Recording and Digital Mobile Media

The ongoing quest for media options that do not chain the user to monthly subscription fees produced a new discovery this week. TuneIn Radio is currently ranked 22nd (and rising) on the iTunes paid app list, but it is worth more than the one-time $1.99 price. Purchasers have noted that there are a lot of radio apps, but this one is unique because of its addition features. (The iTunes store is giving the nod to apps that allow access to hundreds or thousands of stations, and is now banning individual station apps as "spam.") Recording digital media via a timer or in real time is nothing new to those with a DVR at home, but being able to use an iPhone as a radio time-shifting device opens new avenues of use. Once plugged into a car sound system, it is possible to listen to radio from across the country live or on a recording. Beyond one touch recording, TuneIn Radio also connects users to an online program schedule. Home users may also like the sleep timer and record timer. From Omaha, I certainly enjoyed driving from the airport and listening to WLS oldies from the Chicago radio station. Even more exciting, though, is the concept of mobile media time-shifting. Imagine the day in the future when a mobile device will do for video what this app does for audio. Such an "app phone," as David Pogue has called it, would become a mobile media server. Assuming improved battery life and port flexibility for easy projection to favorite large screens, we begin to fully disconnect from broadcast airwaves, cabled and satellite television, and bulky home DVR units. At work or on the road, media would travel more seamlessly with the user. If telephone providers continue to be our cellphone Internet connections (Cox and other cable companies also are rolling out mobile access), then they'll exercise some control over what this will cost. Innovative apps, such as TuneIn Radio, will be portals to content. As we learned recently at Omaha 10-10-10, the decade ahead will be mobile and very exciting.


The Future of Journalism

It is the question that now haunts journalists, academics and other First Amendment defenders. Dwindling audiences, revenues, news holes and newsrooms have all contributed to fears and anxiety -- especially among veteran professionals. Imagine that The New York Times ceases to print a newspaper in favor of online distribution, high school newspapers in Kansas are no longer published because of a lack of jobs in the field, or that the reporter role includes entrepreneur. All were not conjecture this week, but rather serious discussions in local and national journalism.

Against this backdrop, I witnessed a rather poignant moment. The retired publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, Harold Andersen, pressed the new University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dean of Journalism and Mass Communications Garry Kebbel (fresh from four years at the forward-looking Knight Foundation in Miami) about the need to save the printed word.

A generation of newspaper readers clings to the printed newspaper, as the industry and journalism thinkers see less need for it with each passing day. In search of revenue streams to replace lost classified advertising dollars, newspapers focus on iPad and smart phone applications, which offer rich media and the potential to erect effective pay walls.

Yet, as the business of journalism dominates current management thinking, I occasionally take a moment to look into the eyes of the men and women who dedicate their work to the search for truths through aggressive and investigative journalism. There may be what researchers call a "spiral of silence" squelching dissent and dissonance about the model that seeks to place the art of solid reporting and writing within multimedia, backpack and entrepreneurial journalism. The logical end game of this direction is that all of journalism -- print, radio, television, magazine -- ultimately find their way to data streams for the Web and mobile media.

In the heyday of American journalism the U.S. Supreme Court carved a unique place for newspaper journalism. It had the broadest First Amendment protection under the theory that we need an unfettered press to check government power, challenge authority, expose abuses and inform the public. This is more than theory. Solid newspaper reporting has uncovered financial scandal, unearthed hypocrisy and brought down university chancellors, governors, senators and even a president. Without the perspective of independent journalism, legal scholars reasoned, voter decision-making might be poor. Broadcast journalists have been relegated to a "second class" legal status under the model, even as television news emerged as a political force. It has often been the depth of newspaper journalism that was distinct.

So, the future of journalism question has implications for the future of democracy and freedom. Will newspaper and Internet freedoms merge to offer a vibrant brand of journalism? Or, will the shift to electronic media weaken the Fourth Estate?

At a June visit to Bloomberg's New York office, I was among a group of professors who saw its glass walls -- symbolic of the news agency's philosophy of transparency. We hear that word a lot these days. It is usually followed by words, such as engagement, brand and target market. However, one hour into our tour at Bloomberg, we were told that everything seen, heard, photographed and video recorded was "off the record." Transparency, apparently, is an internal organizational value and not for the public.

David Mathison of Be The Media believes we are in the midst of renaissance. Each of us has the power to produce and disseminate media messages. In such a world, what is the place for professional journalism? The future of journalism now seems destined to reside in a neighborhood that includes blogs, tweets, videos, slide shows, branding, marketing, data and technological innovation. It is both exciting and worrisome.

