Headed to CPB. Headed for community?

I’m headed to the CPB today for an all-day meeting tomorrow (Thu, Apr 15) at the mother ship, hosted and arranged by Rob Bole (aka @rbole).

Up for discussion amongst a small group of public media tech types? Collaboration and community, or at least that’s what I’m expecting.

Many of you can probably list conference after conference and presentation after presentation, especially in the digital media space, where we all swear to stay in touch and share project ideas and methods, but it just never seems to happen. And I’m as guilty as the rest!

Lots of smaller projects have popped up over the years, including the #pubmedia chats happening each Monday evening with the help of some public media Twitter luminaries. ūüėČ

What each of the projects have lacked is either staying power or depth of collaboration, mostly driven by a lack of time to pursue collaborative work instead of individual (station-focused) digital production.

With the help of Allen Gunn, I’m betting on a great meeting and some sustainable work to benefit our communities and colleagues across the public radio, TV and web universe. Hopefully there will be more to report by the weekend.

Yelvington on paywalls and community

I recently told public broadcasters, er… I mean public service media folks, to ignore the paywall option. Don’t do it. And while I stand by that assertion generally, the invaluable Steve Yelvington has a much more nuanced take in his piece Thinking about a paywall? Read this first.

It involves this little chart, and there are lessons for those that would create both a popular general web destination and an online community, all in one. Highly recommended.

Do your own work

Thanks to @stevesilberman I came across this little article about growing food locally in Britain:

Introducing Britain’s Greenest Town

Now, I’m already inclined to like these stories because I think local food will remain part of a larger localism trend over the next 10 to 20 years as we pass peak oil and go deeper into global warming’s effects.

But there’s a quote in there that caught my eye (boldface my own):

Incredible Edible was originally funded out of the participants’ own pockets. “We were very clear that we didn’t want to look at what grants were available and mould our projects to suit them,” said Mr Green. “We felt that what would work was to start with the town and what it needed. We’d look for money later on.” What the project leaders found was that a lot could be achieved with small amounts of cash. And awards and grants have followed…

This was something I saw in public media (and still see) that drove me nuts: companies taking grant money because it was available and the projects sounded mildly interesting, not because they organically developed a project in response to local needs.

We did it in Alaska when the stations took money to create a replication of the “Portal Wisconsin” project from several years back. No one really wanted to do the project — hell, the company didn’t even believe in the web as a viable platform to begin with — but there was $10,000 in cash sitting there, waiting to be taken. We ended up not doing the project and returning the money (thankfully). But that wasn’t the only time funny funding came along.

I worry about other projects (one in particular comes to mind right now) that drives public media firms to do work they shouldn’t really be doing.

Heres a concept:

  • find out what the community wants or needs; do a “listening project” like IdeaStream did a few years back
  • develop a project or service that would fit the community’s needs
  • if you really need cash to get started, then start smaller so you need less cash and can fund it out of pocket
  • get some early successes, then take your story on the road to raise more money if needed

Social media works this way, too. First, you listen. Then you talk. Then you get together to do something new as a team. Later you raise money.

I know there’s an additional desire to ingratiate one’s public media company with the CPB or with the Knight Foundation, so people sign up for projects that don’t quite fit but are “close enough.” And I know these projects are a time-honored tradition in the public media system — it’s just what everyone does.

But maybe that’s one of our problems. We’re not working for our communities, we’re working for someone else, somewhere else.

Let’s do our own work. And let’s start by listening.

PublicMediaCamp session notes posted – What Next?

by Elephants on Bicycles (Flickr)
by Elephants on Bicycles (Flickr)

It took longer than expected, but I finally posted notes from my PublicMediaCamp session “Creating an Online Unconference to the PubCamp wiki.

It’s packed with details from the session and links out to relevant materials. Not to mention two funny / instructive videos from recent Intel commercials.

From here, though, the real work begins.

I have a ton of handwritten notes I took while flying home from DC. And I’ve been thinking about this for two weeks. I plan to convert my additional notes next, fleshing out the ideas that emerged in the session in much greater detail. However, I’m concerned the project would become too wrapped up in my own thoughts of what should or shouldn’t happen with this site. I need more input.

For example, I had a good e-mail exchange recently with Kristin Calhoun at PBS. She gave me more ideas on what we could do with this new site / online service. And I’m sure she’s not the only one.

So here’s what I propose:

  • You and I reach out to anyone we think might be interested in participating in the leadership of this new online community. We make them aware of what we’re talking about — point to the wiki entry — and see if they’d be interested in not only hearing more, but in shaping the future of this service from the beginning.
  • Ask that everyone take this survey about the formation of the community
  • We exchange e-mails, building a list of interested parties and probably moving that list to a Google Group or similar system
  • We set a date for a live phone conference with everyone that’s interested in materially participating
  • Meanwhile, I write up my additional notes on the community idea and post them either to the wiki or this blog, then share them with everyone
  • Finally, if you’ve got ideas for the community, you take a few notes, too!

I’m excited! I think we’ve got something here. The new/digital/social media community inside public media has needed something like this for a long time — the conference that never ends, a support group and a resource for ideas and new technologies.

Let’s do it!

Economics of Abundance

Here’s what most public media outlets still don’t get — especially in the corner offices. If you get this economic concept, you’ll understand why creating media and throwing it out there isn’t enough.

