Back from the dead / digital collaboration

It’s has been — and remains — insane at the office these days. We’re in the midst of a pledge period for TV, we’re preparing for another one in FM, and for the most part it’s my first run-through these events as the person ultimately in charge of our streams, so there’s a learning curve. I’m finding it easy to pick things up — it just takes time. Plus, the company is still shaking out some of the changes from about a month ago as we radically redesigned the management structure. So far, so good.

I’ve been neglecting Twitter and Facebook and this site for nearly a month as these events have played out. Luckily, it’s kind of a quiet period in public media as folks work through pledge drives and just get back into the non-summer swing of things.

Yet this past week a critical post went up from Dennis Haarsager that’s required reading for pubradio folks and I think for public TV folks as well:

It makes a good deal of sense to me, as it gives a revitalized reason/purpose for national/local collaboration, as opposed to simple distribution. I’m not quite convinced it can be successful, but it’s got a shot if a critical mass of system leaders get on board. I know I’m paying attention.

That said, I’m concerned about future collaborations of all kinds, especially in the wake of a semi-private discussion in which I participated recently.

It seems public media’s chief difficulty today is not one of distribution, but one of mission. Why are we here, really? And do we all share the same response to that question? “Public service,” is not a real answer. We need a product, a specific service that can bind all of us together.

Personally, I think that’s news. I’ve railed against the national TV news media before for their lack of real public service, and I’ve suggested that public media’s greatest strength comes from news.  Not music, not arts and culture, not high society, but news. (Those other things are nice-to-haves, but they aren’t core things around which we can easily collaborate on various geographic or business scales.)

What does news, as a primary mission for public, have going for it?

  • The Associated Press is breaking down as newspapers and stations — including my own — tell the AP to take a flying leap with their high costs and their regurgitated stories
  • Newspapers are distracted as their profits crumble and they seem unable to find a way forward
  • TV news is an abysmal, rancid landfill of time-wasters and poor information
  • New low-cost journalism methods (not necessarily bad stuff, by the way) is on the rise, both in video and print, offering us new opportunities
  • Digital exchange of information and finished media products has never been faster, cheaper or easier
  • We have a public service mission unparalleled in the commercial world — a world setup to distribute commercials, not thoughtful information

NPR grew as media consumers discovered that quality news and information was, in fact, a good thing to have around. It grew in an otherwise toxic radio environment.

We have a chance, now, I think, to develop this shared mission and build collaborative structures around that. At the moment, Haarsager’s initial diagram (PDF) speaks to a broader service set than news alone. But keep the mission focused and the distribution / collaboration system begins to make sense.

Anything new that proposes to simplify collaboration in an ecosystem of diverse and often competing missions probably won’t get us very far.