To know me is to know I am never far from a web-enabled device. Or several. But yesterday being a Saturday, I wasn't paying much attention to Twitter, Facebook or email. My partner and I were motoring around town doing a bunch of errands. We didn't even have any music on, since we had things to talk about and the truck doesn't have Sirius radio anyway.
Somewhere on the way back to Cambridge from Madison, I pulled out my iPhone and looked at Twitter. (No, I was not driving.) My list of follows is a mixed bag of about 400 feeds, mostly made up of news sources, pundits, bloggers and fellow mass communication academics.
"Something's happened," I mumbled. That was my first utterance to Tom as he drove and I scrolled through recent tweets.
"Really? Wow. Thanks," was his reply to my empty statement. "Care to elaborate?"
I felt like an old-time radio news announcer, using rip-and-read wire service copy. "Someone's been shot. Umm, someone important. Umm, looks like maybe someone elected. Oh man, a Congressman. A Congresswoman. And a federal judge. And a lot of other people. Unknown who and how many dead. Safeway parking lot in Tucson." I continued to scroll, picking though the redundant and often conflicting 140-character dispatches.
This was how we came to know that there had been a shooting incident in Tucson and U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had been one of the many victims. Dead, says NPR. Wait a minute, says the New York Times. Conflicting reports on whether Giffords is alive, says MSNBC. "What the f***," says me.
With no decent connectivity for Internet access on US 12 in rural Dane County, I opted to move from cutting edge to old media technology. It was a minute before the hour, and I was able to get CBS Radio News via Chicago's WBBM tuned in just in time for their top of the hour newscast. Playing it safe -- and smart, I believe -- CBS News went with the conflicting reports angle and carefully said what little they knew to be true and cautiously addressed what they did not know.
Within minutes we were home. I cracked open the laptop, and jumped into the broadband chaos that was swirling around this event. And there I sat for the next two hours, watching this horrific story come into focus. Maybe a better description would be watching hundreds of pieces of a mosaic begin to fall into place, leaving hundreds more pieces still missing.
By now, NPR was already back-peddling on the report of Giffords' death. While the network did not take down the erroneous tweet that announced the death, they did live-blog the story with continuous updates. NPR also offered explanations of how erroneous information sometimes gets reported as fact, some delivered via Twitter by their own media reporter. (As if NPR needed this new scrutiny and criticism right now, given the resignation of their senior news executive over the Juan Williams debacle just days earlier...).
Meanwhile, the Twitterverse moved rapidly forward into what it does perhaps too well, a dubious skill at best: moving conspiracy theories, blame, and lots of unfounded speculation into the ether. The Sarah Palin cross-hairs graphic, the alleged scrubbing of all kinds of things on all kinds of blogs and Twitter feeds, the snippets gleaned from MySpace and YouTube accounts. Pundits, pundits everywhere with links to even more punditry. Admittedly, I was an active participant to some degree, offering a personal blog post pointing the finger at Palin and right-wing hate-talkers. (I left the post up as a reminder to myself that some things are better deferred while given time for careful consideration. Yet I stand by the opinions within the post.)
My own Facebook page became a miniature public square among my friends, several of whom are conservatives who live in Arizona. We vented frustration and anger. We exchanged and extended opinions. We swapped links. We addressed, mostly in a polite way, my right-wing extremist cousin's assertions that the Obama administration was secretly behind the shooting. We agreed mean people suck. In short, we didn't accomplish anything more than we might have if we were sitting around a local coffee shop... but the discourse was civil, and in some ways cathartic. Of course, none it it was in any way, shape or form news. I dare say, however, we may have treated it as such and ourselves as wannabe pundits. I'm still not sure if it was helpful, but we all seemed to need an outlet for discourse and Facebook was a readily available forum of (mostly) friendly others.
Perhaps the best thing that came up for me was the Badger hockey game last evening. When I go to hockey games, I become an all-hockey tweeter for a few hours. I paid as little attention as possible to all the #Giffords tweets and showed great re-tweeting restraint so as not to bug the perhaps three people who may have been following my tweets describing the game.
