothing happens. 

I don't know what it all means. I have some ideas, but I'd like to hear more from a diverse group of folks. CNN, the paper has folded...we need you to generate some discussion about where it goes from here!

Some cheesy CNN Hero story has come on...time to channel surf. 

Thursday, February 26, 2009

To Local or Not

What with several major dailies filing for bankruptcy, or closing their doors, salvation seems to be found in the local newspapers. Not so true for larger markets, like my adopted hometowns of the Twin Cities, where commercially viable options such as the Southwest Journal are shedding what few jobs they had. With the Star Tribune and Pi Press turning its still vast resources to "hyper" local newsgathering, they just can't compete.

I wonder where community radio will fall in this mix. In terms of audience, it's almost non existent, but it inspires a rabid following of listeners, and donors who want at least a semblance of pluralism on the airwaves. My philosophy as a news director was straightforward: I can't afford to send people to Gaza; send them to Minneapolis City Hall instead. With the growing immigrant and refugee communities in the Twin Cities, issues abroad took on local significance - and while we couldn't go to Mogadishu or Thailand, we could get inside a diaspora and try to explain what impact they were having.

In the global marketplace, of things as much as ideas, we are all connected. When (if?) I ever get back to local newsgathering, I'd like to put more effort into explaining its global influence, or how global influence is reaching into our neighborhoods. That's what's missing from local news.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Corporations Are Coming! The Corporations Are Coming!

An interesting blog post caught my eye about Twitter trying to figure out how to monetize their platform.

And in recent days, a chum shared an interesting take on the blogosphere, or rather the future of it, and how, ironically, corporations are coming in to ruin it in order to save it. Because at the end of the day, and this is where I think this guy is right on, the networks are still the big enchiladas with the brand and the capital to get the eyeballs reading the blogs and presumably turn a profit.

Here's the thing: the Internet was supposed to be the great equalizer. But it's turning out that capitalism is still king. Perhaps it was naive of some of us to think that it would turn it out differently, but the web has the potential to deliver great social policies.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Let's Get Intellectual

My practical, pragmatic side and my philosophical, intellectual side always seem to be wrestling with each other. My intellectual side was losing last night as I watched Bill Moyers interview Jay Rosen and Glenn Greenwald. (Self-disclosure: I watched the program on television! On public television no less! Not on my computer! There is hope!)

I dig Jay Rosen. His project is innovative. I think he hero worships John Dewey a bit much, but for the most part I'm glad he's out there, saying his stuff, doing his thang. We need provocative thinkers..and what I like about Rosen as well...DOers. How do we make this media system work for everyone, not just people with education, with money, with good social connections? Drat...I'm beginning to sound like John Dewey!


They were talking mostly about the D.C. press last night - Rosen and Greenwald deconstructed the media coverage on Obama, notably the Daschle resignation as health and human services secretary. But then they got into press elitism - Walter Lippmann Syndrome if you will ( my phrasing, not theirs).


This is where I differ with Rosen. I don't think the press has declined that much in influence. There are a few cases where bloggers have set the agenda...but how does it get pushed into the mainstream? The mainstream media. And indeed, he talked about that when Moyers asked him about the exclusion of alternative pressheads, like Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!, from Meet the Press and all the other blah-blahers of the D.C. media corps. Just because "we" the Public, the Masses, are now able via the Internet to set up our own platforms, communicated directly with the powerbrokers, like the press -- does that mean "we" the Public, the Masses have more power? I'm not so sure.


So here I am, my inner sides duking it out. On one hand agreeing with the good guests on Moyers - on the other hand quite skeptical. Because it's one thing to create the tool - it's quite another how, and when, and where you use it. And the conventions about how the press makes decisions on what to distribute, and what not - it's going to take a much larger flood to humble the elites.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Blog Recommendation: the Newsosaur

If you think I write long blogs...check out this guy.

Seriously, the Newsosaur provides great food for thought about the future of newspapers and journalism. He brings hard numbers and audience research and online usership to identify trends. And he's got a catchy Blogonym: Newsosaur.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

When Pizza Isn't Good Enough

My eye was caught recently by an article in the campus newspaper about Pizza with the Provost being cancelled indefinitely. 

Reason: "Waning interest".

Initially I didn't pay this little tidbit much mind...until I got an email from a chum at Public Radio International, which is based in my adopted hometown of Minneapolis. If you hear the BBC on an American radio station, it's thanks to PRI. 


She is trying to figure out how to get the young folks interested in international news, which is why she turned to me (I guess 30 still counts as young.) She unfortunately does not have pizza at her disposal to lure the youth audience to compelling public broadcasting produced international news. Isn't that an oxymoron anyway? 


I will confess: I've given up on the Lehrer News Hour (sorry, Jim!) But I make sure to check the BBC's website and watch the latest Bill Moyers program (online of course - why should I have to sit on my couch at 9pm on a Friday night? I have a social life!) And occasionally I even do this with a few slices of pizza - I got my junk food, and feeding my mind with the vegetables. Too bad reading and watching quality news doesn't trim down your waistline. What a great invention that would be. Note to self: must develop device that connects consumption of quality news and relevant information to weight loss. 


