French, but educated in the US, he was occasionally flummoxed by Canadian students who were used to getting polite kid glove treatment and gold stars just for showing up.
(I sometimes think that politeness has given Canadians an edge that allows them to be at the forefront of the self-esteem movement, …to the general detriment of social progress. Chronic politeness and an aversion for putting noses out of joint can result in stultification, mediocrity, and overall intellectual retardation. On Fantasy Island, where everyone is “special” by virtue of living here, the condition can become rampant.)
Anyway, toward the end of one particularly tense seminar, facing a student who was about to shatter into a 1000 pieces, the professor became very exasperated and burst out, “You have to learn to take criticism!”
I don’t know but that I don’t feel a similar exasperation these days.
Ah yes, newspaper and MSM people get to complain about being understaffed, but we bloggers are expected to be on 24/7/365 (for free!)…?
As I mentioned in yesterday’s brief post, my internet went down around 3pm. It didn’t come back till this afternoon, so my usual method of snatching a moment here and a moment there to go online, to listen in, to read, and even to write was down the tubes for nearly 24 hours. I don’t own a smart phone (mobile telephony – drool, one day, one day!), nor do I ever seem to have the luxury of taking myself off to a third place to be alone and work in peace – my first and second places are one and the same, and they get crazy. When I go out, it’s for meetings (as happened today) or to walk the dog. So, if I can’t glean a minute inbetween other minutes, it seems it doesn’t get done.
But let’s see if I can now expand into some sort of follow-up on No policy …no strategy, either.
I’ve mentioned that radio stations can sometimes get into an easy habit of talking AT a listener and not TO a listener. The social media that we use has allowed us on a number of occasions to be an ear and not just a mouth (I thought of that while walking back to my car last night and kicked myself for not saying it)! If that’s not considered a strategy, I would at least consider it a good starting point.
This is of course one of the basic tenets of markets are conversations (see Cluetrain Manifesto), a kind of blueprint (now 10 years old) for what new media (and new business) is all about. I would really really encourage local media people to familiarize themselves with the Cluetrain’s theses. Of course you don’t talk AT people, you have conversations. This means you can forget about hierarchies, too.
Bryan gets this when he writes,”I’m a firm believer that the only way to learn about something is by looking at it from all sides.” I would argue that Adrian doesn’t quite get this. In his comment, he writes, “The notion that everything in daily papers is suddenly a bunch of bunk seems to be rather overstated.” That’s an unnecessarily defensive statement since neither I nor anyone else on the comments board said “everything in daily papers is …a bunch of bunk…”
After all, a cardinal rule of conversation is that you also learn to listen.
Bryan was one of the panelists, along with Dana Hutchings, who I thought would have the best overview of the managerial/ revenue questions since his station isn’t owned by some corporate overlord(s). (I think his station is independent – I could be wrong; happy to be corrected if so.) In his comment, Bryan wrote, “social media has in no way affected our medium’s revenue stream.” I wish I knew more about the radio business, but I don’t. TV and radio are two mediums I rarely pay attention to (I don’t have cable, so no TV for me; and I listen to radio once in a blue moon – say, while driving, which means for ~10 minutes at a time). But it’s obvious from Dana Hutchings’s CHEK TV saga and also clear from Bryan Capistrano’s comments that these two do have incredible potential for steering their own destiny. I also wonder if it’s a condition specific to Victoria (which still has a deep digital divide) that revenue streams have not been affected.
Bryan and Deb (not sure if I should note which organization she’s from since she didn’t provide that link in her comment) noted that my body language further into the evening spoke volumes – and yes, while I was initially intrigued by what people were saying, I grew more impatient as the panelists began to respond to questions from the audience.
If anyone was making this an “us and them” issue, it was, I’m sorry to say, the panelists themselves who grew increasingly defensive at being questioned.
This was all really bizarre since, at the very end of the evening, Sarah Petrescu in particular sketched out a fairly detailed vision for what her ideal online news world should entail – and it’s one that absolutely includes the participatory “we.”
But as long as the wall between editorial and management persists, any visions will exist in silos – and the editorial side stands to lose because, as newspapers die, their jobs will evaporate.
