Can you imagine doing this in your public broadcasting company?

Michael Rosenblum — a perennial favorite writer of mine — has a series of posts this week about how the Travel Channel (a division of Discovery, the company vacuuming up viewers out of the PBS audience) is training all of their employees how to plan, shoot, edit and finish good video using the small cameras and laptop editing systems that are the hallmark of the Travel Channel Academy.

The best post is A Commitment to Literacy.

Imagine a world in which everyone in your public media company — your radio folks, your TV folks, your web folks, sales people, engineers, everyone — learned the pieces and parts of your craft, your public service. Everyone would have a basic, functional literacy about audio, video, text, photos, social media and so on. Wouldn’t that make your company smarter, faster, more dynamic, more engaged, more productive? Everyone would have a stake, an experience, that directly relates to the core mission and functions of your public service business.

I work in a public radio and public TV company in which several employees don’t even have televisions at home. Those that do have TVs mostly don’t watch them or spend very little time watching our own channel. I almost never watch our station — it doesn’t speak to me much. [To tell the truth, I haven’t turned on the TV to watch anything since Memorial Day. But I have watched a couple TV shows on Hulu.]

So what could make our media outlets more engaging — even for our own teammates? Contextual relevancy — meaning. It needs to be a meaningful thing to them. They need to feel involved. Same for the people formerly known as the audience.

The future of media companies will be focused not on distribution technologies (which will fade into the infrastructure background), but on meaningful media production and the social transactions that go along with it — the conversations, the sharing, the community, the Context. Imagine a company where everyone is immersed in media and community relationships.

I want my receptionist to know how to shoot and edit video. I want the membership people to be able to record and edit audio. I want to have a staff populated with smart people that can write, take a good photo, and sling digital media around without throwing up their hands in frustration.

Sure, there are day-to-day tasks that need to just get done, and they don’t involve video cameras or microphones or web sites and they aren’t always “fun.” (Believe me, I know — I have to go setup a bunch of stuff for a pledge drive starting right after this.) But if every job and every task were infused with the knowledge of why and how we do what we do, wouldn’t that make working in public media all the more meaningful for everyone involved? And wouldn’t that make for a better public service?

Required Reading: Eby & Mundt

You’re probably already following Tim Eby (blog / Twitter) and Todd Mundt (blog / Twitter) online, but if not, or if you missed these recent pieces, be sure to take time to catch up.

It’s About The Conversation (29 May 2008)

Tim Eby had the good fortune to attend a conference in WOSU’s backyard last week and shares some of the insights from the conference that directly apply to public media leaders and organizations nationwide. One of several money-quotes: “We can no longer control the keys to the vehicle and keep our audience in the backseat.” The post includes slides from one of the presentations and a great five-point list of what NOT to do as a media organization in the age of conversation.

What’s Your Twitter Strategy? (29 May 2008)

As I’ve talked about Twitter with my colleagues (and shared article after article), I always get the question, “So what’s this thing for?” Todd Mundt answers this question, but more importantly answers it in a practical, down-to-earth, low-cost, low-impact way — specific to public media. Great, simple advice and reporting on what’s up in Louisville.

Louisville Public Media’s Strategy (28 May 2008)

Here’s a more wide-ranging piece from Mundt that encompasses LPM’s strategic approach to media. This is yet another brilliant, concise document out of Louisville Public Media (the first being their overall company strategy doc I mentioned in February). It’s both incredibly readable and shows a great depth of thinking.

If I’m lucky, I’ll become the “Microsoft” to Mundt’s and LPM’s “Apple” — I’ll fire up the photocopier every time they create an innovative new strategy, change a few names in the document and claim I invented it all!

New Video: Social Media in Plain English

I love the Common Craft series. This one seems like the longest of all of them, which is understandable, given the complexity of a huge topic like “social media.” It’s a good intro, as usual.

Get more Common Craft videos at their web site. You can even buy them for use at the office.

On advertising market shifts

Recently, Robert Paterson pointed out a Diane Mermigas piece talking about shifts in the advertising market, especially in relationship to network TV sales. According to the Mermigas analysis, network TV stands to lose up to $1.5 billion during this season of “up fronts” alone. That’s a lot of dough for any industry to lose nearly overnight, even if it is spread across several mega-media corporations.

I commented on Paterson’s site, but realized I liked my response so much I wanted to elevate it to my own blog in the process. Here’s Paterson’s question and my own response:

Is this the problem stated in Money terms?
Here is Diane Mermigas talking about the commercial networks — is this the same for NPR and PBS?

I would say Public Media are not impacted as directly by advertising losses like this, nor do the losses/impacts happen in phase with commercial media.

But the losses are there or soon will be (depending on the size and sophistication of your advertising clients).

But what’s worse — much worse — is that revenue from advertising (sponsorship!) is not managed as professionally in public media as it is in commercial media. This means that trends in ad spending are not understood as well in public media as they are elsewhere. So as changes ripple through the ad space, public media won’t figure it out for several cycles. Blunted reaction times will lead to lost opportunity and lost money.

Commercial outlets have a firm, financial bottom line and they calculate where that line lies every day, every week, every month, every quarter. Public media is not so fastidious. Our bottom line is the soft concept of “public service” (imagined in many different ways) and revenue is only a means to that end. We don’t have hard measures of public service, we don’t analyze so deeply or accurately, as a group (I’m sure there are some exceptions, of course).