That reprieve didn't last long. By the time we got to a pizza place I became a lousy dinner companion because I was catching up on what my trusted Tweeps were saying. I was also jumping back into the minor shit storm that my Facebook threads had become (thanks almost entirely to my aforementioned extremist cousin, who I think is now mad at me but has not defriended me... yet).
I ended up staying on the computer until 2am once we arrived back home last night. I'm not sure why. I'd like to attribute it to scholarly research, but it was more like being a gawker at a traffic accident. Yet through it all, I watched the story unfold completely through digital sources, save that one broadcast from CBS Radio News at the beginning of things. I wandered the conservative and liberal blogs and news sites, and I read the sidebar stories and wire service copy. I streamed video. I did not turn on the television, nor did I look at the old news that was printed in my copy of the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal this morning.
So, how do I rate this digital news consumption experiment, if I can call it that? An A in holding my attention, which I attribute to my excessive news geekiness, but a C- in accuracy (with selective A's and F's for individual achievement or lack thereof.) I'm happy with the user experience and disappointed with the substance behind it.
All in all, I believe I would have been far better served as a news consumer if I had simply waited for what my local daily paper put together with their significant resources and skilled editors. But I can't wait; I want my news NOW, damn it. And therein lies a dilemma, of course. To date, we remain far from having old media accuracy at digital media speed.
Twitter and other Internet news and information platforms are great, and I love using them. But for anyone who needs a real-time/real-world example of why we need journalism education for would-be reporters and editors now more than ever in our digital 24 hour news world, the story of this tragedy in Arizona is your proof point. Further, this example also supports why we should find new and better ways to teach people young and old how to be better news consumers. Today, each of us has to take on a greater role in the editing of our own news intake. Simply understanding the technology to access news and information is not nearly enough.
I'm confident that journalists, journalism educators, and news consumers will figure out how to best deal with reporting and absorbing news at digital speeds. I just wish we'd hurry up already.
[Cross-posted at Mediated Communication]
[Denver] I've spent this week attending the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). As its name suggests, this is a gathering of those who are professors or graduate students in university journalism and mass communication programs. Members are primarily from North America but there is some international participation as well.
The conference is packed with presentations, panel discussions, plenaries and poster sessions. I attended many of them and don't plan on recapping any of those here. Instead, I offer some thoughts about stuff I noticed -- or was reminded of -- during the week.
They seem to be burning through communication directors t a pretty good pace over at the White House these days. Dan Pfeiffer, the third communication director to serve in the Obama administration, recently had this to say about the nature of political news and information as reported by Michael Scherer of TIME magazine...
"We have a theory of how the news media work in this Internet age," explains Dan Pfeiffer, the buzz-cut 34-year-old who recently became the third person to serve as Obama's communications director. "There is basically a constant swirl going on."
This twister still includes the newspaper front pages, nightly news broadcasts and magazine covers that can often shape the national debate. But it also incorporates Sarah Palin's Facebook page, the latest Internet attack videos and that e-mail your aunt just sent you. "There is a constant conversation that goes on all day long, through blogs, through cable TV, through Twitter, between reporter, subject and reader," says Pfeiffer, who sits down the hall from the Oval Office. He says his new job is to "make sure we are not getting swallowed up by the swirl."
This video has been around for a while, but I still laugh at how dead-on it is. TV news is a commodity these days; one network or local station looks like the next, and then the next after that. Sure, FOX News drips of conservative memes, and everything is a crisis to CNN, it seems. But, especially at the local level, TV news is as predictable as Wonder Bread.
Charlie Brooker, columnist for The Guardian and host of the BBC program Newswipe, shows just how formulaic TV News field reports have gotten...
Parody at its best.
[Update: For video at it's best, view Brooker's report here in High Definition. I can't seem to get this thing to fit into Kerfuffle's low definition format. Time for a Kerfuffacelift perhaps.]
It would seem, based on popular culture, that the advertising business is all about the creative. Indeed, as noted in a post [on Mediated Communication, the J-school blog] earlier this week, over 100 million people tuned into the Super Bowl, as much for the ads as for the game. Consider one of the most-mentioned things about those Super Bowl ads: the price. Was it worth $3 million for one of those :30 ads? Hard to say; that would depend on the advertiser’s media strategy.