There are two scarcities that public service media firms can utilize immediately, and probably more that haven’t yet quickly come to mind:

  1. unparalleled-quality news / information / data / analysis, especially when coupled with excellent curation
  2. leadership and convening of tribes by geography and public service interest

News, even top-quality news, is not enough. Because once it’s released into the digital world, the price falls to zero or near zero, so you can’t monetize it directly. You can ask for donations to support your public service (sound familiar?), but the appeal to altruism — while it works to a degree — doesn’t achieve full financial support. (Look at the balance sheets of public media companies across the country; they don’t live by altruistic donations alone).

But just as the musician makes money from t-shirts and live events and other opportunities to “experience” the music beyond simple recordings, so too can public service media gather money via events and participation in limited-access tribes or communities of interest. Plus, the simple creation of those events and communities is a new service for most pubmedia outlets. The communities can be created online and the tribes can be led and organized offline.

I know — some of these terms may be confusing if you haven’t read Seth Godin or Jono Bacon. But that’s where public media has to go. Broadcasting is not enough. Publishing online is not enough. The public needs more, wants more and will part with money to get it.

Community, Community, Community

I hate the word “community.” It’s a catch-all word that means so many things it feels like it means nothing. When I use it I feel a little silly.

Yet there’s not really a good replacement for the word. Or at least I haven’t found one I like.

Check out a thesaurus — is there anything that can both refer to a geographically-bound collection of individuals while also referring to a group of individuals that are naturally cohesive around a shared affinity?

Society has too many connotations of snootiness or political implications (“The Great Society”). Association is usually attached to the name of a lobbying group. Neighborhood is nice and informal, but it’s too geographically-bound and too small-scale. Nothing else quite matches “community” in terms of flexibility and meaning, right?

If anyone has a better term, please share it in the comments. I really would like to find another word I can use interchangeably with this term.

While you were out…

Robert Paterson continued the hit parade of great writing while I was away and there are two do-not-miss pieces that public media folks should have read. If you haven’t yet be sure to check these out…

WETA – Bringing the heart to Radio – Future of Public Radio
There’s a ton of great insight in this one piece. Given that many stations are in pledge at this time, I found one quote to be especially timely:

Look deep into the idea of Membership and you will find it is usually about if you do this we will do that. Or it may be if you don’t do this we will go off the air. The word Tawdry comes to my mind.

But he’s not really writing about membership or pledge or ratings, in the end. His piece talks about building relationships through shared experiences and values. It’s the essence of “social media” and what we do when we’re at our best today and what we must do to build a sustainable future that has shared meaning for a media outlet and a group of media consumers.

If you want to get a handle on how/why social media will trump mass media in time, this is where you start reading.

The Mystery of Attraction on the web – Luis Suarez
This piece is a little more personal and for public media folks requires a little more reading between the lines. While Paterson describes an experience of meeting a new person via social media tools online (which in itself is fascinating), the real meaning comes later as he discusses how online media is closing the loop on human social patterns that began before recorded history. Technology may in fact be recreating social models that have been broken (by technology) over the past 100 years or so.

I know — that sounds really big and really out there. But be sure to read the piece in full and all the comments. My own experience is beginning to parallel Paterson’s due to three changes in my life: first, I live in a smaller community than in the past; second, I work in public media (which is a tiny community); and third, through online tools like blogs, Twitter and more I’m finding others that are grappling with issues similar to mine and interacting with them. My “community” is deepening at a time when society as a whole is becoming much more shallow.

Some choice passages:

We most of all wish to live in a village – in a tribe – the web enables us to find the best village and tribe possible as it offers us the choice of the whole world to find the best matches rather than having to make the best of our blood and local pool.

It means that we have to rethink the whole idea of “local”. My village is made up of people who live all over the world. I have closer ties to them than to most that live 10 miles away from me.

It means that community as far as My Community cannot scale beyond a small town. Otherwise there is too much noise.

It means that those who wish to design for community would be advised to follow the rules of community in real life – In real life, we scale out from those that mean the most to us to the noise.

So if you worked for a TV or radio station and you accepted this realty – how would you approach connecting to your city?

For public media folks that wish to move from mass media to social media, these ideas are critical. The tribe — as described here and repeatedly by Seth Godin — is not just some marketing-speak. It’s about shared experience and shared values, and it’s a path to establishing a new and enduring meaning for public media. After all, haven’t we promoted the idea that public media are the beacons of quality in a world of crass quantity? ¬†Well, now we have the chance to live up to the talk.

We won’t be everybody’s best friend, but we can aim to be in the smallest, tightest circle possible with those that share and value our public service ideals.

Paterson, Mundt, Carvin trifecta on KCUR

Great show today on Kansas City’s public radio station KCUR with guests Robert Paterson, Todd Mundt and Andy Carvin. The topic? Surprise! New media and public media.

Worth a listen, especially if you’re a little confused about how public radio and public TV can engage the world in an online context.


Total time: about 51 minutes. Download the MP3 here.

(By the way, I’d link to the web page at KCUR, but it appears it won’t be available after this week due to the way it’s published using the Public Interactive CMS.)

Defining community and audience

One of the things I’ve found my traditional pubcasting colleagues have trouble understanding is the difference between the words community and audience when it comes to discussing Media 2.0 strategies and modes of action. It’s a critical distinction, as understanding which type of group you’re serving completely changes how you’ll approach what you do for them (or with them).

Mindy McAdams, online journalism professor, pulling a quote from Clay Shirky’s latest book, points to the key differences between having an audience and participating in a community.