The United States Supreme Court oral arguments on fleeting expletives -- namely "fuck" and "shit" -- on the broadcast airwaves represent an ongoing legal challenge since the 1970s. Back then, the justices split 5-4 on the side of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and its rules designed to protect children. Congress pressured the FCC, and it responded. By the 1990s, amid Howard Stern and shock radio, courts upheld the channeling of profanity to late-night hours, presumably giving parents a fighting chance to insulate their small kids from the offensive language. However, it was never clear that carving a "safe harbor" of overnight hours protected the First Amendment rights of adults to see and hear unregulated free speech. Enter the Internet. By the late 1990s, the Supreme Court protected Internet indecency, thus leaving over-the-air broadcasting, as some called it, "second-class citizens." By the time of the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction, a rear-end shower shot on a crime drama, and the live awards show and sports broadcast fleeting expletives, it was becoming clear that our Internet kids probably did not need protecting that might have been possible in the 1970s limited broadcast world. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York twice concluded that Fox Television had it right. The FCC essentially turned heels on its original policy that allowed for live broadcast fleeting expletives. Two of the three judges seemed to go further in recognizing that the Supreme Court had it wrong back in 1978. As I wrote in my 2008 book, Broadcast and Internet Indecency: Defining Free Speech, "Broadcast and Internet indecency are fringe speech at the edge of social tolerance, and this is why we can understand free expression values through the social conflicts that routinely emerged." So, the oral arguments are the latest social and legal artifact allowing us to see social values amid a changing technological landscape.
As a major October snow storm headed into the Denver area on Oct. 25, reporter Kevin Torres and his live truck operator headed outside the newsroom on assignment to cover impact, which included accidents. For decades, live local television news produced predictable content. What is new and exciting at 9 News is the blending of backpack journalism, mobile media technologies and social media strategies.
As snow fell in advance of a 9 p.m. news live report, Livestream viewers of Torres' channel went along with him behind-the-scenes. Much as Erving Goffman might have described it, the video stream and chat room offered a "backstage" glimpse into the workings of TV news. Torres became noticeably tense, as his truck operator was unable to bounce a signal into the station. With all of the drama of reality TV, our viewpoint was carried back inside the truck for a quick drive to the Golden, Colorado exit.
Although I met Torres last year at Omaha 10-10-10, it still felt like parasocial interaction when I typed into the chat room that the video stream had an Apollo 13 feel and sound. My duct tape joke didn't go over that well, although Torres did let us know that this was an older live truck. Once on air from Golden, tension subsided. The 10 p.m. live shot went off on time and with professional ease. We could monitor the backstage streaming video, as well as the on-air broadcast at 9News. After Torres finished, he was back with his online audience for a quick wrap-up and goodbye for the night.
Torres is willing to share with online fans most of his side of cellphone calls to the station, which ended once by unfortunately dropping what he said was a new phone. This live and unrehearsed aspect to the online stream helped magnify authenticity and strengthen engagement because viewers see Torres' engaging off-air personality. He also let us know that he was checking facebook, Twitter and email at different points in and out of the broadcasts.
Few reporters and stations are sharing this much about what happens away from the bright lights of TV cameras. I applaud Torres and his station for experimenting with this innovative social media approach. It offers the opportunity to drive audience traffic online, on the air and back online. While this may not be the future of local news, it is an attractive real-time model that follows the rules of computer-mediated communication: identity (branding), interaction (two-way) and community-building (online). If Web 2.0 demonstrated the tools of social media, Web 3.0 will be about refining communication.
David Carr's piece in The New York Times asks, "Why Not Occupy Newsrooms?" In it, he laments about corporate downsizing in the newspaper industry. Executives at Gannett, for example, received pay raises and bonuses, even as newsroom budgets were cut and stock prices drained.
Well before the market collapsed in 2008-09, Omaha's Warren Buffett had turned away from newspapers as a solid investment. He told Berkshire Hathaway shareholders that his interest in newspapers remained more sentimental, about friendships and history, than earnings potential. More recently, the Wizard of Wall Street was asked about the Occupy movement. While it hasn't yet raised awareness, he thinks a nonviolent and lawful protest of CEO compensation in the face of too much U.S. poverty and educational inequality could help.
The "wiser" (he's replaced an earlier word, "focused," to describe himself) Mr. Buffett, 81, has said that a CEO who leads his or her company into failure, should not walk away with millions of dollars. Instead, there should be a rule that guarantees the person at the top suffers the fate of employees and investors -- maybe even a worse fate and walk away with nothing.
