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What Twitter is good for


Today’s local gov’t digital responsivess score: Boston Police 1, MBTA 0

Riding the #1 bus across the Charles to Cambridge for the last half-day of Media in Transition this morning, was mildly horrified to notice our driver holding the wheel with his forearms. Both hands were engaged with the keyboard of his cell phone and his gaze shifted between the road and his tiny screen. Didn’t think quickly enough to pull out the iPhone and snap a picture, but when I had settled into my conference session to listen to Ben Peters explain the failure of the Soviet Union to develop the Internet, I searched on Twitter in vain for an official MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority) Twitter address (a few informal ones and one set up to insult the “T” as we call the Metro here in Boston). But the Boston Police are there! So I tweeted as follows:

8:50AM headed to #MIT6 just missed getting photo of driver on #1 texting while bus moving. MBTA not on Twitter!! Maybe @Boston_Police care?

And some while later, the Boston Police answered:

thanks – will forward to T.

Now that is the just the kind of civic participation instant gratification elation the Twit-o-sphere is made for.

They also thoughtfully advised me on the proper use of their Twitter:

Thank you for following the Boston Police(beta). We monitor @ replies, but in case of emergency, always phone 911.

Kudos to the Tweeting Boston Police, and Mass voters, please support increasing the gas tax to fund more better and more responsive mass transit.

To the couch! (listen to Radio Berkman)


couchI had great fun having a conversation with my colleague David Weinberger that resulted in a holiday Radio Berkman podcast on the ghosts of media future. One line that made it into the edited version, but is a bit hard to hear because I kind of swallowed it (I’ve forgotten everything my mentors from Open Radio in Moscow taught me) was that part of what I am doing in my paper was “standing up for couch potatoes.” It reminded me that I had used this image in a presentation at Beyond Broadcast to illustrate the exhortation that was part of the original Media Re:public manifesto “Come back to the public (all of them).” Basically, I think that we need to recognize that couch potatoes are potatoes people too. Passive consumers of news still deserve to know what’s going on. So there. You can listening passively to the podcast, where besides some blather from me, there is also some insightful comments from my wonderful collaborators Pat Aufderheide and Jessica Clark, who are the future of public media (which is not just public broadcasting!).

Image: Potato Head – Couch Potato : )
Uploaded on October 11, 2006
by oddsock

Can VRM save Public Broadcasting?


We want to support the programs we love.
We want to support the people who might produce programs we might love in the future.
We don’t want to save public broadcast stations just because they are transmitters that used to be the only way we could get these shows, but we do want to support stations that create and support communities.
We want to be able to donate money for podcasts, individual shows and stations.
We want to do this in ITunes and on the IPhone and in other places too.
We want to support stations to produce shows we don’t care about, because other people might be interested in them.
Some of us (OK, exactly one of us) don’t mind pledge weeks, but want additional options for supporting podcasts.

We all hope that this little picture
will help us do what we want.

That’s the “Relbutton,” “rel” being short for “relationship.” The Relbutton was one of the hot topics at the first workshop of Project VRM, which I was lucky enough to attend some of yesterday and today. Sadly other commitments interrupted, so I missed some sessions, but I did make sure to be at the session on VRM and Public Media, which is where we reached the above conclusions.

VRM is Vendor Relationship Management, the alternative to CRM, Customer Relationship Management. As someone who only learned what CRM was when learning about its replacement, I believe that VRM will eventually need a less geeky, less reactive, more assertive name like BISS (Because I Say So), but that will come.

In the meantime, VRM is a wonderful set of concepts and projects-in-progress about giving consumers control, even consumers who are getting something for free. Hence the excitement about the public media and the Relbutton. The button will let us as listeners/viewers/readers say: “Hey, I am interested in this story/podcast/program/series/station/website and I would like to support it in some way, on my terms, when and how it’s convenient for me.”

Once every public media distribution platform is outfitted to accept Relbutton input, you’ll be able to use the Relbutton to build whatever kind of relationship you want to establish with them, whether it’s donating $5 once or $50 monthly or getting on a mailing list or learning that the station needs in-kind donations of something you have a garage full of. If the object of your desire isn’t set up (the technical term is “VRM-compliant”) yet, the Relbutton will collect and escrow this information and send the producers a message to let them know that they are missing out on your love.

Those of us who don’t love pledge week can hardly wait for the VRM gang to make this real. Stay tuned.

NPR – Nationalist Public Radio?


I thought I might lose my Trader Joe’s Blueberry Muesli this morning, listening to Adam Davidson chat with Morning Edition co-host Ari Shapiro about free trade, Colombia and the US election. Their 4-minute conversation is ickily chatty (“Hey Adam, hey Ari”) and unbearably arrogant and US-centric. Adam contends that making a big fuss over trade agreements with Colombia is, in his words, “nutty” because Colombia is just too small to matter: “I did the math and… the entire Colombian economy is the size of Hollywood, Florida, not Hollywood, California” They both laugh. Indeed, what could be more entertaining than living in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is less than $20 a day?

