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.

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