Posts about otm

First, the good news

First, listen to this superb and profoundly disturbing segment by On the Media producer Sarah Abdurrahman about how she and her husband and other guests at a Canadian wedding were detained and mistreated at the U.S. border crossings in spite of their citizenship — American — and because of their religion — Islam.

Welcome back. I told you it well done, didn’t I? I’d be screaming bloody murder at such treatment but Abdurrahman kept her journalistic cool and curiosity, trying to get the facts and understand our rights, asking questions, in spite of never getting answers. People have been saying lately that Verizon picked on the wrong person in me. Well, U.S. Customs and Border Protection could not have picked a worse person to detain: a smart, accomplished journalist with an audience.

I would hope that CBP is humiliated by this and will change, but our government isn’t humiliated by spying on the entire damned world and won’t change that, so I’ll give up my hope. Nonetheless, this story is the perfect bookend to the Guardian’s reporting on the NSA, showing a government that is out of control — because its citizens can no longer control it. Well done, OtM. Thank you, Sarah.

Now the bad news. Next came a story that did have me shouting at the radio as geographer Jim Thatcher condemned major tech companies with broad brush — without specifics, without evidence or proof, only with innuendo — for the possibility they could be redlining the world and diverting users away from certain areas. “It’s hidden what they’re doing,” he said. If it’s hidden, then how does he know they’re doing it? Not said. Microsoft had a patent that could do things like this but Thatcher acknowledged that “Microsoft may or may not” every use it. They could.

Brooke Gladstone laments Google’s purchase of Waze for $1.3 million because “we are being sold for our data, it’s an old story.” No, I was using Waze at the very moment I heard that because (1) I get data of great value back, helping me avoid not opium dens but traffic jams and (2) I generously want to share my data with others who have generously shared theirs with me. This is an example of a platform that does precisely what news organizations should do: help the public share its information with each other, without gatekeepers.

Next, Thatcher says with emphasis that “theoretically” Google could charge coffee shops for directing us to one over another. Then Thatcher acknowledges that it’s not happening. It could. And he dollops on a cherry of fear about technology and “for-profit” corporations.

Don’t you smell the irony in the oven, OtM? You properly and brilliantly condemn the CBP for detaining Americans because they are Muslims and because Muslims could do terrorism even when they don’t. Then, in the very next segment, you turn around and needlessly condemn technology companies because they could do things some guy imagines even though he admits they don’t.

Those are two sides of the same phenomenon: moral panic, the unsubstantiated suspicion that some apparently alien entity — Muslims or (OMG!) for-profit technology companies — could upset the social order, a fear often fanned by media.

Put down the fan, OtM, and learn the lesson from Abdurrahman’s superb story that your role — you of all media outlets — is to throw cold water on such unwarranted fright-mongering.

Mind you, these two segments were surrounded by two more very good reports: one that gives us a guide for what to ignore in breaking news (so as not to fan flames) and another about how — surprise, surprise, surprise — technology can lead to good ends. I remain a fan and loyal listener of OtM. And that is why I humbly offer you a map to guide you away from a dodgy neighborhood called technopanic.

Media is

I’ve decided that media are is singular.

I came to that conclusion, unblogged, awhile ago because I saw the lines between media crumbling. I especially see this teaching journalism school. When I came into the business, we had to pick a medium for life (or at least until we went into PR). Now, every time a journalist does a story, she can and should pick from all appropriate media to tell it (and not just tell it, by the way). Today, still photographers shoot video with a still camera. Print reporters take pictures and make slide shows and shoot video. TV people write text. Magazine people make podcasts. And that was just the game of 52-card-pickup we began playing with old media. Now enter new media with data bases and animation and interactivity. What is Twitter? A medium? A conversation? Both? Yes. So how does one separate one medium from another? It’s impossible, I came to see.

Then On the Media called asking whether I fell into the media as plural or singular camp. Funny you should ask, I said. I was plural, now I’m singular.

Now Brooke Gladstone took this question from another angle as well: media as monolith. We complain about The Media. But I argued that media are is no longer monolithic thanks to the internet, because scarcity is dead, because the dinosaurs are consolidating only to hide from the cold wind of the future, because consolidation is thus no longer a threat, and because we can all make media. We are all media. We are the message.

So here’s the On the Media conversation. They don’t agree with me. But that’s fine.

Dear Bob,

You caused a lot of discussion in your OtM piece about comments — and that discussion itself — in the comments on WNYC’s blog, in the comments on mine, and in blogs elsewhere — is an object lesson in the value of the conversation online.

Look at who is trying to help you understand that conversation while also trying to improve it:

Derek Powazek agrees with you — as we all do — that some comments are bad and so he shares considerable wisdom about how to give a community the care and feeding it needs and deserves.

