Jim Long - Digital Media and Culture

Media – Running at the “Speed of the Network”


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.satdish.jpg

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.

  • http://mostlymedia.wordpress.com/ SpaceyG

    That’s a mighty big camera you’re slingin’. Fine, fine, fine.

  • http://www.synchronis.tv kathryn jones


    I had the amazing honor to be in the qik chatroom when you interviewed Bob Geldof… what an incredible, and prescient experience… and I too absolutely LOVED Virginia Heffernen’s piece about Friday Night Lights (there was another amazing piece in the same magazine that emphasized how another entertainment company had their thumb fully on the pulse of interactivity and was succeeding beyond expectations- I’ll hunt that down for you).

    I so look forward to the deepening of the interactive experience in all media, but especially in the arts…. as you know I’m working on it!!!!! and I am eager to hear all you guys discover at SXSW!!!!!! Forward thinking as us new media folk may be… I think we have barely begun to scratch the horizon…

    Have a wonderful time!!!

  • http://blog.thelettertwo.com Ken

    Nice blog and great points. I’m impressed by all the work that you’ve done and you’ve definitely incorporated a lot of social media into your work…you’re truly the 21st century broadcaster. No longer is traditional media relaying the news, but interactive has taken over. I think you make some great points about engaging the people in these “conversations”. From your experience with the press pool during your travels, do you see any of your other colleagues engaging in social media while broadcasting?

  • http://pardonthedisruption.com Chip Griffin

    Lots of good stuff here, but I think the most important point you make is this: “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.”

    You are dead on correct with that statement. Traditional media will evolve but it will not disappear. Citizen journalism will supplement, not replace, professional journalism. Blogs, podcasts, and online video will all blossom, but radio, TV, and even dead-tree publications like newspapers and magazines will continue to play a role in our media consumption habits of the future.

    I do get concerned at the number of my fellow evangelists who preach the “death” of one or another forms of media. Coexistence will be beautiful.

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  • http://jeffmadisonlive.com Jeff Madison

    Great stuff. I find that the line of distinction between old and new is blurred. I’m sure that if there was more “new” in the “old” job that you have maybe you wouldn’t have to lug around so much stuff :).

    We’ll always need the old so it will always be here. But the new media sure is a lot of fun. I truly enjoy the glimpses of life that you bring to me via Twitter. It always interesting to look and see where you are and then later to hear about what you’ve been talking about on the broadcast (old) media.

    Keep up the good work.

  • http://geekmommy.wordpress.com GeekMommy

    Jim I think the phrase is beautiful… and apt.
    The deeper we get into connecting all forms of media – old media, new media, social media – the more the possibilities seem to expand before us.
    I don’t think anything is going to ‘replace’ established media… any more than television news ‘replaced’ newspapers… there are reasons we utilize one form of media or another.

    This article however, is brilliant, and I know I will be pointing several people to it whom I’ve been having discussions with over the development of new media who just don’t quite get why it’s important or relevant.

    Thanks again!

    P.S. Sir Bob sure has class… thanks for the Qik vid.

  • http://grantheaslip.com Grant

    I agree that the “traditional” media is here to stay, but it’s still exciting to see how the media and they way they report is evolving. All of this technology is putting the knowledge (and by extension, the power) back in the hand of the people. The era where the media is capable of perpetuating lies and clouding the truth is fading, fast. It’s a lot harder to hide the truth when you’re looking at potentially millions of news and information sources for people to work off of as opposed to a handful.

    It’s an exciting time, I’m really interested in how this all plays out over the next few years.

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  • http://www.flickr.com/tracylee Tracy Lee

    Excellent article. Having worked in newspapers, magazines and print for almost 30 years, I have seen a lot of change technologically and socially.I have heard people say that print is dead for many years. Print will never be dead, just as television and the large media providers will not disappear. There is a place for everyone. Social media, blogs and other tools do not fit the same bill as traditional media. They all compliment each other to give the audience what they are looking for, their own personal view of the world in the format and the delivery method they want it in.

    It is all good. :)

  • http://www.conversationagent.com Valeria Maltoni

    Your ability to use the tools at hand to get the story out is a testament to the fact that the story takes center piece. I know how hard it can be for organizations that have become successful doing one thing well through certain channels to start testing other ways of offering those same things. Yet there is tremendous opportunity there.

    Media is evolving at the speed of the network, yes. Professionals do have the ability to ask the right questions and use the right tools at a moment’s notice. That ability to deliver a compelling point of view has been honed through hours and years of experience. That, integrated with the freshness and immediacy of other voices is more and more a winning proposition.

  • http://www.jessienewburn.com Jessie Newburn

    I have never been much of a fan of traditional, institutionalized media. Oddly, I consume more traditional media through social media than ever before. How encouraged I feel when reading your post here. You are a dual citizen hero, Jim, for traditional media and social media. Keep on, keepin’ on.

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  • http://marksalinas.com Mark Salinas

    Great Post! Much detail, I enjoyed the reading!

    Mark Salinas, MN

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  • http://www.prova.fm/advertising/ Barbara

    great entries you have here :) keep it up.

    traditional media will always be here. but the question is which form will dominate in the years to come. i personally think, new media is emerging. when my website which was set-up by Prova went live, i really noticed the big difference. more and more opportunities were opened up. now, who doesn't want that for his business?

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