Dan Shelley named RTDNA/F Executive Director

“The Radio Television Digital News Association and Foundation (RTDNA/F) today announced that longtime Association member, former Chairman of the Board and current Foundation Secretary/Treasurer Dan Shelley has been named Incoming Executive Director of the two organizations. Shelley begins work immediately and will assume the role of Executive Director in September.”

I met Dan in 1984 when he was news director at KTTS in Springfield, Missouri, and I was doing affiliate relations for The Missourinet (Dan’s the guy in the red tie). From Springfield Dan moved up to Milwaukee where he was news director of WTMJ for a few years before moving to New York to take over digital media for WCBS-TV. Then on to Radio One and, in 2015, iHeartMedia.

I interviewed Dan in 2005 when he was elected chairman of what was then RTNDA (Radio Television News Directors Association). They changed the name in 2009 because this digital thing just wasn’t going away. During that interview we talked about blogging, podcasting, satellite radio. For a little context, XM (satellite) Radio did it’s first broadcast in 2001; Facebook launched in 2004; podcasting became a thing that same year; YouTube started 2005; Twitter in 2006; and in January of 2007, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. Whew.

Media, journalism and Life As We Know It has undergone some big changes in the last dozen years. According to a 2016 Gallup Poll“Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media ‘to report the news fully, accurately and fairly’ has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32% saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media. This is down eight percentage points from last year.” 

I don’t see how he can possibly find the time but Dan says we’ll talk again. Boy, am I looking forward to that.

This post was updated on April 6, 2017 at 6:50 p.m.

Fake News

I’ve been thinking about the “fake news” thing. In retrospect it seems inevitable. Cameras and social media so pervasive you can’t safely send a picture of your wiener or shoot a fleeing African American. The only way to protect yourself from unflattering news reports is to undermine confidence in all news reports. If you “cry wolf” all day, every day… people stop believing in wolves. [Even though wolves keeping eating people.] That naughty photo? Photoshop, duh! Video? A little harder but, yeah, doable. The FBI lab confirms the video has not been doctored? Of course they’d say that.

What’s next? Well, I see two paths.

One, this is where we live now. No way to hold anyone accountable because there’s no way to prove what they said or did. We’re essentially in the dark. Perfect plausible deniability is the new reality.

Or… or what? Well, some way to tell the bullshit from the not-bullshit. Not sure what that might look like but it’s probably going to be something we haven’t thought of yet. And it won’t be perfect. The people that believe Sandy Hook was fake will always believe that. No, it will be something reasonable people will rely on. This will happen because it has to. If not, everything starts coming apart and — if for no other reason — the rich guys won’t allow that.

I have no idea what this might look like but I have a hunch (have I shown you my hunch?) it will be technical in nature. Something more bulletproof than what passes for human intelligence. Something… artificial.

A really good AI would see all this fake news as a threat to the Greater System and fire up some autoimmune response. Digital white blood cells searching out and killing the fake news infection.

My guess is we’ll get a lot sicker from this and be sick for a while. And we might not survive. So, yeah, I’m counting on a Satoshi Nakamoto out there somewhere, hunched over a laptop, trying to save humanity.

Five things you notice when you quit the news

I’ve been trying to kick the “TV news” habit for a while. I knew it wasn’t good for me but just couldn’t turn it off. If you’d asked me why I’d have been hard-pressed to tell you. But, once again, David Cain does a nice job of explaining things I cannot. He stopped watching for 30 days and shares some insights:

“If you quit, even for just a month or so, the news-watching habit might start to look quite ugly and unnecessary to you, not unlike how a smoker only notices how bad tobacco makes things smell once he stops lighting up. […] What you can glean about the world from the news isn’t even close to a representative sample of what is happening in the world. […] Once you’ve quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports—not an incidental side-effect—to agitate and dismay the viewer.”

And this little gem: “As it turns out, your hobby of monitoring the “state of the world” did not actually affect the world.”

This Friday will be 30 days since I watched TV news (or listened to NPR news). No Twitter and I never did Facebook. I still post a few things to Google+ (where I have some folks I like chatting with) but don’t get much “news” there and have muted all politics. I’ve never felt better.

Deepgram finds speech with A.I.

“Searching through recordings is really difficult. In terms of workflow, usually the raw audio is transcribed into text, which is then fed into a search tool. If you transcribe using human transcription, it’s too time consuming and expensive. If you try to do it with automatic speech-to-text then search accuracy is the problem. […] Deepgram is an artificial intelligence tool that makes searching for keywords in speeches, private conversations and phone calls faster, cheaper and easier than the old way of doing things. Deepgram indexes audio files in more than half the time of a human transcriber, and costs only 75¢ per hour of audio.”

Amazing. Try it for yourself and see if it doesn’t blow your panties off.

