Knight Foundation Silicon Valley: Innovation vs. “The Future”

September 11, 2008 by

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, one of the guest bloggers for this Commission event.

(Roundtable #3: Technology & Innovation)

PART ONE: THE VIEW FROM TOMORROWLAND

We’re blogging to you live from the future, and it’s very exciting here!

I mean, we’re having this meeting at Google HQ, in the middle of Silicon Valley — the place embodies much of the hope and imagination for the future of our democracy, our economy and our world.

It is — or will be — better here in the future. As soon as we can figure out what it’s all about. As soon as we can figure out how and why people use information technology, we can build the perfect device that will seamlessly integrate their information needs with hyperpersonalized delivery mechanisms — speaking of which, can’t you wait until the iPhone costs as much as a transister radio?! — then everything will be fine.

The economy will grow robustly and sustainably, because in the future it will all be running on clean tech.

Deepening efficiencies will drive down costs — which means all the lower-rung workers who have been effectively organized by Raj Jayadev to join unions will be earning the wages necessary to fully engage with the immersive mediaweb through affordable wireless technology.

That’s the problem with the future. It’s look-at-the-stars solutions are indeed thrilling, but it’s ankle-deep in the mud of today.

PART TWO: A MOVING TARGET

Forget about the future. The future is not where it’s at. In the future, we are going to be in the exact same place that we are now — Planet Earth — but things are going to be worse. The climate is changing, the oil wells are drying up.

We can’t be living in the future, when there’s so much that needs innovation today.

Living in and for the future can bite you on the behind.

Panelist Chris O’Brien notes that the ambitious Mercury News project to “blow up the newsroom” and reinvent how a print paper navigates the new media economy was canceled in January.

Most of the folks guiding the project have, in fact, been let go, he told me over lunch.

Was this a vision of the future that simply didn’t match reality? Or did the great powers of the Merc’s parent company get cold feet? Was the approach too topheavy, too sweeping, or too half-hearted?

It would be fascinating to delve into the conflicted internal process that led to both the newsroom reinvention project and its cancellation.

The Merc’s misfire brings to mind the same sort generalized ambition but inadequate ground-level implementation that makes KQED — so well-financed and connected — paradoxically so out of step with the majority of the Bay Area’s diverse communities.

The problem is that these top-down enterprises, guided by the strategic goals and profit expectations of Wall Street and its satellites, may not be appropriate to the new media economy, which is massively decentralized, multisourced, and generally, from a content-production and -consumption perspective, non-cooperative with the monopoly production model.

PART THREE: INNOVATION DAY BY DAY

Chris also noted that news media thrives when it is a center of innovation — which demands the question of what, exactly, are the conditions that encourage innovation?

Independence, for one thing.

All of the successful strategies and scenarios described by the panelists emphasized the ability of media producers and consumers alike to post and access material spontaneously, without the barriers erected by the traditional gatekeepers.

This is not about technology — it’s how people use it. It’s about the social phenomenon of technology. And therein lies the keys to innovation.

danah boyd, one of the Knight commissioners, noted the amazing success of local blogging and text-messaging around Hurricane Gustav in New Orleans, an unmediated phenomenon that occurred in an open information architecture without interference from monopoly gatekeepers.

She further elucidated the point by noting advocacy campaigns around specific legislative issues, in which interest groups mobilize their constituencies via cellphones and text messaging to spark a flurry of calls, emails and faxes aimed at key elected officials.

Holmes Wilson of the Participatory Culture Foundation is singing a similar tune with his Miro project, an online video platform that aims to “eliminate gatekeepers” and make everyone a content producer.

We are already seeing what this can do on the blogosphere — the achievements of which are considerable, and matched only by its excess.

As Amra Tareen of AllVoices.com notes, most blogs don’t get read, which hearkens back to the initial panel’s concerns about the information glut — something that at once distracts from access to meaningful information, and fragments dialogue around it.

Her solution is to opportunistically merge media (Web, SMS, email, etc.) to produce up-to-the-minute coverage of news across the world.

Using some cool widgets, AllVoices.com triangulates on topics, pulls together a variety of coverage, and represents it dynamically on a world map on the site’s home page. Click on an indicator, and you’ll wind up with a cluster of related stories and blog postings

This approach places all its eggs in the crowdsourcing basket, and it’s good that they’re taking the chance on it.

Whether it’s the solution remains to be seen — but it’s encouraging to see the money behind the media warming up to the idea of empowering producers and audiences, and appreciating them as interchangeable.

PART FOUR: AD-MODEL INVERSION

This is a key concept — that producers and audiences together can successfully guide access to and creation of relevant community information.