Free food is a great incentive to get people out with the hopes of catching some interest. But ultimately, content (to use the old cliche) is king. And as much as the university here in Athens has talented administrators like the Provost - we don't really care. Well, some of us do, but the flyer beckoning the majority to "eat free pizza with the provost" lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. And let's face it: she's not Barack Obama. This was one of the issues for waning interest: no issues! What point was there in going to hear the provost when there wasn't anything pressing to talk to about? Also, look at the picture in the article in the Post - there is the provost standing at the head of the room, looking to poised to deliver a lecture. Thank you, I'd rather spend the money on an extra large and hang out with my buddies playing Beer Pong and Wii. 

I'm not advocating Student Senate start "Beer Pong with the Provost" (though that would be funny if illegal), but why can't we expect our university elders to be, well, human? I've heard plenty of students voice concerns about various issues at coffee shops and parties - those ideas are out there. 


So here we are back at square one: how do you (or the royal we) get young people interested in the boring tedium that is civic engagement? To that I say to the older generation, don't give up! Email links to articles or videos to your students or young people in your life that you think they might be interested in. Don't use easier words because you think young people won't know what it means. Make references to people or places to expand their knowledge base ( I did this recently referring to a recent film I'd seen as akin to a torture session with Torquemada - hyperlinked here for your convenience or if you know someone from Spain, ask them. He's world famous in Spain.) 


The greatest connections we have are personal - not pizza. Our information is as good as our social network - so take your role in your social network seriously! I go in twice a week to do a radio shift on campus. I'm a lot older than the students, and my attempts to integrate via joking are often met with confused stares - but occasionally, grins and "wow, you're weird". Sometimes I'll throw out a bone - like when I teased one of the TV news anchors about stumbling over the word testes - we had a nice communal giggle. But just by being there, coming from a different lifestyle, a different background, a different perspective, I believe I am contributing to the Great Conversation. 

And I do it without any pizza.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Before There Was Obama...

I was looking through my notes after meeting with senior executives last month in public broadcasting in Washington D.C. What struck me was how almost every single person we met with talked about how public broadcasting could appropiate the Obama campaign's fundraising strategies. 


Lest we forget, and I mentioned this with the good folks at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS, Howard Dean did in fact revolutionize campaign fundraising through the Internet during his nomination bid in 2004. Before there was Obama, there was Dean. 

But even before that, lest we forget, there was Richard Viguerie. He didn't run for office, but he is the granddaddy of the conservative fundraising arm, pioneering direct mail to solicit donations for the conservative cause, and ultimately getting Ronald Reagan elected. 

My point is this: we get easily swept away with the new technology and how it transforms, for example, elections. But we forget while the technology has changed, the ideas are the same. Whether you use the Internet, or direct mail, you are manipulating the technology to serve a communication end. 

It reminds me of an intern who wrote in her script for a radio story "because of globalization" and then led into the story. I asked her what she meant by globalization. How was what she describing in her story different from the global economy forged by the British Navy and the Dutch East India Trading Company? She didn't have an answer, but the lesson for me, at least as a journalist, is to think historically. Journalists can get very caught up in the moment of a story, and forget why it's relevant in the long term. 

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Twilight Zoning

On a mission of self-improvement, I decided I need to break up my steady diet of non-fiction (Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, Lukas' recount of forced bussing in Boston, Samantha Powers' biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello) with a novel. 

But who needs a novel when you've got the marathon broadcasts of the Twilight Zone on the SciFi Channel? 

I haven't seen these since I was a kid, and terrified by most of them, like the grotesque "The Masks" where a dying patriarch twists his greedy family members' faces to suit their disgusting personalities. 

Some of the episodes have lost their impact - their whole force was the twist that came at the end, and I remember almost all of them (like when the nurse takes the bandages off in episode "The Eye of the Beholder".) 

But some are timeless gems of imagination that rival any great piece of literature. 

The one I'm watching now is "Two". No dialogue, a couple speeches by Charles Bronson, and the silent Elizabeth Montgomery, who are the two remaining survivors of a human-made post-war apocalypse from opposing armies ( you can see this by their different uniforms.) 

The irony of the situation is not lost on Bronson's character, who is trying to persuade Montgomery's character he won't hurt her: "But I can see the only way of showing you my honorable intentions is by force." He pauses. "And I'm so terribly, terribly sick of fighting." 

It reminded me of the news media today, desperately trying to convince people that they need news, that it's relevant, and they keep cramming the same content with the same pundits talking the same lines over and over again. The newspapers, with their honorable intentions, are publishing with their last show of force. And they do seem terribly, terribly sick of fighting. 

The news media is going through a form of purgatory, and the phoenix will emerge from the ash. Because we need the media. To create wealth, to further industry and innovation - but we also need it because we're social and we seek out channels to establish new relationships, build on existing ones, and terminate others. We're curious about each other and what's going on in the world and in our own backyards. 

I suppose the news industry has entered its form of the Twilight Zone. 

This has been a love story about two lonely people.