your humble blogger in Iraq
Just on the heels of a trip to Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, I’ve got a moment to reflect before I hop on plane for South By Southwest Interactive. As we traveled to places with names like Hawijah, Kirkuk, and Jalalabad, I observed a recurring theme. Young battle hardened commanders in both Afghanistan and Iraq were passionately, perhaps with a certain evangelism, speaking about their work there. They weren’t talking body counts or offensives though, they were talking about micro-finance, road building, infrastructure, reconciliation banking, and grass roots governance. It occurred to me that their formal military training prepared them for precious little of this. And as I spoke with a General there, he said these soldiers were learning this stuff in theater, as he put it “at the speed of the network”. The speed of the network.. that concept really stuck with me.
Media is certainly evolving at the speed of the network. New web technologies and and platforms have ushered in a new era of personal publishing. These widely available tools are evolving faster than most traditional media companies can keep up with. I really enjoy experimenting with these technologies as a way to connect with very cool, interesting people on Twitter and Facebook, among others. Like those soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, employees of companies, including mainstream media, are adopting these new technologies as a way to engage in conversation. Any more, media is how we shake hands, it’s a how we define ourselves. A nifty little Pew research study echoes these observations about early adopters (us).
These days they are just as likely to produce material. One common refrain is that they think more change lies ahead and they are eager to watch and participate.
Pew Internet and American Life Project
That’s kind of where I find myself. I LOVE how social media allows us to connect with one another across cultural, professional, and social boundaries. Recently, I was on assignment in Africa and used the Qik platform along with my Nokia N95 to do a LIVE to web video interview with Sir Bob Geldof from Ghana.
As Jeff Jarvis points out in his post dubbing me the “human satellite truck”, the cool thing about Qik is the live chat function. As you watch the video, you’ll notice that I interrupt Geldof and my producer to take a question from Twitter friend Mike Neumann. So in addition to Meet the Press, now we can have “Meet the People” To Geldof’s credit, he didn’t miss a beat and answered Mike by name. Incidentally, he seemed fascinated with both Twitter and Qik. As powerful as Qik and a Nokia N95 are, they don’t replace, nor should they in my mind, the tools that traditional broadcast media use to gather the news. It’s important to note that my Nokia’s wifi connection was coming off the US TV Pool satellite. There was no mobile data network to be found in Ghana’s capitol city, Accra. Take a look at all of this gear.
one meter uplink dish in Arusha, Tanzania
interview gear in Arusha, Tanzania
This is what it took, along with the skills of an immensely talented NBC News team, to produce this live Today show interview with Ann Curry, the President and the First Lady.
I LOVE that I can finally embed NBC News video in my blog now! That aside, I don’t subscribe to zero sum notions of one type of media replacing another. What traditional media does is still, and I suspect always will be, relevant. Simply from a technical standpoint, there isn’t wifi or mobile data networks in many parts of the world. Sometimes it takes the knowledge base and technical expertise of seasoned pros to get the story out. Social media can complement it’s traditional older sibling in tremendously useful ways though, creating a rich experience for both traditional media and its fans. The interactivity of platforms like Qik not withstanding, the fans of your media brand, given an opportunity, want to be part of the process. They want to help!
When Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager stepped down, a wire service errantly captioned a photograph of the staffer. Many sites, including MSNBC.COM ran the picture. I was one of my Twitter friends who pointed out the mistake, and after a quick google image search to confirm, I called our desk to have them alert the the web folks.
So this correction came lightning-fast, and it was all because my friends on Twitter have an open social communication channel through me.
The Conversation Agency blog excerpts this very interesting Virginia Heffernen piece in the New York Times about the demise of the critically acclaimed show “Friday Night Lights”. In it she emphasizes the imperative on media companies to give people a means to participate. While she specifically mentions “art and entertainment”, this applies to all media, including news.
art and entertainment in the digital age are highly collaborative, and none of it can thrive without engaging audiences more actively than ever before. Fans today see themselves as doing business with television shows, movies, even books. They want to rate, review, remix. They want to make tributes and parodies, create footnotes and concordances, mess with volume and color values, talk back and shout down.
New York Times, “Art in the Age of Franchising” January 20, 2008
The “how” of all this participation, and social media engagement is what leaves many companies, including media firms, scratching their heads. I think a good “un-strategy” is to to let employees who are already “operating at the speed of the network”, just keep doing what they’re doing. These people are your best brand ambassadors. Web strategist and Forrester Research analyst Jeremiah Owyang outlines three “impossible” but absolutely necessary conversations corporations need to have if they take social media seriously. He breaks them down to the following: ask for feedback, say positive things about competitors, and admit when you’re wrong. To me, the feedback conversation can reap huge rewards and social media allows for an open channel.
I’ve been ruminating these thoughts from Austin, Texas where I’ll be attending the South By Southwest Interactive festival. NBC News has given me this very unique opportunity, and I’m eager to walk amongst the new Saronoffs and Marconis of modern communication. Technology and web platforms allow people to speak with each other like never before. The question is, how do we fit in to these conversations, or foster them ourselves. This is what I’ll be asking some very smart people here in Austin. Stay tuned.