Posts about big

Call me a populist and a utopian and I’ll say thanks.

There has been much linking and buzzing about Andrew Keen’s militantly snobbish piece in The Weekly Standard in which he bemoans the internet and web 2.0 as a geeky rendition of communism. He reveals a sort of neoneoconservatism that wraps back around to the days before liberals became cultural snots and conservatives tried to act populist and class-blind, the days when conservatives where elistist power hoarders in small, closed societies of privilege.

This is just the sort of ridiculous piece that gets links and I don’t know why I’m falling into the trap except that it’s just so laughably insulting to the entire human race that it makes me feel as if I am Mr. Matter meeting Mr. Antimatter here.

My view of cultural weltanschauung was transformed in the mid-80s, when the remote control took over half of American couches and the cable box and VCR gave us choice — and, lo and behold, when given the chance to watch good shows, we did. It turns out that we do, indeed, have taste and TV, of all things, proved it. I came to see that if you are not a populist, then you cannot believe in democracy or free markets or education or reform religion or education: Why bother with the people if the people are fools? Those technologies gave us control over the consumption of media and the internet gives us the means to create media and that’s what Keen dreads but I celebrate.

In web 2.0, Keen sees the means of flattening culture. I see the means of the people speaking. That’s not communism. That’s democracy. That’s freedom.

Rather than Paris, Moscow, or Berkeley, the grand utopian movement of our contemporary age is headquartered in Silicon Valley, whose great seduction is actually a fusion of two historical movements: the counter-cultural utopianism of the ’60s and the techno-economic utopianism of the ’90s. Here in Silicon Valley, this seduction has announced itself to the world as the “Web 2.0” movement…. This Web 2.0 dream is Socrates’s nightmare: technology that arms every citizen with the means to be an opinionated artist or writer.

The means to speak.

So what, exactly, is the Web 2.0 movement? As an ideology, it is based upon a series of ethical assumptions about media, culture, and technology. It worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone — even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us — can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves. Web 2.0 “empowers” our creativity, it “democratizes” media, it “levels the playing field” between experts and amateurs. The enemy of Web 2.0 is “elitist” traditional media.

Amen. But, again, do not assume that everyone who uses these tools wants to be published in The Weekly Standard. What you see is not a mass of minimedia. What you hear is the people, talking. And if you refuse to listen, you will make a rotten capitalist, journalist, politician, statesman, cleric, teacher, or neighbor. Keen hears the voice of Marx in Kevin Kelly fretting about “Mozart before the technology of the piano… Hitchcock before the technology of film. We have a moral obligation to develop technology.” Keen says:

But where Kelly sees a moral obligation to develop technology, we should actually have — if we really care about Mozart, Van Gogh and Hitchcock — a moral obligation to question the development of technology.

The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts.

No, it is inherently dangerous for the business of those who used to control the means of creation and distribution. And that is Keen’s real fear:

Traditional “elitist” media is being destroyed by digital technologies. Newspapers are in freefall. Network television, the modern equivalent of the dinosaur, is being shaken by TiVo’s overnight annihilation of the 30-second commercial. The iPod is undermining the multibillion dollar music industry. Meanwhile, digital piracy, enabled by Silicon Valley hardware and justified by Silicon Valley intellectual property communists such as Larry Lessig, is draining revenue from established artists, movie studios, newspapers, record labels, and song writers.

Is this a bad thing? The purpose of our media and culture industries — beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people — is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media has done this with great success over the last century.

Traditional, controlled, centralized, elitist media that gave us The Beverly Hillbillies and Oliver Stone movies and Oprah and monopoly newspapers and Mary Higgins Clark books on the successful end… and unread literature on the unsuccessful end.

In the Web 2.0 world, however, the nightmare is not the scarcity, but the over-abundance of authors. Since everyone will use digital media to express themselves, the only decisive act will be to not mark the paper. Not writing as rebellion sounds bizarre — like a piece of fiction authored by Franz Kafka. But one of the unintended consequences of the Web 2.0 future may well be that everyone is an author, while there is no longer any audience.

Aha. And there is Keen’s other essential fear: that is voice will not rise above that of the masses. But he does not have the courage not to speak. He blogs and podcasts. Heh.

: It’s no surprise that fellow digital snot Nicholas Carr agrees with Keen but Matthew Ingram does not.

: And a sort of moral opposite to Keen’s argument is the wail we hear from some quarters that now the people, empowered, are turning into gatekeepers, to which Doc applies proper perspective.

The internet is just people speaking.

Olympics get bronze

I haven’t watched the Olympics or heard the slightest buzz about them this year. And I’m certainly not alone, as American Idol and even Grey’s Anatomy beat the games. The Times talks about NBC’s weakness and others’ counterprogramming but I think it’s a bigger story than that, about:

* The end of the Big Event — we’re no longer captive to the coverage or the hype because we exercise ever-increasing choice. This doesn’t mean there will be no Big Events (see: SuperBowls) but there will be fewer.

* The ubiquity of instant information — media no longer controls the timing of the story and the basic news is a commodity available anywhere immediately.

