Public Media Camp Boston 2010

Source: Randy Giusto

By Randy Giusto- One of the interesting discussions that kicked off Public Media Camp Boston 2010 was a discussion around “The Myth of the One Man Band.” The really burning question in the room was “how do we create a model for quick investigative reporting that brings together all the resources- reporters, photographers, producers, grant appliers, fund raisers, etc.?” Can we truly create an exchange of talent focused on collaborating to create more and better in-depth reporting?

The biggest issue today in America is that we have news organizations that have their own agendas, budgets, and are laser focused on either 3 minute sound bites dumbed down to an 8th grade mentality (CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS) or in creating their own news (Fox). This means that creatives and media entrepreneurs need to find their own model, and perhaps create their own marketplace or ecosystem. Many have, but that ecosystem revolves around their personal self. How can that be expanded to a larger audience of like minded creatives and media pioneers?

Several in the audience during the session stated that their biggest struggle was fighting with Rupert (Murdoch) each and every day, and the world of Spot News. The potential to produce long-form video content is becoming challenging more and more each and every day. Because they are fighting a war on two fronts.

The first front is agin that dumbed down 500 word, 3 minute spoon fed baby food quality media bites that most Americans have been lured into over the years by the major networks. The second front, is getting the right amount of funding from multiple sources to produce what they want. Until ereaders are pervasive, there are few outlets for long form media other than the Economist and public television. But the funding struggle is real and is the 800 pound gorilla in the room for many independents.

While the cost of shooting and producing media and throwing it up online has come down significantly, it’s still costly to find an audience, find an underwriter to support your dream, especially if it involves covering a subject that’s not geographically in your backyard. Long form video doesn’t require as big a team as it did in past, and you truly can work out of a backpack, but you must also have the entrepreneurial skills to get funded.

What tends to go viral online is the content from people in the right place at the right time- lucky personal journalism, or the absurd- a video of a cat using a toilet placed on YouTube. So you either have to be very lucky or very moronic/wacky to be seen by larger audiences. The demise of local news has pushed journalism to the edges. To the mega network sound bite and to the viral YouTube video, while a big gap has emerged in between.

Outside of the public media realm (like here at WGBH where the event is being held), or those few gonzo backpacking journalists out there that want to produce work with a social message, opens minds, and stimulates more conversation and who have created their own personal network for their own work, there is no successful model or “exchange” for creating content beyond the major media camps.

Freelance journalists are clearly covering the stories that bigger networks are missing, but they struggle to get their pieces funded, off the ground, edited, and published. It was pointed out that the Center for Social Media at American University has a “Making Media Now Conference” that focuses on teaching freelance journalists and media creators on how to produce content, how to fundraise for it, and how to get it out.

Because today, many freelance media people gravitate to paid assignments to pay the bills. And like any other ecosystem impacted socially, financially, and disruptively by technology, backpack journalists are now in a world where producing content produces substantially less money for them than in the past. Gravitating to assignments from entities that have their own agenda- BP hired you to produce a piece, means that the line between journalism and PR becomes very, very blurred.

While we can skip the media truck, reporter, cameraman, producer, uplink to a satellite feed for the 5 o’clock news model to a gonzo journalist with an iPhone uploading directly to YouTube, there’s a vast middle ground that’s no longer being addressed, with the demise of local media.

And we have to solve that problem.

– Randy Giusto