There was an interesting discussion on CBC radio the other day about the increase in citizen-generated news (and its credibility as real news!) on the internet and in SM, often around things that MSM deems un-newsworthy like re-zoning.
This speaks to revitalizing local coverage. We are terribly under-served right now: City Hall makes important decisions that directly affect us where we live, but we don’t hear about them. Social media can be way ahead of traditional media in being able to cover this (via that mobile telephony I don’t have, or if City Hall ever gets its act together to provide wi-fi), and the only way that traditional media can catch up is by including bloggers and others who will cover these news. It’s not rocket science.
Speaking of follow-ups, did anyone see if the MSM that attended reported on its own participation? (I get my news online, and since the internet was down, I missed whatever was on. Give me a link if it was reported, thanks.)
As I noted in my comments board yesterday, this is a huge topic – presumably this isn’t the end of it in Victoria, unless the MSM want to shut down the dialog and leave it to social / new media to sort things out. My follow-up, such as it is, is already too long, so let me wrap up with a list of what I’d call must-read resources.
My favorite post is now nearly three years old: Ryan Sholin’s 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head. Must-read. Ryan posted a follow-up in 2008, 10 obvious things, one year later, which reports on how well (or not) the industry has dealt with the points he raised in 2007. Pay special attention to #5 (I heard a few rumblings from some panelists that maybe charging for content is a good idea. It’s not. Don’t go there.) And of course those who think it’s an “us v. them” issue, puh-leeze: check out #7. The next point, #8, is really great, too. Just go read the whole thing now.
Clay Shirky, the here-comes-everybody (and long-tail) guy. Read his The Collapse of Complex Business Models (which I blogged about here), and watch his superb presentation, Clay Shirky on Internet Issues Facing Newspapers (on Youtube). Shirky delivered this talk at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in September 2009. Must-see.
Dave Winer, who writes about many things – often technology, and very often with a special focus on media. Check out his January 2010 entry, Why newspapers should host blogs, for a glimpse of innovative thinking around both content and business models.
Why should news orgs host blogs for members of their community? Because the business of news organizations is information. Gather it up, sort it, organize it, keep it current and do it again. People have a huge thirst for new information, more these days than ever and increasing all the time. It’s ridiculous that information-gathering orgs should be shrinking in a time where what they do is in such high demand. (source)
Ok, that’s it for this evening. I’m deeply embarrassed that my list has only guys on it. I know there must be women I’m forgetting/ leaving out. Maybe something for another follow-up …or comments?
My internet went down around 3pm today and now, nearing on midnight, it’s still out of commission. Apologies for not commenting back to several readers who left comments, …and for not posting anything incendiary tonight. (Unlike last night…)
I’m using dial-up right now to access the web, and while I can be a patient person, this mode of connectivity feels like a tin can with string: Helloooooo!!!! Really unusable.
In other news, I just watched The Godfather on DVD, prompted by a conversation I had about Victoria politics today with a neighbor.
Yeah, I dig that “make ‘em an offer they can’t refuse” line.
Tonight I attended the 14th meeting of Victoria’s Social Media Club to listen to five panelists from Victoria’s mainstream media (MSM) talk about how new media (including social media) is affecting their business.
Panelists included Bryan Capistrano (promotion director for radio station The Zone); Amanda Farrell-Low (arts editor for weekly paper Monday Magazine); Dana Hutchings (producer/ host for “Island 30″ on TV station CHEK News); Sarah Petrescu (reporter and webmaster at daily paper Times-Colonist); and Deborah Wilson (journalist for CBC Radio-Victoria “On The Island”). The panel was moderated by Janis La Couvée.
The setting was the gymnasium of a former elementary school (now used as the University Canada West campus), hence the …well, gym-like setting.
But the setting wasn’t really the disappointing bit: it was the panelists. They all came across as very sweet people, but I left wondering just what the hell they’re doing.
The panelists (representing local heavy-hitters CBC Radio, Monday Magazine, CHEK News, The Zone Radio, and the Times-Colonist) all stated that their organizations have no specific social media policies in place.
