NEW YORK TIMES DOESN'T GET VLOGS
The New York Times shallowly surmises videoblogs in their Critic's Notebook article, Watch Me Do This and That Online. Writer Sarah Boxer concludes: Congratulations. It's television!
Sorry Sarah, videoblogs are not television. Here's why.
First off, here's a news flash: You can link to videoblogs. Unlike the excellent Wired News article on the same topic, the New York Times doesn't link to any videoblogs or any videos. Their thumbnail photos show a Quicktime player, yet they lead nowhere. For some reason they do link to Neopets.com. WTF? Perhaps they have a wrongheaded policy of only linking to "whatever.com" which clearly fails. The New York Times is doing a great disservice by not linking to the subjects of their article, which are frigging web sites. Looks like the links have been added to the sidebar.
The first half of Sarah's article is nice enough, giving the reader a few dollops of vlog from across the spectrum. She gets into trouble when her thesis arrives: Already, though, it's beginning to look a lot like television, at least in spots. Some vlogs even share television's worries, chief among them the burden of coming up with fresh programming on a regular basis.
She cites Rocketboom's recent request for the audience to send in story ideas. While it's logistically true that story submissions will make life easier for Rocketboom, the comparison to television programming is way off the mark.
CLUE #1: Videoblogs interact with their audience. This is not a weakness. It's a strength.
Television transmits one-way information to its audience. Weather photos emailed to local news represent a lame exception, but it's a start. Videoblogs exist in the realm of links and conversation. It's sort of like Burning Man - everyone is a participant. Sure, you can passively watch videos, but everyone is encouraged to comment and make their own videos.
We are all potential creators and participants. We all have a voice.
The very concept of audience begins to melt away.
In his book We the Media, Dan Gillmor says "My audience knows more than I do." Rocketboom opening its doors is a celebration of the geekosphere; an invitation to be creative and hijack the "channel." Indeed, Minnesota Stories is built on the concept of people with video cameras hijacking the channel.
Everyone is creative and has a story. Want to borrow my transmitter? Go for it. Better yet, build your own. You won't hear these words from television.
Sarah then dips into the vlogosphere's real reality show, The Carol and Steve Show: It wants to sell out, but who would buy? Maybe a laugh track would help.
CLUE #2: Do not confuse the packaging with the contents.
Videoblogs are authentic voices. The Carol and Steve Show is a superb expression of "Mundane is the new punk rock." Sure, it hearkens back to TV Land sitcoms, but then you see... Carol and Steve watching TV. Or running out in the rain trying to grill. Or sitting in bed. In other words, they're going about their real lives on camera. And there is no laugh track.
Who would greenlight this show? Carol and Steve, that's who.
Sometimes there's a laugh track on ZipZapZop, but you know what? I hung out with Clark, and he had the little laugh track/applause toy with him. He really does hang out with his guitar and play goofy songs. ZipZapZop is one genuine facet of the scintillating human we call Clark ov Saturn.
We may well be in the television radioplay phase of videoblogs. The "show" is one of many forms a vlog can take. Sometimes the wrapper looks like the old medium. But what's inside is real people, without a producer, without a middleman. What's inside you can't buy at the candy store. It's homemade and one-of-a-kind.
Sarah focuses on one of my favorite videobloggers, Ian from The 05 Project. She says he's beginning to look a lot like "Fear Factor" and gives him some deserving compliments: He has Conan O'Brien's direct delivery and David Letterman's deadpan. In short, he has television charisma. I'm thrilled about all the nice things she says here, but...
CLUE #3: We don't look like television. We look like ourselves.
Ian isn't great because he vaguely resembles an amateur amalgamation of late-night talk show hosts.
Ian is great because Ian is Ian.
Bored kids were daring their friends to do outrageous things long before Fear Factor or the invention of television. The difference is, Ian has never met his new friends. But that doesn't make them any less real.
To say we look more like television personalities than our own personalities is wrong and perverted.
Really, the more I think about this the more shallow and ridiculous it seems. Videoblogs are lightyears away from television. I've got this little planet it my hands; I can spin it around and jump into someone's life. I can talk to them. I can show them my life. We could not do this before. Television doesn't have anything to do with it. The comparison is lazy and, frankly, embarassing for the New York Times.
You can lead a horse to vlog anarchy, but you can't make it understand the revolution.
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Chuck @ Blogumentary has responded with his New York Times doesn't get vlogs post which covers many of my arguments so I'll leave it at that for now. [Read More]
Tracked on Jul 25, 2005 7:25:24 AM
Tracked on Jul 26, 2005 1:24:41 AM
be careful you don't narrow down what a videoblog can be yourself.
Posted by: cweagel at Jul 25, 2005 8:39:08 AM
i know. i was on a rampage when i wrote this, and didn't feel like qualifying it or diluting it.
i'm all for the scripted vlog action.
Posted by: Chuck at Jul 25, 2005 10:20:01 AM
Nice blog, Chuck.
hehe "You can lead a horse to vlog anarchy, but you can't make it understand the revolution." - great line.
