Last night, the City of Austin’s Telecommunications Commission had a roundtable discussion – actually a series of panels – on the state and future of public access television and community media. I led a session on innovation, including as panelists by close friend Rich Vazquez, web developer for Community Impact newspaper; Ronny Mack, IT Project Manager for the City and former President of the ACTV Board of Directors; Gary Dinges, editor at Austin360.com; Korey Coleman of spill.com; and Chris Holland, a marketing consultant for independent filmmakers. We had a great session where we were thinking outside the public access box (which is shaped like a television set). Here’s the text of my introduction:
Public access television is a product of the broadcast era, when media was distributed from the few who owned the means of production to the many who owned the means of reception. Eventually pretty much everybody had a television set, and cable access proliferated as well. In order to give the public more of a voice and support free speech, it made sense to have a public facility that could offer anyone access to the means of production and to a channel for distribution, i.e. public access television via cable.
The key concepts here are the public access was access to PRODUCTION and to ATTENTION. Over the last two decades, the Internet has evolved from a computer network to a media environment, a public media network with very low barriers to entry. Anyone with access to a computer can have the means to produce media and make that media public. However with so much media, it’s harder for anyone to get and sustain attention.
As part of this evolution, television audiences are moving to computers and committing more mindshare to social media. To the extent they watch television at all, more and more are watching on their computers. Given this environment, do we need to redefine public access?
In response to this intro, panelists talked about how television just becomes one of many modes of distribution, and how access has to be about using Internet channels as well as the cable channel. The emphasis now should probably be more on teaching people to produce better and more effective media, and helping find ways to build audience and attention.
Heroic special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, whose influence nearly led me to a craft for which I probably would have had no patience, is 90 years old. Harryhausen’s films opened my head and rocked my world. Thanks to Harry Knowles for the birthday candle and pointer to the video below, a compendium of Harryhausen’s stop-motion animations.
Ray is easily one of the single most beloved figures in the behind the scenes arts. While primarily an effects master, Ray’s sense of wonder, personality, design and imagination was so clearly outputted to the screen that his films and him in particular… are cherished as though they were the beating heart of Jimmy Stewart himself. I’ve had the honor of getting to spend some really great quality time with Ray over my lifetime, and he’s like an additional grandfather to me. Not to mention one of the chief founders of my imagination. His creatures live in my brain – and I love them there.
My curiosity about how he did what he did, gave me the passion to pursue finding out more about film in general. How do you make a toy live? That’s what I always gathered, and nobody, but nobody’s toys moved like Harryhausen’s.
Journalists have been curious, and often anxious, about prospects for the future of news in an era of user generated content, fragmented abundant media, and cheap or free web-based advertising platforms. Nobody doubts the importance of in-depth news reporting, but the business model’s unclear. Many publications are moving online, which may reduce some physical costs but also reduces advertising revenues. There’s still the cost of content development. Sure, you can leverage user-generated free content, which can be very good, but the time and attention required for excellent reporting can’t be free. Said another way, to the extent writing is done without compensation, it tends to be shallow and incomplete. And reporting without editorial process and fact checking is subjective, not authoritative. Reporters may try to be objective and fair, but that’s very hard to do outside a process of vetting, checks and balances.
Academics that study journalism are studying and thinking about the changing present and the future. Several gathered in Austin last week for the International Symposium on Online Journalism. I was there the second day. It was a great event; I came away with my brain churning – though I’ve had an interesting thread of complementary career paths in my life, my original goal was to be a journalist, and I’m most passionate about writing.
You can see my complete tweets (over 250, I think, in one day) here. I also jotted down some notes just after the conference; here are some thoughts based on those notes:
I felt I was hearing a consensus that news is a public good, and news reporting will increasingly be funded, coordinated, and curated through nonprofit entities. I’ve been focused quite a bit lately on Texas Tribune, which is an innovative Texas news organization operating as a nonprofit. Its CEO and editor, Evan Smith, told me at the conference that he’s feeling positive and excited about the future of journalism and the kinds of experiments we were hearing about at the conference.
Former for-profit newspapers are focusing more on infotainment to build and sustain attention and revenue – it’s harder for them to fund hard, in-depth reporting. One potential model would be for nonprofits to report in depth, and provide reporting through content syndication partnerships with for-profits. That may be one wave of the future.
Another interesting experiment presented at the conference: Spot.us, a site set up to source public funding for news stories suggested by – I think the best word to use here is particpants. We were talking a lot about participatory journalism, which could manifest in any number of ways. Anyone who can read, write, and has access to a computer can potentially report news. What works as journalism is, I think, a matter of context. Is the reporting feeding into a journalistic process of some sort, and what sort of analysis/vetting do you have within that process? I’m all for broader sourcing of facts and perspectives, but how that mix becomes journalism in today’s world of social and collaborative media is still being defined.