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Impolitic Life

Evolution Media debuts

<![CDATA[After lots of preparation, I'm returning to audio production with two new programs. The first, This Just In, made its debut Thursday and will be an almost daily news commentary and, dare I call it such, comedy program. The other project is much more like the old Adventures In Technology program I did for Audible […]

<![CDATA[After lots of preparation, I'm returning to audio production with two new programs. The first, This Just In, made its debut Thursday and will be an almost daily news commentary and, dare I call it such, comedy program.
The other project is much more like the old Adventures In Technology program I did for Audible back between 1997 and 2001. Evolution Media, which makes its debut today, will feature long-form commentaries—the first is about the need for more bridges between new and established media producers—with some occasional interviews and discussions.
An important note: I am releasing these programs in an untargetted Audible file, meaning they are freely playable by anyone with iTunes, an AudibleReady portable player or the Windows AudibleManager program. There are several reasons for this, the first is that the .AA format is far more compact than MP3. For example, the MP3 version of the first installment of Evolution Media is 53 MB, compared to 10.6 MB for the MP3-comparable quality .AA version or 5.3 MB for the voice optimized version.
So, you have your choice and I am going to be tracking total downloads of each format, but I urge you, both for convenience and because it will save you lots of storage space (and me, bandwidth), to try the .aa files. If you can’t be troubled to listen, the text version follows—but it does not include any of the ad libs that pepper my programs; you also don’t get the original music arrangements, another first for me.
Here’s the link for the high-quality Audible file (10.6 MB)
Here’s the link for the voice-optimized Audible file (5.3 MB)
and here’s the MP3 file (53 MB).

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Hello and welcome to Evolution Media for August 22, 2005. I’m Mitch Ratcliffe. Evolution Media, what’s it about? For those of you who remember my Audible program, Adventures In Technology, the tone will be familiar, but this program is about the increasingly intimate relationship between humans and their media. We’re taking control of media, what we produce and consume. The economies of production and distribution no longer limit who can send a message into the world, at least this is the case in the first world and for projects without Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt to fit into the budget. You’ll still need a multi-national corporation to rent time from superstars.
I call this program Evolution Media, because it is about the hype but the real change going on. As with Adventures in Technology, I’ll be drawing on my own experience and current events to explain trends, opportunities and pitfalls in the evolution of media.
Evolution—that’s what is happening. There is no revolution in media, rather we’re living through a long process of change in which the old slowly morphs into the new, carrying much of the past with it. Humans always start with the raw material of experience and make it into new artifacts. Scribal book production led to print publishing, print led to mass market publishing, pamphleteering and newspapers, then to desktop publishing of thousands of niche publications never seen before, from hobby magazines to undergound comics, and that led to the Web and, finally—at least, most recently—blogging. As many as six million self-publishers may be blogging, based on the estimated 14 million blogs on the Web today and the fact that many bloggers operate several blogs. Radio and television pulled stage material onto the airwaves only to give birth to the situation comedy, the gritty drama and, weirdly, reality television, which shares some of the qualities of a surrealist play, the last genre of theater to appear before radio went mainstream. Today, the first stirrings of self-production have appeared; podcasting and videoblogging are catching fire as the audience decides it can schedule its own listening and viewing. What goes around comes around, with a different cast and new producers….
I’m a media and technology guy, though these days I am decidedly more a technologist in making my living. The flood of new contributors to the media has brought the pay scale for writers and producers down considerably. It is as though there are a million people who want to write or produce for free or next to nothing competing for every job in the media; when I got my start 25 years ago, only a few people were willing to work for two or five cents a word. Today, everyone wants the experience and can get it.
In five years, when this first wave of learning is complete, salaries will rise and the of spectrum of programming transformed.
That so many people are learning to do media, to wield the tools and tell stories, is phenomenally great. So, it is not without a keen sense of the irony that, making my living primarily making technology and businesses out of technology I, who once commented on technology as a media person, turn my attention to the media.
In today’s installment of the program, I’ll be tackling the notion of The Big We, the society evolving by talking to itself as a whole for the first time. We’re going to look at the very human tendency to team up, to identify an enemy and place a “versus” between us and them. In the end, I hope I can lay out a few basic ideas that will make media more responsive and valuable, instead of producing more of the same old stereotyping noise that tears history into bloody shards every generation or two.
