Loren Omoto

Innovator, Strategist, Educator


Voices, heard and unheard

This is a different kind of post, reflecting on familiar topics. It’s about a “tough week for journalism,” as one of my Facebook friends puts it.

We’ve lost a giant in Bob Simon. His reporting was unfailingly even, incisive and interpretive without falling into subjectivity. He spanned the divide between broadcast dominance and digital disruption. While not always flashiest in phraseology, his voice was distinctive. You knew it was Bob the minute you heard him – and strapped in for an engaging ride.

The adenoidal not-quite-a-sneer of Brian Williams has been silenced, for a while at least. It’s become fashionable to pile on Williams but I won’t do that (except for that crack about his voice): He was the most-watched anchor on network television, which counts for a lot less than it used to but still isn’t chopped liver. His voice was muted through his own actions. It’s conceivable that he will find it again, but I doubt it will be in the same venue (cf. Dan Rather). Maybe that’s for the best.

Jon Stewart is still holding forth, deploying his barely modulated tones to skewer hypocrisy and screw-ups wherever they are found (including the aforementioned Mr. Williams). His voice may reach more people “in the demo” than any of the others; he undoubtedly has created more interest in events of the day. Thank goodness we’ll be hearing him for some indeterminate time to come.

Which brings me to David Carr. On the one hand, he derived his fame from the subjects he covered: Williams, Stewart, Murdoch and other media figures of our time. But he also delivered observations, criticism and correction in a voice that was all his own.

As a media manager in the Twin Cities during the time that Carr was writing about the media scene for the local alt-weekly, his column was a must-read for me. Occasionally, he skewered my operation, but never unfairly. Although I sometimes disagreed with his point of view (as I did with some recent analyses of digital trends), he talked to all the right people and accurately reflected criticisms and conversations in the community. His presence made us better broadcasters and raised the bar for other media writers.

Now, Carr’s voice has been silenced – at an unexpectedly early age. I will miss his contributions to the dynamic, public conversation about where we’re going as an industry and a culture. Most of all, his willingness to engage and entertain contrasting views seems to be in short supply among other pundits. The experiments will continue. Analyses and second-guessing will continue, too. The voices will change, but the echo of Carr’s words will still be heard.


How super was it, anyway?

I’m not sure where Monday morning quarterbacks got such a bad name. Still, it is the Monday after The Big Game and Seattle’s quarterbacking (and coaching) could stand some scrutiny.

Like everything else in 2015, the game will be analyzed, chewed up, and digested on social media. In fact, the new standard for judging how big a deal “X” was seems to be the amount of social buzz it generated. It reminds me of using the specious metric of “hits” to allegedly measure the mindshare of stories about “X.”

One problem with such indices is that they’re mostly viewed in isolation. We have no universal barometer for social impact. Especially with social media, knowing the context and sentiment of the message is important.

Those 265 million Facebook interactions about the Super Bowl: Were they positive, negative, weirded out (Katy Perry, I’m looking at you), or completely irrelevant, like crowing that you found a great parking spot at the supermarket because everyone was home watching the game?

Tweets are fun for quick pulse-takings on big events (or making visualizations like the one atop this post), but not indicative of much more than a topic poking its head above the noise floor of the Twitterverse. As I write this, some Big Bowl tags are still trending, but so is #GroundhogDay (more winter for your Pennsylvanians, by the way).

Instead of focusing on the actions, maybe we should look at reactions. Examine engagement, as demonstrated by the content of the messages and the duration of interest. This means adding the additional perspective of time – as in this chart of Latin American social media activity:


Source: ComScore

This points out another issue with focusing exclusively on quantity: The whole world rarely thinks alike. While Sunday was all nachos and pigskin in the U.S., the World Cup still owns the crown for most tweets.

The game has come and gone, but we’re still talking about Super Bowl commercials (and seeing them, over and over). A year from now, will you remember the joy/heartbreak of that goal-line interception, or the punch line from an ad that has worked its way into your long-term memory? That may be the true impact of this event.


