Techdirt Podcast Episode 22: Are Smaller Online Media Players Doomed In The Age Of Buzzfeed?

from the we-hope-not dept

The future of online journalism and related businesses continues to be uncertain. Following the recent shutdowns of GigaOm and San Francisco's The Bold Italic, we ask a critical question that is, of course, of personal importance to us here at Techdirt: how can smaller online media players survive in this age of goliaths like Buzzfeed?

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Filed Under: business models, journalism, podcast


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2015 @ 1:43pm

    Or Vice Versa?

    How can smaller online media players survive in this age of goliaths like Buzzfeed?


    Offer something of value. Buzzfeed is more noise than signal and is the forwarded joke e-mail of its day.

    (Said this old man after yelling at a cloud.) Seriously though, I have a lot of free time and even I don't have enough to waste on a buzzfeed link.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, 29 Apr 2015 @ 4:07am

    You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

    I would go rather further. Website-based media players are not a very good idea. Media players necessarily operate at a fairly low level, and their use tends to give websites excessive privilege on users' machines. There are standard media file formats, notably Mp3, Mpeg2, Mpeg4, and the various OGG file formats. which you can use to distribute media content. If the user needs to install media player software, let him make that decision, and do not try to install software on the sly, lest you become a security risk.

    As to whether you should be doing podcasting at all, that is altogether more complicated. From what I've seen, podcasting becomes an excuse not to prepare a written script, or to do the kind of editing which is normally involved in good writing. Fixing mispronunciations in a film is much more difficult than fixing spelling errors in a written text. At a higher level, podcasting tends to involve higher sins such as sloppy preparations for interviews. To quote John Mortimer's fictional barrister, Horace Rumpole, "never ask a question which you don't already know the answer to." There are very few interviews in which a trap question matters that much, and the interviewee's considered replies in writing are not more satisfactory. The only condition in which the trap question is really essential is that in which the interviewee is a practiced liar.

    In the second place, speaking well is a whole art of its own, and if you aren't willing to work at it, you can't expect to be very good at it. The bigger the audience, the greater the difficulty. In practice, the recorded medium (music tapes, radio, film, television, etc., etc. _and_ podcasts) brings out shortcomings of performance, at the same time that it causes some people to be overconfident, by eliminating the feedback signals of mass-boredom, ie. five hundred people shuffling their feet. The truth is that unless you are the sort of person who goes and does Shakespeare in the park, for no pay, and with a stage consisting of blankets which you have painted and stapled to thin pieces of wood, and the audience consisting of such persons as are willing to sit on the grass, or have brought their own folding chairs and picnic baskets, you are not really an actor, and you have no business doing podcasting.

    There is a certain sort of person who falls into the error of thinking that just because he has a small, inexpensive video camera pointed at him, he is the equal of the great monopoly network broadcasters of the 1960's, such as Walter Cronkite or Eric Severeid. It's an error of the sin of Pride, of course (an Ego-trap). You succumb to the irrational idea that everyone has to listen to you because you are a monopoly.

    One time when I was at the University of Oregon, in the late 1980's, there were students from the theater department doing scenes from Shakespeare in the student union courtyard. They weren't in formal costume, or anything like that, and people were coming and going, and if it wasn't raining, it was probably beginning to rain. Those of you who have lived in the Pacific Northwest know what the weather is like from October to April. It was the kind of venue which separates the actors from the poseurs. One of the scenes was Taming of the Shrew, act II, scene 1, specifically the wit-combat between Petruchio and Kate. Kate's costume consisted of long golden hair down her back, a white blouse, and a long ankle-length blue corduroy skirt, and white tights and sneakers underneath. That was not quite theatrical in Oregon-- I knew girls who normally came to school dressed like that. Petruchio was getting all grabby, while bombarding Kate with off-color jokes, and somehow, Kate's skirt-placket popped open. So she put herself back together again without losing a beat, continuing to deliver her lines in a kind of inspired fury: "no such jade as to bear _you_." I don't know whether it was an accident or not. I suppose it must have been an accident the first time, but this may not have been the first time. At any rate, that is stage presence.

    In most colleges, there is a "theater" or "communications" department, which consists of stage people, and a few speech therapists and linguists, who had irreconcilable differences with the English department, and therefore set up on their own. They play Shakespeare instead of reading Shakespeare.

    If you can't see going out and doing Shakespeare in the park, on in a student union courtyard, or wherever, leave podcasting strictly alone!

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    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 29 Apr 2015 @ 10:23am

      Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

      I think you misunderstood nearly everything this podcast was about. By a fairly large margin. Did you listen to the podcast?

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      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2015 @ 11:36am

        Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

        I don't think he did, but I too was fooled by this healine... for about 5 seconds.

