Archive for August, 2009

Making It Cool to be Positive

Journalists are skeptical by trade. It’s in their nature to question the motives of sources or to check and recheck facts. They are taught to be objective, keep their feelings out of their stories, and sometimes, perhaps in an attempt to mask their feelings, they lean toward the negative. Even the slightest detectable enthusiasm for a subject can make them the target of harsh criticism/ridicule from their peers.

Technologists are inherently positive, I think. Innovation happens when people imagine the possibilities, not squelch the potential. That doesn’t mean jumping down the rabbit hole of every single widget that’s introduced, but it’s the initial inclination to the positive vs negative that makes all the difference. And, I think maybe that’s why journalism has been slow to adapt and adopt new technologies. That initial inclination to seek out the downside or to jump to criticism has squelched the enthusiasm necessary to seek out new opportunities and propose advantages.

Being critical is a great skill for a journalist, but have we pushed it too far into the realm of the negative to be able to innovate? I believe we are too early in the life of many of the online and social technologies that we are currently using to jump to a quick dismissal. Yes, some of them are released half-baked, not fully featured. But in technology, that’s called a beta. It’s something that can be improved upon with feedback, hopefully constructive and not contemptuous.

That’s not to say that journalists don’t have passion. They have passion for the truth and for the important role of the press in our democracy. They are passionate about the stories they tell. But there’s something about the process and the culture that makes that first question “Why won’t this work?” rather than “How could it succeed?”

I’m a writer, but don’t have the same journalistic background of some of my peers. I came to doctoral studies in journalism because I was excited about the potential for the average person to develop an online presence and communicate to an audience. This was way before blogs and social media, and I didn’t envision the current Web 2.0 environment. I just thought we’d all learn html and have Web sites.  But I suspected that this would create challenges and opportunities with traditional media. I feel that it is my position as an outsider that has allowed me to be (somewhat) immune to the pressures of the culture.

I write about music on my blog onthatnote.com and for Texas Music Magazine. I feel lucky to live in Austin and am very passionate about the music I experience. I tend to write passionately and describe, rather than tear apart. I have too much respect for musicians to do that, couldn’t if you made me. Some might think I’m too soft, and it’s a different approach from the snarky critics that seems to pervade music journalism. I love music, and I hope that people who also love music will enjoy my stuff.

Musicians, too, often jump to the negative. I think many of them have been worn down by the industry. They think it’s super uncool for someone to engage in self-promotion, that the music should speak for itself (or maybe that expensive manager/label should speak for ya). I talk about potential, using FREE tools to get the word out, grow your fan base and cultivate the community around your music. It’s cooler to be jaded and surly.

Musicians are passionate about what they do. They’re artists and they’re innovative with their music. It’s what they know. But, step outside that comfort zone, and it’s just easier to come out with the negative than risk the sneering of their peers. They trade in “cool.”

When I think about every missed opportunity in my life, it’s because my initial reaction was to find fault or do what I thought I was supposed to do – the attempt-to-be-cool route. It took me a while to realize that I was succumbing to peer pressure rather than trusting my intuition.

I’m uncool in both worlds, but that’s OK. Not all journalists and musicians are like this. You see examples of tech innovation everywhere. But not nearly enough. The culture’s holding them back. Break on through to the uncool side. Or make it cool to be positive…

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Yes, I do write blog posts…

Just not always on this blog. I have a few new ones on other blogs that I’d love for you to check out:

  • One is on the AEJMC Hot Topics blog. http://bit.ly/UOk9c It has my observations about some of the critiques of the AEJMC conference and reviews of several books that have influenced my thinking about the digital economy.
  • Next is on the Online Journalism Review site (OJR) about an experience I had in the lab last week and the broader ramifications. http://bit.ly/U8Wvi (thanks for the inspiration Ashley H.!)
  • I also wrote one for OJR back in May titled Making Media Social: News as User Experience.
  • And, in April I was asked by the educational site OrgSync to write a post about my students’ SXSW project: TX State Student Bloggers Cover SXSWi

Your comments on the posts would be greatly appreciated!  Thanks.

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SXSW Panel Picker is live!

It’s that exciting time of year when you get the chance to vote on all the great ideas that will be part of the SXSW conference in March. Visit the Panel Picker site, sign in (very simple, just need email and password) and vote via the thumbs (up or down).  You can leave comments, ask questions, contribute to the conversation. SXSW does a fantastic job of engaging the community!

I have two panel proposals, and I’d love for you to check them out and provide feedback:

Interactive: Influence and Innovate: Transforming Media Education – The future of media relies heavily on the mindset of those willing to study and enter the field. Professionals, professors and students will discuss transforming the goals of communication education to develop graduates, not only comfortable and fluent with online media, but who can also innovate and influence the profession. Panelists who have tentatively agreed to participate:  Aron Pilhofer, Editor of Interactive News Technology at NY Times. Winner of Knight News Challenge for DocumentCloud and Knight Batten Award for several projects. Read about his team in NY Magazine and the view some of their best work; Jeremy Rue, multimedia instructor for the Knight Digital Media Center at Berkeley; and Matt Waite, chief developer at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact. Additionally students and recent grads will be invited to be part of the conversation.

Music: Twittering Your Way to 1000 True Fans – Kevin Kelly wrote about the concept of “1000 true fans” on his Technium blog. It is possible to have a thriving career without labels, radio or expensive management deals. All you need is 1000 fans. Local artists will discuss ways they use Twitter and other tools to engage their audience. I’ve had a few people tentatively accept to be panelists: Rhett Miller (lead singer of Old 97’s), Dan Choo (Swiss band Choo Choo) and Jonathan Coulton (Brooklyn singer/songwriter and Internet star).  Several local musicians will also be added to the panel. I’d like the panel to be focused on musicians using online and social media in innovative ways.

Here are some other panels proposed by great people that I’m supporting. Will update with more as I go through:

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