Posts about npr

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.

Defending Google

Tuesday night, I’m joining in an NPR Intelligence Squared debate – Oxford format – on the motion, Google violates its “don’t be evil” motto. I’m speaking against – surprise, surprise. Esther Dyson and and Jim Harper of CATO are on my side; on the other are Siva Vaidhyanathan of the University of Virginia (who’s also writing a book on Google), Randal C. Picker of the University of Chicago, and Harry Lewis of Harvard. Gulp. (The debate will be aired later. They’re charging $40 for tickets to the live event.)

Here are draft notes on my opening. I’m writing it out but will treat this more as an outline. As always, I would be grateful for your thoughts.

My opponents have a high bar to get over. Google should be presumed virtuous until proven evil. Just because it could be evil does not mean it is. Just being big and powerful does not make it evil. In this country, we tend to value success until one becomes too successful, and then we become suspicious. How much success is too much? That is our problem, not Google’s. No, my opponents must bring the evidence of Google’s misdeeds to prove their case. I don’t envy them.

I grant that Google could be better.

* In China and in other nations where free speech is attacked, Google should use its power and influence – which are greater than even it seems to know – to refuse to issue censored search results. I wonder whether the risk of life without Google could lead to revolution. But in its defense, Google argues that a hampered internet is better for the Chinese than no internet at all.

* I also wish that Google were more transparent about the business arrangement in its ad networks. Google demands transparency from the rest of us – if we want Googlejuice – but it is too often opaque itself. But opaqueness has long been standard procedure in business.

Evil? No.

Leavening the impression of – or fear of – evil is Google’s virtue. Google does good. Our world is a better place because of Google. Consider:

* Google has opened up the world’s digital knowledge to everyone. We can answer any question, satisfy any curiosity, fix any error of fact in the blink of an eye. I wanted to know just how fast that is, so I asked Google how fast an eye blinks and in .3 seconds it told me that a blink takes .3 seconds.

* Google respects the wisdom of the crowd – that is the essence of the PageRank that determines which search results are most relevant. Google also enables us to recapture our wisdom, as it does with its analysis of flu trends based on our searches for related words.

* Google connects people. Young people today will never lose touch and I hope that will lead to better friendships and better behavior.

* Google’s ads are helping to support the creation of the next generation of content. I made $4,500 in Google ads on my blog, Buzzmachine, last year. Granted, I shouldn’t have quit my day job but Google made my blog profitable.

* Edward Roussel, digital head of the Telegraph in London, has argued that declining newspapers should consider handing over the work of technology, distribution, and ad sales to Google so they could become efficient and profitable and do what they do best: journalism.

* Google created platforms on which others can create products, companies, jobs, value, and wealth.,,, exist only because Google made them possible. With Google’s ads, maps, hosting, services, and promotion, new creations bloom.

* Google shows us the way to a new economy that will be built out of the wreckage of the financial crisis. No longer will companies grow to critical mass by borrowing huge amounts of capital to make huge acquisitions. In the Google age, they will grow by creating networks on platforms. We have much to learn from Google’s ways.

One might say that its vow not to do evil is the height of hubris. Google is undeniably arrogant. But its executives say the evil motto is valuable inside the company because it allows any employee to question any decision. It’s not a bad rule. Indeed, I wish Google’s covenant had been chiseled over many a door on Wall Street. If only, in the poisoned process that led to the financial crisis, enough people had asked whether seeking and issuing toxic mortgages and making and selling toxic assets were evil—instead of someone else’s problem—I wonder whether we’d have reached this nadir.

As we try to understand and navigate a new world built on links, connectedness, networks, openness, transparency, publicness, trust, generosity, efficiency, niches, platforms, speed, and abundance, we would do well to ask ourselves, what would Google do? Google is not evil. Google is an example to us all.

Winners and losers in crisis coverage

NPR’s Planet Money podcast and blog is just great, almost as good as Adam Davidson’s and Alex Blumberg’s shows explaining our mess on This American Life. They’re now doing it daily. Highly recommended. (This American Life has another episode with more on the crisis but I can’t listen to it on my iPod until Monday because, presumably, they want people to happen to be near a radio when it happens to be on a local station. That’s no way to treat urgent news, folks.)

The latest episode of the amazing Peter Day’s In Business on BBC4 was also a special edition, recorded life (and podcast immediately). I wish they’d have him doing it daily now, too.