The relationship between the audience and the media outlet has inverted, also, to the detriment of the ad-sales department.

Mike McGuire, a research VP at Gartner and a mainstream media guy, pointed out that content really is king, and if so, why are the content producers the ones getting the short end of the stick?

Why not start cutting sales staff at the failing media outlets instead of reporters and editors?

He asked this and grinned, and the audience laughed, as well they should.

But it’s a serious question that has yet to be answered satisfactorily.

The State of the News Media 2008 report noted that increasingly, the newsroom is the place recognized as the wellspring of innovation in media companies — and the ad-sales departments are the ones most bogged down by the failed assumptions of the past.

What sort of innovation is required to make a future we can all live in?

Media Roundtable: Linda O’Bryon

September 8, 2008 by

Linda is the Chief Content Office for KQED and believes there is no other place in the world that places such emphasis on thought leadership as in Silicon Valley (big ocean, big mountains, big sky…and big thinking). We live in an area of open spaces and open thinking – what happens in Silicon Valley does not stay in Silicon Valley.

Sees the online tools creating communities of people who have never met in person, which is drastically different than 30 years ago where you [mostly] only associated with the people who lived in your neighborhood or you worked along side with.

I love the program KQED launched over 5 years ago, called Digital Storytelling, where they encourage high school students to come in and share stories of interest.  I love the fact that KQED has positioned themselves in three various key roles: Enabler (getting kids excited about creating content and sharing their items of interest), Mentor (educating kids on how to use the new tools) and Publisher (pushing content which will help bring traffic back to KQED and show they are playing an active role in their community). It is a win-win-win.

Key takeaway is the need to provide media when and where people want it – whether online, mobile, print. Media’s role is to help cultivate as well as create.

Media Roundtable: Raj Jayadev

September 8, 2008 by

Raj is the Founder of Silicon Valley De-Bug and is working to empower underserved communities by educating them on how use the tools to share their voice/opinion and make a difference in their community. I already love this guy and he is only one minute in.

It does not take a lot of resources to become a ‘media mogul’. Most of the younger generation is using the free online technologies (Facebook, MySpace) and text messaging to communicate with one another and using news/civil actions to organize, like the recent march for the rights of immigrants. The march was self organized via MySpace and text messaging, and turned into the largest organized protest in the Bay Area’s history. This is extremely powerful. People who understand this will be able to effect change.

He shares the thought that media has become synonymous with community organizing. Also sees ethnic media replacing traditional media in certain areas, though would like to add that merely going ‘in language’ does not automatically make it an ethnic media source (i.e. just because you print in Spanish does not mean you are reporting on issues that affect the Latin community).

So the big question is now…how do we make the newer technologies accessible to all?

Technology & Innovation Roundtable: danah boyd

September 8, 2008 by

danah shares a great case study of how people used the Social Media tools (wikis, Twitter, blogs, Flickr, etc.) to help educate people around Hurricane Gustav. It provided a vital resource for people affected in the area that got the attention of Rick Sanchez and the folks at CNN who realized quickly a small community was able to produce the news and gather resources faster.

The key thing to remember is innovation is not always around the technologies themselves, but how people converge and use the tools around them.

Technology & Innovation Roundtable: Chris O’Brien

September 8, 2008 by

Chris starts off by admitting he is a Twitter user. Funny. Almost like it is a guilty pleasure. He works for the San Jose Mercury News and is one of the few journalists that is excited by the innovations happening in his industry. Granted, he is slightly younger than the folks on the previous panel and I am sure that plays into his mindset greatly.

He is finding alternate ways to connect with their local community, whether through podcasts people can listen to while commuting to work to posting (gasp!) printed flyers on campuses to get the word out to the younger generation. They are experimenting with what works best for the people they serve.

Something he said hit home and sums up ANY business these days: “You have to be a center of innovation to retain relevancy”

Technology & Innovation Roundtable: Mike McGuire

September 8, 2008 by

As the VP of Research at Gartner, Mike has been around long enough to remember the days when Steve Jobs used to wear dress shirts and bow ties to work. Not a diss towards him at all, in fact, I find it interesting as he is someone who hails from a very traditional outlet, and is intrigued by the new media tools.

Re-emphasizes the thought, people will pay for content if it is valuable. This of course begs the question (from him) Why we are whacking reports and editors – wouldn’t it be smarter to cut the sales staff if they are not finding ways to monetize the content?

Likes the power of search and tagging to help bring people of like interests together and tools such as Twitter as it has the possibility to change the landscape of broadcast news.

Knight Silicon Valley: Local Media Fault Lines

September 8, 2008 by

Editor’s note: This is being posted for Josh Wilson, who is one of the guest bloggers today at the Knight Commission’s community forum at Google.

