Friday, April 15, 2011

Connecting the Divide Between Broadcast & Digital in Public Media

This quote from Politico today struck me as being very analogous to digital media strategy and investment in public media:

Obama 2012 is building a volunteer network with the audacious goal of contacting every single person who voted for him in 2008, as part of a reinvented voter outreach that will be as focused on smart phones in 2012 as it was on text messages last time. Strategists plan to customize videos and other messages for the iPhones and other mobile devices of targeted voters. They also envision "virtual networks" among supporters' friends and families, so that millions of people will feel a personal connection to the campaign..."It's additive, not a replacement," one top adviser said. "A huge chunk of voters still listen to the local evening news."
This type of thinking mirrors the best sense of digital strategy in public media today. While there are some voices that are calling for their own tea party moment (think 1773, not 2011) with digital, the better approach is a how the various platforms work together to increase "positive consumer behavior", such as loyalty, tune-in, membership and recency.

The challenge is getting a more sophisticated strategy & implementation than just having multiple platforms running at the same time, but rather having a 'theory of conversion' (if I do this, this will happen, do that, and that will happen) that improve the user experience, increase the value of the public media content versus the rest of the market and help guide people towards mutually desirable outcomes, such as membership.

And that takes a couple skills that do not seem to be currently at the forefront of our work:

  • A Culture of Goals - we need to increase our industry's use of key performance indicators (KPIs) to clarify and focus our mission and business goals. And then these KPIs need to be connected to their digital space to clearly point to how digital platforms enhance the fundamental business. (I will readily admit that I do not have a perfect view into this issue, but over two years I have been asking about the use of data I have rarely come across a very aggressive use of mission/business goals in public media.)
  • A Culture of Conversion - if you do not have a 'theory of change', of how a person moves from being a viewer, on whatever platform, to a sustaining member, you might as well just rely on "hoping for the best!" It is essential that we map out the myriad of ways in which we encourage people to become more involved in public media to then even, potentially, becoming supporters. At the NY Times they wanted to move people from "being readers to users and from users to contributors." It is essential that we think about how we convert people online from casual to regular users of our content, and then onto supporters.
  • A Culture of Analytics - there is a vast quantity of data that comes from our digital presence that can be freely accessed through Google Analytics. However, it is all worthless if you don't then that data into measurable results that match against the station's mission and business goals (KPIs). I am not sure why anybody should care how many 'reTweets' a station gets, but they would care about how far the station's message (not just impressions) is being carried out into the community.
  • A Culture of Experimentation - finally, if one does not succeed, try, try again. Especially the digital world our users are a river of data flowing through our platforms. If we have goals, a sense of conversion and a good strong use of analytics, you can begin to see how you improve results by changing a few things. "How about we add a picture to this page?", "What if we changed the page layout a bit?", " about a bit of a more prominent link over here?" I know that this takes resources, but if we tie those outcomes to fundamental goals that drive value in our work, the attainment of our mission and the increase of our supporters, they are well-worth a modest effort.
Where to start? I think that one of the best framers is Avinash Kaushik, who has written a set of great books, Web Analytics: An Hour a Day, and Web Analytics 2.0, as well as the great blog Occam's Razor. His blog and the An Hour a Day are great starting points.

At the moment, the digital media play in public media is just like that 'senior official's' goal in the quote above, that our online and mobile platforms are fantastic ways to be additive to the broadcast experience. But we need to go beyond that though. The opportunity is to use digital media to enhance the consumer experience, especially in direct relationship to the broadcast. This includes hard-core outreach via digital platforms for programming, using online and social to connect people to the content and promote engagement and then preserving the content for the future.

Our future is bright and the more we can pair our broadcast strategy with our digital platforms the easier it will be for us to navigate that future. Onward!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Digital Journalism Through Storytelling: Media Future Now Presentation

On March 22nd, Cory Haik, Deputy Editor of the Universal News Desk of the Washington Post and I were invited to speak about the new forms of journalism that are enabled by digital tools such as mapping, crowd-sourcing and data visualization. The talk was a part of a regular series of conversations managed by Media Future Now, a small independent group of digital doers and thinkers in Washington DC, led ably by Andrew Mirsky

My presentation was more of an overview of new forms and formats of digital storytelling that I have been proud to witness in public media, including Andy Carvin's amazing work with the current Mideast "people revolutions" in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and beyond. My underlying points were thus:

  1. Cheap, powerful software + cheap, powerful networked sensors (e.g. smartphones) + constant (largely non-journalism) innovation = constant changes in forms & formats, especially if journalists keep up
  2. As warned by Robert Benincasa, the data journalist for NPR, we must beware of "fetishize visualization over content," meaning that editorial decisions must guide visualization and that there are different interests and constraints of the artist (creative) versus the journalist.
  3. In the seemingly coming era of paywalls (or the final, sad collapse of mainstream journalism), it is not just brand that carries the day, but quality, unique, relevant content that has editorial narrative...and this might be supplied, in part, by new forms of digital journalism.
Next up with Cory Haik, who talked through the daily tradeoffs and balances of her job in managing the firehose of Washington Post content. It was a bravo performance of how to drive real innovation inside of real journalism. With me sitting in the audience I took furious notes. It is well worth-watching. (See below)

My presentation:

An embed of the presentation, thanks the New America Foundation, where the event was held.