Three times in the past two weeks I have been approached by undergraduate students in the J-School who said they hoped to land a job as advertising media planners. As one who spent a few decades as a media planner, I couldn’t be happier. For too long, it seemed media was next to no one’s preferred ad agency job. For whatever reason, media planning — the mix of art and science that guides the strategic deployment of advertising dollars –still seems to be overlooked or flat out dismissed by young people looking to enter the advertising business. And yet, in the 21st Century advertising industry, it’s not the creative product that gets all the attention from clients.
Clients care most about making their money work as hard as possible. How hard that money works is closely tied to the media strategy, which is why these days the media strategy informs the creative strategy instead of the other way around. Broad-based, mass reach media is rapidly becoming a wasteful marketing luxury, and simply shoveling a budget in the direction of the television networks doesn’t cut it anymore. Media plans are far more targeted, measurable, transactional, experiential and flexible. Advertising is about changing behavior, and nearly all behavior is circumstantial to some degree. It’s the job of the media strategist to find the optimal circumstances to try to change that behavior. The best ad in the world won’t sell a damn thing if it isn’t exposed to the right person at the right time in the right circumstances, whatever those may be.
Given the increasing importance of media strategy and its precise execution, it’s no surprise that media agencies are growing and diversifying while traditional advertising agencies are withering. Client relationships with media agencies are more stable than relationships with their creative counterparts. Creative assignments may be divvied up among several shops, but media planning and buying tends to be consolidated with viable long term partners. To the entry-level advertising job seeker, this should make media strategy and execution a whole lot more appealing, especially since that’s also where the job growth seems to be.
Core media planning and buying functions — what the old agency model lumped into the “media department” — are only one part of the today’s media agency model. Specialty media agencies have emerged to handle a wide variety of client media needs, often at the expense of traditional creative agencies. A look at Omnicom’s OMD Media network provides a good example. Among OMD’s strategic business units are agencies that specialize in sports marketing, entertainment marketing, digital direct marketing, branded entertainment, programming and content creation, and search marketing to name a few. These are media agencies that lead the development and implementation of media-driven ideas, sourcing and managing ancillary support elements (like creative) along the way. Clients have come to realize that while it may be fun to make TV commercials, the vast majority of their marketing dollars are spent on media, not creative. Clients are focused on the money.
If I had my way — which I don’t… yet — I would like to see our J447 course, Strategic Media Planning, be required of all students who wish to major in advertising. Since it’s not, I can only suggest most enthusiastically that if you are an undergraduate, and you think you want to work in the advertising business, be sure to take J447 and learn as much as you can about media strategy. Don’t stop there. Read the media trade publications and web sites. Develop opinions about media campaigns you admire. Know what goes into a good media plan, and be able to identify media strategies that miss the mark. Recognize that nearly anything can be a media opportunity… and not just by slapping an unsightly ad on it. Be knowledgeable about industry leaders and innovators.
In today’s world of rapidly converging media channels, user-generated content, and multi-platform entertainment options, creative is no longer the undisputed king of the advertising hill. Clients have limited marketing resources and great expectations. They place a very high value on feeling confident they are spending their advertising money wisely and effectively. And that money is entrusted to the media strategists.
[Originally posted on Mediated Communication, the blog of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.]
The clock radio. Most everyone has one. A lot of people rely on them. But likely no one thinks of their clock radio when listing their various home entertainment electronics. I mean, c'mon. It's just a clock with a radio.
What's more, it's radio. How quaint. How early 20th century. How low-tech. Recently, what we used to just call radio has been rechristened terrestrial radio, meaning old-fashioned broadcast radio instead of cable radio, Internet radio or satellite radio. High-definition radio is the digital upgrade of broadcast radio, and the broadcast industry in promoting the hell out of it, hoping it will save their collective reason to be. But it's still terrestrial radio.
My partner, Tom, owned the same old Sony clock radio since before I met him in 1994. It finally died last month, and he was thinking about getting a new one. Since his birthday was just around the corner, I told him to wait. This was my opportunity to get something I had only heard about but really wanted to try out: a WiFi radio. Simply put, it is a radio -- in this case a clock-radio model -- that allows the user to stream any of over 17,000 terrestrial radio stations that simulcast on the Internet. All one needs to use it is a high-speed wireless internet connection. Broadband and WiFi. That's it.