It strikes me that cable news is caught empty-handed in this crisis. They just don’t know how to cover a story like this – a story with depth. They know how to repeat over and over that the storm is coming or that the white girl is missing or that the politicians are sniping. But they don’t know how to understand and get us to understand as NPR and BBC4 are doing. They also can’t adapt to covering another story just as their favorite story, the horserace, is loping toward the finish line. Cable news is a big loser in the financial crisis.

The Wall Street Journal is a natural winner but now I wonder whether its strategy of breaking out past business news might be a loser. I never buy the physical Journal but I am now because other news outlets – notably TV – are giving me too little.

The Times is doing a decent job. I’m going to international sources – my Guardian, the Telegraph, the other Times, German sites I try to understand – to get more perspective. But so far, the winner in keeping me up to date is NPR because it fearlessly broke its own formats. This American Life is the last show that you’d think would be great at explaining complex news – until they do it. Radio should be the last medium at letting us get depth when we need it – until they start a podcast and blog.

If only I could buy shares in NPR.

National Public What?

I’ll be speaking to the Public Radio News Directors this Saturday in Washington and I’ll want to bang all the heads together and make them repeat after me: “We are not radio. We are not radio. We are not radio.” Just as newspapers are not paper, or must figure out what they are after, so NPR must decide what it is after broadcast. I said this to them a few years ago when I spoke to the group in St. Louis and then again when I joined others to talk about new media at NPR’s headquarters. My prescription then:

NPR is not radio. If I tell newspapers they have to stop thinking on paper, so I’ll argue that NPR must throw off the limits of its medium. And I don’t just mean that the can go multimedia, adding photos or videos to their sound. I mean changing the culture, not thinking like a radio network anymore so thewy can see the options the internet opens up to work in every appropriate medium with entirely new kinds of content, from TV to data bases.

I’m seeing the notion of thinking past radio discussed now thanks to the death of one of public radio’s attempts to modernize, Bryant Park Project. It was, as far as I’m concerned, the better of the attempts; the other, The Takeaway, is floundering, earnestly but uncomfortably. NPR apparently doesn’t know what it means to modernize. They seem to think it means losing their legendary polish and releasing their inner “uh’s” and “y’know’s.”

The problem, I think, is that they didn’t understand what the essence of NPR is. They thought it was radio, so they tried to come up with new formats and formulae for radio. But that’s not what NPR is.

Rob Paterson, the very smart consultant who advises NPR, says of the BPP folding:

I think a couple of things are becoming more clear to me. The show was seen as a Radio show with a strong social web element. This is I think the key error that drove the costs and the expectations. If you want to do the new today – you have to break away from the costs of the machine – if a paper, no press and no paper!

I would have launched BPP as a web show with a bit of radio. No small distinction.

He talked about the cost of it, as did John Proffitt. Radio’s also not cheap. And then Rob comes to the bottom line for National Public (Radio):

Just as the presses and the paper is a cost that is killing the Newspapers, so the transmitters are killing TV and Radio. All that can remain for a while are the established shows such as ME and ATC. But if you want some thing new that will scale and make you money – it’s the web all the way.

But again, what is it that moves to the web? And how? What’s that essence of NPR? That’s what I asked the Guardian. It’s what every media organization trying to reinvent itself must ask. What are you saving? What is your appeal? What is your value? What are you?

This afternoon, I happened to be talking with Adam Davidson, part of the team that created that incredible This American Life/NPR News show explaining the credit crunch. On Twitter, Jay Rosen said this was the best explanatory journalism he’d heard. I responded that it was the best I’d heard or read. If The Times had explained the story this well, it would have made it as radio so in their voices we could hear — as someone said in another tweet — their incredulity. So it was great radio but that was merely a choice of media. It wasn’t the essence of it.

So I asked Davidson how he defined that essence. He thought about it and answered that it’s about shows that, at the end of the week, make you say, “Oh, that’s what it’s all about. Now I get it.”

I like that and that essence can be communicated in audio, video, text, graphics, apps, discussion. The intelligence of NPR can now be freed from mere radio to use any and all appropriate media. That’s what we try to teach our students at CUNY: making media choices with every story. So should NPR.

What do you think the essence of NPR is?