We'll explore these ideas during our Omaha 10-10-10 conference, October 9-11 at UNO and the Omaha Press Club. Some of the best minds will try to place change within context. In every time, people have found reasons to feel uneasy, while others see new opportunity.

Disconnecting cable TV and switching to the new "common medium"

It took some research and courage, but 2010 is the year we disconnected from traditional cable television service. While Cox Cable in Omaha remains our valued Internet Service Provider and land-line telephone provider, changing family media use made this possible. We continue to believe that Cox is a model cable company, but broadband Internet use now defines our household. It is this high-speed connection, or "common medium," that the government now says will define the decade.

News podcasts, weather updates and even some live sports are now offered on-demand and provide a direct challenge to the traditional broadcast model.

While Web-based services, such as Hulu and YouTube, offer more rich media than user time permits, the change also is being driven by our adoption of social media. We're sharing more media on facebook with our growing and vibrant online communities. We're connecting on twitter with communities of interest inside and outside of Omaha. We're even watching foursquare for its possibilities.

The Federal Communications Commission has pronounced that by the end of the decade, broadband will be "the common medium" for U.S. media users. The New York Times calls the FCC's plan for wide-scale adoption "ambitious," controversial among service providers and tied to the desire to repurpose broadcast spectrum for digital media use.

One way to recognize the change is to look at my iPhone screens. The first screen, much like the first punch button on an old car radio, demonstrates which content is most important to me.

It shows that twitter and facebook updates, The Weather Channel, stock quotes, news services and Internet radio now compete for my attention from my first cup of coffee in the morning to the time I reach for a bedtime snack. For example, the CNN iPhone app is simply more convenient and timely than waiting for news on cable. When news breaks, live video also is made available.

The most difficult break was to leave ESPN and SportsCenter behind. Currently, ESPN makes SportsCenter available through my phone only as audio on ESPN Radio. Cox, however, offers its Internet subscribers ESPN 360 on the Web. Here, multiple live and recorded games are available to me 24/7.

Additionally, the MLB season pass offers access to all Major League Baseball games live and on-demand, and an additional iPhone app feeds these to the mobile environment. All of this can be purchased at a fraction of the price for annual basic and bundled cable television. There, we did not have the choice to opt out of unused channels.

Cox is in the process of seeking its second renewal of the 15-year franchise, and I am told that they and the city are clinging to the old bundled cable television model. Cable companies have been slow to offer subscribers per channel rates, and regulators have failed to pressure them to switch. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that a decade from now media will be anything but unbundled, digital and mobile.

It is time for us to Think Mobile about our media and make decisions based upon new operating principles rather than tired and withering assumptions.


Craigslist founder and the urban newspaper myth

If "video killed the radio star," is craigslist killing U.S. newspapers by choking off valuable classified advertising revenues? Craig Newmark, founder of the popular listing site told David Mathison (at right with UNO students last week) of Be The Media that the claim has "become an urban myth."

Newmark's response was to my question on Mathison's new blogtalkradio call-in show, and you can hear the archived interview. About 39 minutes into the March 3 program, Mathison relays my emailed question: "Did you know you'd be so successful driving people away from newspaper classifieds and on to craigslist?"

"Well, I have to challenge the premise there," Newmark said. "I've spoken to a lot of newspaper editors and publishers who say that the extent of our effect on the newspaper business has been pretty exaggerated." It's at this point that Newmark adds, "It's become an urban myth."

For sure, craigslist is one of many factors impacting the revenue decline. Realtors, auto dealerships and other major newspaper advertisers have discovered the social media lesson. It is far cheaper and often more effective to market directly to customers through email, websites and other means.

"As for an effect, I mean the real effect," Newmark added in his soft voice, "I had no clue as to anything that was going to happen, no clue at all."

Newmark told Mathison that his "focus is basically customer service and generally serving our community." It's a model that Newmark has cutlivated for 15 years: "the deal is to figure out what needs to be done, do it, and then listen to the feedback and do more of it." If only our local newspapers had learned earlier to follow Newmark's lead, they would have been quicker to respond to change by listening to all of us.

Do more of what customer feedback says. "That's what I think about," Newmark said.

Mathison last week visited the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a talk that was sponsored by the School of Communication and the Omaha Press Club. Here are data supporting Newmark's comments.

March 3, 2010