After checking out a few different models and manufacturers, I settled on Logitec's Squeezebox. They make a clock-radio version in addition to others including a boom box and audio rack component. The Squeezebox clock radio is about the same size as any other clock radio, sports a single yet clear, wide range and powerful speaker, and bright display that gives the time when not showing you what you are listening to. It has all the usual clock radio stuff. And it gets 17,000 stations. ($179 from Amazon)
I thought this might be complicated to use, and Tom is not predisposed to techie stuff. No matter. He had the thing up and running in about three minutes. All one need do is register it, and then begin entering the call letters of whatever stations you might want to hear. He chose our favorite Chicago station, WXRT, along with a handful of NPR affiliates* and two local Madison stations. But the real joy in this for him is the ability to listen to the classical station out of Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern lower Michigan. He spent over 15 summers working up there, and now he can wake to WIAA every morning.
It's amazing how easy to operate this thing is. And it sounds great. What's more, it's portable with an optional rechargeable battery pack; as long as you have WiFi within reach you have all those stations available.
My friend Mike, an advertising art director and graphic designer, has been telling me for years that radio is dying. (This from a guy who mostly does print ads and posters.) If you are an art director, radio is the one medium you'll never work on, so it can't have value, right? Well, Mikey, once this WiFi radio becomes more mainstream, I think radio will be around for a while longer. After all... we all need a clock radio. And, Mike, this one actually does have a full color screen for cover art. So their is something in it for you to like too.
*NPR offers their own special version through their online store for $200. Manufactured by Livio, the radio is set up primarily to receive all NPR stations, but will also receive thousands of other stations. It's a nice way to support NPR, but after trying both of these, I still like the Squeezebox radio better.
When I was a kid, and we only had four or five television channels to choose from, my mom was always telling me to turn off the TV and go out and play. She was concerned that as a ten year old, watching more than two or three hours of TV would turn me into a crazy person. (She was close; it turned me into an advertising executive.)
My media excesses were nothing compared to the media habits of young people today. A majority of kids on America today have their own cache of smartphones, iPods, netbooks, laptops, and video game/TV/entertainment racks.
And they are using them... a lot.
The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices, compared with less than six and a half hours five years ago, when the study was last conducted. And that does not count the hour and a half that youths spend texting, or the half-hour they talk on their cellphones.
And because so many of them are multitasking — say, surfing the Internet while listening to music — they pack on average nearly 11 hours of media content into that seven and a half hours.
Eleven hours of media... a day. Eleven f***ing hours... a day!
Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Boston who directs the Center on Media and Child Health, said that with media use so ubiquitous, it was time to stop arguing over whether it was good or bad and accept it as part of children’s environment, “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”
Dr. Rich is probably correct. It is what it is, and there's no going back. Especially since this is probably an average kid's experience...
“I feel like my days would be boring without it,” said Francisco Sepulveda, a 14-year-old Bronx eighth grader who uses his smart phone to surf the Web, watch videos, listen to music — and send or receive about 500 texts a day.
The article goes on to say that young Francisco wakes up to his Sidekick LX's ringtone as his alarm clock, and falls asleep to it playing YouTube videos. While the smartphone was purchased as an additional way to access the Internet for school, Francisco's mom says it's about a 2% homework to 98% "other stuff" ratio in terms of time spent. She goes on to say that she has yanked service for a week or two when things are getting out of hand. (I wonder what "out of hand" is.) And what to do is service is frozen? Read a book? Oh, the humanity!
Entire NYT article here.
I'm old enough to remember that when a person who wanted a kick-ass stereo in a new car, they bypassed the dealer for some place called Crazy Eddie's or Monster Sound. Those after-market places lived in old converted service stations and strip malls, and you picked from brands associated with high-end home stereo systems. (The guys in marketing had yet to invent the "entertainment system" term.)