Doc Searls, a coauthor of the seminal Cluetrain Manifesto and a teacher from whom I have learned more about the essence of the internet (hint: it’s not a medium) than most anyone, is delivering a history lesson with perspective on the growth of communities. “We need to remember that the Web is still new. It’s about three seconds after the Big Bang and all we have is a few light elements, no galaxies, and a lot of heat,” he said.

ComcastScott (a vice-president, I learn) — whom I suspect you inspired to join the conversation with your own not-very-temperately named — gives an eloquent defense of the value of listening.

Kevin Marks is a preeminent architect of community online; he was the technology genius behind Technorati — which enables the distributed conversation (and where you can follow the conversation around you here) — and is now writing Google’s gospel on the social. On his blog, he took the time to discuss what communities need and how they are structured, sharing the smarts of many other people who a great deal of experience in the field.

Tish Grier, who has been a leader in local communities I’ve been involved with, also tells hosts what they need to bring to assure civility.

Aaron Barnhart – who, like you, covers media — explains how he handles commenters who don’t like him.

The conversation on your blog is really quite incredible with some legitimate questions for Ira Glass.

I know you didn’t like my own observation of irony in your report. Fine, dismiss that as just another damned comment.

But note well, my friend, that all of these people are speaking to you with intelligence, experience, generosity, and civility. You know what’s missing? Two things: First, the sort of nasty comments your own piece decries. And second: You.

Bob, the best way to learn about the conversation online is to join in. That doesn’t mean just defending yourself against my wisecrack (though even in that, I shared links to my experience, perspective, and lessons with communities). It means engaging in the ideas there, bringing your journalism to the conversation: ask questions, ask for examples, challenge ideas, seek clarification. Learn. That’s what these conversations enable and the conversation around your piece is the best proof of it.

So when it’s time to report the reaction to your piece, I suggest that you not just read one comment — that’s so letter-to-the-editorish of you. Instead, leap into this conversation, draw on the generous sharing of knowledge and viewpoints of people in it, take lessons away, and share those.

Your friend,


Carlin would curse

If you happened to be driving down a New Jersey street this morning and saw a tall, pencil-necked, sweaty geek “running” down the road cursing into what appeared to be thin air, that would be me. But what I was cursing was what I was hearing on my iPod: the latest edition of On the Media, which gave the worst possible memorial to the legacy of George Carlin with its report on the seven dirty words quoting a Miami TV critic who gave unquestioned credence to the so-called Parents Television Council, saying that we are a nation divided about indecency. Bullshit.

I’ve been a longtime listener and fan of OtM but I have to say that they have been driving me a bit crazy lately covering China and Russia more than American media and giving more time to political screeds than media news. Maybe they’re bored with the beat but I can’t see how they could be given that media are undergoing history, volcanic, accelerating, unsure, and profound change that will forever alter media and society. What a great time to cover media in America!

This is on my mind now because they had asked me to be on this week’s show to talk about the Associated Press. Whether or not they had me on to talk about it, that is an important story. But they said that their studio wasn’t ready (who needs a studio when you have a mic and Mac?). So instead, they ran a 20-minute archive piece about a guy who collected sounds. By this time in my run, I wasn’t cursing, I was merely muttering. What an opportunity lost. The AP story is rich with mines to explore about the new architecture of media and its interrelationships. And now the peg, the moment is gone.

This is more on my mind because I am a loyal listener and because I want to hear OtM cover all this huge change in media. I’d love to hear them get to Sam Zell to explain his plans for the Tribune (and I’ll bet they could) and to Rupert Murdoch to share his vision for the Journal. I’d like to hear them give attention to experiments in new ways to cover news — there are many. I’d want some perspective on all the layoffs in the business and what impact they have and whether there are better ways to restructure journalism. I’d be eager to have them explore new business models for news. If they’re going abroad, I’d like them to bring back ideas that would be useful for American media to borrow. I’d like them to use OtM as a laboratory for multimedia itself: video, wikis, collaborative criticism, perhaps. Maybe they should find and turn the spotlight on the next Brian Stelters and Adrian Holovatys — the young innovators who will save journalism. They could also turn their sharp pens on the media executives who are rearranging cubicles on the decks of their Titantics. They could start tracking how Arianna Huffington invades Chicago and how the Tribune reacts. They could explain how new tools — Twitter, Flip video cameras, iPhones — could be used to do journalism. I could go on listing stories I’d like to hear for a page (and remember, there is no end to pages on the web).

OtM should consider this a valentine not an attack. I want them to put their reporting and analytical talents to covering American media again. Please.