Posted by: Dave at Jul 25, 2005 11:14:07 AM
Aside from the nice things that were said about the very talented Ian Mills, I thought this was a really awful article. Way to miss the entire point of The Carol and Steve Show, way to take the easy road and compare RB to SNL, without mentioning that our main focuses are TECHNOLOGY and viewer interaction. Like you said, Chuck, viewer interaction is a strength not a weakness (duh)!! This is the kind of article you write when you are on a tight deadline and have to make sense of a whole community that you know nothing about. I have come to expect more from the NYT. I mean, even some of the facts are wrong on our end (the Harry Potter spoiler guy was one of our correspondents? Even a click to the correspondent page on RB would have cleared that one up). LAZY LAZY LAZY LAZY, uninformed and lazy. And I still don't understand that horrible analogy at the end about TV being Vlogging's mate? wtf.
Posted by: Amanda at Jul 25, 2005 12:42:24 PM
Awesome rant/post honey. I think you are right on! And I agree with Dave, great line about the horse and the revolution. Hmmmm, kinda sounds like another indie rock band name hmmm?
Posted by: Lorika at Jul 25, 2005 12:54:18 PM
The Horse and The Revolution.... sounds like a Neil Young project.
Right on Amanda. I meant to mention the correspondent thing too. Factually incorrect. Steve G is demanding retractions.
Of course a lot of this would have been cleared up had she actually talked to any of us, or spent more time listening to us rather than finding ways to squeeze us into her TV box.
That said, I think the nature of the Critic's Notebook is not reporting at all, but... armchair commentary. It's like a blog post that happens to be in the New York Times.
Posted by: Chuck at Jul 25, 2005 2:19:29 PM
I agree with Amanda, this is quite lazy, but then again, we are talking about MSM with limited time at hand. However, if this is the precision level connected with everything the NYT does, I seriously get worried.
This article was, if nothing else, a nice plug for vlogging, and it leads a few more viewers to Ian's great project, and hopefully people will get to see the variety within vlogging as they explore the medium.
Great post, Chuck. Rock on.
Posted by: Raymond at Jul 25, 2005 2:56:06 PM
So right on as usual, Chuck. I was shocked when I saw this, and I can think of a bunch of vloggers that should have been mentioned, or perhaps (shocker!!) she should have actually spoken to someone who produces the vlog content. It would be interesting to know how she got the information.
In all honesty, I am riding the 15 minute fame wave right now cause I know that after today this is it, and this is all very cool, but you make some very good points. I didn't quite get the definitive parallel to television at the end of the article, either. I was also sad that there were no links to people in the actual article itself. But...I don't want to sound like a whiny a-hole, so I'll just say right now I feel really fucking awesome, no matter how long it lasts.
Posted by: Tim at Jul 25, 2005 3:02:50 PM
Tim, I was soooo happy that you were mentioned in there. Ride that wave my man. Like Raymond says, the wonderful part of these stories is more exposure to videoblogs. To be honest, television ends up being a metaphor people can understand, and lots of journalism is geared toward making things easy for people to understand. Even if it's inaccurate for many reasons.
By the way, people tend to credit me with the "Mundane is the new punk rock" thing but that's not true, I believe it was in a comment on Jay Dedman's blog or something. I'm like you Tim - I just like saying it and seeing it in the media. :-)
Posted by: Chuck at Jul 25, 2005 5:26:30 PM
It would be interesting to read a discussion of videoblogs as an extension of public access television; the two are definitely related.
Posted by: A different Tim at Jul 25, 2005 9:00:54 PM
I agree whole heartedly, Chuck. Are we really concerned about mainstream media opinions at this point though? I mean, to the NYT, blogs are just a nuisance pest like a mosquito, and they don't even realize what threat a vlog is to their taste of television (NYT/Discovery Channel) is yet. Which is ironic, considering that broadcast television did not even know what a threat niche cable was to begin with.
Let them fiddle away while old-school media burns and we move ahead. The audience rules.
Posted by: Tom Kirkham at Jul 25, 2005 9:16:37 PM
Different Tim: Absolutely. Just another reason my rant overreaches. :-) Most blogs aren't much like commerical television, but they have a HELL of a lot in common with public access. It's like public access gone wild, gone global. But the content is better, or maybe it just seems that way because it's shorter.
Tom K: I hear you. I'm of a mind that the MSM needs to bridge the gap to citizen media. It needs to learn to survive, and I want it to survive - at least the smart/good parts. The dumb/stubborn ones will fail and wither away, hopefully. Evolution!
Posted by: Chuck at Jul 26, 2005 2:17:52 AM
I think a lot of people have these functional fixations that don't allow them to reach very far outside their current worldview. If it has motion and sound, it's TV. I guess that's a reverse functional fixation maybe, but the same idea.
I am glad that there are people who are passionate enough to take these folks to task. As Amanda said, it was lazy journalism. In fact, it serves the NYT and other media outlets to devote lazy journalism to this type of thing. If we have meaningful, timely content, we can be just as good as the NYT or CNN. In fact, we can be better by not catering to corporate whims nearly as much. (Sorry - I know we don't like to think that we do this at all, but our productions are flavored by our worlds, which have inherent biases.)
Just my two cents.
Posted by: Carl Weaver at Jul 28, 2005 8:59:22 PM