So, Ari persists, why do US politicians care about this silly little country, since only “some people here and there” (Adam’s words) will be affected by any trade deals? Well apparently, unions are upset because a lot of union leaders get killed there, but as Adam goes on to observe in the same cheerful “gosh-how-silly” voice, “a lot of people get killed in Colombia, it’s a very violent society.” Wow, that’s even funnier than being poor!

The hilarity continues as Davidson notes that in some states “trade is a big, big deal” even though those foolish voters are just wrong about trade being the reason they lost their jobs. Davidson presumably thinks that American voters in those states may be almost as stupid as the people who choose to live in poor, violent Colombia.

I’ll leave union members and residents of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio to defend themselves against Davidson’s flip dismissal of their concerns. On behalf of the rest of the world, though, I urge NPR to make both Ari Shapiro and Adam Davidson spend a few hours learning something about Colombia. Wonderful place to start is on Global Voices, which will steer them to a heart-breaking series of short videos on the struggles of a brave group of women to fight back against the violence and economic hardship in the Barrancabermeja region, home to the country’s biggest oil refinery. Hey, did Davidson really fail to mention that petroleum accounts for almost 30% of Colombia’s exports? Yup, I listened one more time to be sure.

This offensive piece of “analysis” (perhaps that’s just another word for “filler” at Morning Edition?) added nothing to our understanding of trade issues or the election politics it was supposedly about, while actively encouraging the worst sort of American closedmindness. Which public is public radio aiming for?

Photo: Bogotá
2600m + montañas paisas…
Uploaded on December 27, 2006
by One*mandarino
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Yo, public media, remember the rest of us (Beyond Broadcast II)


Continuing a provocative afternoon of discussion here at bb08 (warning as-live blogging, errors ahead)
Larry Irving: Please don’t sell out, I think there’s got to be a commercial space and a noncommercial space. Having worked in politics in Washington, I can tell you: there is no such thing as free money. Anyone who gives you money wants something, even more so if you happen to be producing media. I’m a lawyer, I live in an upscale zipcode, Look at the CPM for black radio stations vs. country and western; some people are valued differently. Let’s talk turkey about demographics. Public broadcasting does not reflect the demographic changes in the U.S. Media age of audience is 46, media age of country is 36, media age of Latinos is 26. Riff on Dean Wilson’s comment of yesterday: Actually pubcasting serves all people from ages 1-7 but if you’re black or brown they don’t even care about you when you hit 47.

Technology matters too. If you’re not on mobile platforms, you won’t reach the young and the non-white. Mentions slingbox, watching Tiger Woods on the Metro. Says it’s not “new” media, it’s just media. New survey says: 76% of kids would give up TV before the Internet. People of color use more media of all kinds than whites, even corrected for income. Simultaneous technology revolution in all countries.

Dennis Harsaager has given him hope that perhaps the stations are not going to (by booting CEO Ken Stern) stop NPR from dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Also talks about trusted public sources for e.g., health information. He’s a former cancer patient (me too – it’s that weird club that you’re never really happy to find another member). Irving hopes that the president will bring smart people together to talk about technology and democracy and media and NOT about money. We need to get public institutions (is this being webcast? Are Obama advisors watching?) together with the best technological minds.

Question from Pat Aufderheide: What are the chances of getting legislative language changed to allow public media funding to be spent on digital stuff? Irving: You gotta make the case, but I think you can and should.

Question audience member: what about access issues? Pub’casting is so moribund in their approach to interactivity. Irving: Now that we’re in the age of abundance we have to talk to people in power, in congress and we need to explain to them what we could be doing with a little bit of vision. The system

Q: What about spending the income from the analog spectrum auction? A: The $19 billion we got from the last auction unfortunately went into general funds. We do need a way to fund public broadcasting. Even if we’d gone to a TV tax, we’d need to redo it anyway, how do we create an endowment that is politically insulated.

We have angry old white men (right-wing talk radio), angry young white men (left-wing blogosphere) – where are the black and brown men?

We need for the white space on the spectrum to be available for experimentation, Google and Microsoft have an interest in the white space too, why don’t we work with them?

Q: We see a talent drain of Hispanic producers to commercial media. I worry that the experiments that funders are interested are all about form, what about content? Diversity can’t be outsourced. But my question to you is about what I see young people being less siloed off by race, working towards multicultural content (and life). (applause) Irving: I agree 100%. Diversity needs to be in the organization’s DNA. We need to mainstream (though I hate the word) producers of color.

Huge applause – Irving was an inspired choice of speaker. I do worry that after a self-criticism session like this a reception that apparently will not include alcohol is ill-advised.

David Isenberg points out that we’re getting open fiber architecture experiments we need to get our act together there too because “fiber is the future.”

Quick demo of the uuorld interactive mapping site (it’s world spelled with 2 u’s in place of the ‘w’ get it?)

Money makes the world go around (Beyond Broadcast I)


The Mapping Where’s the money? panel* here (warning error-prone as-live blogging ahead) at Beyond Broadcast – Diane Mermigas (Mediapost) totally gets it about the fact that the challenges to public and commercial media are the same. I’m not sure I agree with her on all the ideas for public broadcasters should make money in what she calls the “Consumer-Centric Public Media’s Interactive Sphere” see image at left, paper here), but they’re definitely smart.