Maybe that’s fine – but what was striking was the absence of clear thinking around social media strategy. The one glimmer of an exception was Dana Hutchings of CHEK. In the summer of 2009, while on vacation in Sweden, she received an email from her boss, letting her know that the owners were about to shut down the station.
CHEK had orders from its owners that forbade the station to report on its own troubles. In his email, Dana’s boss wrote (and I’m paraphrasing): “You’re on Facebook! What can we do?”
First, a brief digression on the history of CHEK News, which is worth knowing: see this wikipedia page for details. In brief: CHEK launched on December 1, 1956, which makes it a venerable local institution. Over the decades, CHEK underwent various changes in ownership, and by 2000 it was owned by Canwest, which happens to be the media conglomerate that owns so much of Canada’s media – including most newspapers, the Times-Colonist among them. Canwest, however, was in deep financial trouble by the middle of the decade, and by late 2009 it had to file for creditor bankruptcy protection. Leading up to this, Canwest tried various downsizing moves to save itself, including pulling the plug on CHEK in August of 2009. But by September 2009, the employees had managed to put together a scheme to buy the station and keep it in operation as an independent in Victoria.
Social media played a huge role in CHEK’s turnaround. Dana Hutchings answered her boss’s question (“You’re on Facebook – what can we do?”) by starting a Save CHEK News fan page, which in turn galvanized the local community who learned about the true goings-on at the station through the Facebook page. Before long, the page had thousands of fans.
The employees at CHEK, spurred by the support they saw pouring in through social media, worked feverishly around the clock for over 46 days, and in the end the station was saved – bought by the employees and contributors.
The point, however, is that without the resonant support from CHEK’s fans – support that would not have found a gathering spot without social media because of Canwest’s gag order on what was happening at CHEK – the employees wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy and enthusiasm to save the station.
But when asked how social media was affecting their business models, the other panelists relied on the old separation between “editorial” and “management” to absolve themselves of any strategic thinking around how the new media might save their old media bacon.
“I don’t know, I’m editorial, that doesn’t concern me,” was the gist of it. The panelists also seemed to think that the new media folks in the audience were trying to find ways to “pitch” to them, the arbiters of media truth. It was laughable.
First, people in the audience weren’t trying to figure out how to “pitch” to the MSM – they were trying to sound out the MSM to find out how they could get it to listen to them, the community.
Second, the panelists repeatedly told the audience that what would work – what they would be willing to retweet or run a story on – would be semi-sensationalist crap, like “there’s a house on fire on X Road,” or “the ferries are running late,” or “it’s snowing on the Malahat.”
Aside from sensational “news” like this, the MSM wants “human interest” stories: “how I found my true love on Twitter,” or, “my child survived bullying on Facebook,” or similar stuff.
This is truly sad. There must be more to MSM than burning buildings and true romance, no?
There were other annoying contradictions, and then also outright delusions. For the latter: the belief that bloggers are just the rumor mill, while the MSM are the arbiters of truth. Hahahaha. If anyone still believes that what is written in the daily paper is the truth, I feel sorry for them – I know for a fact that it isn’t. I know plenty of bloggers who are more assiduous about fact-checking than so-called professional journalists – and bloggers don’t mind correcting themselves. Try getting a newspaper to do that.
At the same time, every single one of the panelists belly-ached about being underfunded and understaffed, which was their main excuse for no longer doing investigative journalism.
Ok, so which is it? You can’t do investigative journalism because you’re understaffed and underfunded? Or you’re the arbiters of truth because only you are the professionals who can get at the truth?
You can’t have it both ways, kids.
While thumping their chests to claim truth-telling status, the panelists also begged “social media” to “spoonfeed” them potential news items (because, remember, they’re underfunded and understaffed and can’t get their own stories – the news are “thin” these days, as one of them put it). In other words, please spoonfeed us, but don’t think you can pitch us.
Are they nuts?
Which is it?
I could go on, but this entry is already costing me dearly in a town where everyone has to play nice and not step on anyone’s toes – and besides, it’s almost midnight and I’m on a deadline here.
Update, April 29: a follow-up post here (also noted in comments).
Gleaning, as every good art historian schooled in 19th century French painting knows, “is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.”