Trouble for NPR

It looks like bad news for Public Radio and its fans: CEO Ken Stern has been forced out. It appears that the stations did him in as they gun for his digital strategy because they fear the internet will hurt them.

Well guess, what, local yokels, hate to tell you this but… You’re screwed! You bet the internet is going to hurt you. There is no need for you as a distribution arm anymore. Unless you add valuable local content and service to the mix, you might as well tear down the tower now. Or in a year or two. Getting rid of Stern et al won’t get rid of reality.

This is the problem I see in all media: They think that protection is a strategy. It’s not.

The story on NPR’s site explains:

In addition, Stern led a major push in digital ventures. It stemmed from his often-repeated conviction that the old way of doing business wouldn’t work. Other diversions — such as cable television, online news sources, iPods, books on tape, video games and social networks — are siphoning audiences away from traditional broadcasters, including public radio stations. Stern argued that NPR shows and news and cultural segments increasingly had to be available on whatever platforms people wanted to hear them.

NPR is considered a leader in news and music podcasts. And under Stern it has also struck deals to deliver its content new ways, such as through cell phones.

But that push has aggravated anxiety among local stations about their relationship to the network. NPR member stations rely heavily on popular shows, particularly Morning Edition, to generate donations. But if people can listen to them through NPR’s Web site or even their own cell phones, why would they stay loyal to stations still reliant on pledge drives?

Interviews with eight current and former public radio officials suggest Stern failed to convince local stations — and especially their representatives on the board — that he saw a clear and healthy role for them in the digital future.

That’s because there may not be one.

I said that at NPR sometime ago when I visited with other graybeards of the social media world, giving them our solicited advice. Here was my prognostication then about local radio. It was crystal clear to me at the time that the stations — especially those that served only as distribution outlets — had no viable future. I advised that they should figure out how to shift the local stations to new roles in their communities. I loved the NPR strategy — Stern’s strategy — of getting maximum distribution for programming. That, after all, is also part of the mission of a publicly supported broadcaster. Isn’t it?

And there are other models for local support. When I wrote about reverse syndication as a model for national coverage in newspapers, served up by the New York Times and its competitors, John Proffitt suggested that this could be a model for NPR.

I’ve begun to promote a similar idea, specifically in the public media world. Local public TV and public radio stations today pay hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions to NPR, PBS, APTS, PRI, APM and other content providers (with NPR and PBS being the most obvious). This has stifled the local public media companies’ ability to produce local content. They blow all their cash paying the networks.

Reverse syndication in this world, to my thinking, is to have the networks sell their content to the public (ads, membership revenue) and give all the content to the local media outlets for free — with the caveat that embedded ads pass through with the content. Local outlets could then produce local media and still pick from the best national media and arrange it into locally-relevant streams/blocks on the web, on transmitters, etc.

This would also clean up the nasty co-dependent relationships between the local stations and the networks, as it would clarify the roles of each.

That’s the kind of thinking NPR and its stations desperately need. Not protectionism of the past.

: Here‘s Robert Patterson, who brought me to NPR, on today’s news.

: LATER: I don’t understand the politics of NPR that went into this. And I know there are visionary stations doing good and new things. I just fear that defining radio around towers and their location — like defining newspapers around presses and theirs — is dangerous.

So let’s get a discussion going on what NPR can and should do now for the future. What’s your vision? I’ll pipe in more later.

: LATER STILL: See the comment by Dennis Haarsager, interim CEO, below.

Seldom do you get it from the horse’s mouth, and this will be short, but go to my blog sometime tomorrow and I’ll publish a longer version. Until mid-day yesterday, I was chair of the NPR board, and since yesterday afternoon, I’m the new interim CEO. The scenario you outlined in your opening paragraph is dead wrong and so was the first part of the Washington Post story today. It’s what happens when speculators become sources. If station management wanted to kill off or slow down emerging media, their board picked the wrong boy. Read my blog archives for the past four years. More to come Saturday at Regards, Dennis Haarsager

: A NOTE TO DENNIS: I would suggest that NPR and you should have announced this in your blogs and engaged in a conversation about this with your supporters — not just your fans, of course, but the people who give you money. You handed this story over to the press and you left your real board — the public — in the dark. The sooner that conversation starts, the better, because there are people who like NPR out here — and have ideas for its future — who are worried.