America: Your new queen has been crowned

Alaska’s governor — my governor — Sarah Palin got picked up as the Republican VP nod on Friday and it make a complete mess of my day. I didn’t have any meetings, it was the day before Labor Day weekend — I was looking to wrap some things up and take a breather, but I guess not. We pulled together a ton of coverage and such in just a few hours. Be sure to check out for all the goodies — from an Alaskan perspective, not from the beltway insiders and pundits that really don’t know anything about Palin.

Thankfully, both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were there for me, at the end of a long day, with their coverage, too. As of this writing, only Stewart’s show has been posted to — by the time you read this I suspect Colbert will be there, too.

The Curse of the PBS Tchotchkes

Okay, I know I owe everyone a better explanation for the changes at the public media company in Anchorage, where I’ve taken on a new role. I’ll get to that. But first I have to let off some steam.

Now that I’m in charge of radio, television and the web — as a singular unit we call “streams” — I’m the recipient of public TV promotional materials. And let me tell you, this is the worst part of the job.

I’m being buried alive in tchotchkes. OMG the tchotckes! In two weeks I’ve been inundated with the stuff.

Now I know why our PBS dues go up so dramatically every year. The networks, the producers, the distributors — they’re all mailing and shipping out endless streams of expensive trinkets and doodads in the hopes that I’ll love their program and run it day and night and promote it and call it George.

As Jon Stewart said during his infamous appearance on CNN’s now-dead “Crossfire” — Please. Stop. You’re hurting America.

Okay, maybe not hurting America, but you’re filling my office with stuff I don’t need.  We don’t select programs because you send me a chocolate bar or children’s bookends.  I’m not going to be a new-found fan of your show because you printed a four-color professional multi-tabbed binder or sent me “fun” stickers or magnets.  Put another way: Your ability to slap a logo on a plastic Chinese toy or hire a print shop does not impress me — it depresses me.

Please, TV producers and distributors: Put your money into making a better product. Edit tighter. Get better visuals in the program. Hire good photographers and videographers and sound engineers. Build a better web site. Collaborate with your public TV brethren and create a wonderful online-only marketplace for programs and additional information.

Most importantly: please lower my cost for buying your show.

Please do not send me a box of glossy postcards pushing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. No more Good Grips spatulas or basting gear for that cooking show. Save the four-color promo stuff for lobbying Congress — not me. Keep the DVDs and put your show clips and previews online.  I’m already on your team, so please don’t waste $25 shipping me your latest professionally-developed marketing pouch with tiered inserts on velvety cardstock ($25 x 300 stations = $7,500).

Why is it that a network of stations, all committed to noncommercial public service, spends this much money on advertising to me?

Alaska politics: always entertaining

I know I’m way late for an update on the changes at work and how they fit into a larger strategic approach to the future, but I have an excuse! It’s the week before the Alaska Primary and we’re doing a big meet-the-candidates thing on our TV and radio stations for three nights this week and it’s sucking all the time out of my days and nights.

In the mean time, here’s a little extra treat.

In a tiny state (by population) like Alaska, the barrier to entering statewide politics is fairly low. Or at least the barrier to entering a political race is low — you still generally can’t win unless you’re at least somewhat credible. Still, in a state of less than 700,000 people total, the odds of any particular citizen winning a statewide office are pretty good — much better than most states. Of course, when the odds are good, the goods are often odd.

Case in point… Perennial candidate Daniel DeNardo, currently up for Alaska State House district 31. He appeared on our election coverage show on Tuesday night and explained to the world, well… he explained a lot of things. It’s best if I just let him talk. Enjoy!


Download Audio (MP3)

P.S. Best line from the moderator: “And how do you work on that in the legislature? They seem to be bogged down in the school budget.”

The Big Announcement – Part 1

So I’ve hinted at it via Twitter over the past couple of days, but not spoken openly until now.

