Tuesday, August 26, 2008

All The News Fit to Browse

Peggy Drexler gives us a chilling take on the mind-set of the American journalism consumer with her McClatchy-Tribune distributed column. The gist of the Cornell psychology professor's column is that the cloud that is the media provides everything to the reader -- but not in the best of ways. It becomes incredibly easy to tune into the news that you want, rather than at times the news that you might need. Pointing to the political situation, it is easy to descend into a worm hole of reinforcing coverage to one's preconceived notions. Think Barack Obama is getting poor treatment because of race; there's a blog for that. Think Hillary Clinton is getting the shaft on gender; plenty of news coverage there. Think John McCain's getting the short end of opinion; lots of that too.

Where Drexler goes with this is a bit difficult to accept. The point is this new "mob" of media is bad, and that somehow we may be at fault. Can't agree. America's journalistic past was once dominated by the "party" press; newspapers funded by and supporting particular political groups or points of view. This is as old as our free press. The difference is the ease with which it may be started, and the low barrier to entry. From her column:

How can we blame The Media for stepping out of bounds when the lines have been washed awy like sidewalk calk in a rainstorm?

Better to say that the rain -- in the form of new technology -- has removed the artificial lines created by the professional media.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I Could Not Say It Better

This post dates to late July, and came out as a part of a news feed in early August. For those trying to understand the end of the sports journalism world as we know it, this blog entry at From the Bleachers says it all.

Titled "Exodus," it chronicles the departure from ink-and-paper some of the key sports journalists and their re-emergence (and some would say re-invigoration) in the all-digital world.

One of the focus points is Tony Barnhart. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist -- and past-president of the Football Writer's Association -- is more active, timely and relevant in his on-line work for the AJC blog. Not in the FTB blog, but this was most evident as Barnhart broke details about the two huge SEC TV deals, telling many of us in the schools more about what was happening than we were picking up through official sources.

Postscript: If you didn't believe in the end of the world, not two weeks after his blog entry that focused on Barnhart -- the venerable columnist takes a "voluntary" buyout to leave the AJC.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Media is Not a Zero-Sum Game

My favorite icon of mediathink to bash is the zero-sum game. If you allow choice, it will dilute the product. If you provide what is seen as competitive content, it will destroy the share and ratings. If we chose this method of delivery, we must exclude all others.

The new media is a firehose, and guess what NBC is now learning? The same lesson CBS figured out during the NCAA Final Four. Interestingly enough, more is actually . . . more.

This just in from NBC Universal: ratings are going up. Up for the traditional network broadcast window. Up for the ancillary network delivery. And astronomically up through new media.

This space has been harshly critical of NBC's handling of past Olympics as they sought to bring in more views by taking the sports out and putting the human interest in. Someone caught the clue that after Athens that A) the sappy, super-saccharine soap-opera approach was neither bringing in the female demo they were touting in 1996 and 2000 (no one wants to watch the whole event, just the highlights); and B) those darn internets were providing the spoiler role to time-delayed sports.

Since the internet genie wasn't going back in the bottle, NBC has embraced the horror and gone uber-geek. Their play is paying dividends. According to AP, NBC Universal has reported 1.7 million video streams off USA's frog-squashing int he 400 relay alone; plus another 1.5 emailed to friends of the same.


It's not supply and demand; it's creating demand. You can watch almost anything, at any time. TiVo, meet Silverlight. NBC figured out that given the choice, fans will opt for their HD TVs and the Nielson book over their computers or phones. But for those that need that option, instead of shutting out the other content vehicles, NBC is now seeing a half-million phone downloads the first two days. Small, yes. Fantastically beyond estimates? Oh hell yes.

And the money quote:

NBC Universal worried in past Olympics years that its decision to air much of the events on cable outlets like CNBC, MSNBC and USA would siphon interest from prime-time, which is still where the network earns the bulk of its advertising revenue. But the opposite proved to be true and, this year, the same thing has happened with the digital content, said Gary Zenkel, president of NBC Olympics.