Cutting cords, taking control


kendrick via Compfight cc

With one of the biggest real-time TV events of the year looming, I’ve been interested in how people might experience The Big Game without actually watching it on TV, in real time. For anything short of synchronous TV events, the options are multiplying.

This isn’t just a case of media companies eating their young in a panicked rush to be first into the technological deep end. Rather, it reflects the reality of assuring that you have an audience in the years to come.

This chart caught my eye:

Source: http://digiday.com/platforms/splintering-tv-consumption-landscape-5-charts/

The differences between the millennials and their elders (like me) are stark. The data reflect what I see every day with college undergraduates: They are watching tons of TV, but not on that box in the living room.

Many of my students are cord-cutters, although that term doesn’t really apply: they never had cords to cut. As with music, information, and software, they don’t see the sense in paying for something they can get for free, via persistent digital connection.

In some grand karmic return orbit, present and future TV viewers now believe that video entertainment should be free, like the air. Hmmm…wasn’t that how it all began, before the Comcasting of America?

Some have found cordless nirvana in digital broadcasting. I was pleasantly surprised at how many channels were available with the cheapest antenna I could find. But not everyone lives within the coverage contour of terrestrial stations.

As for the game, NBC has announced it plans to stream most of the day’s programming online from noon until after the follow-on episode of “Blacklist.” That’s a serious commitment to audiences that are not, directly, enriching any NBC affiliates. But it’s where content needs to be, if it wants to be relevant to audiences in the future.


Radical disruption or the new normal?


Hank Green (on the left) is a flag bearer for Nerdfighteria. He’s also intelligent, funny, and – with his brother, John (on the right) – one of the most-watched vloggers on YouTube.

This latter role is what helped land him a spot interviewing the President after the 2015 State of the Union address. Live. At the White House.

Outrage ensued.

Some of this was predictable: self-appointed guardians of American dignity railing against the usurper in office. Most of the criticism, however, came from our reliable friends in mainstream media, reacting to upstarts that don’t even use terms like “mainstream media.”

As in so many professions, the media world no longer can be neatly divided into elites and disrupters. One big reason is the changing nature of the audience.

I see it in undergraduate students every day: Well informed, civic-minded Americans acquiring information about the world from media and sources they trust.

Those sources have real people’s names – like Hank Green – not three-letter acronyms. They speak from the heart, with passion and transparency. Most of all, they maintain an objective authenticity that allows them to say revealing, natural things like “I don’t know” and “I feel” while delivering their message.

Green’s essay about fallout from his White House sojourn begins with a headline that includes language not commonly seen in the New York Times. As well it should. The approach is charmingly, authentically true to the enthusiasm of Green’s on-screen persona.

Granted, vloggers are performers. As is everyone else on screen, whether intentionally “acting” or not.

Jean Giraudoux wrote: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” The bon mot has become holy writ for generations of broadcasters and their consultants. It’s possible that Green and his peers are shrewd manipulators of their naïve fans – but I doubt that is the case.

Instead, I see nerdfighteria and other followings that have emerged around “YouTube celebrities” (more dismissive, MSM terminology) as true communities. They share a passion, a culture, and communicate frequently – using media and devices that keep in touch, 24/7.

This is what scares mainstream media. A history of differentiating themselves with diffident, bloodless reporting (or full-throated, partisan bellowing of recent years) has left them with audiences composed primarily of the old, the bored, and the unreasonable.

Where are the younger readers/viewers/doers? Who is informing them? More and more, it is authentic, transparent voices like Vlogbrothers, The Young Turks and SourceFed.

If those names are unfamiliar, you should be watching more YouTube.


The next big thing(s)

Elephants by decafinata, on Flickr

I love the idea of publishing in multiple forms. Not just as insurance for the Zombie Apocalypse, but also for future-proofing. As the author of this blog post states, with certainty: “Something else is going to come along.”

Having witnessed an industry frantically try to reinvent itself over the past 15 years, I can identify with the search for secret sauce that magically leads us to the future. As Karen McGrane so eloquently explains, it ain’t gonna happen.