* The primacy of the niche — the Olympics are, in a sense, the ultimate niche event as some watch curling and some watch ice-dancing and nobody wants to be forced to watch it all and that is the natural state of media.

* The disillusionment with Olympic hype — we don’t buy the narrative of nobility as scandals and greed — reality, in other words — take over.

The value of the Big Event will continue to decline as the value of big declines.

: LATER: Quickly, good comments are coming in on fatigue with both NBC and the Olympics.

New news

I spent half a day hanging out at Howard 100 News recently. Why? A few reasons: First, I’m fascinated by efforts to both mock and reinvent the stilted voice of news. Second, I’ve been arguing and PowerPointing that we need to broaden the definition of news — and Howard 100 certainly does that: It doesn’t get much broader. Third, I wanted to include H100 in today’s Guardian column, which is up here (also here). Fourth, I’m a Stern fan, whether you like it or not. Fifth, I had nothing better to do. Sixth, they’re nice people. Seventh, I gotta like any news organization that has the balls to have the mission every other news organization should have: “No more bullshit.” Did I make up enough reasons? I’ll get to all those haughty, high-minded points in a minute. But first, the Howard 100 News….

: Just the elevator rides in the combined headquarters of Sirius and McGraw-Hill are a cross-cultural hoot: Business Week executives and rap stars and wack-packers, movin’ on up. I sit in the Sirius lobby and there goes Henry Hill, Goodfellas mobster, looking like a two-legged lizard. There goes the newest member of the Wack Pack with his handler.

Liz Aiello, the news director of H100 and a veteran of local TV news in New York, invites me to sit in on their morning news meeting. Only there is no room for it. Sirius wasn’t built with Howard in mind and their two floors are jammed already; every conference room is taken. So we sit in the lobby with a guy who seems to be there for a job interview as the staff streams in. They are a collection of journalists, comedians, and journalists who want to be comedians. In a now-famous moment, when Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes toured H100, he ran into one of the anchors, Ralph Howard, shocked to see a distinguished veteran of CBS News there. Ralph said he’s having fun. So is fellow anchor George Flowers, who told me he used to be a comedian and so this gig is kismet for him. Steve Langford is a sincere reporter’s reporter who relishes this job. Shuli is the comedian, who’s learning how to report and doing a good job of it. Some on the staff use a nom de satellite; they tell me that this is what freelancing radio people with many gigs do (though I, too, wonder whether it has something to do with being on H100). Penny Crone, a veteran of more TV stations over more years than I’d bet she’d be willing to admit — best known for having a voice like a quarry on a busy day — is using her own well-known name and is clearly having a ball. Except for Liz, the rest of them all work together in a tiny room about the size of my bathroom producing two hour-long newscasts a day. Yet they all seem to get along. Most newsrooms should be this much fun.

The news meeting begins and Liz tells the staff that they have to do a better job tightening up the timing of their shows, getting rid of dead air between segments and speeding up the pace. They want to sound realer than real news. They talk about their radio models: CKLW in its heyday, the RKO stations, 1010 WINS. They want to pepper us with the news. They talk with the technical directors about problems firing segments from their new digital system and they talk about moving monitors so they can be sure to see cues. They take this seriously. Stern’s program director, Tim Sabian — the boss — joins the meeting to emphasize the importance of getting the pace right. But then his cell phone rings and he has to run off for a crisis in the studio.

They talk about stories. Crone’s reacting to Howard’s promise to fire anybody who messes up his studio; she plans to interview the cleaning crew. Michele Gerson is talking to doctors about Howard’s girlfriend’s infrequent bathroom visits. Langford has a secret Project X they don’t talk about until they get the facts confirmed.

Sabian returns. His crisis has something to do with Henry Hill and finding a place for him to say that night. Crone says she likes Henry. Sabian says he wouldn’t do that to her. He shakes his head and mutters with a smile, “Show business.”

I hang out in the studio during the noon news, down the hall from the Martha channel and the gay and lesbian channel and the hiphop channels. Flowers and noon coanchor Erica Phillips rehearse their pieces to get the tone just right. They interview DJs from Shade 45, Eminem’s channel, who supposedly were having a feud with Howard (but in the presence of Stern, they turned into puddytats). And then comes breaking news: Henry Hill’s handlers let him loose for a few minutes on the street, when he said he wanted to get something to eat, and the supposedly on-the-wagon Hill came back in no time drunk as hell and throwing up on himself as he was held by Rockefeller Center guards. The Howard 100 News team was there and they come for a live report. Liz Aeillo comes by at the end asking whether the reporter, Lisa G, had tape of the amazed ritzy lunch patrons when they found out that this pathetic lump used to be a murdering mobster. That is a lesson in news gathering.

Later, Lisa G appears on Stern’s show to talk about this incident and she says, with much hesitation and embarrassment — being a journalist, after all — that Hill had told her in a drunken fit of lust that, “I want to ____ on your face.” And the first time, through Hill’s gross drunken slur, it did sound like that. But Stern producer Gary Dell’Abate went to get the tape of Hill and they played it a few times. Turns out Hill was really slurring, “I want a Caramel Macchiato.” Like I said, accuracy matters. And at Howard, so does a good laugh.

