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Journalism In Ferguson or Just One Big Selfie?


The movie camera has always been the boogeyman of authority. In Vietnam, color movie cameras were used – the film was shot, shipped, processed and telecined for broadcast on nightly news programs. This first television war with action shot by photojournalists in the field, specifically in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, was a strong influence on the American public’s perspective of the conflict. When cable TV in the home was popularized in the 1980’s, video broadcast technology was ready with 24-hour news channels that relentlessly covered conflict around the globe via satellite. This CNN effect became the new normal for how we expect to watch war, conflict and unrest.

Technology of the new century has given us in miniature a movie camera and a world wide publishing network not of broadcast journalists, but of individuals. This movie platform is so quick it’s viral. Anyone with modest means can live stream (broadcast) what is happening in front of them to the rest of the world. It sounds earth shattering and it very much is. Beginning in 2010 during the Arab Spring we saw the impact of this through the lens of people closest to the conflict. But now I feel a new twist to citizen journalism since the Arab Spring that we may have seen take shape during the Occupy Movement of 2011. The camera has turned back to look at us. This selfie generation is really only a few years old and it’s network effect is seen worldwide. If broadcast photojournalism was selfless, is internet journalism the news selfie?

Monday night (8/18/2014) I watched a two live streams from Ferguson by KARG Argus Radio and the other by Tim Pool (@Timcast) of Vice News. Most of what I remember from KARG’s “I am Mike Brown Live from Ferguson, MO” was two guys driving around for hours trying to get directions on how to get to the designated media area. Perhaps I missed the important parts that took place outside the car. The latter from @Timcast was representative of what I believe is selfie journalism. This is not a direct critique of Tim and his work, but more a reflection on what I’m seeing as the journalist becomes the subject of the story. It’s not a brand new thing – Geraldo Rivera’s work from the 1970’s is an example – but the trend appears to be amplified by the immediacy of the platform.

If the tendency in each of us is to turn the camera inward to capture the mundane and important events of our lives, if that’s now in our DNA, then it stands to reason that both professional and citizen journalists are adopting this reporting style. Like getting a phone call from a friend on vacation who wants to tell you about the amusement park ride she just enjoyed, the movie camera is now just a subset of the communication device which conveys the storytelling of the person who is there. Camera’s are no longer the important cold lens of truth that they once were.

Since Monday, some journalists have been arrested and the police in Ferguson have suggested that they are part of the problem because protesters would tend to “act out” for the camera. If journalists seem eager to insert themselves and become part of the story, does this change the narrative of what’s happening on the ground? Would a focus on editorial, aggregating footage from cameras of the subjects of the story be a better alternative? What is the value and role of the journalist?

Here are some time coded samples with notes from @Timcast for you to consider:

http://youtu.be/CmqHVKNZkhM?t=2h30m Good place to start @Timcast on camera

http://youtu.be/CmqHVKNZkhM?t=2h40m Shots fired and police fire teargas

http://youtu.be/CmqHVKNZkhM?t=2h46m Shots are fired over the heads of the journalists

http://youtu.be/CmqHVKNZkhM?t=2h48m22s Journalists are down on the ground

http://youtu.be/CmqHVKNZkhM?t=2h52m @Timcast back on camera, talks about what just happened

http://youtu.be/CmqHVKNZkhM?t=2h54m40s He finally interviews someone! This woman lives in the area of the riots and talks about what has been happening between residents and the police. I think this was the most important part of the video and we get a valuable perspective.

http://youtu.be/CmqHVKNZkhM?t=3h30m Later @Timcast has an infamous run-in with the police about press credentials. It looks like a tense situation and seems that the cops wanted media out of the line of fire.

advertising, Featured, gaming, Media, social media, Uncategorized, video, XOXO Festival

The Pull of Minecraft

I’ve always been involved in some form of media making since I was in grade school picking apart/repairing cassette tape recorders, so get off my lawn. Specifically, outliers and mainstreamers that insist on coming up with newfangled media taxonomy every few years, primarily to define digital media and the Internet. One of my ‘favorites’ has been Transmedia which I’ve felt has been over-hyped and inconsistently defined. I’ve heard people stammer when I’ve asked them to tell me exactly what it is. Even Wikipedia and one of the key proponents of transmedia Henry Jenkins, appear to differ on the definition. It seems to me it has never adequately defined anything really new as Disney could be seen as a transmedia storyteller par excellence before the internet even existed. The problem these folks have is defining the unique little flower that transmedia is, and not to confuse it with cross-platform storytelling. Transmedia is a push the story and audience to the media platform exercise with either positive or negative results (Jenkins: “… are dispersed systematically across multiple media platforms…”). And let’s face it, it’s a marketing strategy to get paid more for telling a story in multiple places. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re successful. If you create characters, back stories and story arcs that are compelling enough to bring an audience to additional media platforms then good for you, but there’s nothing new here. Marvel, Lucas, DC, Dark Horse, Roddenberry have been doing this for years, well before the 1991 invention of the term transmedia. It’s just cross-platform storytelling.