I want more from this panel. The fault lines and fragmentation of the
Bay Area’s media ecology have been made clear, but I’m not sure the
gaps can be bridged.

Linjun Fan of the Albany Today blog, and Raj Jayadev of Silicon Valley
De-Bug (a marvelous, youth-focused labor organizing project) — they
both did a marvelous job of defining and describing how new media has
radically empowered disadvantaged or undercapitalized communities.

In the former case, Fan’s blog fills a vital community information
needs in a town where, she says, there isn’t even a local paper of
consequence.

I interviewed Jayadev myself many years ago on KUSF-FM, a San
Francisco community radio station, about the underground tactics his
group used to organize the janitors and assembly line workers in
Silicon Valley’s software mills.

Those stories were amazing — I still have the audio somewhere, and
will dig it up for the online archives — and his inclusion on the
Knight panel was astute, given his connection to the needs of the
starkly disenfranchised demographic of largely migrant laborers who do
the lowest-paid and least-fulfilling tasks of the information economy.

He represented those themes on the Knight panel — and like Fan, he
demonstrated how directly media empowerment can activate, engage and
even BUILD communities, particularly those that previously have been
cut off from the media circuitry.

At this point, however, the plate tectonics and fault lines come into play.

HOPING FOR A SHAKEUP

As Jim Bettinger of Stanford’s Knight Journalism Fellowship program
noted, fears about the decline of the professional, commercial news
industry remain acute.

And while new media is, clearly, a viable hope, its still hasn’t
overcome one major challenge: Its inability to support media economies
of the scale and comprehensiveness once expected of local daily papers.

Dave Satterfield, the managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News,
affirmed that dismal trend on the print side, by noting the ongoing
retreat of his paper’s reporting staff, as well as of the depth and
comprehensiveness of his local coverage.

He concluded his comments by essentially calling out for help,
restating the day’s oft-heard Dickens quotation that it is “the best
of times and the worst of times” for media and democracy in the Bay
Area.

His gloom was offset by George Sampson, the news and program director
of the local radio station KLIV, and quite bullish in that role.

Perhaps more at home in the lower-budget world of local information
radio, as opposed to the daily-print landscape of leveraged buyouts
and massive accompanying debt, Sampson spoke of hiring reporters who
grew up in the region, and who know all its quirks and crannies and
regional pronunciations.

Indeed, his take on “hyperlocal” journalism anchored the tradition of
extremely local coverage not in the still-emergent blogosphere, but in
the old-fashioned world of radio carrier frequencies, which is a damn
cheap medium that requires neither satellites nor fiber-optic and
cable infrastructure to effectively reach diverse communities within
very specific geographic regions.

MEDIA AND SOCIAL DIVISIONS

Now, an extraordinary contrast is revealed. It is the fascinating to
consider the wide disparity between KQED, the foremost public
broadcasting outlet for the entire Bay Area, and a small station such
as KLIV-AM.

Linda O’Bryon, chief content office at KQED, spoke broadly about unmet
information needs, about activating ad covering interest groups with
the Bay Area, such as scientists, to educate and inspire the populace.

During the Q&A section she also asserted a deep interest in more
effectively reaching broad cross-sections of the Bay Area community as
well as drilling down into those communities and their subgroups.

My question is — can KQED fulfill this role? As a massively
centralized and massively traditional public media outlet, KQED is
remarkable for its paucity of relevance to the breadth and depth of
the Bay Area’s communities.

A scan of the nighty lineup on the TV station reveals little that
could appeal beyond the stereotype of the public-media donor.

A spin through the radio dial to the KQED call letters reveals the
usual array of wonky talk shows, some compelling indeed, but many
simply recirculating a usual-suspect circuit of commentators,
announcers and issues — all anchored by the ubiquitous, authoritative
but definitively remote, non-local and unaccountable voices of that
NPR capital ship, All Things Considered.

It’s NOT that these programs are irredeemiably aloof, or stodgily
missing the boat all the time.

Quite the contrary — there are times when you absolutely have to tune
in Michael Krasny’s Forum, to get the most vital and urgent
conversation on local issues.

But despite this, there’s a lack of stickiness to KQED’s programming
that simply will not serve to pull in and keep around people who don’t
already match, again, the NPR/PBS archetype.

All the funding in the world, all the high profile initiatives and
astute strategic planning matters not a whit if the Bay Area’s biggest
public-media dinosaur refuses to evolve, and make itself as relevant
to underserved communities as Fan’s and Jayadev’s projects have.

BRIDGING THE GAPS

One of the panelists noted that new media is essentially
collaborative, and that the old, monopolist model of running a
commercial news operation may not be possible online, on the same
scale as the old print economy.

