Saturday, October 08, 2005

We Media: "Talk Amongst Yourselves..."

Wednesday. Around 6:15 a.m.--after a troublesome train ride, a massive case of the fidgets, and four hours' sleep--I found myself standing outside the Associated Press building at 450 W. 33rd Street, with a cup of catering wagon coffee and a very fresh donut. I was there as a volunteer for the We Media Conference put together by the Media Center at the American Press Institute. I couldn't really afford to go otherwise...and I really, *really* wanted to be there. (must thank Gloria Pan for passing my name along to Beth Laing so I could get this great op.)

For the most part, thru my eyes, We Media was a bit of a surreal experience. As I re-arranged attendee nametags, I recognized some of the names, but not others. I did, though, make note that most of the people attending were pretty high up on the Media Food Chain, even if some don't like to admit it. I greeted them with a nice smile and a "Good Morning" and gave them their tags. Some even called me by my name.

It was, though, rather obvious that these were The Media. And I'm just a Citizen. My challenge, then, was to find points of equilibrium between Myself and This Media. (Another mission was to chat with Jay Rosen, who got me a bit peeved after his BlogHer comments...)

Another clue that this was going to be a case of the little orange in a group of shiny apples was when Dale Peskin, Co-Director of the Media Center, commented in his opening remarks that it was surprising how many people blogged.

Surprising? Did Dale's Father ever yell at Walter Kronkite like lots of our Dads did?? Did Dale ever spend an hour on the telephone recounting a life-changing event to a friend--like a lot of us do daily? Blogging, and other forms of collaborative/social media have become the ways in which We the People are attempting to get into the conversation all the Media Folks keep having every day. We don't think the pundits are any better than us and think our voices are valid. We relieve our existentialist angst, that sense of being buried alive under Information, thru blogging, wikis, messageboards, email and all sorts of media--as
Chris Willis succinctly pointed out when he mentioned "collaborative media"(perhaps Dale was just setting up Chris to comment--you never know.)

The first panel was We The News--News moguls, from NPR, BBC, CBS and AP--discussing what "the people" are doing with news. Lots of talk how "the people" are shaping things, how "the people" (considered to be the 18-34 age cohort) are changing the way Big Media writes and disseminates news...yadda, yadda, yadda. The only one on the panel who has a clue was Farai Chideya, who mentioned how "the people in the caboose" of media culture need to be brought to the fore. But, even Chideya missed a key point--to get from the caboose one has to go thru the Club Car. And there are loads of us--average middle-class, bach degree'd, working-stiff non-tech, non-journalism citizens in the 35-59 age cohort who are sitting in that Club Car.

We blog. Often. Just check my personal blog to see some of us. Don't count us out before you've even looked at us.

There was lots and lots of talk about "citizens" but there weren't any citizens in the room! So that was the BIG PROBLEM. (I cannot fault the conference organizers on this...most blogging conferences are akin to "closed shops" or Churches of True Believers--some moreso, like the Blog Business Summit, than others.)

So, when the Speed Dating break between the We The News session and Al Gore's keynote address came along, I stood there, wondering who the heck in this room of august media types I could talk with. And then Jay Rosen came by. What an op! So I said "Jay! Hi! I'm Tish G." He laughed and warmly shook my hand...

Jay and I got to talking about what was going on, and I told him how I was shaking my head at most of it, how people like Larry Kramer just weren't getting it, that the answer to Watts Wacker's question of "Is this the right audience?" was an absolute "NO!" and that the group on the stage was preaching to the converted, Jay said something to the effect of "Well, they're vertical communicators trying to understand those on the horizontal..."

completely right. Jay Rosen and I, apparently, see eye to eye on this matter. Folks like Larry Kramer, Farai Chideya (sorry), Tom Curley, and Richard Sambrook--a bunch of vertical, top-down communicators, however well-intentioned--were trying to get a grip on what the Folks, the peer-to-peer, or horizontal communicators do with blogs. Jay and I agreed that they really weren't getting it at all, that there was too much emphasis on this or that particular group at the expense of the whole; that there was far too much emphasis on monetizing and business models; and that this sort of thinking just does not apply to what goes on in peer-to-peer communications.

Sure, lots of us would love to make money off our blog-hobby, but the only ones who stand to make large money off our blog hobby seem to be Big Media. I'm kind of offended by the idea of Big Media making money off something they don't understand.

Al Gore took the podium, and I was struck by the timbre of his voice--smooth, mellow and southern. I could listen to Al recite the phone book. He had, though,great things to say. This, particularly, got me thinking:
Radio, the internet, movies, telephones, and other media all now vie for our attention - but it is television that still completely dominates the flow of information in modern America. In fact, according to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of four hours and 28 minutes every day -- 90 minutes more than the world average.

When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time that the average American has. And for younger Americans, the average is even higher.

The internet is a formidable new medium of communication, but it is important to note that it still doesn't hold a candle to television. Indeed, studies show that the majority of Internet users are actually simultaneously watching television while they are online. There is an important reason why television maintains such a hold on its viewers in a way that the internet does not, but I'll get to that in a few minutes.

All I could think about was how we have all this media of all kinds blabbering around us all the time, and we have absolutely no time for our own thoughts.

Al continued:
But some extremely important elements of American Democracy have been pushed to the sidelines . And the most prominent casualty has been the "marketplace of ideas" that was so beloved and so carefully protected by our Founders. It effectively no longer exists.

It is not that we no longer share ideas with one another about public matters; of course we do. But the "Public Forum" in which our Founders searched for general agreement and applied the Rule of Reason has been grossly distorted and "restructured" beyond all recognition.

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a nation.