Technology has transformed media and will continue to throughout our lives, but today it is the communities, the organizations and the economies that we exist in that shape our media most.
Media has become so deeply intertwined with our identities that for many people the virtual communities to which they belong are more important to their sense of self than their physical community. This is celebrated as a new tribalism in which we find our true selves through interaction with others on the same journey—tribalism has downsides, too, it is where nationalisms, cults and jingoism find root.
As they have throughout history, communities often start off with the setting up of defenses, because the environment is never very friendly to something new. Defenses lead to confrontation with nearby communities, new and old.
As technology makes media authoring more accessible—that is, makes the ability to create content that can conveniently reach a large number of people commonplace—contending aesthetics are rising to challenge the proverbial establishment. These new ideas share a lot with the edifices they hope to tear down, so let’s dig in and examine the evidence to see that new media makers are fighting some of the closest potential allies in the old.
The conflict I’m talking about is plainly evident in the battles between bloggers and mainstream media, podcasters and traditional radio, basic cable and the Internet, where tens or hundreds of thousands of sources contend for attention that was divvied up between only three television networks a brief 25 years ago.
A lot of this new content or programming—whatever you’d like to call it is fine by me, but let’s agree here that we’re talking about the stuff people choose to pay attention to, to read, to listen to, to watch, to study, to use in making decisions about their lives—goes about its business without setting up a bogey that the audience should loathe or distrust.
But too many of the new attempts to win an audience are based on trying to tear down supposed competitors, labeled as “mainstream media.” Karl Rove is very good at character assassination, but he’s not the first nor even the best at stereotyping, vilifying and badmouthing; everyone of us has a little propagandist in us, though most folks learn to control those impulses by the time we get a driver’s license or are old enough to drink legally.
Unfortunately, the Rovian quest to destroy the media’s credibility was timed perfectly for the appearance of the blogosphere and many now apply the generalization “mainstream media” to the whole body of media people that preceded the blog, podcast and videoblog, as if we could say with certainty that all members of that profession carried the mark of the AntiChrist.
Mainstream media is not really all the monolithic establishment it is purported to be, it is diverse, at least within the realm allowed by the profit margin (and we’ll come back to this proverbial catch in a while). The “liberal” media that produce NBC News gave us the Christian end-times television series Revelations and the same company that pumps out the conservative family values-promoting Fox News is responsible for making liberally bent Simpsons family a TV fixture.
The fact that there is a battle between old and new—particularly the intensifying confrontation between “mainstream media” and bloggers—suggests that digital media has run through the youthful tendency to revolt, even if newly empowered producers are feeling their revolutionary oats.
With these clearly drawn battle lines we have the foundation for bridge-building, which I’m focsing on here.
Having been through a couple media revolutions myself, I know that revolt is a one-time chance to change the ruling order that, if lost, leads to a reversion to the mean, or worse. With the Internet, which appeared with a non-commercial mandate that provoked battles over the means content producers could use to earn a profit, the failure of the revolution gave us ten more years of advertising as usual. Streaming and filesharing networks were killed by paranoia among music and television companies that destroyed any chance of creating a viable business model around those cheap distribution systems.
Today’s most determined revolutionaries decry the commercialization of what is emerging as Web 2.0, a semantically analyzed and organized intelligent network of services that allow the individual to take control of information and their viewing/listening schedule. These revolutionaries are setting up a conflict that, if lost—and it will be lost—will produce a remarkably dull generation of programming based on arbitrary standards and budgets imposed by the victorious old-style marketers.
A smart approach is to accept from the very start that media will non-profit and for-profit elements and seek to make those co-exist without pitting them against one another. Because the anti-commercialization forces are treating their position as an absolute one in order to stop old-style marketers, those productions that find a way to keep the mass marketer comfortable will get all the funding. They’re making it easy to be beaten by anyone with enough money to pay a few production salaries.
