There’s Something Happening Here…

Obama before 84,000 fans in Denver….

New technologies demand new ideas.

Really radical new ideas.

The biggest mistake people can make is to try and jam new technologies into old business models.

Newspapers, for example,  are in serious, serious trouble. The new technologies are telling us what they have to do to survive, if we will only listen to them.

What are they saying?

Newspaper readership is way way down, and falling all the time. But that does not mean that the idea of news is dead, nor is the interest. Only that the way that we are gathering and delivering it no longer works. This also applies to local TV news, but their time is still about a decade away. For newspapers, it is now, as the web impacted text a decade ahead of video.

Today, the average American watches 4.5 hours of TV a day, every day. This number is projected to go to 5 hours a day as video migrates to the web, and the difference between TV and online video is erased. Now, you might draw the conclusion then that newspapers should move to video. Many do, but I am not so sure that is the right conclusion to draw.

We have been watching video for nearly 60 years now. 4 or 5 hours a day, every day, for two generations.

This act of watching video (regardless of content) has created a kind of culture. It has to. When everyone in a society spends 4-5 hours a day doing the same action, over and over and over, it has to have an impact.

If we as a culture spent 4-5 hours a day, every day, every one of us, playing tennis, from the age of 5 until death, we would be one hell of a tennis-playing culture. If we all, every one of us, spent 4-5 hours a day, every day, practicing the piano, from age 5 to death, we would be the most musically literate nation on the planet.

But we didn’t.

Instead, we have all, every one of us, spent the past two generations watching.


What does 4-5 hours a day, every day, everyone watching… what does it ‘teach’ us?

People who talk back to TV sets… we send to mental institutions.

You are not supposed to do that.

In fact, spending 4-5 hours a day ‘watching’ reinforces the notion that you are not, in fact, supposed to talk back. You are not supposed to participate. You are supposed to watch. That is our job.

And watching, particularly for 4-5 hours every day, reinforces a very basic truth. Passivity. It is, in fact, your job to be passive. To watch. Television is not about participating. It is about watching.

This passivity has had its impact on American society for a very long time. It could be measured, for example, in the declining number of people who voted in Presidential elections. Fewer and fewer almost every time. Overall a massive declination since 1948 in participatory government.

That as television for you. A television culture.

Then, along comes to the web. Slowly, at first. Uncertainly. But a new technology with a new basic architecture: The web is not about ‘watching’, it is about participating.

The web and politics merged slowly – as television and politics did in the 1960s. The Checkers Speech, the Kennedy-Nixon Debates. It took time. The selling of the Candidate. All about watching.

Joe Trippi and Howard Dean started to realize what the web could do for politics, but more interesting was what the web would do to politics. The power of technology to shape the world on its own terms.

Now. Obama, a virtual unknown is the Democratic Candidate. An estimated 40 million people watched him on TV on Thursday night. He has raised more than a third of a billion dollars, much of it online.

The GOP responds by naming a totally unknown woman as their VP choice. Something is happening here.

What is happening is the politics of participation is beginning to replace the politics of passivity. The web is a participatory medium. Television is a passive one.

The DNA of the web is beginning to infect politics. It will equally begin to infect other things as well.

And what does this have to do with newspapers and their fight to survive?

Newspapers are also a passive medium. We write it, you read it.

But newspapers are in trouble, and they are nested in communities. The LA Times, The Miami Herald. They have roots in a community that now is just starting to awaken to the notion of participatory democracy.

What those communities need now is a locus – a place where they can focus their ‘participation’.

What, after all, is The Huffington-Post but a kind of embryonic online participatory journalism event? What is Facebook or MySpace but unfocused participatory loci.

Aren’t newspapers, with their dying breaths, perfectly poised to shift gears (if they can) and become the digital community nodes for the online world?

It’s a new business model for them. Instead of going out and gathering the news and printing it, they now are, or could be, the editors, sifting through, empowering, ordering and publishing the voices of the people?

Obama began as a community organizer.

Palin was a disgruntled hockey mom.

They found their platforms through politics, but what they had to say seems to resonate.

Listen to the technology. Watch what is happening. The answer is out there.


One response to “There’s Something Happening Here…

  1. A quick click here says it all.

    The Star Ledger is going down the tubes.

    They don’t have a clue about video or how to cover news using video.

    A perfect example of how badly they try and do it is the coverage of the Obama speach.

    Worthless wide shot of people crowded together in a living room with wire service stills put here and there and the same black couple monotoning about Obama.

    I think they need some refresher classes to get back in touch with what being a journalist is all about.

    As it is, they are failing at an embarrassing pace.

    They still can’t cover the headline story of the day, every day, with VJ work.

    A multi day effort attempting to cover business at the beach was another silly waste of time.

    For a little over six minutes of this “Ledger Live” they waste too much on their dull white anchor sitting in the newsroom, then toss to even duller reports that are days old.

    It’s sad to see a newspaper die.

    Click the link to catch them before they go completely under.

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