Why am I bringing this all up now? Partly because the transmedia folks will mention interactivity among the storytellers and audience, though this seems lacking in the formal definition. Marketing proponents push to the platforms and have even fought their audiences from time to time, sometimes by declaring full creative ownership or even copyright infringement control over their fans. I think that violates the original intent of transmedia. I think transmedia should be wholly redefined from what it currently is: pushing a story to multiple media platforms, to the better definition of pulling fans to media platforms for the purpose of sharing the storytelling experience.


Enter Minecraft. This amazingly popular indie game released in 2011 after 2 years of alpha/beta development that I became aware of during a presentation at the XOXO festival last year by Portland’s 2 Player Productions who created a beautiful documentary about it: “Minecraft: The Story of Mojang”. And then around the holidays my tween daughter began to enthusiastically play the mobile version, watch YouTube videos and talk to her friends about it. What did I discover?

Minecraft is different. It’s a game with an audience. It’s an open ended game- you can do what you want, which is a key to it’s popularity. Participants create worlds, characters, stories and challenges to their heart’s content. They create elaborate scenarios- dare to call them stories on their own. This personal walled garden of storytelling between the participant and their device of choice (PC, game console or mobile) is by default not a shared experience. The shared experience comes when Minecrafters make videos (mini movies if you will) exploring their creation to share with an audience on YouTube. There’s no push to YouTube as a platform, rather it’s a natural choice to share what was created in the Minecraft game world. Like evolution taught us, pick the best tool for the job and the job at hand is to share my creation in Minecraft, and the best tool is a YouTube video. Because this is a purely creative endeavor, the YouTube video is the perfect platform to share the experience of your creation without actually being there. Think about composing and performing music. Because space and time won’t allow me to sit and listen to Bird perform his music for me live, I can purchase a recording that I’ll enjoy without actually being there. Or perhaps it’s the artist who shares a photograph of her painting on Facebook. A large part of the history of recorded media is about encouraging new fans to an alternate creation of the work.


Minecraft videos are very popular on YouTube. They spark interest in people who don’t even play Minecraft because these presentations tell a story of creation, survival, exploration and discovery. They can be engrossing if you take the time to watch a few choice videos. They even have their own creative style: typically hosted by one or two presenters either showing off an original creation or exploring a world created by someone else and downloaded as maps or mods. This is a feedback loop in it’s purest sense of creating game play and passively viewing that story. That’s a natural call-to-action that inspires to create and share more in Minecraft. The sharp growth in new videos posted and purchases of the game should be a marketers dream…

And this all takes place on the media platforms that transmedia pundits have been babbling about for years: digital video and games. Advertisers should be salivating as creative agencies have been striving for years to crack this duopoly of mediums in the hopes of getting twice the audience and theoretically, twice the payout. But the natural tendencies of this symbiotic relationship between interactive game and passive viewing experience were baked into this product from the start. Minecraft itself was created as a space to build. More options, fewer rules, open to modification- this starts to look less like a game as we’ve come to know them and a little more like those silly virtual worlds like Second Life that we would all be immersed in by now. We’re not of course because those worlds are just as advertised, a second life not really well integrated into our first life, the one we already barely have time for. A game field with open play, come as you can, build as you can, share when you can, integrates very well into our day to day first life just like building a project in Legos (an obvious Minecraft inspiration).

So how do we monetize it? That’s the question everybody want’s to answer, right? Well let me tell you something right now, you can’t. Period. Move along. You may think you can: hey, how about targeted in game ads? Nope! Lower thirds? Nope! Pre and Post rolls? Nope! You may see these in videos and game play and whether they’ll be effective or not for the ad platforms that use them, they won’t be for you. Game over. Why? because they interrupt the open feedback loop. They put unwanted graffiti on a special place created by someone who wanted to share it. It’s within our nature to be creative but we also must be able to trust ourselves and the audience in order to have the confidence to share what we’ve made. Invasive advertising breaks that trust by cheapening the platform.

So begin with the idea that you can’t monetize this at all, at least not in the ways you’re familiar with. Then look at the success of it, the millions of viewers and almost 10 million paid downloads of the game. What does that tell us about successful campaigns or content? Are you the one to shoehorn a story across media platforms in order to push your audience there, or would you rather ride the natural pull and symbiotic feedback loop between platforms? The key I think is allowing your fans to build the world, the message, the campaign, the story, in an unrestricted and natural way using the media tools they’re familiar with.

Simply put: Don’t push. Let them pull.