Did we create the monster…

…or is the monster re-creating us?

Hopping around to various newsie sites, I see a lot of moaning, groaning, and bitching about the state of broadcast journalism today. How the ethics are shot…the stories are more entertainment than news…how Barbie and Ken are running rampant in the studio. Where to lay the blame? Well favorites are consultants. Management. News directors. The new crop of (you name it: reporters, producers, crew).

But we’re leaving out the most critical factor. The elephant in the newsroom discussion: the audience.

THAT my friends is the monster that is forcing change as much as anything. And it IS a MONSTER. It wants entertainment…excitement…it is a voyeur demanding the reality it can never live…but wants to emulate.

OUR audience.

Oh, where to begin? How did this all start? Examine it enough and you end up staring at the lint in your belly button (or the toe-jelly…um, never mind…).

Back in the 90s I worked for a station whose demographic (we used to jokingly say) was “Trailer Trash Barbie.” The only person at home during our noon and early news shows. Um…and the only one who wasn’t watching some of the other stations with well let’s say a little more of what we like to think of as “news”. Little TTB has been very busy pro-creating with lots of “Gangsta Kens” and other unnamed low-lifes, raising up an entire new crop of young ‘uns.

These mini(couch)taters are generally overfed, undereducated (trust me – the students who walked into my classes firmly stating, “I don’t read.”), with little or no motivation to become…anything. They just want their “stuff” and an Idol to clone themselves after.

Our new audience.

They spend more time in front of a screen than any other generation. The virtual world is more real than the couch they kick back in. The stars they watch wallow, not twinkle. They don’t watch news…well, because it’s boring…doesn’t relate to who they are.

The result is broadcast news has changed to meet the demands of a generation who can choose (be it broadcast or streamed on youtube) exactly what they want to see and hear…and it does not seem to fit the traditional definition of news: information that informs and educates people about their community and world.

sigh…end of rant.

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Video viewing habits…

Thanks to tvspy for the link to this study about video viewing habits.

Check out full details by reading the full article, but summarized in their headline:

Live TV Is For Old People: Time Shifting And Online Make Up Nearly Half Of All Viewing

Appealing to the audience…

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This posting comes to you courtesy of a confused mind. A combination of blog-hopping, too much time gardening in the sun, and physically and mentally wrapping up a contest my students entered.

So Mindy McAdams had a great blog and link to a Christian Science Monitor article by Robert G. Picard (any relation to THE Picard I wonder). That stewed around in my sizzling brain as I hemmed and hoed in the garden mulling over why my clan of volunteer videots had so much difficulty with climax and resolution in writing their script for the 48 Hour Film Project.

Stories. Storytelling. What does the audience really want – do you give them what you think they want? Do you re-hash the same old/same old? That was a big part of my students’ dilema as they brainstormed and came up with plot after plot for a movie script. The deadline was for real – 48 hours to write a script, shoot and edit a movie and hand it over before the ticking clock cut them off.

The headline over Picard’s article pissed me off at first: “Why journalists deserve low pay.” Like a momma pitbull, I protect my craft. But before I could attack and sink my teeth in, his argument reached my logic center. Dammit.

Wages are compensation for value creation. And journalists simply aren’t creating much value these days.

Summarized: In the past there were not a lot of content providers. Only one or two newspapers and three or four TV and radio stations per market. So what was produced had value – the audience wanted it; craved it. The providers could get their asking price from both audience and advertiser.

This scarcity raised the economic value of content. That additional value is gone today because a far wider range of sources of news and information exist.

Not only are there more providers…there isn’t much enterprise to make up for the glut of information, so there is a lot of duplication. Tune into any TV news program, newspaper (virtual or on paperstock), radio station, website – however you get your daily fix – and it’s just one big story chasing its own tail. I love Picard’s assessment – basically that journalists today are experts at sifting through and finding information – but not at creating new, original content that will satisfy their specific audience.

…the real measure of journalistic value is value created by serving readers.

He sums it up in three words: ADAPT OR DIE.

Read the entire article – concisely written and worth both the read and the time spent mulling and then returning for a second read. Picard is pointing us in the right direction – and it isn’t looking backwards, but honestly talking with the audience, getting to know them, and keeping up this conversation as we cover OUR community.

So what does this have to do with my movie-making moguls? Lots. After hours of plotting, they began to realize they were just re-hashing every bad (or good) movie they had ever seen. They realized they had to break away from the trite, the predictable and not be plot plagiarists, but take a risk and be original.

The result is a simple short story that has all of the elements of plot (forgive the English teacher for reiterating: exposition, conflict/rising action, climax, resolution/falling action) AND is delightfully original and unexpected. I’ll post a link to my VJ Classroom after Tuesday night when we see the screening of the movie in San Francisco.

Oh – and yeah, bloggers (my guilty hand is in the air) are often the worst when it comes to original content. Too often we take other’s ideas and (as in this posting) review and present to our own audience. Although I do like to think (1) spreading information is not a bad thing and (2) most of my postings are my own demented creations.

Avoidance…and blog stats…

Piles of homework to correct – literally inches of English and a variety of videos. And right now I’m into avoidance.

So I’m looking at the blog stats. Now if you have a blog, you may hop over and take a look-see to see if your audience count is up/down or stable.

My very first month blogging (December 2006) from the 10th through the 31st I had a grand total of 198 hits for the entire month. By comparison, this is the first of March, 2009 and already at 1pm I’ve had 70+ hits. Not enough to brag about for serious bloggers, but it shows a stable audience.

In January 2007 I made friends with Andy Dickinson, Mindy McAdams, and Howard Owens and the count went up to 1220 hits. That was the month I learned about linking and online communities.

February blew me off the charts…someone ratted on me and then Al Tompkins of Poynter linked to the site (The Hand Trick, Simple Lighting Tricks, Basic Shots) and it literally went through the roof with 2887 hits. I was floored. Lesson learned: big time bloggers can send you big time audiences. On February 28, 2007 I got 535 hits, all referred by one man and his computer.

Now the monthly count has been all over the place since…never as low as that first month though. And with each passing month I learned more. How to post tags to pull in more audience. The ethics of tagging and blogging. My goal was a videojournalism site – but once when I mentioned the Hussain hanging, I got a lot of hits and comments. Lesson learned: big stories and voyeurism pull in the audience. The former is okay with me; the latter not. I have to stay true to who I am and what my blog is about and not be tempted by the God of Blogging Numbers.

Part of the reason for posting this is that last month – February 2009 – was my second highest month, exceeded only by November 2007. Not sure what ticked the meter that month.

But I’m posting less and getting more audience.

The site is taking on a life of its own as word gets around that there is content here that can help. And numbers are what drive all media – numbers are what make survival possible.

Example:
When I worked at KQED in San Francisco, our numbers were low compared to the commercial stations in town…but surveys showed that our numbers included the movers and shakers.

Commercial stations look at numbers to set their advertising rates. So do newspapers. And once they figure out HOW to count the numbers on the Internet (is it time spent on site? time spend on a particular story? how many hits on the site/story?) that will factor in to advertising too.

All moot points, since I’m dern sure not making any money here. But it is good for a satisfied sense that maybe I’ve written something that made a small difference for someone, somewhere.

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