Mr. Buffett does not go as far as movie maker Michael Moore in asking for investigations and criminal indictments of CEOs. For now, Moore is "one of millions" wanting answers from a New York Stock Exchange that no longer allows him inside or even near for CNBC interviews. Moore puts a populist face on the Occupy movement. Like politicians who "want to take our country back," Moore doesn't articulate exactly when and where utopia was lost. For now, he joins a chorus recognizing something in America is broken. Moore and Buffett at least are pointing in the same direction: at the top of the corporate ladder.
If CEOs had to take most of their wages in stock, then they should be more motivated to protect company value. Consider Berkshire's Nebraska Furniture Mart, which did not resort to layoffs during the downturn. Bob Batt, grandson of founder Rose Blumkin, said Mrs. B taught a flat management structure, keeping costs down, and remembering the customer. NFM keeps a lot of cash on hand, so they do not have to worry about banks and loans. Instead, they weathered the financial storm and come out ready to leap at opportunities for new business. As a small stockholder in Berkshire, I like that approach.
As a journalist, I think American newspapers made a lot of mistakes. They were not thrifty during the good years. They were late to recognize the importance of the Internet. Too often, they were arrogant about near-monopoly position in their media markets. Yet, even with these problems, media companies are in a position to continue to make money -- just not the extraordinary profits of years gone by.
David Carr is right to conclude that newsrooms suffered while management sometimes did not. Executives should have invested in retraining workers and streamlining processes. New business models are slowly emerging, but online, social and mobile media do not guarantee huge new revenue streams. Instead, new media are competing for our eyes, ears, minds and time.
Rose Blumkin's model, "Sell cheap, and tell the truth," may be useful for the new generation of entrepreneurial journalists.
The new facebook timeline aggregates a lot of previously published data, and this will be a shock for users. The format raises many privacy issues that have been previously buried in the background.
For example, should birthdays of children be highlighted through the relationship links and tossed on the timeline with large photos? Likewise, should geo-tags on smartphone photos be aggregated into detailed maps that chart your every movement? In the old facebook, such data were more restricted and difficult to bring to the surface. Now, scrolling down on a wall normalizes what most would consider "creeping." I am probably not the only one who thought that it was possible (under the old wall) to selectively use places to check in from public spots. However, it turns out that all photo upload tags were being stored! So, I have now deleted many photos and turned off the location switch on my Facebook phone app. In fact, I have now turned off most of them, which also seems to help with battery life.
A deeper concern may be left to lawmakers and the courts: Has timeline breached accepted notions about boundaries for individual and private data? Facbook's problem here, as my colleague Adam Tyma observed, is that users at first do not opt into sharing all posted information on the timeline. Instead, it is up to each of us to delete and hide what we do not wish to display.
As a facebook user and enthusiast since 2009, I have been in the practice of cleaning posts from my wall over time. But, I still found content needing to be removed.
The up side to the new facebook is that it will force you to learn privacy settings and exercise media literacy skills. We probably should have been better at this all along, but the old and clunky social media offered a false sense of security. Timeline is very transparent in letting it all hang out there. I do not believe that most people will "tell the story of their lives" on social media. Instead, just as with old media, we will be selective.
Earlier in the year, I spotted a dead squirrel near a large tree in the neighbor's yard. My best guess is that this unlucky critter was hanging on to a weak section of bark and clung to it while plunging to death. This raises one of the most important challenges of social media: When do you hang on? Or, when do you get out of a social space?
For a lot of early adopters, MySpace presented the first of these dead squirrel moments. Clearly, if your friends and colleagues leave a site and are replaced by ne'er-do-wells, you may be dangling by a thread. Less dramatic examples of sites that have not commanded mass interest among my social groups include Hashable, Waze and Fring. Although I thought Yammer might catch on in the office, most of my colleagues thought otherwise. So, here I am looking at my iPhone home screen. The Yammer app sits right next to the more popular Linkedin for business contacts. Google+ is there, too. At some point, the survivor in me will ask the question: Which one of these must go to make room for X (insert next Big Thing)? If upon asking the question you feel dizzy from the fall, know you are facing a dead squirrel moment. Change or cling, as you crash to the social media pavement. The best advice comes from one of the greatest college basketball coaches: "keep moving."