These are reminders, thoughts, takeaways, interesting observations and things I want to remember from the national RTDNA Canada conference.
Great stories are built around moments, take the audience somewhere and decode jargon or spin. Those three areas are what have helped to make CBC journalist Susan Ormiston such an impactful international correspondent. She shared her secrets on storytelling with the crowd at the RTDNA Canada national convention.
Stories evolve around moments. Ormiston explains, “Creating environments for moments to happen or simply focusing on a moment” is what she attempts in her storytelling. There is a warning, “moments cannot be manufactured, but they can be managed.” For instance, building trust with an interview subject helps create an environment where vulnerable moments are more likely to take place. “Trust,” she says, “It’s a relationship. Never persuade yourself that someone won’t want to talk about something.”
REMINDER: Don’t Be A TV Anchor…
The TV news anchor is dying.
The head of CTV Wendy Freeman fired the first shot across the bow, “in 5 to 10 years will there even be TV anchors?” Corus/Global VP Troy Reeb added, “The asking price for a good anchor has been in decline and will continue to be, the asking price for a good reporter is expected to climb.” He also noted brands aren’t being built on the shoulders of anchors, but around the credibility of reporting. And then Ali Velshi hit it home, “I don’t think the highly paid TV anchor is a sustainable creature.”
Buzzwords – words and concepts that dominated discussions.
“Multi-platform” – I blogged about that here.
“Mobile” – 94% of millennials have smart phones, mobile first thinking, reporters using phones for everything…
“Monetization” – how do we make money with… native content, snapchat, etc…
“Change” – the industry is changing, technology is changing, audience expectations are changing and if you/we aren’t changing fast enough we will lose.
Apps and Devices Speakers Love…
Twitter – it’s changed the game for distributing and curating content and for live moment-by-moment coverage where microphones aren’t allowed like courtrooms.
iMovie – great for radio reporters also tasked with filming and editing video pieces on the run.
Voddio – Voddio, is a professional-grade video and audio editor App for mobile journalists and story tellers, that supports rich editing of two tracks of video and up to four tracks of audio.
Favorite Quotes of the Conference
“$150 million dollars is what’s going to go to the bureaucratic morass that is the CBC.” – Troy Reeb, Corus/Global
“I bemoan the day when we decide we don’t need context anymore.” – Susan Ormiston, CBC
“It’s Facebook and the 7 Dwarves.” – on Social Media platforms
“We need to start thinking about big stupid ideas. We’re not an industry that typically thinks up stupid ideas. We need more stupid ideas. Stupid ideas are stupid until they are breakthroughs.” – Ali Velshi, Multi-platform Content Creator
“I’ve never given up the thought of returning home to Canada , but it won’t because of a man named Donald Trump. He can’t bully me.” – Ashleigh Banfield, CNN. She dedicated her entire keynote address to the “human wrecking ball” Trump and trying to explain how he’s in the position he’s in.
It’s not news that our society and media love to build things up and then tear them down. The latest example is the This American Life produced podcast “Serial.” As the final episode of season one is about to post, there is a ripple in the force of “Serial’s” success.
“Serial” captured magic in a bottle. It’s a podcast that investigates a 15-year old murder case and the conviction of Adnan Sayed. Millions are listening, some even waiting in anticipation for its weekly Thursday release. Personally, I’m a fan. In my house, it was a topic of conversation at Thanksgiving with friends, fodder for the weekly Skype call with the in-laws, weekly hypothesizing with radio clients in Cape Town, Los Angeles and Ithaca and one night my wife and I chose Serial over TV and listened together. It’s even beginning to influence the way I’m telling stories and using audio on my podcast Radio Stuff.
The Deal with Ramsey
Despite the early positive press, my own tongue-wagging, the very successful season two fundraiser, and the ever-growing audience for the show there are some in the media who seem to want it to go away now or pretend it’s no big deal.
I’m not sure why.
Mark Ramsey of Mark Ramsey Media is one of them. He dismisses it as “overrated” on his Facebook page with a link to an article by Variety. I rebutted in the comments of his post suggesting his comment was shortsighted and he encouraged me to read the article and listen to his podcast. I’ve done that now. It inspired this post.
The Case Against “Serial”
“The podcast is really no more or less engrossing than the countless other true whodunits common all over movies and TV. Even an average episode of a relatively low-profile TV staple like NBC newsmagazine “Dateline” routinely features cases like Syed’s; you could even argue recreating these crimes for TV is a more sophisticated form of storytelling.”
