February 10, 2007

Wrapping up WeMedia

John Zogby

Very cool time Thursday night, starting with a video presentation with Christine Gambito, one of the most popular video artists on YouTube, followed by me, Steve Rosenbaum of Magnify Media and three students from the University of Miami showing a Webisode series they created.

We ran out of time — I didn’t even have a chance to grab a mojito afterward! — but I wanted to ask the students why they chose to pursue writing a short-form fiction series rather than something that reflects their real lives. Guess that’s what’s popular on YouTube these days. Then a few of us — Steve R., Tish Grier and Jemima Kiss of the Guardian UK — hit a nearby Thai restaurant for some frivolous talk about modern culture and Web 2.0; I really do prefer small gatherings over loud, raucous dinners for 40, though this event was a nice combination of the two.

Today, day two of WeMedia, flashed by very quickly. Two very good sessions. I did a half-dozen video podcast interviews that I’ll be posting over the next month and also took a few more photos of participants and some new friends I made here. I wound up rushing too much — didn’t even have time for lunch — and just barely caught a taxi to the airport. Doc Searls, the pioneering journalist-blogger, picked me up at Santa Barbara (Calif.) airport, and I’m using his wi-fi right now. More on why I’m here in Southern California soon.

Meanwhile, back in Miami, WeMedia’s panels earlier today seemed to be a hit. “Gen next: the content creatives” featured a half-dozen very bright high school and college-age students who held forth on their media habits in the digital age.

John Fischer, who just snagged a job with Infinia Foresight, said that the problem of young people’s MySpace pages following them into the professional world is just the tip of the iceberg of privacy concerns. He spoke of your “digital aura — your transactions, histories, your likes and dislikes will all be following you.”

A teen girl on stage: “Gmail — it’s Google! How can you not have Gmail?”

I wasn’t live-blogging this, so check out Technorati for more coverage.

The future of media

The conference ended on a powerful if somewhat ambivalent note with a “town hall meeting” titled, “Behold the Power of Us: The future of media, democracy and community.”

Michael Rogers, futurist-in-residence at the New York Times (a part-time gig — guess the Times thinks it doesn’t need a full-time futurist), moderated the panel, and it was great to finally meet Michael in person. (Also finally met Geneva Overholser, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.) On stage were Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami; Sheryl Tucker, Executive Editor, Time, Inc.; John Zogby, President and CEO, Zogby International (pictured above); Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist; Jason Pontin, editor of MIT’s Technology Review; Cristi Hegranes of Press Institute for Women in the Developing World; and Alberto Ibarguen, President and CEO, Knight Foundation.

Pontin predicted, with the advent of digital ink/electronic paper, that print publications (he didn’t specify which ones, but it sounded like all newspapers and magazines) would be out of business in 10 to 20 years. I suspect it both print and digital ink will co-exist for decades longer. (We in the early adopter crowd usually overestimate the rapidity with which new technologies will be adopted.)

He also touted SplashCast as a very cool and compelling new application that will help spur the advent of more user-generated video online. And he had high praise for Switzerland-based EduVision.

He said of the mainstream media: “Our fuction is not to be gatekeepers. i think we’re more like bartenders at a favorite bar. You trust us to provide a series of standards and identity and I don’t think that’s going away soon.” It’s interesting how little the conversation around this has changed in the past decade. I wrote in AJR in 1996:

Bob Wyman: “The image of a ‘gatekeeper’ implies that there is a gate. … What we need today fits much more the image of a filter or a guide.”

Esther Dyson, president of EDVenture Holdings and chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says, “An online editor should be a virtual bartender. In the interactive world, the bartender doesn’t do all the talking. Your value comes in listening and in knowing who should talk to whom. Now, that doesn’t mean every editor should take bartending class, but the more successful online services put a high premium on interacting with readers.”

In any event, John Zogby released some new poll numbers that showed the disconnect between the public and media executives with respect to how they believe the media is regarded. (I asked him whether they’ll release the numbers publicly and he said they would; should be in a couple of days.) Here are some preliminary stats:

– Only 27% of the public said they were satisfied with the news but 76% of people inside it are satisfied.

– Only 12% of the public read newspapers but 26% of the industry reads them.

– 32% of the public get their news from TV but only 5% of the media does.

– 40% of the public gets their news from the Internet but 60% of the media industry does.

– Just over half the public said blogs are important but 86% of the media said they are.

Donna Shalala attributed the results of the last election largely to larger-than-usual turnout by young people, who were spurred to the polls by new technologies such as social networks and new media, among other things. “It will transform American politics if it sustains itself in the next election,” she declared.

The drawback of the session was what was left unsaid — how the mainstream media needs to transform itself into being more of an advocate for us. I tried to underscore this point in the last remarks from the floor, but Time’s Sheryl Tucker struck a defensive note, not budging an inch from her position that the media were doing their job with a high degree of professionalism and that the problem seemed to be one of perception.

That, in essence, is the real problem here. The lack of awareness or willingness to reexamine decades-long habits.

Terrific coverage of the conference from Mark Glaser at PBS MediaShift here and here and Jemima Kiss of the Guardian.

JD Lasica, founder of Socialmedia.biz, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
  • great coverage, JD…

    I chatted with Jim Brady later on Friday, and mentioned to him my observation that Big Media either wants to “monetize or demonize” blogs and bloggers. If there’s no profit to be made, if blogs and bloggers can’t be absorbed and incorporated into the media machine, then just demonize them and hope they go away…

    they simply can’t get that it’s okay to just have a conversation using a new medium and not want to make bucks from it…

    I was also struck by Tucker’s comments about being a citizen and that bloggers are using “our tools”? huh? Didn’t know Blogger and Typepad were invented for use by the press–and when it comes to ‘citizens,’ sure, we’re all citizens of the U.S. We participate in its culture and economy in different ways. But not all U.S. citizens are citizens of this space online. Many of those who work here don’t live here. And that, I think is what makes some of us better citizens of this space than Big Media.

  • JD, I’m quite complimented that you thought to pull out my old 1996 comment on gatekeepers. However, I hope readers of your piece will actually follow the link and read the rest of your 1996 AJR article. They will, I think, be *very* surprised by how much has remained unchanged since then. We’ve known about these problems for a long, long time. Why haven’t we been able to do anything about them or convince others to address them?

    bob wyman

  • JD, I’m quite complimented that you thought to pull out my old 1996 comment on gatekeepers. However, I hope readers of your piece will actually follow the link and read the rest of your 1996 AJR article. They will, I think, be *very* surprised by how much has remained unchanged since then. We’ve known about these problems for a long, long time. Why haven’t we been able to do anything about them or convince others to address them?

    bob wyman

  • JD

    Bob, you’re quite right. I think few people anticipated the level of inertia that exists in the newspaper industry. Which is why social media and citizen media are taking off.