Friday, December 23, 2005

The Unbundled Awakening

The first of several Year in Review articles I'll be sampling is Terry Heaton's manifesto of media trends, The Unbundled Awakening. In it, the newshound turned oracle assesses the splintering of mainstream media and cites the rise of the Citizen Journalist. It's an intriguing document, even if you're not as mired in emerging media as your friendly neighborhood lenslinger. Still, if you're reading this you must be semi-aware of the period of communication upheavel we find ourselves in - though acording to Terry, you're not as pioneering as you thought.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project reported earlier this year that half of all teens in this country — and 57% of those who use the internet — have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations. This awakening of creativity among our youth — and their ability to do something with it — is the essence of what's known as Web 2.0.

That's the best explanation of Web 2.0 I've heard yet. It's the exact thought I've had as I've watched my 11 year old troubleshoot my laptop. Her intuitive grasp of multimedia mechanics comes from a lifetime spent interacting with glowing, rectangular screens. Those of us in communications field would do well to emulate her generations electronic immersion, as Terry notes.

Increasingly, we'll see media companies hiring people with multimedia skills as the drift away from expensive specialization continues. The New York Times, for example, recently laid off 85 people but continues to advertise for those with web and associated skills ... More and more, we'll see recent graduates more qualified for mainstream media jobs that demand multimedia skills than people with considerably more experience. The only way this won't happen is if media companies invest in retraining to provide their mid-career employees with a multimedia skill set, but this will be fought by those who'll insist that it's only being done to save money.

Speaking of the bottom line, it's the main reason some stations want to take the 'crew' out of news crew. The VJ movement, as envisioned by Michael Rosenblum has drawn the ire of many of my camera-swinging buddies. Terry's taken a few swipes in that fight and launched a few haymakers.

Single journalists with cameras and editing systems force the newsroom out of the ruts and routines of a way of operating that contributes to the decline in news viewing. In most places, local news viewing is off 30% in the past ten years, and there's no sign of that slide ending. We simply won't bring viewers back doing things the same way, and the VJ model dramatically breaks something that really needs breaking and demands that people think creatively across-the-board.

I love solo newsgathering; done right it can be potent, personal and downright liberating. But the average news geek has no desire to broaden their skills, choosing instead to languish in long-established comfort zones. Many have years invested in their specialized fields and would just as soon lay down on the interstate than abandon their particular niche. That will change slowly as the next generation of journalists enter the broadcasting ranks, but by then, who will be watching local TV news anyway?

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