The Automation of Media

One technology that often gets overlooked when talk about emergent technology occurs, is automation in the media. We first saw this happen to the radio industry in the late 1980s where radio stations were able to program music using software such as ENCO. This allowed smaller radio stations to stay within their limited budgets and not have to hire on-air talent. Of course, once automation was proven to work, it lead to wide spread use in all radio markets and resulted in eliminating the radio DJ or personality that introduced songs, segments and riffed about anything under the sun.

Once radio became automated, the technology became advanced enough that television stations were able to be automated. First, running commercials became automated, then it began encroaching on live productions like newscasts. The late 1990s-early aughts, brought the introduction of Parkervision, the first television automation system that also came with serious bugs. Parkervision was then eventually purchased by broadcasting equipment giant Grass Valley and much development went into making automation smoother and intuitive. The benefit of course was allowing smaller market television news stations the ability to provide higher production value without adding more manpower and staying within their shrinking budgets.

keyt
KEYT HD upgrade by Utter Associates      Photo copyright: Utterassociates.com

As with all automation, the improvements in the interface, software and device communication resulted in the reduction of staff from medium markets all the way to the top 5 markets of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas-Forth Worth. Control rooms that used to require 12-15 people in order to put out a fast, high-production value live broadcast were now reduced to 2 people. Directors no longer directed a show for camera shots, pacing or continuity but instead had to code  shows within computer software parameters. “Directing” was reduced to hitting a space bar to get to the next event (story) and creativity was replaced by computers.

WordPress, How I love thee…?

I dipped my toe in to the new world of blogging back in 2005, with Blogspot, aka Blogger. I never understood what seemed to be the confessional aspect of blogging. Who would be interested in anything I thought or said, what makes me an expert anyway? blogging-out-loud

So you can imagine my first blog was pretty pathetic, I barely posted, I put no effort into my page and truthfully, I don’t even know if it’s still around. I think my first post was about getting diagnosed a second time with breast cancer so not exactly viral material.

Then in 2012, a college classmate of mine introduced me to WordPress. We were efforting a grassroots campaign to get the word out about some issues affecting college students. The effort was a bust, but needless to say I was amazed at where blogging had gone. I started to notice legit websites were actually hosted by blog sites like WordPress, WIX, or any other number of blog outlets. They looked so good, as if that company was paying a staff of paid employees to code and build the back and front end to their specifications. I also started to notice major news outlets using bloggers on the air on topics such as foeirgn policy or education as if they were experts in the traditional sense. Sarah Palin was discovered by a blogger.

But within a few months of being sworn in she [Palin] and others in her circle noticed that a blogger named Adam Brickley had started a movement to draft her as Vice-President.

Although my friend and I’s effort in our grassroots campaign was a bust, our overall effect was connecting with many people we had not connected with in a very long time, it was evident how useful a blog or website could be.

_TOONBLGWordPress in particular is a great look. It’s easy on the eyes which is key given you want as many eyes reading your blog without those eyeballs getting tired or strained. The level of customization available for a free account is quite vast, which is smart because one could easily get hooked and want to increase their visibility and engagement by purchasing one of the packages WordPress provides for hosting, sharing and content management. As evident in its current iteration, WordPress is available for small blogs all the way to major companies using WordPress as their website. The cons for WordPress seem limited, perhaps being an open source operation would be a deterrent to some big companies from using WordPress as their CMS but for the entrepreneur, WordPress would be an important tool in marketing and making a brand— or voice — available to a wide audience. The challenge then becomes sifting through all the mis-information and fluff to get to the meat and potatoes of a brand, story or event.

FCC: ISPs To Respect Privacy

info protectionData mining. Persuasive messages. Unique clicks. Monetizing the internet.

These were all topics that we discussed in my most recent class about digital convergence, media and how the landscape of media has changed. It was a very interesting discussion, mostly because I got to hear what younger “millennial” types thought about privacy or the lack there of and what kind of information they were okay with giving up. Then we were asked what would we pay for on the internet? This stumped me, I have to admit, because I don’t think there really is anything for which I would pay the internet directly. I guess the closest thing for me is Netflix.wheeler

 

Today on NPR’s All Things Tech I caught an interview with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The interview was about a proposal Wheeler will formally be making March 31 about privacy. This however, is different than the usual discussions of privacy issues that crop up around the internet.