The painting on the left, by Jean-François Millet, is the Gleaners (1857), with its bleak Old Testament mood of “you shall earn your bread by the sweat of your brow” and Book of Ruth lessons about “how the poor shall be with you always.” More solid than the massive haystacks on the horizon, these gleaners will be here for all eternity.
And so, while Millet monumentalized the poor, his approach was however appropriately enough re-thought by more progressively socialist-minded painters (Pissarro, eg.) who maybe weren’t entirely satisfied with “naturalized” pictures of poverty because those representations weren’t really going to change anyone’s mind about the nature of poverty anyway – or the social status of the poor.
During the last week, yours truly must have been working the fields a bit too hard, for I’ve been dealing with the most annoying pulled muscle back pain for almost 6 days.
Earlier today, I figured out why my back hurt and thought I’d just write a little post about that (the pain).
But looking first for images under “back pain,” I found this:
And finding that cartoon, “Back-Ache by Millet,” which satirizes The Gleaners, gave me something else to think about.
First, here’s how I think I hurt my back: I’ve set myself the task to blog daily, but I’m busy doing other things during the day, so I often don’t get to writing my blog post until later in the evening. At times I’m really down to the wire as I scramble to finish the entry before midnight (deadline!), lest I leave a gap in the calendar.
(I think I’m getting a bit obsessive about this self-imposed schedule…)
Sometimes, because I’m writing at night, I try to be “social” about it, meaning: I write while curled up (read: hunched) in an upholstered chair in the living room. Other family members might be in the living room, and if I write in the same room with them, I’m being social by being available to them (that’s my theory, anyway).
Sometimes, I go to my desk to write (especially if it’s already closing on midnight, the deadline hour). But by then all my bad habits kick in and I could just as well have stayed curled up in that too-soft upholstered chair with my legs tucked under me. At my desk, I put my feet up on the desk (and I cross them at the ankles, too), lean back in the swivelly chair, laptop on lap, body torqued to maximum, shoulders hunched. And then I start writing.
For some reason, I always think that sitting like this is far more comfortable than sitting in an ergonomically-correct position – until, that is, I try to get up. Then I realize that I’ve thrown everything, from spine to shoulders to knees, out of whack. Ouch.
I was going to describe all this as my insight of the day (seriously: it didn’t occur to me until today that I have only my own slouching habits to blame for the really terrible back pain I’ve endured for nearly a week). I was going to add that I might cut back on the blogging a bit, until I can improve my habits.
But then I saw that cartoon! Naturally, I can’t resist writing that blogging has lately felt for all the world like gleaning: pecking out the bits of value in an ocean of sensation and information, trying to make a meal out of nothing much at all.
Except that it’s not entirely true. If I’m a “field” worker, my injuries are completely self-inflicted, and my field is infinitely rich, not a meager stubbly patch. Unlike starving peasants, I can’t complain about a dearth of anything, least of all material.
My back, though, is still killing me.
I live in a ridiculously lush part of the world, and I’m not talking about the Canadian propensity to drink alcoholic beverages. In Victoria BC, on southern Vancouver Island, it’s green year ’round. By February, people are mowing their lawns. By mid-summer, the climate turns nearly Mediterranean (after a winter and long spring of cool, wet weather), and then it gets very dry.
Around here, tucked between the Juan de Fuca and the Georgia Straits, however, we never get that still heat I associate with true Mediterranean weather. There’s always wind, unceasing wind. In late winter (around February, early March), the blossoms are blown off the trees and it looks like a pink blizzard. The rest of Canada has actual snow, we have petals.
Here’s a photo of Rockland Ave., heading east. I took this photo recently (April), the flowering trees are a later variety:
The strips of grass on the right are part of the city-owned boulevard. Note how green they are, as if they’re chemically treated and watered. They’re not. By summer they’ll be dormant, but right now they’re furiously green.
The hedges and shrubs bordering the private front yards on the left are bursting with new growth. Everywhere, new blossoms shoot forth, adding hues of purple, blue, pink, white.
What you’re seeing is just a slightly ramped-up version of what happens nearly year-round. Since it’s spring, nature is right now in hyper-mode, but aside from a summer dormancy of grass and other highly water-dependent plants, it’s just green green green green all year round.