Keith Hopper (Public Interactive): my advice to you: focus on getting more online users. User interaction is the new currency. The best stuff on the web is free. Follow the model of successful online sites: build user base first, monetize later. You need real interaction, people downloading stuff, remixing, discussing. No users means no money. Lastly, if you monetize first and build users later, you can corrupt your environment, people will get turned off.

Craig Reigel, (Nonprofit Finance Fund): “Bringing in revenue needs to be decriminalized.” He doesn’t care whether it’s donations or ads (hmm) he just wants us to get busy getting the important stuff we do funded.

Vince Stehle, (Surdna Foundation): Compares Radiohead model to public brodcasting (shortened by the folks here to “pubcasting” which sounds too much like pubcrawling to me). Commercial media are more challenged, but they may be adapting more quickly. What if you’re not a superstar, how does that work? Take Colby Calais she was working in a tanning salon. She got a recording contract after 10 million free downloads of her music on MySpace. Look to what we can do in public media to dramatically reexamine our business model(s). Where is our 99 cent Itunes model – how do we let folks do micropayments? (Doc Searls’ gang will fix this.) Too early to say we can’t raise money online. Look at the progression from Dean to Obama.

Ernest Wilson, (Annenberg): An interjection of pessimism: Let’s not forget what we’re talking about here is the BASIS of democracy. If people in this room don’t get it right soon, democracy will suffer and it will be our fault. (He bangs the table for effect!) We need to create dialogue, discussion, serve the underserved. Our beloved local stations especially, possibly the last local voices in many communities, are not doing it. If we don’t change that quickly, our democracy will be poorer for it. Get people out of our silos!! (GO, Dr. Wilson, GO!) He lists 4 silos: print, digital media folks, public broadcasting, and commercial. (I would add a 5th non-profit civil society silo, myself) He says public broadcasting is serving people well from birth to age 7, ignores folks till they’re 47, and then serves them from age 47 till shortly after their death. Big laugh line.

Mermigas leads an active discussion on how to light a fire under the asses of public broadcasting. Mentions VRM work on the funding question. She and Wilson are relentless about the need for the people in the room to get relevant fast. Stehle: you need to help each other, build up each other’s sites and networks. I tell my neighbor this panel should have been called not “Mapping the Money” but “Speaking Truth to Ostriches.”

self-promotional P.S. Gave a supershort (they are actually keeping to SCHEDULE here, what an idea) chat on the current versions of Media Re:public conclusions and recommendations. Sildes are here:

*1:45pm – 3:00pm Roundtable Discussion: Mapping the Money
Conversation Leader:
Diane Mermigas, Editor-at-Large, Media Post
Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program, MIT
Keith Hopper, Product Manager, Public Interactive
Craig Reigel, Vice President, Western Region, Nonprofit Finance Fund
Vince Stehle, Program Officer for the Nonprofit Sector Initiative, Surdna Foundation
Ernest J. Wilson, Walter Annenberg Chair in Communication and dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California

We’ve got a long way to go sisters (and brothers)


Does this graphic make you giggle?

Thanks to PRX‘s excellent BallotVox project, which is identifying some really interesting election coverage from unusual sources, for highlighting a disturbing video about sexism in the campaign.

(As an Obama supporter) I don’t think that blaming Obama is really the point. It’s more revealing to me how easily it is for all of us to let things slide. Try mentally replacing every sexist insult in the anti-clinton visuals with an equivalent racial slur and imagine your reactions.

Or imagine reading this sentence in the NY Times: “A majority of those polled — both whites and blacks — said they thought Mr. Obama would be an effective diplomat, suggesting he has made headway in diminishing concerns that his race would impede him from dealing with with white world leaders.”

Impossible, right? Try this one:

“A majority of those polled — both women and men — said they thought Mrs. Clinton would be an effective commander in chief, suggesting she has made headway in diminishing concerns that her sex would impede her from leading the nation in wartime.” Women Supportive but Skeptical of Clinton, Poll Says

If media only reflect the society they serve, maybe it’s time for all of us, men and women, black and white, to look in the mirror?


Making Sense of the Mortgage Crisis


Burn The MoneyCompelling, well-researched, human, making a serious and complicated issue accessible without dumbing it down – that’s the kind of journalism we’re concerned with, right? This week’s episode of This American Life is all of those and more. It’s a collaboration with NPR news that actually makes it possible to understand how the subprime mortgage crisis happened, and its implications for the economy here and abroad. At the same time, you meet, understand and may even feel sympathy for some of the people whose mistakes made it happen, and whose lives were thrown into turmoil.

If you don’t already, subscribe now to the This American Life podcast and check it out. Or if you can’t make time for an hour of radio (your loss), listen online to the 12-minute All Things Considered version which aired Friday.

Great work, radio people!

Now if we could get them to:
put additional materials (photos? videos? reporter’s notes? glossary?) and links to outside resources on both websites;
allow listener comments; and
localize all of the above on each local affiliate’s site,

we’d really have something!

Tags: radio, public radio, NPR, This American Life

Burn The Money,
originally uploaded by Bradshaw.i.