Even if Web 2.0 were to emerge without the stain of lucre on its shiny technological façade, a revolution will destroy itself because revolutionaries have the tendency, once they win, to try to lock society into their form of success and keep it there. Media, like the great Columbia River, just keeps rolling on. It is pure technological, semantic and aesthetic evolution that would undo the most determined manifestoes.
Now, an aside, because I am aware that there are more sides to this discussion than the capitalist and anti-capitalist: I am referring to a range of positions that argue technology can eradicate any opposition. I include in this characterization the “anti-digital rights management,” pure “copyleft” or other positions that suggest any limits on content are unequivocally wrong-headed; these are absolute positions and, so, because people and technology—the only two solvents I know of that break down any absolute position—are involved in the evolutionary process we’re discussing, I’m confident they will erase the works of fundamentalisms of any color, technical or economic, capitalistic or anti-capitalistic.
Really, though, ownership is important and we should not dismiss the systems that support ownership out of hand. Economist Hernando de Soto has shown that in every economy, even the extra-legal economies of slums, people construct systems of ownership and rules for enforcing ownership. Unfortunately, most “advanced” economies ignore the vast assets that defy the untapped value owned by the poor, effectively shutting them out of the market for capital to develop those assets; when we talk about media, the unacknowledged assets we’re discovering today—that will fuel the post-industrial media—are attention, intention and personal decision-making resources. The Web 2.0 pie is immensely larger that we recognize, but most of it remains underground or unearthed.
The novelty of today’s human communication that makes our sense of ownership in media so personally urgent is that treat what we see, read and hear as our own is recorded, reroutable, and remixable; for the first time in history more of our messages live outside of us than inside our minds, and when they get out into the world they can be changed and challenged—by total strangers. We experience media today as our own communication in contrast to the ephemeral communication conducted over the back fence that was immediately lost to history; our sense of ownership is radically enlarged since our contributions shape the whole marketplace of ideas, even if only by influencing a few other people’s attention with a blog entry.
When we hear our own ideas and see them distributed to others, just as we used to receive print, radio and television programming from remote studios is New York, Los Angeles and London, the media becomes intimate, personal and we possessive and defensive of it. Media has become part of us, as McLuhan predicted it would (or, was the first to see it had), and when something happens to our messages out there it seems to happen to us. This is the root of the battle of bloggers and mainstream media, podcasters and professional radio, all of whom see this as a battle for parts of themselves. Yet, all this is simply the prelude to the real change that lies ahead, at a time when active dialogue between the many centers of society and all its edges are common features of everyday life.
For now, the people who are living in the hot center of media, the bloggers and podcasters notably, are exhibiting all the qualities of the dissident pilgrims, who justified wiping out Indian nations they found in their new world. They’re pissed off about where they came from—rightfully so, since there are many more examples of incompetence evident in the media today, though perhaps only as a function of the expansion of media over the last two decades, since CNN changed the news cycle—and bloggers are ready to defend where they’ve arrived from anyone who happens down the trail after them.
There are so many examples of podcasters who preach a new gospel of audio that decries all that came before or, ironically, a fundamentalism that values the radio of their youth or an idealized youthful radio where music was not programmed by record label payola. Radio has always been somewhat corrupt; game shows, too, and sports and news and politics, not to mention every religious institution and the pharmaceutical industry. We’re seeing a lot of calls to build cities on the hill in blog and podcast commentaries, yet not one such idealized destination has ever made a legitimate appearance in all of human history.
The manifestos and confessions of these born-again media makers do two things that are dangerous to a young medium: They provide a philosophical claim to innocence that absolves the born-again of the sins of their predecessors and from the consequences of mistakes made due to inexperience, which is pretty handy if you want to climb up on a pedestal, but dangerous if you want to stay there. Second, this sort of religious-like calling lets the acolyte transfer the sins of the world to others. Martin Luther had the Papists, Robespierre the Bourbons, Marx and Lenin the bourgeoisie, and Stalin the counter-revolutionaries; bloggers and podcasters have the mainstream media with Dan Rather in the role of King Louis, Tsar Alexander and Trotksy all rolled in one.