The only thing between you and the internet is your internet service provider (ISP). These providers have a wealth of data and micro data that they collect from their customers and then turnaround and sell to brokers and marketers and credit reporting agencies. This is information that they not only get from their customers when they sign up for service, but also information that they continue to get from the online activities of their customers. What customers search for, what apps they download, what locations a customer visits. Chairman Wheeler is proposing two things: that consumers be able to decide how much their information is worth and how that worth should be reflected in what an ISP charges for it’s service; that ISPs be required to report any breach of data to it’s customers, and that any breach affecting 5,000 or more customers must be reported to the FBI.

Now that is something I would pay for. Being able to control my information, after all it is mine, isn’t it? Better yet, you want my information? Here, now give me free internet.

A Spotlight on Convergence

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, I saw Spotlight recently. The Best Picture Oscar winner is about the investigative arm of the Boston Globe, named Spotlight, and how that team uncovered the massive child abuse and molestation scandal within the Archdiocese of Catholic Boston. Spotlight doesn’t just do an excellent job of portraying journalism at the turn of the 21st century, it also does an excellent job conveying the soon-to-be power of the internet and eventual convergence that will occur between old and new media.

My nostalgia came in watching the early aughts portrayed in hairstyles and clothing, printing presses, flip cell phones and pen to paper. The tone of the movie had a focus and intensity that is very often lacking in current movies, shows and in our current culture. There is a scene in the movie where the team is talking about the final story going to print, how there is more information than there is space in the paper. The decision is made to include a url on the “world wide web” at the end of the article where readers can go for more information. They also list a phone number for victims to call. This scene in particular is fantastic in its subtle nod to the cusp of digital convergence as we now know it. It also made me think—again— just how many directions into which our attention is being pulled today.

Spotlight chronicles and portrays living in the world of Web 1.0, where information on the internet was a one-way street, a place to get information and leave. Today we live in the world of Web 2.0, where the internet graduated to a two-way street; sharing information and receiving feedback on that information. There is now so much information pulling at the eyeballs of every user via data mining gathered from Facebook likes, searches, cookies and now from “super” cookies. Thinking about this, I could not help ask myself, “Would a story like this have been able to come out in such detail today?” The Spotlight team and their editors took time to develop and research the story, protecting themselves and the victims from retaliation from the Church. Would that kind of care be possible in today’s media landscape?

Additionally, this time period in which Spotlight takes place, is also the beginning of the corporate take overs of many media outlets—AOL/TimerWarner merger, and Disney/ESPN were the two big ones, but for the most part there was, at that time, still some independence in media ownership.

And that, is what I was nostalgic for. In taking a moment to turn away from the show that is our current election season and taking a moment to turn off my electronics, I was able to focus. Focus on a movie that looked back at a time when we were really able to focus…intensely, able to engross ourselves in specific content and focus on learning about an issue. That is something worth remembering to do.

I Have A Bad Feeling About Data

I felt a great disturbance in the force….

–Obi Wan Kenobi

Finding that clip, on YouTube cost me an hour of my life thanks to the wormhole of endless Star Wars (and by Star Wars, I mean Episode 4 for you young’ins) clips, documentaries and commentaries. So much stuff to wade through, that I only found that particular clip by entering “Obi Wan Kenobi disturbance in the force” in the search field.

This brings me to the point of this week’s blog post. Data. Data-star-trek-the-next-generation-31159191-1024-768No, not that one. The information kind, like when you mindlessly agree to the terms of services to all those convenient apps on your smartphone. Your DataOr all the information (data) that is collected behind your computer screen via cookies or IP addresses. What about information that should be or supposed to be out there? The kind that helps us make decisions like whether to get the HPV vaccine for your kid or whether one car brand is better than another, or who to cast your ballot for?

Data, information and knowledge all go hand in hand. You need one for the other, right? But what if that data is disrupted, what happens to gaining the knowledge you seek by searching for that data? Enter Donald J. Trump, disruptor extraordinaire. He is the planet Alderaan to the Republican party, and it’s leadership, crying out in terror. The question remains who will be silenced.

Before all this convergence in technology, content and media, there were clear messages and information that was shared, processed and understood for the most part with little disruption. If you wanted information about a vaccine, you consulted your doctor or maybe a medical journal. Which car is better? Consult some mechanics or a Consumer Reports article. What candidate to vote for? Check out the newspaper’s in depth breakdown of candidates positions on issues or watch a debate. That was then….not too long ago, mind you, before all this data on everything became the new way of doing, well, anything. Back when election debates were substantive with effective moderators. Not promoted like a cage match.

