Tag Archives: clay shirky

Seriously. Here Comes Everybody.

Mark Joyella and Tiffanie WongUntil a few days ago, I was the blogger in the family.  On my wife’s suggestion early this year, I launched this site to track the layoffs that were then a daily nightmare in newsrooms from coast to coast.  More recently, my focus has been on what happens next, and how all of us can stay relevant–and working.

When I walked away from my reporting job at WPLG in Miami at the height of the job-shedding, my blog got a sudden flood of attention, being picked up and linked by many of the major trade publications and websites.  It happened again when I wrote about NBC’s purchase of local domain names from coast to coast.

The other day my wife showed me what real web traffic looks like.  You see, she’s now the blogger in the family.

I could wail and moan about the injustice of it all–I write about journalism, for God’s sake, and the fate of a Nation and all that.  I write about jobs, and history and technology and blah blah blah.

My wife?  You may know her blog by now.  It’s certainly been in the papers and all over TV and the web:  she writes My Husband is Annoying, a site devoted to my quirks and eccentricities, like having a favorite green sweater (okay, sure, it does show up a lot in our vacation photos) and sometimes finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning (it’s not just me, right?)

Well, as a joke, she posted a few less-than-flattering photos of yours truly, and described what it’s like to live with me.  And we figured, hey, our friends will get a kick out of this. Post it to Facebook and get some LOLs.

A few Facebook comments and Tweets later, and the wife’s blog was mentioned by a hyperlocal website here in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Heights Blog, which got things rolling with the pithy and classic headline, “Area Man is Annoying Husband.”

714275As Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody could have told me, things were about to get weird, and fast.  First came the commenters.  A few LOLs, but a few “you sucks” also, and some strange, very personal comments on the nature of our marriage and my wife’s motive in creating the blog.  It was a blunt reminder that the media has shifted forever to an everybody-can-speak-without-your-permission dynamic, and the Old Media gatekeepers have no gates anymore.

As is happening in digital newsrooms around the world, editors post news stories online, reporters and anchors blog about their lives and hobbies–and then here comes everybody; some loving it, others eviscerating it.  How are stations, websites and papers handling comments?  My wife and I debated it in capital-J fashion:  give everyone their say no matter how offensive?  Keep the blog light and fun, as it was intended?  Or only weed out the truly sickening and borderline threatening?  Where’s the line?

My wife, a strong and amazing woman, posted every insulting comment–and the LOLs and You Go Girls–save one, which was truly unfit to print.

Then came the second wave:  the media.  Snarky New York blog Gothamist wrote up the site, as did a Dutch blog that translated My Husband is Annoying (we think) as “Mijn Man is Vervelend. The pageviews began to skyrocket.  My LocalNewser record high fell quickly and it wasn’t even close.

Then the New York Daily News came calling, putting my wife and I across an entire page of the paper, and posting a video interview on the front page of the DN’s website.  I found odd satisfaction and pride in the News proclaiming me “New York’s most annoying husband.”

That article landed on BuzzFeed, and you could literally watch my wife’s pageviews jump by the hundreds every time you hit “refresh.”  It was astonishing.

Before we were out of bed the morning the News hit the streets, bookers from network morning shows and syndicated daytime shows were calling, along with radio stations from Florida to California.

I was recognized while shooting a story for WPIX at the New York Transit Museum by someone (I thought they were going to say “aren’t you the guy from TV?”) who said, “you’re the husband.  From the paper.  The annoying husband.”

This truly is a demonstration of the speed we’re working at these days.  Bret Favre signs with the Vikings and the reporter with the scoop goes to Twitter, not TV.  Why?  Have to. Can’t afford to wait.  It’s a new world.  If you can remember three-quarter decks?  Well, you’ve got to re-wire your brain and adjust to the new speed.

It’s fast.  And we, as journalists, don’t really have any access to the brakes anymore.  We can’t slow something down when it’s moving too fast.  If we do, all that will happen is we stop moving forward and other journos–or just the masses–will tell the story on their own.

Here comes everybody.

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Dispatch from the Frontlines: VidSF Co-Creator Steve Cochrane

Trying It a New Way:  San Francisco's VidSF

Trying It a New Way: San Francisco's VidSF

Clay Shirky (who got a nice nod in Frank Rich’s Sunday Times piece) has noted that the next evolution of journalism will emerge one way or another, whether it’s the creation of a known monster like Google, or “some 19-year-old kid few of us have heard of.”

Steve Cochrane’s not 19, but he may be one of those “kids” who figures it out.  And even if he doesn’t, he’s one of the braves one out there trying something new, instead of rolling to work every day obsessing over whether we’ll be fired that day, and bitching about the fate of local news.  So on principle, Cochrane and his partner, Kieran Farr, deserve a lot of credit.  But what, exactly, are they doing? And is it showing signs, you know, of working?

So to start this week with something to ponder beyond Frank Rich’s “American Press on Suicide Watch,” we offer our first Monday Morning Dispatch from the Frontlines.  And thanks, Steve, for being the kid in class brave enough to share his project first.

DISPATCH FROM THE FRONTLINES:  STEVE COCHRANE, CO-FOUNDER, VidSF

Hi, I’m Steve Cochrane, and I co-founded VidSF with Kieran Farr. First, I’d like to thank Mark for letting me have the run of his wonderful blog here. It’s extremely encouraging to hear such interest in our project.