The tragedy of every era is that most folks are going about their lives and business goodheartedly while the battles that define their times are conducted by the extremists in the last five to seven percent of the population—It is so with blogs and podcasts and the reactionary idiots in the press who denounce any contenders for their role in society.
The tactics of the blog-fundamentalists is identical to those of the poorest journalist.
Let me explain how to be a bad journalist: decide on an angle on a story and pursue that angle rather than the facts that tell a true story. Blog-idealists select examples of human errors in complex journalistic systems—systems that may or may not function well—and blame the people who make those mistakes as a class, damning them rather than seeing them as individuals who have made mistakes.
This is not to say that if the same people or organizations make the same or similar mistakes repeatedly that they should not be castigated as incompetents, but saying that the practice of journalism is fatally flawed, as Rathergate.com blogger Kevin Craver did on July 20, 2005, or that bloggers are overwhelmingly “negative” as a USA Today report cited by Craver did, is simple propaganda that, repeated over and over, inclines readers to adopt these views as truth.
Alas the some journalists and some bloggers treat this like an arms race, hoping to fill the missile gap with their prejudices, before the population’s mind is made up.
Which is where the new tribalism comes back into our discussion. Propaganda, according to Jacques Ellul, works best on people “more or less intensely involved in social currents.” Like news junkies, bloggers and early adopters of personal media making (if they weren’t news junkies already) pride themselves on having their finger on a collective pulse—a pulse defined by their media. This makes them dangerously susceptible to propagandists and everyone, whether a faithful viewer of the news networks or a reader of blogs, must challenge themselves to question the information and conclusions they make their own—especially if they intend to repeat that information, adding to the perception that it is true.
Ellul, in his book, Propaganda, relates this passage from a Chinese writer reinterpreting an ancient Chinese poem in Pravda, the communist party of the Soviet Union’s newspaper. The ideas would have been as hard to swallow in 1957, when it was written, as today, when the facts cited are historically laughable: “The flowers perfume the air—this means that the flowers of the art of social realism are incomparably beautiful. The moon shines—this means that the sputnik has opened a new era in the conquest of space. Man has a long life—this means that the great Soviet Union will live tens and tens of thousands of years.” Says Ellul: “When one reads this, one smiles. If one reads it a thousand times, and no longer reads anything else, one must undergo a change. And we must reflect on the transformation of perspective already suffered by a whole society in which texts like this (published by the thousands) can be distributed and taken seriously not only by the authorities but by the intellectuals.”
In an environment where the same idea can be repeated on many television channels or on thousands of blogs, so that someone who surfs many sources to test and confirm their judgments is confronted with the same idea over and over, regardless of its value or even truth, we must be diligent in our efforts to find and consider contrasting views. The complete dismissal of opposing sources of information, whether it is mainstream media or blogs, makes it virtually impossible to start a dialogue, which is “where propaganda ends,” Ellul wrote 40 years ago.
These are not new problems, they simply have a new urgency in the intensely personal media environment.
I want to turn now to several other arguments common in the new media environment that are marshaled to overcome the critical faculties. They are less dramatic, yet collectively they contribute a short litany of excuses for readers to accept poorly conceived arguments from the press and blogs.
Technology, it’s hard. The cost and complexity of getting ideas into a format comparable with existing media is often offered as a justification of the rough quality of content. Here, I am going to take several passages from a blog posting by Dan Bricklin on August 16, 2005, not because I think Dan’s a bad guy, but because the assumptions he relies illustrate the many ways the claim of innocence absolve the amateur of expectations.
Writes Bricklin:

With the rush to podcasting by just about every “content” provider, we’re now seeing “journalists” who are “professionals” in one medium (usually print reporters or bloggers) trying to publish in another (audio) and they often sound like total newbies. I like the new outlet for information that podcasting provides. I like it that newspaper and other “text-based” reporters are now filing stories in audio form with actual interviews where you can hear the interviewee squirming. But, as I hear the sometimes poor audio quality and blog-like “I’m doing it myself” character of these podcasts I’m reminded of how “professional” journalists just a little while ago were deriding us bloggers as something of poor quality. As I hear them learning-by-doing in the audio sphere, just as we bloggers-turned-podcasters are, I hope they are getting a greater understanding of us and how the rough quality of our blog writing may not reflect on the quality of our thoughts and messages.


