Between the Beyond Broadcast event at MIT on Saturday and public broadcasting’s Integrated Media Association confab in the days leading up to it, there was whole lot of of thinking and talking last week in Boston. Some good eatin’, too. Everybody is trying to figure the way forward. The stakes are high. After a few days of simmering, here are six ideas that have percolated up:
1. The Maker is Queen
We had Content is King, then Context is King, then I think we went back to Content is King for awhile. We’re now in a period where the Maker is King… er… let’s say queen. The Maker is Queen.
Reason magazine’s Jesse Walker put it, “We’ve let the tinkerers back in.” We have the top stakeholders in the industry locked-down privately, working on agreed upon terms for the way forward. It’s important work. I don’t know all the details of what’s on the table, but some of these folks look awfully tired. The reality is, too, that — from YouTube to Flickr to myspace, and yes, in public radio — we’re in a golden age of The Maker. The next big ideas shaping our new direction are incubating and emerging, bubbling up from the bottom from producers and some stations where the stakes may not be quite so high and the upside potential exhilirating to consider.
2. “I’m afraid”
This was the first time I’d heard so many people admitting — in the halls, not on the podiums — that they’re afraid. This is a positive step, and a consequence, I believe, of what biz-strategist Jim Collins believes the best leaders must do — face the “brutal facts.” In his article
Hitting the Wall, Collins has alot to say about how people working for companies who’ve never experienced a downturn respond to change. “Those who have a long, sustained career of ascents eventually learn to acknowledge and distrust their luck.” The key is in how leaders choose to move beyond the habits of success and find new footing, new creative energy to reach the next plateau an organization needs to survive and thrive.
3. The Two M’s
Monetizing and Measuring are the ball and chain of our time….the buzz words in virtually every conversation about new program concepts and strategies. The Two M’s are important and necessary to consider. We’ve grown as an industry from a rag-tag group of 20-something idealists to an established and vital institution where the stakes are high. As much as we talk about protecting the sacred pact public broadcasting has with it’s listeners and viewers — “enlightenment,” “depth,” and “understanding ” — the reality is that the big stake holders at the stations and networks are trying to figure out the Two M’s.
4. The third M is deMocracy
Public radio insiders, are, in fact united deeply in a spirit of higher calling and really buy in to this “sacred trust” idea. Many of us began our love affair with radio when we opened a microphone and became, in an instant, the embodiment of free speech. We may have been a young college freshman, or fishing for salmon on Alaska’s inner passage in our spare time, but we understood the impact of “speaking truth to power” and also having a whole lot of fun. We’ve grown into 40’s and 50’s and 60’s-somethings, and the industry has grown with us. Somewhere deep down under all the tweed, we are still rabid idealists. As the world shifts under our feet, afraid-people hold tightly to the notion of public broadcasting’s “sacred trust,” and preserving the ‘institution.” I wonder… do we really believe that if public radio went away tomorrow, democracy would collapse? Do we really need to hold on to our ideals so tightly?
Our idealism is in danger of atrophying; it’s easy to use the mantle of “public trust” as a way of shielding ourselves from change… of controlling and protecting the status quo.
Let’s instead consider the “new age” of idealism that’s formenting in the on-line communities all around us. This revolution has, up to now, been driven in large part by techno-fetishism. But change is afoot, and we are now witnessing the fast emergence of a passionate new idealism fueled by the very same ideals of deMocracy that inspired our passion in the early days of this industry. Here’s what the inspirational BB keynoter Henry Jenkins says:
The legal and political battle over the future of the internet will in turn have substantial implication for the way democracy evolves around the world…and the outcome is not assured.
The challenge and opportunity for public broadcasting is to first, remember where we came from and allow it to (re)infuse our work and second, embrace these new idealists. They need our help. We are living stewards, not guards in a museum. It’s time to dive in.
5. What does “in-depth” mean?
Public radio focus groups have for years defined public radio’s single most important distinguishing factor to be “depth.” This definition applies to a lateral concept — we give 6 or 8 minutes to tell a story and provide sufficient context, blah blah blah. The time has come to explore a new,
vertical definition of in-depth, with the view that each story has layers, like a cake. We can pull out the different layers of the story and put them in different places, taking the consumer deeper and deeper into not only the background, but we can choose to have them actually experience the story in ways that have never been possible before.
6. The new tentpoles
Blogmeister Brendan Greeley, hero of our time, with his colleagues at Radio Open Source have freely and generously shared with us the new techniques they’ve developed for convening listeners-consumers in new ways. I was told there is actually a phrase that’s used in some circles at NPR — “to opensourcify” something is to apply the simple, but brilliant methodologies developed by Open Source in their bunker at 15 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge. Greeley dispensed another bit of wisdom I scribbled down during his “Social Media 101” session with Andy Carvin. The tentpoles for the blog-o-sphere are 10a, and 4p.