Exploding the limits of linear media

As I wrote in my last post, one of the things that we realise on the BBC World Service radio programme that I work on is that we’re joining a global conversation that is already going on in a million ways, virtual and real.

Of course, one of the ways we try to take part in that conversation is through weblogs. For instance, recently, we discussed Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the US. We asked whether the world had something to fear in China.

We invited Dan Harris of the China law blog on the programme. After it finished, he had this to say about the programme:

Just finished my show on the BBC and found it both interesting and frustrating.

Dan went on to explain his views in a way that he thought that he couldn’t on the programme. He’s not the first blogger that we’ve had on the programme who felt frustrated by the format. As a matter of fact, Fons Tuinstra, an internet entrepreneur and China consultant, who has been on the programme said this in a comment on Dan’s blog:

At least you have a weblog where you can make your point. I have been a few times in the program and I found it an interesting chaos. It tries to focus on easy to consume tidbits without trying to really make a point.

From this and other comments, I sense that the bloggers we have on the programme sometimes feel constrained. Many in the Mainstream Media fail to realise that some of our audience now live and communicate in a world where they control the terms the debate, not us in the MSM, so I think that bloggers find it a bit jarring when they are suddenly pulled back into the old world of broadcast media where they have to cede some of their new found freedom.

Secondly, blogging is nonlinear, like many things on the internet. On radio, we have an hour for the discussion. It’s linear. The world of broadcast is also one of scarcity. Scarcity of spectrum. Scarcity of time. That is not to say that the age of broadcast is over – the BBC radio signal reaches places far beyond the reach of the internet.

What happens when you wed the nonlinear, interactive, many-to-many networked power of the internet and mobile phone networks with the global reach of radio? I don’t know yet. We have a lot of work to do to bridge the worlds of the internet, the mobile phone and the radio – especially the internet. But the glimpses of what could be keep me going, keep me pushing those boundaries between media.

I believe that the limits, the constraints, the shortcomings of what bloggers feel when they come on the radio could be exploded if we break down some of these barriers between media. I’ve been trying to do that, to create a new media for 10 years now. I thought we would be further along than we are, but the dot.com bubble and crash came along: The bubble gave us a lot of hyperactive, hyper-funded ‘me-too-ism’; then came the Crash, which destroyed many people’s faith in the Internet. I used to think it was all bad, but from the ashes of the crash came a return to the Net’s grassroots: Social software and social media.

But now I’m straying into the territory of the next post: Social Media Me-too-ism. Suw and I will have a lot to say about that this week. Watch this space.

UPDATE: Dan left a comment and said he wasn’t frustrated by the being cut off by a higher authority. As an attorney, he said: “Please remember I am an attorney, so I am very much used to being cut off by a higher force: the Judge.”

That reminded me that was another more nuanced point I was going to make but forgot. For this, I’ll blame Suw. She was watching Doctor Who on here iBook while I was trying to write this.

The more nuanced point I was going to make was about nuance. There are limits to what we can pack into an hour, and I think Mike’s comment below about too many voices is spot on. It’s a fine balance. We want to include as many voices, as many points of view as possible, but too many voices becomes a cacophony of unexplored threads of thought. This is the limitation of linear media and where the internet can fill in the gaps.

Both in audio, video and text, we can explore more ideas in much richer depth than we ever could in one hour of radio. And as I’m seeing, the conversation that begins on air spins out in a million directions over weeks. We’re still receiving comments on discussions that we had in early April. Hopefully, as we plug into the online communities better, this conversation will deepen. And I’m enjoying the challenge of building bridges between the world of the internet and the world of radio.

And I’m also enjoying this conversation about this process. As a matter of fact, without this conversation, it would be a much more difficult and lonely job.

5 thoughts on “Exploding the limits of linear media

  1. I completely agree with you on the global conversation aspects of the media and the show, but I disagree somewhat regarding the source of my frustration. Please remember I am an attorney, so I am very much used to being cut off by a higher force: the Judge. What I found frustrating on the show was not getting cut off, it was not knowing when to intervene. There were five or six of us who started out on the show and it seemed someone new would join us every 5-10 minutes. The problem was that I was connected by telephone and I’m guessing everyone else was as well. Without being able to see people, it was very difficult to know when someone else was about to talk. Many times I would start to talk and someone else would speak so I would stop. Other times I talked over someone else. It was this aspect I found frustrating, but I have no solution for it. I actually thought the host did an amazing job of moving the discussion along by asking great questions.

  2. I think there are two issues here. Firstly, there may be a problem with the format of this show. Yes, it is good to be ambitious, but too many voices means less time to develop arguments and you run the risk of descending into anarchy as everyone tries to have their say. Secondly, though, whatever the show, the conversation does not have to end when the curtain comes down. There are arguments that need to be expanded and views that have not been tapped. Blogs offer the people that really matter – the audience – a chance to interact spontaneouly and join the debate. And as Kevin suggests, this is just the beginning!

  3. One of the problems I have with bloggers complaining about ‘big media’ is that they simply don’t appreciate the enormous amount of skilled labour that goes into writing a good article or producing a good programme. Because most blogging is still on a level with punk fanzines (don’t get me wrong, I like fanzines), there is a sense that you can simply go ahead and publish ‘good stuff people want to read’ in 30 seconds. The fact is, most people don’t want to read that stuff. They want to read well-edited, balanced, reasonable material, not self-opinionated rants.

    Many bloggers, when don’t get to do their rant-spiel in the MSM, complain about ‘old fashioned media’. Why not reflect a little on how the rest of the world consumes media, which is to say with an appreciation of the quality found in ‘old fashioned media’?

  4. Can you define “nonlinear” in this context?

  5. Sorry for the delay in responding to some good comments. I was busy both broadcasting from WeMedia last week while also trying to keep Suw from grabbing the first media executive she could find and giving them a piece of her mind. Instead she wrote a killer blog post. Much more effective.
    Pedestrian Scribbler, I know how much time it takes to write a piece, edit a radio interview or package and, even more time consuming, to shoot, edit and voice a TV package. It takes time and skill.
    However, I would argue that you’re making the same mistake that a lot of folks at WeMedia made in painting blogs with too broad a brush. There are a lot of blogs out there written with a great amount of intelligence, knowledge and craft. There is also a lot of dross.
    In the multichannel world of cable TV, I would argue that it’s getting increasingly difficult to find good content.
    And 24 hour cable news channels? Come on. Really, we in the mainstream media don’t have the resources to fill that huge newshole with quality news content. At best, you get a few good packages in heavy rotation. At worst, you get a lot of shite. And one some Cable News Networks, I can’t tell the adverts from the news.
    I find a lot of arguments about quality trotted out by those of us in the mainstream media to be self-serving. They don’t acknowledge the constraints we’re under. And again, it sets up this false us v. them dichotomy with participatory media that really isn’t all that productive.
    I think increasingly the issue becomes how too find quality content either on air or online. And really I find the internet and social recommendation systems that are developing more effective than electronic program guides. That’s another thread for another post.
    AE. What do I mean by non-linear? Linear is analogue radio or TV. Linear is constrained by time. Nonlinear may not be the correct idea here, but online, we’re not constrained by time. Maybe there is a better term.
    Thanks for the comments.

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