29 April 2008

We Are the Media - Now What?

I've been thinking a bit lately about the unique challenges introduced by the new world of media, particularly now that blogging is pretty much accepted as mainstream. It brings in a whole new rule set.

Take, for example, lone bloggers or even blog consortia where each brand is strongly identified with an editor or a single contributor (e.g., the Gawker Media sites). I read two such, smaller fry sites on a daily basis - Soxaholix and The Comics Curmudgeon. What happens when the person who is the brand goes on vacation or gets sick? Comics Curmudgeon's Josh has Uncle Lumpy to step in for his planned absences, and he will often note the outside forces keeping him from posting promptly or at greater length. But I notice when he isn't there. Uncle Lumpy is great, but he's an entirely different person and most of the site is built on Josh's personality and sense of humor. In Old Media terms, it's almost like GQ trying to slip you an issue of Details because their editor was too sick to pump out an issue. Over at Soxaholix, author Hart Brachen posted about his and his wife's illnesses, which were keeping him from his daily posting.

Compare this to newspapers or magazines - simply anonymous organizations where most any cog can be replaced and the readers are none the wiser. Even television news and entertainment programs can generally swap personalities with little audience disruption. Not only have we come to expect a high level of quality and frequency from sources who operate at little or no profit, often as a side "job" but we further expect an explanation for any lapse, including personal details from someone with whom we actually do not have a personal relationship.

I'd been thinking about this fairly concrete aspect of it even since Hart's recent problems. But a post today at Feministing got me thinking about a whole new level - ethics. Besides expecting a higher level of commitment from our bloggers and online media personalities, we also seem to expect just plain more of them. Jessica's post is entitled Some feminist self-reflection but is much more self-recrimination than anything else. Her crime is not plagiarism, made-up sources, or even not producing enough corroboration in support of facts, her crime is not listening to her detractors and critics, particularly those who post in the comments section of the site. This is simply fascinating to me. (On an interesting tangent, I considered briefly that this was a symptom of being a progressive woman blogger, rather than simply a blogger. After all, progressive ideals lead us to be more collaborative, bottom-up, inclusive and non-hierarchical. Then I realized those are the same ideas of the blogosphere, so there you go.) You would never see such a statement from television or print commentators; after all, it's their job to convince you their opinion is right and you are stupid if you disagree. Even factual errors are relegated to small retraction or correction statements, only the most notorious cases generate such a brutally honest, long-form apology.

I love that the web is shaping not only new forms and delivery media, but actually shaping the quality and content of the information we consume, even if some aspects of the transition make me feel a little sorry for these guys.

28 April 2008

Commodify Your Media, It's Good For You!

Many have lamented that the 24-hour news cycle, created first by cable news and consolidated on the web, has caused a noticeable drop in the quality and accuracy of reporting. Outlets rush to be the first to report a story, and even if some of the facts are off, missing or just plain wrong, they can post updates later to clarify or correct. That's why this weekend's On The Media story about a cooperative effort among Ohio newspapers agreeing to share headlines and content was so heartening. Sadly, the whole conversation was a bit short-sighted and played into the "Old Media is shriveling up and dying" meme, but between the lines was some real hope.

The conversation started to head in an interesting direction when interviewer Bob Garfield asked about the "commodification" of local news and therefore, the weakening of the individual newspapers' brands. Though Cleveland Plain Dealer Editor Susan Goldberg only got the chance to answer briefly before moving on to cover other aspects, I think it opened a window into the benefits of this commodification. When a scoop headline becomes a shared resource, the only way to grow your brand is through deeper and more insightful reporting. Further, by creating a cooperative/collaborative group, you free up journalists to do this sort of in-depth reporting and follow-up. Each paper no longer has to send one of its own reporters to every fire, car accident or homicide; that burden is spread around, leaving the other 11 reporters who would have been hanging around, jostling for tips and access, free to pursue other stories, hopefully spending more time on each one.

Obviously, that is the most positive outcome of such an arrangement. In many cases, this type of cooperative arrangement can really only act as a stop-loss, given the slashed staffing at most local newspapers. But even there, it has a great deal of benefit - again, allowing the smaller staff to continue to create a true local newspaper with quality reporting.

24 April 2008

Why can't I make a good canned demo?

I am a pretty fabulous demo artist. Give me a live audience or even over the phone via GoToMeeting and it's smooth sailing for the next 30 minutes. So why am I always struggling with creating a canned demo to post on the website?

In live demos I work with an outline, rather than a script. When I stick to the outline for the recorded demo, I find myself stumbling, stuttering and reaching for words that flow easily with a live or virtual audience. When I try to follow a script, it only gets worse.

I suspect it's the unnatural feeling of talking into the void with no feedback of any kind. I may also be a lot harder on the results when creating a recorded demo, which can be re-edited to perfection and my audience knows it.

After doing some Googling, I also think I may just be doing it wrong. In the past, I have set out to essentially capture what I do in a live demo for on demand viewing. But that's not really what users expect. And likely my own experiences evaluating software color my satisfaction with my own work. Though relatively ancient, this case study [PDF] makes some great points, particularly about brevity, focus and navigation. Most of what's outdated or irrelevant is due to the fact that we can all make great demos for well under $50,000 using better and cheaper technologies. Even better, though, was this TechRepublic webinar, which presented a specific strategy for creating brief, focused and just plain awesome demos. I'm going to put it in practice and see if I get any better results.

23 April 2008

Welcome to Nullset v3

This is the third incarnation of my Nullset blog. The first was here on Blogger a few years ago, mainly because I'm an early adopter and I like to write. It was mostly rambly and had little coherence of subject matter. In fact, I chose the title Nullset specifically to imply that anything and everything was fair game. Nullset 2.0 lived on BostonNOW.com and was more ranty than rambly. It got a little more traffic and I tended to stick with local transit issues, tech and entertainment, but was still pretty random.

Now comes Nullset v3. My goal is make this my "grownup" blog - essentially a form of personal branding and a way to connect and learn from others. So, let's see how that pans out...