Video streaming by Ustream

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Seminal Internet Moments: The Early Years

I was recently having lunch with friends and we started to recall some of the seminal personal moments for us that revealed the power of the Internet and WWW. I thought I would put up this post as a starting point to record some of memories, old and more recent, that still make me go "Wow!"

Perhaps you would like to post your own too...

Connections: From Dental Floss to Whales (circa 1990-ish)
One of my favorite early television programs was James Burke's Connections. In the program he would start out with a proposition of how a simple tool or idea led to many other tools and ideas that would demonstrate surprising connections in human and environmental history. In a classic episode he showed how plastic was related to early Dutch cargo ships. (I remember that one!) The show was smart, interesting and really underscored how all ideas and objects are built upon the accretion of human knowledge, insight and innovation.

When I first understood what a URL was - meaning when I first experienced linking I immediately thought that promise of James Burke's Connections was finally at my fingertips. Through the magic of linking I could wander off through the vast store of human knowledge; sometimes following determined paths, but others through luck or fancy that would lead to new insights and appreciation for our world.

Amazing! The World Wide Web was going to be my encyclopedia, teacher and exploration portal all in one. While I did not appreciate or understand it then this was the potential to index the knowledge of the world through a commonly-understood metadata; the accretion of thousands of individual decisions about context that would help build a vast human store of experience.

However, the web has never really lived up to this promise. The simple fact is that we are too interested in creating our own content to really think about the middle bits that link it all together. In large measure we have ceded these connections to the indexing of spider-bots and search algorithms, which I think make the world a little flatter, a little more banal than it really is or could be. However, projects like Wikipedia and Mahalo, among others keep the promise alive.

Tom Clancy & I Are Best Friends (circa 1992-ish)
My now wife, Mary and I had just moved into our first apartment together,
a very sweet loft overlooking the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. We signed up for AOL together and distinctly remember how cool it was to hear that "You've Got Mail" sound. (That was some pure marketing genius...perhaps it was just a functional prompt to check out your email account, but it was pretty cool to know that someone else, somewhere actually contacted you over the was validating and special. This was relatively early commercial email era, so it was exciting to hear that Hayes modem crank up, get connected and know that you were CONNECTED.)

I distinctly remember going onto AOL's Writer's Workshop discussion board (or something like that) and seeing a bunch of people online asking and answering questions. They were not very "writer-ly" questions or answers, mainly about how now to get screwed by publishers, who actually would take new authors, etc. However, there was this name there - Tom Clancy - who was very much participating in the conversation. I checked out his profile, and it was THEY (or at the time THEY, versus today "they") Tom Clancy. Wow, me and Tom Clancy connected across the miles of wire together. We were best friends for that 5 minutes.

This was a seminal moment because there I was, sitting in my loft in the middle of Philadelphia listening in to real writers talking about their everyday lives, and there in the middle of it was a really famous, successful writer...sitting around the virtual fire, chewing the fat just like everybody else. The moment taught me about the power of connection and the possibility of civic conversation. And the power that the Internet can bring all of the knowledge and relationships on the network into your own little home.

You Call That a Knife? (circa 1996-ish)
At this point I was working for The Enterprise Foundation in providing technical assistance, funding and training for community development folks around the state of Oregon. My work took me all over that beautiful state, including the then up-and-coming town of Bend (which is now, what I hear, down-and-out for the moment). At the time, travelling outside of the city limits was like stepping back 50-60 years in Oregon's rural past. This is where the real community development work was occurring. (My definition of a rural Oregon town: it had to have a Napa Auto Parts store, an "antique" shop and a was a pattern that held up.)

Just north of Bend is the small town of Redmond, Oregon. And in Redmond they had an antiques shop, of course. I was working on a Main Street program that was helping infuse money, training and technical assistance to help revitalize Main Streets, as well as build more mixed use, mixed income housing. There I heard my first story of e-commerce.

In the middle of this dusty old town the antiques dealer had acquired three WWII-era, I believe German, knives. The antique dealer sold one to someone in the town for $20. Then, in an improbable leap of faith, put the other two up for sale on the still very young eBay. After a week the dealer had sold and shipped both of the two remaining knives for something like $400 each.

