Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Media is older than you think - Part 1

The Internet is delusional. More precisely, people who see it as something other than a shill for corporate interests are delusional. I suppose that means I'm raining on somebody's parade but then again, I've never thought Felicia Day was that big of a deal. The promise of "New Media" was broken the day the term was coined.

So it should be no surprise when you suddenly find your creative expression cut short by some mysterious mechanism that's denied your 15 minutes of fame.

 I've watched a lot of misty eyed podcast pundits proclaiming the impending doom of the "old" media model and the rise of the "New Media" model. They postulate on how all those silly old men in their corporate towers are powerless to prevent the tidal wave of content in this brave new media world. Surely the tables are turning and the rise of entertainment by mob rule will conquer the day.

They fondly recall short lived television shows that to their minds were unfairly struck down only to find rebirth in a new medium. A feat not possible without the promise of the... Internet!

 I guess they forgot about that whole thing with VCR's and DVD box sets. Oh yeah, and the fact that 90% of television programming couldn't draw 1000 views in a YouTube channel anyway. Worse, YouTube probably wouldn't let them monetize it due to some BS about "commercial use rights".
What they fail to mention is that the "rebirth" found its conception with an sympathetic ear who had control of the content. And why not, they had nothing to lose by offering up these "lost gems" on the web. All the better if they could squeeze a few more bucks out that old crap too.

So it goes with most of the New Media superstars as well. Most of whom started with more than just a laptop and a webcam.

People like to point to podcasting and YouTube as the best examples of new media. Look behind the curtains of the most popular "visionary" media offerings, however, and you find a deep bench of old media. 

Take the example of Leo Laporte's TWIT netcast (podcast) network. Built on decades of broadcast experience on radio and television as America's favorite tech pundit, Laporte's TWIT it is the wet dream of anyone with a YouTube channel. With over 20 shows built around technology related topics from social media to law it's frequently held up as the example of successful "New Media."

The part that gets glossed over is that without Laporte's "Old Media" gravitas and a few handpicked hosts from his TechTV days, TWIT would be just another hobbyist channel on YouTube. Not surprisingly, the collective TWIT resume is heavy in traditional media as well as technology luminaries like Steve Gibson, Bob Heil and Alex Lindsay. Not exactly the kind of talent easily accessible to the average podcaster trying to make their way in the world.

There's nothing wrong with leveraging your strengths but you can't hold TWIT up as a pure example of New Media precisely because of them. It's existence is entirely reliant on leveraging old media concepts if not its on-air personalities.

I mean, really now, TWIT would literally have to start airing "This week in gym socks" and "The Social Terrorist Today" to fail with their talent lineup.

While tightly controlled, TWIT still relies on advertising and audience metrics for a revenue stream. Programming that doesn't meet a revenue threshold no matter how popular can find itself cancelled, which isn't exactly a new idea. We're still being asked to vote with our wallets instead of our interests. Even popular hosts organically grown from this "New Media" that run afoul of "old media" hierarchies can quickly find themselves out on the cold.

Perhaps the most vivid example was the ousting of a rising star on the TWIT network in 2011. Erik Lanigan came fresh out of college and worked for TWIT as an editor before beginning the rise to the ranks of a show host after Laporte recognized his talent. Toward the end he gained a loyal following and was reportedly being groomed to substitute for Laporte on his weekend "Tech Guy" syndicated radio show.

From available information Lanigan wasn't receiving adequate support for his fledgling overnight show not to mention a paycheck in general. It culminated in a chat conversation where he admitted as much. Viewers of the live broadcast were none the wiser, however, with even Laporte struggling to find anything derogatory in the show's recorded video. It appears Lanigans sin, was to admit that he wasn't being fairly treated by TWIT management to chatroom friends.

Laporte's commentary on the subject was probably the most emblematic of old media icons when in response to questions about Lanigan's firing he said, "I had to kiss a lot of butt in the first 20 years, that's why I'm here...You kiss butt in media for a long ass time"

Isn't this the core issue of old media that the New Media is supposed to correct? Isn't the rule that the quality of the content should supersede ego or advertiser metric? So the old maxim of brown nosing to the top is part of the new revolution in media? It calls into question if New Media outlets are really the incubators of fresh ideas or just a new medium for the old guard to monetize.