May 8, 2012

A Gutenberg Moment for Broadcasting?

The "Ignorant Mob" now has a 10 Person Satellite Truck

Google announced on May 7th, it's giving people around the world the ability to go live on YouTube via G+ "Hangouts On Air".  While this is great news for citizen journalists, it has some traditional TV types scratching their heads.  If more people worldwide have the ability to broadcast, doesn't that weaken the power of traditional broadcasters?  Depends on whether you think people with call letters are the only ones capable of doing heavy news lifting.  I do not.

Hangout OnAir during Montreal Demonstration

Google Plus Hangouts On Air allow people to stream live on YouTube a 10 person video chat.  After the broadcast ends, that clip is automatically uploaded to YouTube for sharing.  No Ustream account or recording software needed.  The Hangout On Air also tells the host how many people are watching the live Hangout broadcast.

In his book, "Reinventing Local Media: Ideas for Thriving in a Post Modern World Volume II", +Terry Heaton and others have called empowerment of the broadcast masses  a new "Gutenberg moment", a reference to the 1440's when Johannes Gutenberg first used the printing press.

"The new Gutenberg moment, however, is taking culture beyond even that, because knowledge that was once protected is now available to every day people.  And so the grand narrative of the press that assumes an ignorant public runs smack into the horizontal connectivity of the World Wide Web and the explosion of heretofore protected knowledge that it contains.  Perhaps this ignorant mob isn't so ignorant after all, and that has staggering ramifications for the press of tomorrow."--Terry Heaton

Psssst.  Press of Tomorrow....that "ignorant mob" has a free 10 person satellite truck.

Jean Francois Desmarais Reports Live from Montreal
This week's announcement of  G+ Hangouts On Air worldwide means everyone (in most countries) will have the ability to bring 10 different perspectives to a breaking news situation.  A Google Plus Hangout provides 9 thumbnails for guests and 1 for the host to provide multiple views of a riot, fire or concert.  We used a Hangout with +Jean Francois Desmarais last weekend to bring live coverage of the Montreal demonstrations.  Inside that Hangout, Canadian viewers asked questions about what they were seeing.  I hosted the Hangout from my kitchen in Columbia, MO.  No broadcast studio required.  Viewers now have their own broadcast tower in the middle of a crowd sourcing tool.  Expect to see Hangouts On Air used in the future for coverage of the Arab and American Springs.  Live tweeting from a breaking news event still has value in immediacy but "live hanging" on Google Plus brings an added layer of group video chat.  (If you have a better, less lethal term than "live hanging", I'd love to hear it).

Hangout technology is already transforming how newsrooms do live news coverage because it punches through the TV glass and enables the viewers to ask real time questions about what they're seeing.  For some newsrooms, this will scare the heck out of managers.  A viewer ask a question during a breaking news event on live TV? What if they say the "F" word?  That's why newsies need to start now building a large circle of vetted viewers who won't give their stations an FCC violation.  It involves hosting your own hangouts and actually talking (gasp!) to the public.  My "FCC approved" circle is about 4000 from about nearly every country on the globe.  If we're smart, we'll encourage this kind of viewer interaction during a live broadcast.  If we're not, we'll continue to sink in the quicksand of irrelevancy. h/t +Matt Markovich  Viewers don't just want the facts, mam.  Some viewers want a forum to talk about it.  "This doesn't kill the traditional broadcast journalist but it better be a huge warning to the industry that times are changing," said Jen Reeves, Media Development Director at KOMU-TV, my employer and NBC affiliate in Columbia, MO.

With this week's announcement, traditional broadcasters have a unique opportunity to tap into millions of viewer satellite trucks via Hangouts.  If you're not building your circles, you're limiting the scope of your station's live news coverage.  You have to find these satellite truck operators.  You need to join their Hangouts.  You need to invite them to yours.  Any broadcaster who wants to survive in a Post Modern world has to see the traditional journalist as the right hand and the citizen journalist as the left hand.  We cannot continue to kid ourselves that we can do the news heavy lifting ourselves.  We need both hands... and now both of them come equipped with their own 10 person satellite truck.