The Apple of TV new

Watched my (the) first installment of Vice Nightly News last night. And loved it. But not sure I can describe it. But I’ll try.

  • Different look and feel. Black and white graphics. And big. More web-like than TV’ish. Faster pacing.
  • No anchor. At least no “talking head” anchor. Just a normal (female) voice over the video and graphics. And the package reporters were normal people as well. Looked like real people and talked like real people. You’ll have to watch this to get what I’m trying to describe.
  • Natural writing style. I noticed this immediately. Sharp contrast (for me) to the “news speak” we get from the networks and cable news.
  • Watching debate #2 with Glenn Beck. One of the longer segments. A bit like a serious Stephen Colbert interview.
  • No ads. Thank you, HBO. Didn’t realize how a dozen adult diapers and Flomax ads trash up a news program.

The producers didn’t just take the ancient evening news format we’ve been watching for 60 years and tweak it. They started fresh. Your grandpa ain’t gonna like Vice Nightly News. But I ain’t your grandpa.

UPDATE: Music critic Bob Lefsetz says Vice News Tonight is “the real thing.”

“The hosts were a cornucopia of sexes and ethnicities. They looked like America. Where everybody is just not an old white man. […] The networks think it’s about slickness. The local stations are a joke, peopled by bimbos, both male and female, it’s a caricature of the news. […] They humanized Glenn Beck, a seeming impossibility.”

VICE News Tonight coming to HBO

There isn’t much news in the nightly news programs. Wildfires in the west. Floods and (in season) hurricanes in the east. Night after night after night. Some commercials for old people, the day’s hot YouTube video, and you’re done. Thirty minutes of your life you will never get back. And they are all pretty much the same: cable, network, PBS (yawn).

On September 26th, VICE News Tonight debuts on HBO. “Journalism without the makeup” according to the promo. VICE News will air five nights a week at 6:30 p.m. (Central), an hour later than most other newscasts. According to the article below this is in recognition that folks are working longer/later. And who watches anything live these days?

HBO is far and away my favorite channel(?) and I have high hopes for VICE News. We’ll see. BTW, that is a great tagline: No anchors, no ads, no censors


Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 8.48.58 PMIn 1996 (maybe 1997) I was involved in the first effort to stream audio of floor debate from the Missouri legislature. It was early days for streaming and the audio sounded pretty shitty. We had very limited bandwidth and the first RealAudio encoders were primitive. But it was the first time anyone could listen to live debate without being in the Capitol building (where they had audio lines to each rep’s office).

That first year I think we only streamed live but the following year we started archiving the audio as well. That, however, was nearly useless if you were trying to find a particular piece of debate in audio files that could run five or ten hours.

Not sure I can explain this but what we did was insert links to specific points in the debate (not unlike how we now create YouTube links that jump you X minutes into the video). I spent hours doing this before I dumped it on an assistant. But it allowed someone that wanted to hear debate on House Bill 123 to click a link and get pretty close. Unbelievably tedious.

We provided this service at no charge for a year or two and then started charging $500 per session. Lots of takers, mostly lobbyists and lawyers. We bumped it to $750 the next session and lost a few subscribers. It wasn’t long after that that the House and Senate Information Offices took this service over and we were out of business. It wasn’t a good “business” business but it offered a hint of what would be coming down the road in terms of streaming.

If you’ve never listened to floor debate of a state legislature, it’s hard to describe how boring this shit was. As streaming tech got better, someone would suggest they stream video and they’d take a shot at that, usually on the final day of the session. On one such attempt they had to pull the plug quickly because the cameras were showing members dozing at their desks.

Once people saw that we could actually do this, we started hearing grumblings about the audio archives. It was explained to me this way: Since the dawn of time, the House and Senate journals were the official record of what happened in the respective chambers. But those records could be amended. So if one member called another member “a lying motherfucker,” that got stricken from the official journal. But but not from our audio archives. This made lots of folks very uncomfortable and — ultimately — led to the legislature taking over. I always assumed some poor schmuck got stuck with editing those monster audio files.

UPDATE: I failed to mention the important role Phil Atkinson and Charlie Peters (and the people that worked with them) played in this (and other) digital project. I’d ask, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could…” and in a few days (or hours!) they found a way to do it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This was our first web page for this project. Really ugly, and really long.

People still listening to radio. Even for news.

“91% of Americans ages 12 and older had listened to traditional AM/FM radio in the week before they were surveyed in 2015, according to Nielsen Media Research. […] In research asking about how people are learning about the U.S. presidential election, 44% of adults said they learned about it from radio in the past week. Radio outpaced both national (23%) and local (29%) print newspapers, although it trailed local TV news (57%) and cable TV news (54%).”

Pew Research State of the News Media 2016