Posts from April 24, 2005

News on news

News on news

: Pegasus has a good roundup of news on changing news

It’s like making a vegetarian the CEO of McDonald’s

It’s like making a vegetarian the CEO of McDonald’s

: The NY Times mag has an interview that’s as astonishing as it is amusing with the new Corporation for Public Broadcasting chief executive, Ken Ferree [sent to me by Jonathan Miller]:

What PBS shows do you like?

I’m not much of a TV consumer. I like ”Masterpiece Theater” and some of the ”Frontline” shows. I like ”Antiques Roadshow” and ”Nova.” I don’t know. What’s your favorite show?

It would probably be the ”NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”

Yes, Lehrer is good, but I don’t watch a lot of broadcast news. The problem for me is that I do the Internet news stuff all day long, so by the time I get to the Lehrer thing . . . it’s slow. I don’t always want to sit down and read Shakespeare, and Lehrer is akin to Shakespeare. Sometimes I really just want a People magazine, and often that is in the evening, after a hard day.

For the head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, you don’t sound like much of a PBS viewer. Perhaps you prefer NPR, which your organization also finances?

No. I do not get a lot of public radio for one simple reason. I commute to work on my motorcycle, and there is no radio access.

TV is good for you. No, really.

TV is good for you. No, really.

: Steven Johnson’s new book is about a subject dear to my heart: Everything Bad Is Good For You starts arguing in its subtitle: “How today’s popular culture is actually making us smarter.” An excerpt appears in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. I got to read a version of the book a few months ago and it’s damned good.

In the book, Johnson says that TV — and other popular culture — is more complex than it used to be and challenges us to think; it makes us smarter. I’m not sure which way the cause-and-effect really works. I believe that popular culture is just now catching up to us and that is because all our tools of choice — remote control, cable box, TiVo — are forcing popular culture to chase us, to get as smart as we are. In any case, TV is getting smarter and both TV and we are smarter than conventional wisdom ever held.

Ever since I was a TV critic starting in the mid-’80s, I’ve argued that given a chance to watch good shows, we do; that the ratings prove Americans do have good taste; and that TV is only getting better. Steven turns it around and adds one more notch: TV makes us better.

For decades, we’ve worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ”masses” want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ”24” episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less…..

… [Y]ou have to avoid the tendency to sentimentalize the past. When people talk about the golden age of television in the early 70’s — invoking shows like ”The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and ”All in the Family” — they forget to mention how awful most television programming was during much of that decade.

Ditto all the slathering over the other alleged Golden Age of the Vaudevillian ’50s. TV keeps getting better.

In pointing out some of the ways that popular culture has improved our minds, I am not arguing that parents should stop paying attention to the way their children amuse themselves. What I am arguing for is a change in the criteria we use to determine what really is cognitive junk food and what is genuinely nourishing. Instead of a show’s violent or tawdry content, instead of wardrobe malfunctions or the F-word, the true test should be whether a given show engages or sedates the mind.

It’s all about respect, really: The respect producers have for the audience in producing good shows; the respect commentators have for the public in recognizing that, contrary to popular wisdom, popular taste is good; the respect the audience has for itself.

Then call them the Jersey Giants, damnit

Then call them the Jersey Giants, damnit

: Well, my state has agreed to spend a fortune to keep the Giants in the Meadowlands.

I say that a condition of the deal must be to change the team’s names to the Jersey Giants.

Even the head of the Sports Authority is against the deal:

The opposition was led by George Zoffinger, the Sports Authority’s chief executive, who said he wanted to “remain consistent” with his past criticism of a deal he has claimed will cost taxpayers at least $150 million and will force his agency to operate at a deficit.

“My opposition stems from my wife being a social worker and my seeing the things the state needs to spend money on rather than football stadiums,” Zoffinger said. “We’ve worked hard over the past three years to accomplish some financial stability and that is going to be difficult moving forward.”

I’m against the deal. But I fear there’s no winning now. So we need to get something out of it: Let’s make the Giants recognize that they’re in New Jersey, not New York. Make them change the name.

Hey, Jersey bloggers, let’s swarm ’em. I just sent this email to Acting Gov. Codey, the director of external affairs for the Sports & Exposition Authority, and to my state legislators (find them here):

If you’re going to spend millions in taxpayers’ money building a new stadium for the Giants, the least you can do is make changing their name to the Jersey Giants a condition of the deal.

Follow the links above and do likewise.

It’s all just bits and bandwidth, after all

It’s all just bits and bandwidth, after all

: Here’s the final commodification of telecom:

Skype is soon going to be available on a cell phone. So you’ll be able to use the phone company’s bandwidth to bypass the phone company’s phone fees not only at home but also on the road (and, I assume, on wi-fi enabled mobile phones, you’ll even be able to avoid the phone company’s bandwidth and data charges). So no transfer of data, of bits of any sort, gets any premium at all. It’s all just a commodity, all just bits and bandwidth.

I think I’m going to drive down the way to AT&T’s network operations center and take a picture of the giant Golden Boy statue that used to stand by its headquarters before they melt him down.

: Right after I wrote that, I went to my RSS feeds and read Fred Wilson pointing us to a great PowerPoint and two posts from Tom Evslin, the man who probably is responsible for more change in media than anyone in America aside from (1) Craig Newmark and (2) the guy who invented the remote control. Tom was the guy who forced flat-rate pricing for the internet and then he created a company that, to oversimplify, turned VOIP into an industry at ITXC. In other words, he was a guy who helped turn bandwidth into a commodity, took value away from the pipe, and thus transferred value to the bits that travel on that pipe.

His PowerPoint and posts predict that phone calls will become like email — “free,” though email isn’t exactly free. Somebody has to pay for the equipment, software, storage, and bandwidth. But once that’s done, there is no incremental cost — and fee and profit — for the next call.

There’s no value in controlling delivery — not in telecom, not in media.