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      • identicon
        Andrew D. Todd, 29 Apr 2015 @ 11:39am

        Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

        Yes, you are probably correct that I have not understood a page which I do not have the technical capacity to access, and was therefore not able to listen to.

        Come to that, since about Oct 15, 2014, I have only been able to access the main page of Techdirt about half of the time, for reasons which are mysterious. You will recall that I communicated with your staff at that time, but that they were not able to make any suggestions.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Leigh Beadon (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 8:15am

      Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

      The truth is that unless you are the sort of person who goes and does Shakespeare in the park, for no pay, and with a stage consisting of blankets which you have painted and stapled to thin pieces of wood, and the audience consisting of such persons as are willing to sit on the grass, or have brought their own folding chairs and picnic baskets, you are not really an actor, and you have no business doing podcasting.

      ...WHAT?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Gwiz (profile), 30 Apr 2015 @ 1:19pm

        Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

        ...WHAT?

        Yeah, I thought that argument was a bit outlandish myself.

        Kind of like saying: Unless you're the sort of person who has tapped out a 500 word essay in Morse code on a telegraph machine you made yourself, you really have no business posting comments on an internet blog.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Andrew D. Todd, 2 May 2015 @ 4:01am

          Re: Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

          A human of ordinary literacy can read things about twice as fast as he can listen to them. That is simply a consequence of the way our brains are organized. Unlike dogs and cats, our immediate relatives, monkeys and apes, do not have big focusing ears, and extra brain circuitry to support them. So, when you ask your audience to listen instead of reading, what are you offering in return? Are you not saying that you want to deny your audience the possibility of skimming?

          I usually spend two or three hours writing five hundred words, which a reader can read in a minute or two. I'm probably not the fastest or most verbose writer in the world, but if someone spends less than an hour for five hundred words, the quality does suffer. Not to complain, of course-- my sister is an artist, a painter, and she spends days to weeks producing a painting which the public will glance at for a minute or two. Only another artist will look at the fine details like brush-stroke technique. How many pod-casters do you honestly believe rehearse to a comparable level? Someone who rehearses that much for a verbal performance generally finds it useful to have a written representation, such as lecture notes, a play script, or even sheet music. The absence of a transcript is a tacit admission that the pod-caster never rehearsed at all.

          Your analogy of Morse Code is false. Back about 1980, when I was still using a Smith-Corona Portable Electric Typewriter (which weighted about twenty pounds, and came with its own fitted suitcase), I did not contend that one had to be a mechanic to write. In fact, I preferred to write the first draft of my essays in pencil, and then typed them out at a rate of about five words a minute, because my professors would not accept penciled essays. They were profoundly indifferent to my convenience in this matter. I really only got up to a decent typing speed after I got a word processor, which was so much more forgiving of mistakes. The basic tools of writing are the period, the comma, the semi-colon, etc. Rhetoric is a different art from writing, and I'm not a very good rhetorician, so I cannot speak authoritatively. However, I do know that rhetoricians train themselves on the classic texts, such as the plays of William Shakespeare, and the speeches of Marcus Tullius Cicero. Shakespeare was probably the greatest playwright who ever lived, and Cicero, the greatest courtroom lawyer.

          Leigh Beadon appears to be startled that in almost any field, one must necessarily start at the bottom. For an actor, starting at the bottom does not mean being a movie star; it means some kind of impromptu performance, and learning to connect with perhaps twenty or fifty people. For a musician, starting at the bottom does not mean being a rock star; it usually means "busking," playing on a street corner, with an instrument case open in front of you for passers-by to throw small coins into.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Leigh Beadon (profile), 2 May 2015 @ 11:02am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

            Do you not comprehend that different things can both have value? That there is much to be said for a well-rehearsed performance or discussion in some contexts, and that at other times people very much enjoy listening to an unrehearsed conversation among people they find interesting or insightful or funny or what-have-you?

            I am not "startled" by the concept of career progression in an artistic field. I am baffled by your direct connection of Shakespearean acting to a podcast about technology and media, as though the purpose of and standards for the two are identical.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Mike Masnick (profile), 2 May 2015 @ 12:52pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

            A human of ordinary literacy can read things about twice as fast as he can listen to them. That is simply a consequence of the way our brains are organized. Unlike dogs and cats, our immediate relatives, monkeys and apes, do not have big focusing ears, and extra brain circuitry to support them. So, when you ask your audience to listen instead of reading, what are you offering in return? Are you not saying that you want to deny your audience the possibility of skimming?

            I guess we should do away with TV, radio, plays, movies, phone calls and the like then, huh?

            Does it not occur to you that there are different ways that people like to get different types of content. We're just adding another one for a different kind of content -- one involving a verbal/audio discussion among a few people.

            The absence of a transcript is a tacit admission that the pod-caster never rehearsed at all.