Indeed, as nonprofits, we tend to downplay “overhead” costs like sales analysts or “management” functions that could lead us to higher revenues and better customer relationships in the underwriting space. We don’t really operate like a business where it matters most — where money intersects with mission.

On top of all that, then there’s the problem of TV. All TV outlets have fewer and fewer viewers as the mass media model breaks down in a flurry of new outlets and platforms. And then there’s the demographics of PBS generally, which are less-than-desirable for many marketers.

In short, the money is moving where it can get greater impact, and public media outlets are pooly prepared to sense the change or alter course to meet the advertisers at their new destinations.

The solution? Get engaged locally in a way that’s unassailable by national trends. Build deep relationships that, yes, can be “monetized” in both corporate and individual realms. Develop relationships with sponsors that have historically not played in local media. Plus, get your butt online in a real way, not with business card web sites. Oh, and be sure to have some hard-nosed analysts on board that keep the business honest on the numbers — avoid the doe-eyed optimism that sometimes overtakes “soft” nonprofits like ours.

News: Our most important edge

There’s been a lot of chatter this week about NPR’s coverage of the earthquakes and their aftermath in the Sichuan province of China, and for good reason. Reporting, especially by Melissa Block from Chengdu, has been remarkable: it’s immediate, detailed, dispassionate, and yet so completely human and humane. Lots of folks in public media have noted how proud they were to be professionally associated with just this kind of public service, and I felt the same way.

Indeed, I felt about NPR’s coverage exactly the opposite of what I feel every time I see or hear commercial media reporting on, well… anything. I’ve cited before my disgust for all things TV news and especially cable news. The disasters that are CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC and so on would be laughable if they weren’t so fundamentally damaging to our democracy. They’re a cancer, not a public service, as they make our nation dumber with each minute of air time. They’re part of what I call the “bread-and-circuses” media. (And I’m not saying this for dramatic effect — I’m literally angered and saddened with each appearance of Wolf Blitzer and the army of morons that make up commercial TV news.)

Which leads me to a positive point, rather than just a rant.

Continue reading “News: Our most important edge”

Brief update… and a question

I’ve been remiss in writing for Gravity Medium lately, due to a bunch of things going on in my paid professional life.

We’re still in the midst of a strategic reconfiguration at the office, yet that seems to be slowing down now, as… well, I can’t really explain it without betraying confidences. Basically the process of reviewing the company’s structure and mission has stalled out and I don’t know when, or if, it will re-engage. I’m hopeful that we can startup again before June, but who knows. It’s been quite the roller coaster and at the moment I just want to get off and find a Sno Cone.


Separately — and way more fun — I’ve been working on moving my company and all its employees over to Google Apps, in the process dumping our Microsoft Exchange e-mail server and Outlook (at least officially).

So here’s the question: Do you have experience with moving your company over to Google Apps, especially away from Exchange and Outlook? If so, I’d like to hear about it either in the comments or via e-mail.

Right now I’m still in the planning and early-adopter transition phase, but in the end I have to migrate about 40 people to the service (which is tiny, I know), moving most of their archived mail to the service. I’ve already run into a couple mail migration glitches and I’m still figuring out how to handle public folders.

In the end, I expect to save anywhere from a few thousand to several thousand dollars per year (electricity, server upkeep, backup management, software licensing, staff time) and get some intangible cultural benefits from pushing the company further online. Instant messaging integrated with the web e-mail client is compelling, as is vast e-mail storage space and the document sharing features of Google Docs.

So let me know if you’re a Google Apps shop. What works? What doesn’t work? Send me your cheers and your jeers for the service. I can share my experiences, too, if that’s helpful.

Mundt cuts the cord, lives to tell about it

Bravo to Todd Mundt on both “cutting the cord” from his cable company and writing in-depth about the process and experience of consuming media — up to and including HD video — without cable (or satellite) TV service.

The mix of technologies required today are a bit daunting to anyone that wants just a plain old “boob tube” experience, but for any moderately inclined hobbyist, this is pretty accessible.

Furthermore — and this is the kicker — there’s more content out there on the ‘Net than on PBS, as lots of sources distribute directly and PBS (for various reasons, many of them good) chooses not to carry the stuff.

Read all about it here.

(For the record, Todd reports that he still uses the cable company for Internet access, just not for TV. My own experience is that my local cableco won’t sell me high speed service without a TV bundle, so I can’t fully follow his example. However, I have stopped watching BSG on TV and instead watch exclusively via hulu and DVD).

Oh, and be sure to follow Todd on Twitter, if you aren’t already.

Video on KPBS' use of Google Maps

Those of us that follow public media already know the story of the San Diego wildfires last fall and how KPBS online staff rose to the occasion with a quick usage of Google Maps and Twitter to keep the public informed. It’s a great story.

Now Google, in a lightly self-promotional way, has posted a video starring the team from KPBS that made it all possible. It’s wonderful to see new media folks in the public media world getting some credit. And now you’ll be able to spot them at the next conference you attend!

For more from the KPBS team — and others that have used social media in disaster situations — be sure to listen to the Disaster Relief and Emergency Preparedness session from IMA 2008:

The wildfires in southern California, the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, the bombing in London. Hear the experiences of our colleagues faced with these crises: what tools they used, how they deployed their staff; what collaborations helped them deliver effective service.

Moderator: Andy Carvin, NPR

Panelists: Leng Caloh, Senior Online Editor, KPBS; Peter Horrocks, Head of the Multi Media Newsroom, BBC; Julia Schrenkler, New Media Interactive Producer, Minnesota Public Radio


Download the original MP3 audio file here.