Bam! Here I was trying desperately trying to help Main Street businesses to improve their operations and customer presentations to attract new customers from Bend and those going down Route 97 on their way to Bend. But in the midst of this dusty town this small antiques dealer, with a simple modem, could reach out and find the customer to maximize the value to themselves and their customers. That moment taught me that the Internet was going to be a powerful force for economic development. (And as a final note, I, frankly, have not seen a very enlightened state, city or economic district policy that goes beyond just simply providing for more robust access...our economic policies need to stretch beyond this basic tier of service.)

The Internet Ham (circa 1997-ish)
The final piece is something as simple as fulfilling my craving for Virginia Ham. (The saltier the better...yummm.) The direct experience from the "Redmond Knife" led me to think about reversing the flow and allowing me to buy what I want to buy when I want it. It was nearing Christmas and I really wanted to relive my Pennsylvania ham glory days, so I jumped on the web and found Edward's Virginia Ham. It was my first online purchase - the Internet Ham.

This seminal moment was really about how the Internet could bring the world to you home. I could reach across the country into a small town outside of Smithfield, VA and bring me home some ham. Amazon, eBay and all of the other Internet retailers should be thanking the ham for my patronage. (And as you can see from the picture, when I moved here from Portland, one of my first trips was the pilgrimage to the birthplace of my yearly Internet ham.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Urgency & Verve: Powering Public Media's Digital Presence

I was recently reading an interview with Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy for the Smithsonian Institution and came upon this fantastic line:

I think the issue of "how we grab them" (the audience) is both practical and a philosophical. I am content, as a U.S. taxpayer and global citizen, with a spectrum of approaches as long as organizations pursue their missions with urgency and verve. I am not content when our public institutions posture about their own importance but neglect to use the tools, logic, and culture of digital technology when those tools could be profoundly helpful. No director should allow this: no board of directors should tolerate it.
This is a perfect challenge to public purpose and noncommercial media and the way that we utilize our digital tools to advance our own missions of public service. We need to renew our sense of how to use the full spectrum of digital tools to breath new life into the way we interact with our audiences and produce value for our country.

My ongoing definition for public purpose media is "Using media to solve problems worth solving."

Fundamentally this means for public service media has the purpose of improving the lives of individual citizens, improving our community institutions and the civic infrastructure of America. The public purpose media sector does this by producing high-quality journalism, educational and arts & cultural content. For Public Media this has earned public media's high levels of trust, appreciation and loyalty.

We now have greater opportunities to extend this focus on quality, engagement and value into the digital space. However, borrowing again from Michael Edson of a rhetorical method there are some old constructs to overcome:

Old Construct
The web is another broadcast channel that reaches a broad-based audience.

Current Thinking
The web is a space where people of similar interest and aims connect to work together and create value for themselves and similar communities. The web is much a process of information creation as it is a distribution method.

Old Construct
The web is accessed by the computer on my desk.

Current Thinking
The web is accessed by an array of devices situated all over my home, my work and myself.

Old Construct
As a professional, I create high-quality content. My audience is there to consume it.

Current Thinking
As a professional, I have the judgement and skills to often seed the raw feedstock that can be enhanced, extended and applied to create value for individuals and communities.

Old Construct
My (public media station) schedule page is my most valuable online asset.

Current Thinking
That's because you have not yet offered anything more interesting to 99% of your audience!

If we are to fulfill our DIGITAL public service mission we need to first step back and ask ourselves what do we want to accomplish? What is the specific value we are producing and for what audience? What is the improvement we are bringing to the world that has not been seen before?

It is that last question that starts to address the challenge that Michael Edson laid before us. He challenged public institutions to bring public solutions that have URGENCY and VERVE. Where should we establish our public service media online boldness? What are the great challenges we could be addressing in the lives of our users that have show us so much trust, loyalty and enthusiasm? Are we going to be incrementalists?

How can we capture the art and vision that we put into our documentaries and journalism and turn that to the digital spaces that our country is rapidly inhabiting?

The digital tools of today are so plentiful, so affordable and so powerful that we cannot help ourselves to reach out and turn them from a commercial purpose to something more noble; with a deeper purpose that speaks the the needs and wants of our country.

Perhaps it was best said by Theodore Roosevelt:

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Quick Fire Presentation at FedScoop 2010: Public Media in the Digital Age

I was very pleased to make a ten minute "quick fire" presentation to 500 federal CIOs, CTOs and contractors about public media in the digital age. There were a few technical problems - a zone of clicker working issue - but altogether it was very enjoyable. Check it out below.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Future of Digital Public Media

I just ran across the video for a presentation that I, Marita Rivera (WGBH), Sue Schardt (Association of Independents in Radio) and Kinsey Wilson (NPR) participated in March. It was ably moderated by Jake Shapiro of Public Radio Exchange. The presentation was the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT.

I think that the discussion still holds today and is fascinating. (And very strange to see yourself on I really sound like that?)