Bad news for the Merc!

And this may also be bad news for KQED. I’m told that of its $50
million annual budget, only $5 million is actually from donor pledges.

That funding gap is the embodiment of public media’s relevance
challenge. It speaks to me of a profound disconnect between the
organization and the bulk of the population it would serve.

It also represents a KQED’s opportunity — indeed, the opportunity for
any large-scale media outlet:

Make yourself relevant. Know your communities. Respect their needs.

Look across the informational schisms in your culture that separate
rich media from poor (or lower-budget anyway), and learn how the
communities represented by those media differ, and are similar.

Finally, there is the closing of the schism, which represents nothing
less than civic enfranchisement across communities.

The big media, the rich media, even as it struggles for profit and
relevance, needs to connect in meaningful ways to the producers of
local media — like Fan, like Jayadev, like Sampson — who have a
profound sense of place and demographic need.

As Jayadev noted, the Internet is a gateway drug for young people who
are hungry for relevant information about their lives — but the
technology itself is not the point. It’s just a tool.

The challenge before the Merc, before KQED, is to pay attention to
these needs, and respond to them in an an authentic fashion.

One audiencemember said that old media may need to simply absorb new
media, presumeably to make the most of what’s working online — video,
photo galleries, blogs, etc. — but it’s not just the tools and
widgets of new media that are succeeding.

It’s the simple, unadulterated relevance of messages delivered by
Albany Today, by Silicon Valley De-Bug, by the local commercial outlet
KLIV-AM.

You can’t do that with a focus group. Market research will only get
you so far.

To really make the connection, you have to live in the communities,
immerse yourself in this life on the ground, and respect the issues
that don’t appeal as readily to your advertisers and big-ticket donors.

I just don’t know traditional media as it exists today can do that.

Media Roundtable: Linjun Fan

September 8, 2008 by

Linjun created the Albany Today blog a year ago to provide local news to the 16,000 residents in her community. Does not post personal commentaries – stays true to journalism values. Uses photos, slideshows and videos to enhance experience.

Compared to a local newspaper, her blog is richer in content and provides a better user experience. Interesting to note, Albanydoes not have a local newspaper. Started with 50 pages views a day, now at 6k views. Shows demand is there. LOCALLY.

She receives announcements from parents, neighbors, local offices and others to share their news through her blog. She has become the ‘trusted source’ in Albany. Interesting note: Linjun moved to Albany less than a year ago and her actions have stirred the local school to launch a new series of classes to teach online publishing skills. Teach the teacher. Love it.

Exploring possiblities to commercialize the project and ensure longevity.

I love hearing personal success stories like Linjun’s as this shows all it takes is one individual willing to put the time and effort in to effect change.

Commissioners Q&A on Unmet Community Info Needs

September 8, 2008 by

Question from Danah Boyd: Seeing a big difference between push and pull strategies. In the past, information was pushed out to the communities. Now, it seems most organizations are focused on pulling information to aggregate it. What are some of the push strategies you are using to help people who are not online or now pulling news on their own?

  • Judy – Using public libraries to get information to the public and making information available that will engage people to do things they like to do. Need to focus on the younger generation to show the value of community and educating them on civil actions.
  • Muhammed – Creating communities of interest with a subset, i.e. working with teachers to start Math Clubs or Science Clubs to engage younger generation and get information to them that way.
  • Matt – Going to the trusted organizations within the communities (churches, schools, etc). Most people don’t know their neighbors – the key is to get people in the same room to solve problems together, then use new technology to get/keep them informed. Just about everyone has a cell phone so they found sending text messages out was a great way to communicate.
  • Kim – Think it is more about push information out who will ‘pass it around’ – using things like email from people who signed up for announcements.

Question from Michael Powell: Feels the power of integrating information around ‘place’ (community, neighborhoods, etc). Is this the key?

  • Matt – most everyone in CA knows the school system is broken. Just having an informed public is not enough. Need to find organizations or institutions who can take information and then DO something about it.

Media Roundtable: Jim Bettinger

September 8, 2008 by

Jim sees the adoption of online news resources as both a benefit, and a detriment to existing ‘traditional’ papers.He lives in an environment where they are training future journalists, but can’t honestly say where those new journalists will be employed once they graduate.

He shared an interesting survey around a local action (widening of Oregon Expressway project in Palo Alto) that found most of the stories generated around this ‘event’ came from traditional outlets, not independent websites, blogs, etc. – and Palo Alto is in the center of the tech industry.

Information wants to be free (be accessible to all), and by nature, it wants to be expensive (to support costs of this initiave). The tension between both ideals will not go away. They key is to find a path that allows for both for long term success.


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