Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Weblog Business Strategies 2003 XVII

Christopher Lydon: Live Blogging

Christopher Lydon is a radio host for WGBH and public radio international. He is the host of "The Whole Wide World," a wide-ranging radio conversation decoding the globalization of power, culture, and identity.

I've been in journalism since college. I worked through the '70s working for the New York Times covering politics. In the '80s I worked in public television. And in the '90s I worked on the smartest radio show called the Connection, What I want to talk about today is how to use blogs to create a new kind of conversation. I also want you to think of me as a low-tech Dave Winer. I'm Dave Winer without the brains and the money. But it's not the brains or the money that's most important about Dave. Dave is a student of the culture, and he's a relentless listener to democracy. He's tremendously distressed about it. I'm not an entrepreneur, I'm not a technologist. I'm a citizen. And I speak with a lot of misgivings about where we're at and how we talk to each other.

I talked to Dave about the perfect caller. First she called herself Crystal from Cambridge. Then it was Rose from Roslindale. Finally she settled on Amber from Boston. We always knew she was the same person and she took on all of our most powerful guests. I told our staff I wanted to find her. She made an enormous mark. Dave said that's the ideal blogger. I said that's the ideal caller. My mission in our new radio Internet blog incarnation is to give the Ambers of the world not just a place to vent but to speak her mind. She found on our program a place she could be as big as she was.

How do we decide on a blog live conversation with the human voice? I think that's desperately missing in Blogville. The vox humana is an extreme value add in this world. This world needs them in much greater volume, in a much more integrated space, and much more together.

Two general observations. One, I've been in media too damn long. I served for 10 years at the New York Times. This moment, the downfall of Howard Raines and Gerald Boyd is one of the tipping points of my life. Broadly, it's part of the failure of legitimacy and authority in this country. I don't worship the New York Times, but it is the best newspaper in this country. I think it's in total jeopardy. Like a lot of these defining moments and great events, we have no idea what the consequences will be, but it tells us where we've been. The collapse of the New York Times thing is the result of 15 years of electronic media gathering steam. If you were a martian coming to the United States and someone said have you got a problem in your media today, I would say hell yes!

Is it the fact that someone's calling in high? No. Is it unchecked editing? No. Is it affirmative action? No. We just had a war that was started without discussion and during which everything they told us was wrong. That to my mind is a genuine media crisis. We were not talking about what we were doing. This country doesn’t know shit about the world. The British knew about the world, Yet we're implicated way way way beyond our knowledge. To me, Jaysn Blair is a tiny little individual around which we've decided to thrash out the fact that we don’t believe what we hear any more.

There's also a problem around the New York Times, and that's the encroachment of electronic media. It was things like Jim Romenesko's media gossip Poynter page that kept the issue alive. It partook of a fundamental discovery we've all made that this is not the best way to share information about the world. When we can connect with a blogger in Iraq. When we can interact with someone in Chad or learn about what's really going on in Kashmere, we have many better ways than the New York Times to learn about the world. The New York Times doesn't want us to know this.

My dream pre-blog was to create a radio show where you had very few people. In Boston, every Pakistani is emailing home. Everyone from all over the place is in touch with what’s really happening all around the world. Get them involved in a radio show in which they bring in what they learn on the Web and broadcast it out on the radio as well as on the Web. It's a probing conversation about what's going on. What if we had blogger intelligence making its own New York Times every day? We could put together a two-hour radio show tomorrow that's just as interesting and just as relevant as the New York Times. The New York Times does not have a culture of candor. It never did. Another problem is this whole deregulation thing. I can't believe the brass of the FCC. They're basically saying that they're stacking the deck. This is a tipping point. We are being induced to shake off the phony authority of the old media. I wrote for the New York Times for 10 years and I misquoted people. I'm sorry about thatt. I've been misquoted in the New York Times. For people to be shocked by this now is a little amusing.

Lest you think I'm just a total Winer head or have totally fallen into Blog City, there are a lot of things I don't feel at home about yet. It's too techy for me. There's too much quoting and not enough writing. It's a little high-sticking, hip-shooting, knee-jerk stuff. There's also a lot of right-wing ideological response. They haven't even read what I wrote. I'm envious of the tech stuff. I wish I could understand it better. I go to Winer's thing every week, and I feel like a martian. I don't even know what RSS stands for.

The good thing about the blog world is that it's tremendously democratic. To Tony's credit, a blog and a superblog is totally differently. An ant, that's a blog. An ant colony, that's a superblog. It's wildly open to development. How do we aggregate that talent, that diversity of views, that energy, without sitting on it. How do we liberate it but also share it? We're in the process of designing in a university setting a radio program that would draw on blog smarts. How should we define ourselves? What's the subject of the conversation? What time of day would get the bloggers' attention? Will the techies listen when the poets are talking? Will the poets listen when the techies are talking?

The Connection was about everything. That was its glory. We did books. We did music. People called. It was a program of absolutely unrestricted range of subject. It had high enthusiasm. It had what I came to understand was an Emersonian dimension. 150 years later, we've still got the din of mourners and polemicists in our world.

How do you make it purely international? I want our new program to do something about the awful alienation in this country. We are now a global culture. SARS, poverty, medicine, security, the habitat, the Internet, everything we find interesting relates to every place right now. But the Bush administration is trying to get everybody in the world back behind the police line. We need to treat everyone as though we're part of the same mind, same species, same desires. Let's operate in a one world dimension.

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