Variety criticizes “Serial” for being unoriginal and using tried and true storytelling methods. And then later declares “Serial” irrelevant to the success of future podcasts, because it’s too unique and difficult to recreate. Oh, and there’s more.
“The problem with “Serial’s” success is that it won’t represent an inflection point for podcasts for one simple reason: Even if the hype for this show grows to a level where it brings podcasts exposure to a new audience segment perhaps even more sizable than that of current core podcast devotees, there’s little else like “Serial” for this wave to listen to that will keep them around to sample more content.”
In their podcast “Media Unplugged,” Mark Ramsey and Tom Asacker decided to rebuke one article’s claim that on the heels of “Serial’s” success this is the golden age of podcasting. Here are some of their arguments. (My comments are italicized and in parenthesis.)
- “I was met with a splash page asking for donations to fund a second season.” (Crowd sourcing worked! Not sure why that is a negative. If pop ads bother you I might suggest exiting the internet altogether.)
- “Only 15% of Americans are listening to podcasts, it’s not a dramatic change from before “Serial.”” (That’s 47 million people and growing. The golden age of TV was the late 1940’s and 50’s but there are far more people watching TV today than then. This seems irrelevant to “Serial’s” success or the argument against being a golden age of podcasts.)
- “Being #1 on iTunes doesn’t mean it’s popular. The iTunes ranker is not a reflection of popularity it’s an algorithm – momentum and comments rather than raw popularity. Plus, the iTunes ranker is not the sum total of podcast consumption.” (For some reason this seems like a personal issue with Ramsey. I’m guessing if “Media Unplugged” became #1 on iTunes he wouldn’t parse popularity versus momentum and comments, which also seem like perfectly fine factors of popularity.)
- “”Serial” has 18 million exposures less than an average episode of NCIS on CBS.” (NCIS is the #1 drama on TV. “Dateline,” which is probably more appropriate to compare, maxes out at 7 million viewers. But, since when are we judging radio/audio content success versus TV? We never have. It’s a ridiculous comparison.)
- “There is an orgins story to this podcast: This American Life launched it. It’s a platform and all these distribution points called public radio stations.” (So, this is the old “don’t try this at home, kids” warning. I think most smart people in the radio/audio space realize the impact that had, but that shouldn’t keep them from trying or also launching podcasts on the backs of established brands)
- “They used the “what happens next” method of storytelling, the genre “murder mystery” is as old as Agatha Christie, and the style as old as Dickens. Somehow in the world of podcasts it’s fresh.” (Excellent. We should be using every trick in the book. There’s no need to recreate the wheel. Good storytelling is good storytelling.)
- “Most podcasts are like most blogs, most books, and most music; if they’re hitting maybe tens of thousands of downloads then they are lucky.” (This only further proves the growing success of podcasts. Two years ago experts like Mark and Tom wouldn’t have uttered podcasts and blogs in the same sentence as books and music. Now they’re putting them on equal ground. Either books and music have failed horribly or podcasts have risen in the ranks.)
The Opposite of Prosecution
Maybe I’m a glass half-full guy, but “Serial” makes me excited. And not just for podcasting, but for radio. I can hear a whole new wave of personal journalism on news-talk radio stations right around the corner. I can imagine newscasts with that familiar, intimate tone, personal asides and anecdotes (or “folksy” as Variety called it) that sucks you into the “Serial” narrative.
As a news-talk PD I was passionate and supportive of enterprise reporting and in-depth investigations and I believe “Serial” has cleared the way for commercial radio stations to move forward in that direction with gusto. Yes, there’s a risk it won’t work. Which means there’s a chance it will work. Go for it.
The model of launching a podcast off the success of a radio show is one that any radio station in the country could duplicate with varying degrees of success depending on the strength of the brands involved. You could also launch podcasts off of non-media brands or TV partners or local celebrities. Be creative. Use this as an idea starter.
I’m not sure why it’s a negative to borrow successful story-telling techniques. Regardless if it’s from CBS, Agatha Christie or Dickens, it all seems like good company to keep. Look at cable news. They built 90% of their programming on the models talk radio created. I guess my point is sometimes we get so concerned with being original and unique or “innovative” that we forget about “cultivation” and “ideation” which allows you gather all available assets, ideas and thoughts and repurpose them to greater success. We should do more of this.
And finally, with all due respect to the naysayers, I think anytime any audio content captures the imagination of people or the media, we should celebrate it. Far too often radio and audio creators crossover onto print, digital and TV for all the wrong reasons. “Serial” seems like just the lightning rod our industry needed to regain our swagger and expand our personal definitions of what’s possible in this space as it pertains to content creation, monetization and our definitions of success.