And I got to thinking: There is no "marketplace of ideas" because we are constantly fed the ideas of others. We are constantly acquiring information and knowledge, but we do not process it. We have 24 hour media--if we are not seeking entertainment we are seeking information. We do not stop for fear we will be uncool or left out of the loop. We can't think on our own. We can't apply the Rule of Reason because we have no time for Contemplation.

But that's just me. What do I know?

I skipped the We Inc. panel. It was extremely hot and I was feeling a bit lightheadded. Jason Calacanis chaired that panel and I found out later (courtesy of Ron Mwangaguhunga
) that Jason sold Weblogs, Inc. to AOL for $25 mil.

Had I known that tid bit, I would have introduced myself when we smiled at each other sometime during lunch. ;-)

Had a great little chat with Susan Mernit, about blogging (she mentioned Tristan Louis, that he is a very good writer/blogger) and how I link this blog with my personal it is bold of me. I'd never thought that much about it. Looking around at all the Media Types, I thought that maybe it's about time for me to give it a bit of consideration...

At lunchtime, I was a bit too fried to do any socializing...just bided my time watching the suits and Those Better at Networking do what they do.

After lunch, I chose to assign myself to the
Media Gawking and Citizen Journalism discussions. Glad I did.

Media Gawking consisted of Jay Rosen, Jessica Cohen and Patrick Phillips. I didn't expect much from Jessica, but got more from Jay. Jessica did voice an opinion that many of "the people" have about Public Eye (CBS's blogging venture): that it's a "sad, sad little website." Nobody faults Vaughn Ververs though. I think a lot of us feel sorry for Ververs--and know that Larry Kramer's inability to understand the blogosphere is part of what censors Ververs (but we figured that out on Buzzmachine some time ago.)

What struck me most in the Citizen Journalism discussion was something Lex Alexander said about the necessity of mentoring of "citizen journalists." Lex gets that it's not about changing citizens into journalists (unless they actually want to be real journalists--then they can go to journalism school), but mentoring them certain principles of journalism, helping with the writing, etc...but not censoring nor changing anything. (I'd talk to Lex about this later. He's a fun guy!) Although here again, in this session, somebody didn't get a very subtle point about their subject: Susan Defife of argued that citizen journalists should write about anything they want. I understand Susan's POV--when you're in a big market area, where the papers never report on the local high school soccer game, it's important for blogs to do so. But if one lives in a middle market, like Springfield, Mass, is it necessary to have blogs to discuss high school soccer when we can watch high school soccer on the 11 o'clock news? Perhpas there's a point where there's media saturation even with blogs--possibly to the detriment of real journalism on harder subjects like government corruption.

By the time we got to the whole In Us We Trust discussion (highly philosophical) I was very, very fried and half paying attention. For the most part, I got that this was a lot of academic philosophizing, that it was intentionally meant to be over the heads of everybody, but I had a bit of trouble with what seemed to be a celebration of cultural relativism and the corporation. I'd have to read the transcripts again to see if I'm right on that one...but,personally, I'm not a big fan of cultural relativism nor of corporations. I don't like the idea that corporations might manipulate blogs and bloggers so that we trust them more. Why should we trust corporations any more than we trust the government? All I could think of was Rollerball (the James Cann/Norman Jewison version).

It is very strange to be sitting in a roomful of people who could easily be deciding the fate of the media you and millions of others use daily for personal expression, yet how many of them have what Jay Rosen calls "peer-to-peer" communication? How much do they understand of this thing that they see as a tool for corporations? How well do they understand our existentialist angst if they do not experience it for themselves? I'm not sure Karen Stephenson, Watts Wacker, Craig Newmark, nor Richard Edelman fully nor totally comprehend any of it.

Then again, there are few of us in the trenches who understand them either. Maybe that's the way the world works.

When we broke for cocktail hour, I got to talk a bit with Watts Wacker (read about it in this entry)...Lex Alexander and Jenny D (who was there blogging for the Media Center--she couldn't afford to go either) about citizen journalism....Introduced myself to Rebecca MacKinnon who I might run into one of these days at the Berkman Center...and caught the train on time.

I was exhausted and my sprained ankle was swollen to elephantine proportions. Had a 20-something kid flirt with me on the train. Got home to Mass sometime close to midnight. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

(oh, if you want to find good articles on We Media, do a search on'll get the best results.)

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Tish Grier said...

Why I didn't give Larry Kramer a piece of my mind...okay, maybe I was too polite and should have just spoke up and told Kramer that he and the rest on the panel just don't get The People. But, I was wearing a badge that designated me as a representative of The Media Center, and I really didn't want to do something that might have larger consequences. It's one thing when I'm standing there with My Hat on, and another when I'm wearing someone else's.

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Tish,

Great report. You made we wish I had been there, and I don't particularly care for New York. You don't have trackbacks so I posted on it here.

On a funny note, I'm constantly amazed how the randomly played songs on WOXY match up to my posts. Take a look at the bottom of this one to see what I mean.


Jeff Hess

Phil Dillon, Prairie Apologist said...


Thanks for you comment on my piece.

I agree with you that one of the modern day disconnects is in the loss of reason. I've found that in order to gain audience and appeal on the blogosphere one must be either visual or loud. And, I think you're also correct in that a lot of it stems from the insatiable need we seem to have for information "right now." We don't reflect, we react.

I also agree that one of the big problems with the new media (if the blogosphere can be called that) is that it is increasingly becoming a corporate venture, with venture capitalists from both the left and right trying to pull the strings.

I'm currently reading an interesting book - The Vanishing Word. The author's thesis is that we may, in this age of technology and fascination with all things visual, actually be embarking on a new dark age. I'm not sure, but I think it does speak to the notion that all this new technology is a double sided sword.