The takeaway lesson for college sports? Don't restrict yourself based on the old-network paradigms of zero-sum gain. Exclusive partners within a medium? Certainly. But don't let one medium exclude the other. Fan choice for interaction is driven by circumstance. Most would rather buy a ticket and be there. If not, they'll watch TV. If not, they'll watch streaming video. If not, they'll take audio by phone. And so on.

And every one of those modes serves a different audience, with a different price point. It can all generate both interest and profit.

However, somewhere, out there, the 21st century embodiment of H.L. Mencken's Puritan waits to lock down new media based on the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might not watch the TV.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Unrelated? I Think Not

Gannett announced it was calling for 1,000-person reduction in force nationwide today. That's about 15 per editorial staff if I'm averaging the math right across the chain. Obviously, it won't fall equally on papers, but that comes a day after WEHCO, the corporate owner of the major paper in our state and others, would be freezing salaries. Those two tie together how? Aside from speaking to the trend in traditional journalism of economic woe, the last time WEHCO held the line like that? According to the current media reports, that was when they were starting their battle with Gannett in the Little Rock market back in the late 70s, early 80s.

And speaking of the late 70s, Russia is bringing back a golden oldie -- Evil Capitalist Plot To Subvert Will Of Workers. The Times (UK) has this delicious article about the party line from the Kremlin going retro for the Georgian invasion. You see, Comrades, it was really Vice-President Dick Cheney's conspiracy to prevent the election of Barak Obama. Seriously. I wouldn't kid about a Soviet, excuse me, Russian news item. Ah, for the days of Pravda.

So who is providing the Truth in Russia. Those pesky internets are at it again. Of course, the Russians launched their cyberattack on the Georgian domains right along with their tanks rolling into the country. Google stepped up to help out the Georgian government with some server mirroring to thwart the DoS attack -- and at the close of business that day GMail went missing for 90 minutes. Coincidence?

I digress. So how does this Russian load of high quality propaganda sync with the loss of American journalists jobs? Goes back to the old Citizen Media quandary. Who will pay for the journalism we need? The good news -- the media is evolving, and many of these journalists are going over the side into independent production. The bad news -- we may have fewer people to stay vigilant on the little stories. The ones that blossom into big significant ones. Like this break in at DNC headquarters. Or some FOIs. Or some missed minutes from a meeting. Why are those things potentially missed? Cause the papers are busy giving us what we want, which of course is more coverage of Angelina's twins.

For the college PR business, it will put even more emphasis on a Fan First approach. If the paper's cutting back, who will cover the volleyball team? If the TV station is consolidating staff and coverage into buying syndicated programming at 5 or 6 pm rather than local news -- forget local live event production -- it puts even more value on new media operations that can produce IPTV streams. Well, unless you sold those rights away.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Pair of Privacy Issues

A pair of media outlets bring us two very private sets of details, but both invasions of privacy were self-inflicted.

The more salacious is today's Deadspin, and relates to a pair of athletes discovered modeling. That's nothing new, Gabbe Reese. The fact they were nude -- ah, that's new. One wonders what these Division I BCS conference athletes were thinking. That no one would notice?

The second relates to HIPPA, and the couple of very important exceptions to that reasonably draconian rule. The feds can rain down very significant fines on health care workers, and those who handle health care records. Group A that is totally immune -- the media. While it may seem an invasion of privacy, there is nothing that prevents them from printing health-related information. Group B -- the person who's health is being commented upon.

So, when The Sporting News texts directly to a BCS football athlete to confirm his torn ACL, and said athlete texts back confirmation -- nothing can be done.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Don't Let Your Mouth Write a Check Your Relay Can't Cash

NBC's swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines erupted, "Who's talkin' now?!?"

Heading into the men's 400-meter freestyle final, there was the distinct odor of upset in the air, courtesy of French world record holder Alain Bernard.

"The Americans? We're going to smash them. That's what we came here for," Bernard said.

Bernard had the race. He had the lead. Unfortunately, USA had the motivation.

"We don't say anything until it's over," Cullen Jones said.

"The Frenchies were talking stuff, and we just took care of business," anchor Jason Lezak said.