            Yes, because this isn't a scripted radio play, it's an open conversation among some interesting people. That's why we do it. For the conversation. Do you rehearse all your conversations ahead of time?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Andrew D. Todd, 3 May 2015 @ 7:44am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

              Well, National Public Radio does provide transcripts. The material which goes into the transcripts is very often the natural byproduct of tools like Tele-prompters. The talk-show host's editorial assistants do pretty much what newspaper reporters do-- find guests, and interview them, and reduce the conversation to a written script, and load the script into a Tele-prompter instead of a Linotype or a website. Granted, a really great actor, someone like Sir Laurence Olivier, or Katherine Hepburn, doesn't need a Tele-prompter, but for the ordinary run of talk-show guests, it's a useful tool, a prop against stage-fright. Before there were Tele-prompters, stage hands held up cue cards to achieve the same effect. In a movie, or a stage play, or a concert, or a musical recording, or a ballet, or a talk-show, there is an enormous amount of stuff going on backstage or in post-processing, which you do not see. Don't make the mistake of thinking it isn't there.

              One good way to be self-critical about a podcast is to listen to your own podcast, and type up a transcript as you go. A truly spontaneous conversation would be intolerable to listen to, for a typical person who isn't part of it, and cannot participate. What goes on at a convention, on the other hand, is mostly people reading out sections of their published official party manifestos. Of course I cannot speak as to which category your particular podcast falls into.

              Let me repeat: successfully performing for a recorded medium is harder than performing for a live audience, because there is no audience feedback. Or, as Mad Magazine put it: "This show was recorded before a live laugh-track machine. It threw up!"

              Back when I was teaching college classes as a Graduate Teaching Fellow, I did in fact write up a set of lecture notes, and rehearse them in front of the bathroom mirror-- and I found it made the lecture go much better. One day, I stood in front of a blackboard in the graduate student lounge, and methodically started writing out "ABC..." like a first-grader. A piece of chalk handles differently than a pencil, and it is necessary to learn the difference-- preferably not in front of a classroom of freshman students. On the books, the class was labeled as a "discussion section," but I learned the hard way that ordinary freshmen do not come to class ready to discuss the readings. No matter, once I figured out that a lecture was called for, I gave them a lecture.

              At one point, I took a course in Teaching History In College. It was the equivalent of a musical "master class." There were four of us, not without some teaching experience, and we took turns in giving lectures, and the professor watched, and critiqued our performance style. I had not been consciously aware of what I was doing with eye contact, and I needed to learn to consciously manage my eye contact.

              I don't do very much business on the telephone, but when I do, I am apt to send e-mails after the fact to cover those points where I might not have expressed myself with complete clarity.

              What voice is good for, as an alternative to the printed word, is introducing emotive content, and this applies also to music. A good example is HRH Prince Charles' film, _A Personal View of Architecture_, 1988. This was a film presenting an essentially emotive argument about the shape of new buildings. The Prince had no intellectual justification. He just said, in essence, that all the new government and business buildings were ugly, and they made the people who lived and worked in them unhappy. The film is shamelessly filled out with baroque music, more or less in the style of Henry Purcell (?).

              Take a look at Gilbert Highet, _The Art of Teaching_, 1950. Highet was a Scotsman, and a "Classicist," that is, a scholar of Ancient Greek, of course, and when he came to America, it was to Columbia University, and I don't think he really grappled with how to teach students as insistently dumb as the average state university student, circa 1990. His principal suggestion was to quote Montaigne to the effect that "they should be apprenticed to a pastry-cook in some good town." Still, you should understand his reasoning well enough to be able to critique it. One thing which one gets from Highet is that seemingly spontaneous public performances are not remotely as unpracticed or amateur as they look.

              See also: Edwin Wilson, _The Theater Experience_, 1976 and subsequent editions. This is a freshman Theater textbook. It contains short discussions of all kinds of issues in stagecraft. One of the points which the author makes is that if you are speaking in public, you cannot choose not to be an actor. You can only choose whether to be a good actor or a ham actor.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Leigh Beadon (profile), 3 May 2015 @ 7:58am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

                Get over yourself, dude.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Mike Masnick (profile), 3 May 2015 @ 8:11am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

                A truly spontaneous conversation would be intolerable to listen to, for a typical person who isn't part of it, and cannot participate.

                And yet, it is a conversation and we have thousands of listeners who don't seem to find it intolerable.

                Has it ever occurred to you that your personal (very odd) hangups may not be the same as the rest of the world?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Gwiz (profile), 3 May 2015 @ 11:40am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: You Shouldn't Have a Media Player in the First Place, and Possibly, Not Even Podcasts.

                Help me! I've been sucked into the bottomless Vortex of Todd!

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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