There are plenty of neighborhoods in Victoria where the sidewalks look like this, and what “this” looks like is for all the world what many other places would call public green space. It’s certainly public (a boulevard), and it’s certainly green – both from the city-owned side (which includes grass and majestic trees) and the private border on the sidewalk’s other side.
Because we have so much of it (except maybe right downtown, which has far fewer trees and plantings), I’m often horrified when new developments are required to include huge setbacks or large swathes of green (meaning: boring lawn and the ubiquitous rhododendrons).
If, on the other hand, you live in a place like the following (below), it probably makes sense to demand more open green space:
That’s a street in Brookline, Massachusetts (where I used to live) – a typical street, a jumble of different building types, not pretty, no sign of obvious thought given to how the buildings might fit together to create some kind of street wall (unlike other streets in Brookline or Boston, streets that are considered pretty). With the addition of that open lot and its dilapidated fence, you really can see how an urban area can convey 100% suckyness, and why people might live there just long enough to save enough money for a house in the suburbs.
This street is crying out for some kind of beautification through plantings – maybe a tiny, jewel-like pocket park? It’s also in need of overall repair: public street furniture, something pleasant to look at, perhaps an indication of a retail or commercial spot (cafe?), either there or very close by. This street needs something to tie it together, and a dose of nature would be a great start.
Meanwhile, back in Victoria, we’ve got nature coming out of our ears, yet new downtown developments are supposed to have lots of green-space, not to mention bigger sidewalks. Bigger sidewalks would be great, except the city comes along and puts grass along one side. Guess what happens during our soggy winters? The “grass” gets trampled and soon turns to shabby mud.
There are better ways to include nature, and better ways to create an urban street wall. But including some street furniture and a place for bike lock-ups is a start.
What I don’t understand, however, is a call for more open green space in our downtown. We need smart additions of greenery (not boulevard lawns that get trampled to mud in winter), and we need surprising, delightful pocket parks… that sort of thing. But not more of what anyone can find by taking a walk in the core neighborhoods.
Here’s an example of greenery that works downtown: clipped hornbeams, in planters whose edges act as bench seating, placed along the street like sentries:
Here, along Government Street in Victoria’s downtown, nature acts in concert with the buildings to create a street wall, in this case one that forms the outside wall (to the road), buffering the pedestrians on the sidewalk between trees and buildings.
Nature downtown should be different from what you find in the neighborhoods. Putting lawns of any sort (even small patches) downtown is idiotic. Without strong verticals, lawns and garden shrubs just bleed out from the center, destroying the necessary structure that a real street needs to have.
I had an opportunity to tour the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt today. It’s a two-hour 3-kilometer walking tour, full of history and heritage (one part of the base is from the late 19th/ early 20th century, featuring fully intact, carefully rehabbed brick buildings) and new initiatives (they’re finishing a building which will be the continent’s second-largest industrial Fleet Maintenance Facility – only Boeing‘s is bigger). We saw the HMCS Winnipeg, which features a sign next to the helicopter hangar door: “Winnipeg International Airport – Elev. 25 feet,” and we saw one of the horrible subs Canada bought from the UK, still in dry dock six years later.
But something else I saw really grabbed my attention: a large pile of stuff.
The other day, thinking about a public art project, it occurred to me that one could do something pretty interesting with material destined for the waste stream – I was thinking about this in relation to the “philias” I wrote about here.
With that in mind, here’s a favorite picture from today’s tour – not yet “garbage,” but it sure wouldn’t be difficult to find stuff as sculptural as this in any waste stream:
It’s not exactly what most people would take a photo of while touring a military base, but I was riveted by both the pile’s plasticity and by what the inert hoses, heaped next to the hard geometry of the building and the white cage-like tower, evoked.
If you’re interested in questionable municipal shenanigans as a spectator sport, check out FOCUS Magazine‘s latest issue (May 2010), now available online as a PDF download, and go to page 26, where Sam Williams dissects in excruciating detail the FOIed email exchanges between City of Victoria engineer Mike Lai and his colleagues at Delcan Engineering, specifically Mark Mulvihill.
I am ashamed to live in such a banana republic of a city.