Meantime, I share her enthusiasm for wearable technology. Not just for fitness and fatness measurements – that’s early-adopter stuff. I’ve been thinking about possibilities for wearable tech as a content channel.

Not only are these devices connected, but they’re persistently, insistently attached to the owner’s body. This is a step beyond 24/7 “social presence.” It’s more like a direct line to the organism.

What are some implications for content producers? You may no longer need to consider attracting audience in traditional ways, but instead must focus intently on value.

In a world where everyone (or large portions of desirable demographic groups) is wired all the time, what will it take to rise above the noise level? More to the point, how to you avoid the left-swipe into permanent oblivion? The answer is to devote as much energy to user incentive as to your own intent.

Obvious questions about screen size and audio quality notwithstanding, optimizing content for a wearable device will require special skills and exceptional focus. Until we’re all sporting Google Glass or some other flavor of heads-up display, content consumption will be characterized by winnowing – separating info-wheat from the chaff.

For creators, that means being better editors, curators, and selectors. It means putting the interests of your audience first. And it means understanding their lives more deeply than before.

Instead of just being the loudest voice in the room, successful communicators will be the most valuable, empathetic, and rewarding. Are you ready for the challenge?


I read the news today, oh boy…


Today, I read news coverage about Martin Luther King Day observances…from Pago Pago. MLK Day was the top story on the Samoa News website.

How did I wind up there? I traveled to the South Pacific via a simple, but effective mashup called Newspaper Map. The web interface is pictured above; a mobile-friendly version seamlessly appears if you hit the site URL using a small-scale browser.

On one level, Newspaper Map is nothing new. User-generated mashups with generic Google Maps icons have been around for nearly eight years. But the added functionality on this site makes it more than a novelty.

To start with, newspapers are color-coded by native language. Should you want to explore beyond the yellow (English) markers, instant translation links (via Google Translate) are available. As anyone familiar with that tool is aware, the translations are rough and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, but the meaning usually comes through.

There’s even a gateway to newspapers of the past – like a time machine – although it doesn’t use the graphical interface or popover navigation. Still, it’s a charming wrinkle and a tempting time waster.

The Swedish company behind Newspaper Map says its mission is to make things for the web – “cool, useful, fast, modern, interactive, intuitive, cross-device and cross-browser compatible, etc.” This simple demonstration succeeds on all counts. And it makes me wonder about what’s coming with the “etc.”


Mapping minds and Captivate creations

Having developed proficiency with Adobe Captivate, I’ve been wondering about different ways to use interactive multimedia modules created by the program. One answer to that question has arrived in the form of a promotional blog post from Adobe.

The post concerns a company using Captivate to demonstrate mind-mapping software. The module is embedded on the company website, where it functions like any other interactive.

Seeing this integrated use of Captivate has me thinking about online uses of modules for learning — or interactive marketing. Another blog post shows a method of doing this, even without dedicated server space.

Either way, I’m eager to try something new with Captivate. Suggestions? Ideas?


Unclear on the concept?


Yes, we focus on mastering what we do. Because it’s our life’s work.

But it’s a little jarring to see this character in his sweater, sleeves, and tie staring back from the Evernote login page.

Don’t get me wrong: Evernote is a terrific service, getting better every day. But equating a web-based clipping and storage app with my life’s work — the goal of mastery — does a disservice to the vocabulary and cheapens the nobility and profundity of the concept.

Life’s work should be about dedication, grit, drive, and passion. Not about shortcuts to save links to web stories you may or may not look at again.

I know: I’ve cheapened Evernote with my broad generalization — but turnabout is fair play.


Is that really what you meant to say?

There are some pretty funny examples in this blog post, mostly from the media world. Behind it all, the author makes a serious point:

Consequences of thinking about content after the design process is completed can be pretty embarrassing. Content-first design is where it’s at.

For all designers, the task of creating a color palette, layout, interactivity, multimedia, etc., can seem to be most important. Even overwhelming. But it shouldn’t be our top priority.

We need to think about content first. As the original writer points out, doing otherwise is like creating the container before you know what’s going to go into it.