First, an observation: I think the raw quality of podcasts, particularly the interview excerpts and “slice-of-life” pieces that capture a moment that would previously have gone unrecorded, are invaluable precisely because they are not produced. What Bricklin manages to ignore is that “professional” recordings are team efforts; someone sits and mixes the audio while one or more other people speak. In television, there are rooms full of people involved in each shot that you never see on screen. Self-production doesn’t carry all the polish of an on-air segment, but that does not lessen the credibility of the information. I like the fact that self-produced content reflects the messy qualities of everyday life—after all, a journalist’s recorded interviews are anything but glamorous; they are mundane and useful, like most things in life.
Bricklin then dissects what he likes about a particular technology columnist’s on-air presentations, saying it isn’t entirely appropriate for long-form program, which may or may not be true. Nevertheless, one’s vocal style does not absolve them of the responsibility to engage and inform if they want to take and use an audience’s attention for any period of time—and they must engage, entertain or inform honestly.
The idea that we are all born anew in this medium is a convenient way of claiming that, for the time being, all our efforts are beyond judgment.
Note that Bricklin says “professional” journalists “derided” the amateurs, creating a simple dichotomy of good and evil—but, according to his logic, the professionals get their comeuppance in the new world, where everyone is equal. I’ll repeat his key demand: “I hope they [‘professionals”] are getting a greater understanding of us and how the rough quality of our blog writing may not reflect on the quality of our thoughts and messages,” which is a claim that the writing of bloggers or other amateurs itself cannot be judged because its intention is essentially good.
Bricklin, who happens to be an accomplished computer programmer—he invented the first spreadsheet, VisiCalc—takes several shots based on the argument that writers will have problems with becoming speakers, as we all have a true voice that will be trained to the new medium.
What I’ve learned as a writer and producer during the past two decades is that every word of every work will be judged ruthlessly; that is how you become a good writer or reporter, or a poet, or a balladeer, or a musician or or a lawyer or a computer programmer. There are no time-outs, though writers and performers have created safe places to work together to improve their work—these places are writing programs and theater groups. But any time you put ideas out into the world, criticism is inevitable. I doubt that Bricklin would tolerate poorly written computer code offered to him as a finished product, even if the person who wrote it really cared about what they built. A product that is poorly coded will suck, no matter how good the ideas behind it, and no one will put up with it, just as they won’t put up with poorly expressed ideas.
For the next several years, as many more people join the media metalogue there does need to be an awareness of how important constructive criticism will be to improving media overall. That means the wars have to end and some pulling together must follow the cessation of Us vs. Them hostilities so that experience can be shared by both professional and self-publisher/producers.
So, what are the standards we can apply to our media? Bear with me as I try to lay out some basic statements everyone involved in this media evolution might agree on—the bridge between old and new that can help forge better media and spread experience more fairly than it would be in a world defined by irrational conflict.
We need to be honest. Anyone who advocates for more lies is on the not on society’s side. If media is how society talks to itself, then it must be honest or society will become, for lack of a better phrase, mentally ill.
I think we can also agree that if Dan Rather can be crucified for a mistake by his staff, the people who carried the torches to that lynching ought to be able to live by the rule that they will pay for their own mistakes by facing criticism with the same grace they demanded from Rather.
Likewise, journalists working for media companies must acknowledge that the vast army of people who blog are a burgeoning resource that they or their readers can tap for better or, at least, broader sources of fact-checking, discovery and interpretation of events. If they can’t find way to work together with the public, they should, at least, not fight the public’s assertion of its voice in public debate.
As a former journalist, blogger and lifelong news junkie, the biggest problem I see in all media today is the tendency to avoid all hard questions. The media seem to have surrendered the right to ask anyone, from the Bush Administration to the proprietors of crooked companies and local scamsters, to account for their actions and ideas when they turn out badly. Certainly, the partisan blogs have turned celebrating a unified ideological front into a kind of low-brow orgy that is indistinguishable from the pedantic ministrations of Bill O’Reilly or Lou Dobbs each evening during prime time. Making loud statements of supposed truth is not the same as asking hard questions that let people participate in a dialogue.