On Thursday, August 14 we began, in earnest, the reorganization of Alaska Public Telecommunications, Inc. (APTI) in Anchorage, Alaska. APTI is a public media company that operates KSKA Public Radio (FM 91.1), KAKM Public Television (Channel 7) and the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN).  APTI is both an NPR and PBS member and APRN is a statewide news network composed of about 24 public radio stations.

At the moment, I’m kind of exhausted from the many conversations and meetings swirling around this change, so I won’t go into much detail now. I’ll stick to the headlines now and try to do a longer explanation this weekend.

First off, I’m now in a new position. A position so new it has a non-traditional title: Vice President, Community Media Streams.

We’re organizing the company in a completely new way, using four divisions:

  • Community Media Streams
  • Media Production
  • Advancement
  • Operations

Previously we were arranged into platform and functional units with a total of 8 people at the “management” table, including the CEO. Now our “managers” number only 4. The old breakdown:

  • APRN
  • Broadcast Engineering
  • Information Technology
  • Development
  • Finance & Administration

Much of this organizational structure stemmed from the two mergers that created APTI as it stands today.  TV and radio uneasily merged in the early 1990’s.  APRN was merged into the company (by necessity, I would contend) in 2004.  Since each merger, the units have largely acted alone — and have competed for resources.

The primary collapse is to bring together radio and television and the web — to date just a subset of my duties — under a single manager (me).  Other public media companies have called this a “Chief Content Officer” or some nomenclature like that. We decided to split what others might call “content” into streams and production because we felt the two were fundamentally different things. Media Production makes programs.  Streams creates experiences.

I’m falling asleep as I write this, so I’m going to stop here.  There’s much more to say, probably this weekend and, really, for months to come. In the mean time, here’s the formal press release (PDF) crafted by our own CEO on Thursday afternoon. It’s intentionally brief and vague.  We have longer docs we’ve been developing internally.

More later. And thanks to all the Twitter pals out there that patiently waited to hear more!

A great apology

Monday’s Gmail outage scared the crap out of me.

I just moved my entire company over to Google Apps — away from Microsoft Exchange — about 6 weeks ago. One of the scariest parts is the fact that you have no control over the server or services that actually make your e-mail and calendars and everything else “go.” So when e-mail goes down, I’m pretty much as helpless as a basic user, and that stings a bit.

Plus, as a free (“education”) customer, all I can do is send e-mail to support (duh — can’t do that when Gmail is down!) or post messages on their support forum. Sure, there’s a support phone number, but when millions of accounts go offline worldwide, your call won’t get through. Keep that in mind if you evaluate Google Apps. With the exception of today, the experience has been great. But now I’m on edge.

A little good news, though… Google has apologized. Sincerely. Openly. Without dodging the issue or blamestorming. There aren’t many companies that could do this.

Kudos to Google for this kind of clear, honest and authentic apology.

I already feel a little better.

Not to be repetitive, but… NPR + PI = ?

Back on the 31st I mentioned the NPR purchase of Public Interactive (PI), wondered what the meaning was and hoped for some announcements or details from NPR. Since then there’s been more discussion out there, including a rather long post by Robert Paterson as well as a short one from Sue Schardt. The NPR CEO himself, Dennis Haarsager, posted on the topic as well, including…

I will have a lot more to say about this, how we got here, where we hope to go with it, and who the key players have been in this multi-year effort to extend public media’s impact in a future post.  PI will continue its current range of services, but it would also be useful to think of it as the beginnings of a new digital division within NPR which will operate with the same culture of neutrality as has characterized public broadcasting’s satellite distribution systems for decades.

That’s encouraging, but vague. Knowing Dennis’ capacity for system design and strategic thinking, I definitely feel better that he’s at the helm, but I sure would like more details on what’s behind the purchase.

In the mean time, I’ve exchanged private Twitter messages and e-mails with a few folks outside and inside NPR. To date, either no one knows what’s going on with the purchase or they’re not willing to say. Very odd. A major purchase like this would, presumably, be backed up with a “big idea” or a plan for the future, and you’d think people would be excited to talk about it.