Now, we have so much information, so much data available about everything that it defeats the purpose of getting to that educated decision. As an undergraduate communications and political science major, my big project was on media bias. That was the thing 20 years ago, all media were liberal or conservative and in order to be media literate one had to consult several media sources for the same story in order to get the best understanding of the given subject. Today, not only are the lines of bias blurred thanks to the internet, social media, re-purposed content and the personalization of an online presence but there is just so much out there now that it causes disruptions in basic reception. In the end all it becomes is noise, until Donald Trump speaks, then it’s a cacophony.

Bruce Springsteen seemed prophetic in his 1992 song 57 channels:

Well we might’ a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’ a got all nice and friendly
If we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “Bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

He was just 300 channels off.

Debates, social media and television

As I write this week’s blog reflection, I am “second screening” the Democratic Debate on PBS. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff managed to incorporate questions from social media without the result looking like a circus. The graphics were a simple lower third that indicated the question to which the candidates were responding to at any given time. The stage was simple, clean lines and colors. No props needed, unlike the Republican Debate held at the Reagan Library on CNN (Reagan’s Air force One). As I watch and rewind, thanks to my TiVo, I find myself listening more attentively than I have in previous debates, Republican or Democratic, and I have come to the conclusion that presentation makes or breaks communicating a message. This is where radio and television have the advantage over social media.

Think back to the previous debates of both parties. CNN with the aforementioned Air force One, Fox News with their flashy stage mimicking their high energy newscasts, CBS with it’s Democratic debate, CNN with their second debate in Utah and finally PBS with their understated set design even keeping moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff in subdued lighting so as to focus attention on the candidates.Fox FacebookGOPCBS Dem

CNN Tea Party/Republican Debate

PBS Dem

Taking note of this, I could not help think about how news is presented on social media and how television seems to be relinquishing it’s advantage of presentation by seeming to be taking a page from online outlets in how to present news and information—fast and furious.

Linguist and American University professor Naomi Baron makes the case that technology has changed the way humans read, write, speak and listen. She is not wrong. Busier set designs keep the short attention span of viewers, reliance on culling questions for candidates from sites such as Facebook or Twitter instead of listening and the art of follow up questions seems to be dead. These are just some examples of how traditional media (television) has adapted to the rise of social media. Instead of debates of substantive questions, answers and moderators, it is now a clash of egos and celebrity journalists akin to The Hunger Games. Oh, Stephen Colbert beat me to it!

Well, at least we still have PBS.

The Branding of YOU

Until I began graduate school, I never thought about social media. I was using it like everyone else, or because I had to for work, but I never thought about it in terms of converging media. Or user generated content. Or even considered that we now live in a digital culture. None of these ideas came to fruition for me until we discussed The Conversation Prism (TCP).

Today, at the center of our digital culture is one person: YOU

You and your own brand and how do you sell yourself to the world. And we call millennials the selfish generation!

I could take the easy way and talk about a certain reality show family that are experts at social media use and are able to consistently stay relevant, but I would rather talk about average people. If you took a look at the above link to the TCP you will now realise that social media is more than just cat videos on YouTube or your Facebook friends. From sales and marketing to human resources, social media needs one key ingredient: YOUr data. When used responsibly, this data gets mined by marketers, advertisers and businesses so they can email, post to you sites or show up in your Google searches and convince you to use them, buy them or just “like” them. Pretty innocuous, right? Like getting junk snail mail back in the day, except now it comes right into your device of choice. What happens when it’s not so innocuous? With all this information out there, much of it personal, what happens when something goes wrong?

In class, we went through not-so-heavily-used social media sites, like Quora, Yelp and  Pinterest just to name a few. Then the next day was the story of 13-year-old Nicole Lovell a user of Facebook, and Kik; a messenger app for the smartphone. After coming off of a fun class discussion of how great and informative social media is and can bring YOU to the world, this story hit me like a ton of bricks. Mostly because this 13-year-old not only had a liver transplant when she was an infant but she also survived lymphoma. I could only wonder what role social media played in the demise of this often described loving and friendly girl.

User generated content is the new commerce of today’s world. For most of us it’s too many ads or solicitations. But for a growing number of people, user generated content is the new commerce for predators, stalkers and thieves. Perhaps the next step in the convergence of media and communications is reigning in the World Wide Web.