Now, Bernard goes into the history books for perhaps the most ill-advised trash talking. Ever. Of course, Michael Phelps came very, very close to his own moment -- first with his Speedo body suit hanging dangerously low, then second when his gutteral yelp of victory appearing to start with a "fffuuu," then appears in the slow-mo to quickly transition without the golden image killing consonants into a yeaaaaaahhhhh.

And, slow motion reveals all -- including the final five meter look over by Bernard at Lezak. Lezak trailed by a half second starting the leg. Lezak looks back, and it's like he's showing the Frenchman his still-beating heart before touching the wall and smashing the tricolor.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Did I Mention How Cool Silverlight Is?

For the past half hour, I've sat and watched men's individual epee. Who knew? Who cared?

Thanks to this streaming content, I'm mesmerized by watching these two guys go at each other in what seems more like barroom brawl -- the lighting is dark and spotlight. They scream. They taunt. They yell. The crowd has airhorns.

The beauty of this stuff is the cameras -- very crisp, 16x9 ratios and I'm guessing high def capture. It streams well, even for something like epee that has fast moving fine details. But, I think one of the really great things is the cinema verite of the nat sound from the arenas.

It was the same on Russia-Iran men's basketball. No overblown American announcers. Just squeaking sneakers, thumping dribbles and the occasional cheer.

Another brick in the network wall is coming down.

Kudos to NBC

The Olympics show us the future of sports media production. Silverlight is all it was hyped up to be. The key is bringing the sports to the fan and giving them the ability to choose and manage.

Today, I've spent time watching the NBC soccer and basketball channels on my DIRECTV, where I have a special interactive menu. Until figuring this out today, I was at a confused loss for what was on when. With the 12-hour time difference and the usual feature approach by NBC, I was ready to just take a pass.

Not any more. After enjoying several looks at things I'd have never watched -- who knew that Becky Hammons was now a Russian, the New Zealand team darn near didn't advance, Germany's got great women's soccer possession skills, and there's the President at beach volleyball -- I'm currently taking in the live feed of Iran versus Russia men's hoops via Silverlight.

Given the right tools -- Tricasters and broadcast cameras -- plus Silverlight, there's no reason why every school can't be its own network via IP.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Simple Explanations are Always the Best

Caller to the Dennis Miller Show this Friday:

"I had a thought, that became a rumor"

And thus, the genesis explanation of more than a few internet news items.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Rapid Response Engagement

Referencing back to the CoSIDA presentation, here is a perfect example this past week of the marriage of monitoring and engagement. This is a real world, real name situation. In the course of the relaunch of our website, it has drawn new attention to all things Razorback. Two days ago, a moderator of the largest fan board made a post around 6:50 p.m. that a link on the Razorback Foundation pointed to a former coaches' now closed website. I picked it up while reading through boards around 7:30, and forwarded a note to those who needed to know. Within 30 minutes, one of the people commenting on the board took it direct to the AD.

In the past, a letter or even an email might linger. With the speed of the 'net, that's just not going to work. By 8:40, I'm emailing this person to thank him and assure him that we were making contact with the vendor to correct it. At just after 9 p.m., a segment of my email is quoted out on the board and after that the thread petered out with generally positive comments that the department was reacting to the error.

There are a host of the old lessons within this event:
Turn the speech into a conversation -- by listening and responding, we gained positive credit.
Digital assets are incredibly portable -- as I've always tutored our athletes, staff and coaches, anything digital -- in this case an email -- is very easy to cut and paste anywhere.
Rumors move at the speed of light -- no telling how this morphs if ignored, as it was heating up within a couple of hours.
Public schools are glass houses -- every email, every call, every detail is publicly available and subject to review.

Not 24 hours later, we had an all-blog event where one prominent statewide news blogger picks up just a part of a bit on one of the statewide radio shows. He riffs on what was said, and doesn't pick up until the next day that it was a practical joke played by one host on the other. But, the first part related to our football press guide, and it launched a thread on a pair of boards. Again, fast emails to the host and the board admins discovered the truth -- the fact it was a joke -- and that got posted on the boards. This effectively shuts down the thread, and the boards move on.

The lesson once again -- you must stay involved with all of your communities: physical and virtual.