I hang out a little while longer in the newsroom. Erica gets a soundbite from me, the media critic who happened by, about the Oprah/Frey mess (I say that I wish the next Oprah creation to fall would be Dr. Phil). I talk with George Langford — who’d just returned from Washington covering the Senate “decency” hearings — about story angles. I watch a newsroom hum. And there was my day at Howard 100.

: So now back to the high-fallutin’ points I raised earlier and made in the Guardian column (which I’ll repeat in different form here).

Is this news? Sure, it is. This is stuff that matters to Stern fans — and much of it would matter to any number of gossip pages run by outfits you’d easily call news organizations. If somebody wants to know what’s happening and somebody tells them, reliably, then that’s news. The H100 News team has to get their stories right or else they will lose credibility.

Want a safer example? When we started community sites at Advance Internet, one of the first was made by a local ballet school. Under the “news” tab, they reported that “the leotards are in.” That’s news. It’s not news because a journalist says it is. A journalist may not think that it matters, but if it matters in the life of a budding ballerina or Howard Stern fan, it is news. The same goes for news about the latest products from Apple, or a kerfuffle about blog comments at the Washington Post, or the top headlines at Digg, or the price my neighbor’s house sells for. News.

Is it journalism? Well, I’m not sure exactly what the definition of journalism should be today; I’ll punt that to another day. I just know it’s news. And I know that broadening the definition of news is a good and inevitable result of the internet shifting control of media to the edges: The people — even Howard Stern fans and ballerinas and Mac addicts — get to define what news is now.

: What fascinates me even more about Howard 100 is that — like Jon Stewart, Ricky Gervais’ Monkey News, and The Onion — they lampoon the voice of news. Note how hard the Howard 100 News team works to sound authentic: fast-paced, stentorian, sincere. They deliver the perfect deadpan sendup. They end up mocking the old voice of news and that mockery, from all these sources, eventually invalidates the old voice by turning it into a laughingstock.

The news needs to find a new voice. Even Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, knows that. He said at a Museum of Television & Radio Media Center event and repeated on Pressthink:

We have to abandon any claim to omniscience…. We have to break down the tired formulas of television news and find a more authentic way of writing, speaking and interacting with the people and subjects we report on.

To old news folks, this is counterintuitive, but I believe that the voice of news must become more human to be credibible. We don’t believe that voice now because it is so separate, so staged and packaged. But when we get to know the person, we can decide whether to trust him or her. That, I argue, is why I trust the guys on Diggnation. It’s not slick, it’s scruffy and casual and that is its charm and its authority; we know these guys. The news makes plenty of artificial attempts to inject humanity. That’s why newspapers hire columnists: we token humans with opinions. That’s why TV news is overrun with happy talk. But we see through that.

Now, thanks to control shifting to the edge, thanks to the citizens taking charge, we can hear the true voice of people. In the future, news will no longer have one voice. News will be carried by the voices of the public.
Even Penny Crone’s voice.

Many miniGoogles

I’ve been arguing for sometime that the real competitor to Google will not be the next big thing but lots of little things, like Oodle, for job search and now see more specialized searches at Kosmix for health (it’s prett good), travel, and politics. [via TechCrunch]

Congratulations, Rocketboom

So Rocketboom’s ad auction came off with a rather obscure advertiser — TRM, an ATM and photocopy vending company — getting the privilege to be the first to promote on the hottest vlog … and to get free publicity because of it. Good for TRM and good for Rocketboom, valuing a week’s worth of commercials at $40,000 (and good for me not being made a liar predicting in The New York Times that they would be worth a high CPM).

But this is bad for big ad agencies and big advertisers who missed this boat bigtime. I’m not talking about any specific brand or company (disclosure: I know of some advertisers but I’m not talking about them; I’m talking about the ones that didn’t even have the courage to try). They should have been falling over themselves to grab this unique bargain. And they should be slinking off with their long tails between their legs now. Advertisers constantly whine that they want to do something new, but when something new comes along, they freeze because they can’t fit the new thing into their definitions of old and safe.

And here we have in a microcosm the explanation of why media is so horribly out of sync today: The public is valuing new media much more than the old, but the advertisers still value the old. Most every newspaper and in many cases TV networks and magazines have much larger audiences online, but the revenue for their old media properties remains much higher because the advertisers and agencies still value the old and the safe. They want metrics. They want control. They want guarantees. This, in turn, makes big publishers and producers play it safe because they don’t want to mess with the cash cow. And that means that advertisers miss the opportunity to reach a larger, younger, smarter audience in the new medium, which is — supposedly — what they’re dying to do. And that means that big media companies now face competition from a thousand Rocketbooms and a million Gawkers. That allows a TRM to come along and snatch away an opportunity from the big, lumbering giants. That is why small is the new big. Small be nimble, small be quick, small jumped over the conglomerates.

Or let me summarize the problem in one word. Big advertisers and big agencies are chickenshit. They need to grow some balls or else they’ll find new competitors running circles around them. The explosion — the rocketboom — that has already come to newspapers, magazines, TV networks, the music industry is coming next to the ad business.

Please take this, advertisers, as a friendly kick in the pants.