Granted, it takes some nerve to ask a hard question and I hardly blame many bloggers with no background in confrontation for failing to grab onto a contradiction and hold a source’s feet to the fire. Nevertheless, that is the price of admission for finding the truth as often as possible. You often have to piss someone off to do this job well; and it is a thankless job. The thing I’ve learned from doing a yeoman reporter’s job is that the people who seem to be the hardest to confront with the truth are the ones most thoroughly disabled by the truth. I’ve reported on three presidential administrations, uncovering lies in two, and these guys are human. They back down. The Ku Klux Klan are scary because they have so much to hide; when an amateur writer and civil rights activist in the 1940s penetrated the organization and reported the silly codes the Klan used to pass information, it’s reign of terror was cut short with laughter.
The press, too, don’t ask themselves the hard questions anywhere near often enough. Economic concerns—fear for their jobs—prevent reporters and editors from standing up to small compromises with economically mandated decisions by publishers that can add up to seriously compromised practices. But bloggers need to be asking one another these questions now, at the outset of their medium, if they don’t want it to fade into irrelevancy due to lost trust among readers.
After asking the hard question, the next important element in creating an environment resistant to propaganda is tolerance of hard questions asked of you by others. You need to be able to take much more than you dish out in order to avoid spinning into a defensive abyss. I’m more than prepared for your comments on this program—fire away.
The real challenge for most folks, though, is the crucible of tolerance, where most of us demonstrate the limited human capacity for differences of opinion.
Mutual respect is critical for a dialogue to emerge in the face of contending opinions. I recently posted a piece on my blog that suggested President Bush’s response to anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan was insufficiently personal to overcome the objections of critics, which could lead to a severe backlash from the public. The point wasn’t that Sheehan was right (though I do agree with her right to question the president and the character of her questions), it was that, like Herbert Hoover, who dismissed critics from the White House rather than going among the people and talking about the hardships of the Great Depression, Bush is tempting serious social discord.
A commenter on the blog, who used a pseudonym that suggests he or she has a military background, RomeoBravo—if they do that experience, good for them, but that’s not relevant to my criticism of the president’s handling of domestic criticism—wrote that Sheehan was disturbed and a pawn of leftist groups. RomeoBravo wrote this several times, adding a comprehensive condemnation of Democratic administrations back to Jimmy Carter—also irrelevant to my point. What RomeoBravo was trying to change the subject of the discussion by parroting a list of talking points from the right designed to discredit Sheehan; he or she was not interested in addressing my comments about Bush, only in spreading ideas about Sheehan in order to nullify her presence in the debate. This is an unadulterated propaganda technique.
What’s unfortunate is that it seems a large number of people with access to the Web and other media believe propaganda is an acceptable form of communication.
Paying bloggers to repeat messages is wrong. So is providing paid access to events that otherwise would not be open to the blogger, such as a free ride on an airplane to test a wireless networking service, a trip to a conference or to “cover”—a journalistic term—a national prayer meeting are all forms of propaganda, since they surround the reader from what appears to be many perspectives with the same message: This is cool! This is important! This is news!
Because there are so many people who are eager to learn the trade of writing or producing audio and video, there is no shortage of willing puppets who, with no background to judge their actions, happily turn into mouthpieces for moneyed or political interests.
Sure, some journalists fall prey to influence, too, though they run the risk of professional embarrassment and expulsion. Blogging’s new and, therefore, these kinds of ethical questions need attention.
When “blogging” becomes synonymous with “speaking for the people,” it is terribly important that the people know who is paying the piper, what dance has been called, and if the conduit of the facts has hidden conflicts of interest, so that they can judge the information they accept on its true merits. Merely judging the truth of a message is insufficient, no matter how many times a source turns out to be “right,” because those accurate stories add to the falsified impact of an untrue or “spun” story. The Nazis were particularly careful to circulate true information that reinforced their propaganda, suppressing all the stories with facts that contradicted Hitler’s big lies.
