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.