How times have changed. I was driving with my 83-year-old father last week, and he was marveling at the factory-installed electronics in my 2006 (!) Ford Escape Hybrid. I tried to explain to him that our 2008 Honda has an even better system, but he was still simply amazed the car would tell me to turn left in 500 yards. He's still impressed with four-year-old technology while I complain that it doesn't have Bluetooth technology or an auxiliary jack for my iPod.
Dad probably won't even begin to understand what Alan Mulally, CEO of the Ford Motor Company, was talking about this past week at the Consumer Electronics Show. Ford's Sync technology is about to take us into a completely new level of entertainment and productivity in our cars. Craig Daitch muses about Sync on AdAge.com...
The 2010 edition of Sync comes with a number of useful extensions, including the ability to keep up with Twitter, stream internet radio and download turn-by-turn web maps at no cost. It takes a page from companies such as Facebook and Apple by supporting third-party applications. That means you could soon be controlling many of the handy applications you use on your iPhone via the voice recognition on your car's console.
Daitch points out that this is not only a powerful selling point for Ford automobiles, but it is also a potentially huge revenue stream in terms of marketing and media opportunities...
And why shouldn't they be? We spend an inordinate amount of time in our vehicles. By today's standards, some experts believe that number exceeds three hours per day. So as provoking as a thought this may be, is it difficult to imagine a time when the auto manufacturers subsidize in-vehicle technology through advertising? What brand wouldn't want to be pervasively integrated into a vehicle's GPS unit?
Even today, is it really not feasible to think that GM's OnStar service couldn't provide pay-per-click (or even pay-per-visit) smart results based on customer inquiries? Think about the following scenario:
Driver: Hi, I'm looking for the closest gas station.
OnStar: You are 0.5 miles away from a Shell but 0.6 miles from a BP, where you can use a discount code to save 15%.
As marketers look for more ways to reach people as so-called traditional media seem less targeted, less relevant, and less accountable, it won't take long before other automakers follow suit.
Of course, this isn't all good. As it is now, safety experts, legislators, insurance companies and law enforcement experts all worry that with so much productivity and entertainment stuff at our disposal behind the wheel, we seem to be spreading our attention around, at the expense of safe and defensive driving.
An unattributed writer from marketing blog AsGoodAndBetter expresses concern in a comment below Daitch's post that this may not be such a good idea in terms of road safety, then links to a recent post...
Maybe it’s time to calm the hell down with the tech integration before we all kill each other, hm? We know Americans can’t go two goddam seconds without engaging with an electronic device, but if we’re going to muster up an attention span for one activity, shouldn’t that activity be driving a car?
The folks at Ford are obviously tracking this, because it didn't take long for Scott Monty, presumably a PR person from Ford's "Global Digital Communications" group, to pony up a comment complete with a handy video link...
@asgoodandbetter: Our first priority is safety. What we've done is to simplify the driver interface and keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. I suggest you take a look at this video for a fuller understanding: http://twit.tv/ces3
This raises a lot of interesting points. First, this shit is pretty fucking cool. (I chose those words because that's exactly what went through my mind as I read about Sync, knowing in the next few years i will replace my current Ford hybrid with another Ford. I'm kind of a Ford guy, going all the way back to the 1973 Mustang in the garage. But I digress.)
Beyond coolness, and productivity, there are legitimate safety issues. No matter how integrated this may be, these new and promised features still draw attention away from driving in ways a simple radio never did. As much as it's wrong, and as much as it's dangerous, I use my iPhone for various tasks while driving. In addition to calls, I may tag a song on Shazam, may check my calendar and, yes, stupidly text now and then. I know, I know: Wrong, wrong, wrong.) I'm probably representative of most people driving today, including those who won't admit it.
As another commenter points out below Daitch's post, the big automakers seem to have enough problems without becoming media sales and content organizations as well. I'm not so sure this is a huge problem, in as much as there are all kinds of ways to approach this that hopefully can co-exist with the automakers' core business of designing and marketing vehicles. they seem to know this, as Daitch points out...
...GM has hired former Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell and was rumored to be speaking with Apple's Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook for the CEO position. Cars aren't cars anymore, they're productivity hubs with entertainment extensions on four wheels.
Lots of things to think about; lots of things to debate. Meanwhile, though, as said above, this shit is fucking cool. Take a look.