So I’m still in the camp of “huh?” when it comes to the NPR / PI deal. I’m not against it, but I’m not seeing the value yet. I’m hoping Haarsager in particular can shed some light in the coming weeks.

But I’ll be more specific: I’m not interested in more web templating services from PI or any other vendor. They don’t really help me provide valuable, organic, human-scaled interactive experiences for — and with — my community.

My station’s use of any media platform must be authentic and must be “tuned” to the rhythms of the platform and the needs of the community.

So if I’m providing interactive web services, they need to feel organic, natural, part of the web’s fabric and not a “patch.” The PI offerings have, in my experience, felt like patches. They were designed for stations that had no “digital natives” on board and could not or would not invest in next generation services, but still had to have something on the web. A noble goal in its way. Unfortunately, such services encourage stations to treat the web as an afterthought, as a necessary evil, not as a next-gen media platform that operates on a new set of principles.

As tools on their own, the PI services are fine. They work as advertised (which is more than can be said for a lot of software). But they all have the feel of “made somewhere else” and “commodity package we bought just to get this done.” It feels hollow. Ning sites feel more organic.

If NPR bought the PI toolset and services with the idea of just selling them to stations as PI has done since inception, then this deal makes no sense; then it’s just a game: PRI owns it, then NPR owns it, maybe APM is next or PBS or whatever. But if NPR plans to use the skill sets resident in the PI staff to go in some new directions — more like API stuff, less like web templates — then this might make a ton of sense, and it’s a service I’ll want to use.

Too bad NPR already had a smart web services team in-house, unencumbered by the legacy PI business model. NPR could have started in-house with the team they have. Although I suppose buying PI gives you political cover while you develop these services. NPR Board and management can focus on traditional PI operations while substantial behind-the-scenes API / utility development costs are incurred. Maybe the PI purchase is just a new media red cape keeping the old media bulls distracted.

Am I being too cynical here? What am I missing? And when do we think NPR will come out and say what their plans are for the PI purchase?

C-130 trip photos posted

Only took me a couple days, but photos from the C-130 trip to Barrow (August 7, 2008) are now posted on Flickr. It’s amazing just how long it takes to select, title and caption 91 photos, but it’s done.

I won’t bother you with the blow-by-blow story here. The goodies, including explanations, are over on Flickr.

Heading to Barrow on a C-130

Okay, this isn’t new media, but it’s too cool to not mention…

Later today I’m hopping a Coast Guard C-130 in Anchorage and flying, pretty much all day, to Barrow, Alaska and back. As part of the flight we’ll also spend some time over the Arctic Ocean, surveying the tremendous retreat of the sea ice this year (last year was a record-setter).

The Coast Guard is doing some PR with Alaskan journalists to demonstrate how they’re getting situated up north to handle the added responsibility of patrolling Earth’s newest (navigable) ocean.

I’m not officially a journalist, but I work with them, I do some of their new media, I write their headlines and, well… they’re busy this week. Suckers!

There are probably about 15 journalists going on the 9-hour roundtrip flight. They come from all media — print, video, web and audio outlets are all represented.

I’ll be sure to share some photos and maybe a little video later.

Amazing presentation on YouTube and participatory media

I’ll be recommending the following video to my Board in Anchorage soon. Thanks to Robert Paterson for pointing it out. This is pure Internet gold that’s worthy of broadcast on PBS itself.

The point? It explores YouTube (and related sites) from an anthropological standpoint and explains the many ways in which “Web 2.0” technologies are fundamentally different from traditional media. Blew me away with the depth of analysis and the many moments of self-recognition. It’s so reassuring to know there are others out there struggling with issues of authenticity, identity and community in the online world. Old media and new media are even more radically different than I thought.

The only downside: it’s a full 1-hour video. So you have to reserve it for a time when you’ve got that much time to watch it. No snacking here — this is a full meal.