Propaganda, which used to be a practice that depended on centralized control of information has morphed, like the rest of the media, into something that can be extremely effective when distributed through a loosely coupled network. Because propaganda is a tool that functions as well in the hands of a marketer as a politician, we need to ask bloggers, podcasters and videobloggers to spend more of their effort on the quality of their ideas and not to justify poorly reasoned arguments with their inexperience.
Back, now, to Dan Bricklin’s posting. I said it would look like I’m picking on the guy….
He goes on to say:



I constantly compare my work to what I hear on the airwaves, in movies and videos, and in other podcasts. I’ve even spent lots of my own money trying to make as pleasing sound as possible. I’m learning to hear the differences between different microphones, to understand why so much equipment is often used (de-essers, compressors, limiters, filters, etc.). I feel that sound is like layout, typography, writing, punctuation, print resolution, etc. — it can get in the way when we don’t take advantage of what has been learned over the years and when done well it helps get information across better. I’m getting sensitive to levels, clipping, and so much more. (Hopefully some of this is reflected in better podcasts from me, but I’m not always as successful as I’d like. Maybe if I buy just one more piece of equipment…)

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It’s nice to all learn something new together. We are creating a new medium together, pros and “amateurs” alike. Video may have killed the radio star, but with the Internet the radio engineers are now finding that more people want to learn from or use their skills.
Bricklin relies here another fallacy of the media innocents: The notion that if you spend enough on equipment and master that equipment the content will be improved, which is simply hogwash. Watch an episode of NBC’s Joey and you’ll see how hard it is to dress a mule up as a thoroughbred, even with a virtually unlimited budget. Buying more equipment shows some commitment to the experiment, but this reminds me of the papers one gets from student writers who choose one or more unusual fonts to convey the passion behind their ideas. When I was starting out, on a typewriter, I was obsessed with buying the best paper available for my submissions to editors.
As media production becomes more accessible, aesthetics will certainly change, so the “clean” sound of radio may be less important in the long run. Consider how the introduction of the handheld videocamera changed news reporting and, even, dramatic television—active cameras that roam around a shot, that jerk from face to face in a crowd are the norm today.
The simple truth is that the content of our ideas has to stand on its own, regardless of what technological structures we have to hold them up. A surplus of cash or technical ability doesn’t make a moron into Einstein.
What is absolutely true in Bricklin’s comments is that we—all of us—are building a new media together, possibly for the first time, if you don’t include the genesis of storytelling around a campfire. The toys are distractions for would-be writers, reporters, and audio producers. The rules exist to change with the medium. If the Beatle’s had believed the idea that feedback was not a “clean sound,” there would have been no distortion on the first chord of Day Tripper, then how would Jimmy Page of Led Zepplin have filled his 25-minute guitar solos? Breaking rules and messing with consensus wisdom opens the door to change
Here’s what I want to say to Dan Bricklin or anyone who thinks this is an anti-amateur rant: Change is always hard. Don’t kid yourself that it will be harder for one type of “professional” media person than another or that you possess something that anyone who has dedicated their lives to learning to write, produce or report with audio, video, text or photography hasn’t had access to, as well. Those folks have a head start on you with regards production skills, but not on the interests you’re expressing in a blog, podcast or video report. It’s possible to treat everyone in this environment as an equal, without denigrating their background to bring them down to a common level, because everyone has something to learn—together. The “amateurs” may have to work on mechanics, but the “pros” have to break out of the strict limits of the corporate bottom line.
Media is empty until it is filled with human expression and, so, instead of imaging that you have entered an empty world that you can call your own and allow access only to those who accept your ideas, wake up to the fact that media is already crowded. Then, then, we’re going to get some real evolution.
Media, unlike a political party, religion, or corporation, does not need or even benefit from a singular focus or widespread agreement on goals. Media exists to facilitate the meeting of different opinions and ideas, otherwise there would be just one channel with no complaints about the limited choices available. The great thing about our media is that it is growing, that it is bringing many more ideas and much more information—there is a Big We emerging. If out of all that plenty we insist on manufacturing want, there’s something seriously out of whack.
That’s Evolution Media Vol. 1, No. 1. Next time, I’ll be taking a long look at the Current TV network and what it tells us about about early efforts to incorporate the citizen in media.]]>