So, why did we start VidSF? We noticed that our friends weren’t watching local news anymore. Kieran and I are both in our mid-twenties, and if anyone our age is watching news, it’s probably from The Daily Show and not from a local offering.

We had also worked together on a television station that Kieran founded while at college, Indiana University Student Television . It’s still going strong and we learned a great deal from the project, so we decided to try again with local news for the web. We’d like to say we predicted the collapse of local TV news, but we just got lucky.

What’s the difference between news for TV and news for the web? As you all know, back before you had your Internet Blogs, and your Tweeter and MeSpace, making local news required a horrifically expensive studio and a time slot on cable. Because of this scarcity, a local TV news station only had to compete with maybe two or three other stations for viewer attention. At least, that’s what I’ve pieced together from multiple viewings of the historical document Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.

Today, with compact cameras and dirt-cheap webhosts, the days of limited options are over. The level of competition has gone way, way up, and viewers are likely to flee a site if they have to watch even one sub-par video. When viewers are held in contempt, like the classic “bait the viewer with the most interesting story and withhold it until the very end of the broadcast,” they don’t have to stand for it, because they can get their news elsewhere. So it’s important that we really respect our viewers, value their time, and edit relentlessly. That’s why we have a rule that our videos can only be two to four minutes in length. There aren’t many stories that need more time than that.

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Cochrane: "Being the Little Guy Has Never Held Us Back"

What’s working for us? We’re really happy that we decided to go the all-video route. There are many, many local news start-ups popping up, but they’re predominantly text-only. While a video site is harder to set up and more expensive to maintain than a text site, it definitely has its advantages. Video advertising generally performs far better than traditional banner ads, which viewers have trained themselves to ignore.

As for content, event coverage has been working great for us. There are lots of fun and quirky events in San Francisco to cover, like the Bring Your Own Big Wheel race and the Valentine’s Day pillow fight . So instead of the inane reporter stand-up , we interview the people involved and let them tell us why it’s important. We’re not going to be winning Pulitzers any time soon, but these events are fun to watch and quick to produce.

It’s also surprisingly easy to gain access to events, even if no one’s ever heard of us before. We’ll just send a polite email and almost invariably we’ll get a nice reply with a press pass and free drinks. Being the little guy has never held us back.

What’s not working for us? This one’s easy: user-generated content. When we originally started VidSF, we had the crazy idea that “anyone can be a video journalist!” We soon found that when you get a bunch of random people from Craigslist without any journalism or video production experience and have them tape what they want with no oversight, the end product is not very compelling.

So we’re changing our approach from user-generated content to more of an edited publication. Having to make that transition has slowed us down a bit, but that’s how start-ups like these go. In order to survive you can’t just set a plan in stone, you have to bob and weave.

This may be disappointing to some, but we’ve also noticed that our more laboriously produced and researched “serious news” videos are generally less popular than our lighter, more entertaining ones.

What about the whole “money” thing? This is probably the thing that readers most want to hear about, and unfortunately we don’t have much of an answer yet. We did recently build a custom advertising system that serves pre-roll ads — brief video ads that play before a feature — similar to the ads on Hulu . Currently we’re thinking through how we want to make sales, and we haven’t approached any local businesses yet, but we’re close. Will it work? We don’t know yet, but we hope to make lots of money, and we’ll see how that pans out.

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Do We Save Local TV News… Or Save Ourselves?

But... We Ruled the World... How Can It Ever End?

But... We Ruled the World... How Can It Ever End?

Clay Shirky’s recent column, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” has earned deserved attention among those of us pondering the question of what happens next, and whether the financial models of newspapering and making local TV news can survive the current economy.  Increasingly, it seems the answer to both questions is “no.”

It no longer seems like madness to suggest that what we’re living through isn’t the toughest times for local TV news as we know it, but rather, a revolution that will wash away the medium we grew up with, and usher in something different.  That’s scary stuff.

Shirky describes the insistence that newspapers must be saved this way:  “When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie. ”

Digital Guru Clay Shirky

Digital Guru Clay Shirky

That is meaty, heavy stuff, and it is as applicable, I believe to local TV news as it is to newspapers.  Anybody who refuses to believe that what we’ve spent our careers doing must continue to exist is at high risk of being rendered irrelevant.  And in TV, as in any business, irrelevant is noplace to be.

The save-the-papers debate, as Shirky points out, boils down to a journalistic truism:  newspapers put asses in seats at city council meetings, and get deeper into stories than local tv newsers have the luxury of doing.  They have more bodies to sift through overnight police reports and court filings.  They are essential to the survival of a healthy society.  If newspapers die, who will do that work?  Certainly not the “you’re live in the noon on the house fire” TV guy.  He’s lucky if he can grab a five-dollar footlong before he starts crashing for his 5 o’clock package.

“The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model,” Shirky writes.  “So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?  I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it.”

Same again for TV.  It’s gut-check time.  Are you thinking about surviving the downturn?  Or figuring out what’s the new thing–and how to thrive doing it?

The Rocky Said Goodbye After 150 Years

The Rocky Said Goodbye After 150 Years

Shirky writes:  “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead. ”

Society doesn’t need the six o’clock local news either.  But it does need to know what’s happening.  We still have a job to do, it’s just a question of where, and who’s going to pay us.  That’s what I’m anxious to figure out, rather than answer the question of when the dry pipe in the sales department will start gushing cash again and all will be better.  That sounds more than ever like denial.

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