Open Source Media

A lot of people think about software when they hear the words “open source,” but I’d like to extend the concept to “media”.  By that I mean books, tv, magazines, radio, etc.

Example

The basic idea is simple — suppose you’re reading a book about Jack Kennedy that makes an interesting claim and then cites its source with a footnote to an “NBC Interview with Jack Kennedy: Chet Huntley and David Brinkley in the Oval Office in the White House, Sept 9, 1963.”

One of my first questions would be: “Can I get a transcript of the interview?”  A second would be: “Can a get a recording of the whole interview?”  Without the first, I can’t verify what the president said.  Without the second, I can’t contextualize what was said.

Two related questions this raises are: “What are the ground rules for the interview;” and “How much editing was done to produce the final product?”

It’s interesting that in Brinkley’s interview, the president was given a number of “mulligans,” although he appears not to have seen the questions ahead of time.

One of the commenters noted:

The media and politicos are in cahoots, rehearsing the interview.

Ground Rules for Interviewing

So I’ve been thinking: “What are fair ground rules for an interview?”  Here’s a few ideas:

  1. The full recording, including out-takes, should be available for the historical record.  (How soon is that?)
  2. Should anything be left out of the transcript?  Inevitably I think the answer will have to be yes, unless you get rid of all “off-the-record” interviews.  I also think the appropriateness of off-the-record remarks varies according to the degree of power that the interviewee has.  The secrets of the powerful often warrant less protection than the secrets of the weak.
  3. It may take time to gain the trust of the interviewee; and in real-life, the interviewer only begins recording when trust has been established and the interviewee is ready.

The Complete Record

I’ve sometimes wondered, what would happen if journalists tried to put everything on the record.  They would record their telephone calls asking for the interview. They would share all their email correspondence.  They would begin recording as they approached the office or home of the interviewee and then just keep filming until after they left.  And they would publish the entire contents of this “record” with every interview they did.  This is now feasible on the web, whereas it was impractical in the television or print-only world.

Now of course most people wouldn’t care to watch the whole thing; but a few would; and they might post notable things for the inspection of a wider group.  Is this what we want?

Paris Review Style Interview

An alternate model is employed by the literary journal “The Paris Review.”  It’s editors like to select their favorite authors to interview; and they give the authors full license to edit their answers.1

Naturally, the authors are used to choosing their words carefully; and this approach allows them to extend such care to the interview.  It allows the author to say exactly what they want, potentially resulting in more clarity, or alternatively less accountably.

Speaking about interviewing authors, David Fenza says:

A good literary interview is not faithful to the actual spoken event.  The transcript of the actual spoken interview should only serve as a draft of a dialogue that will, eventually, present the writer as completely and succinctly as possible.  A good literary interview is improvisational, but it’s also revisionary.  Writers are creatures who succeed through revision; they are most themselves when they revise; and this should carry over into the interview.2

When to allow a “Paris-Review” style interview depends on the type of interview desired. In any case, the ground rules should be disclosed.

If a President is given chances to “edit” their answers, there should be some indication of this when the interview is published.  But no matter how the interview is edited or revised, can the full historical record be preserved?

It is common to see something like “This is an edited and condensed version of the interview.” It would be interesting to see some sort of statistical disclosure about how much of the included text was changed; and how much was excluded.

Death Therapy

erasing death

Often when I hear of someone given multiple life sentences as punishment for a crime, I ask my self what the difference is between one life sentence and five life sentences.  I understand there is symbolism in the additional sentences; and in some cases people with a “life sentence” may be released early.3 In any case, I ask myself is whether there would actually be a way for multiple life sentences to be carried out.  Perhaps the sentence could mandate killing the criminal and then resuscitating them again, only to kill them again and then resuscitate them.  The process could be repeated enough times that the criminal could serve 5 life sentences in the course of a month.  (No, I’m not a lawyer.)

A new book by a doctor who specializes in resuscitation suggests that there is a common experience of dying that is consistent across cultures.  To be considered “dead”, one’s heart has to stop beating.  This stops brain activity, but it does not mean the the brain cells have died.  In fact, it is possible for a body to be chilled, and the person to be resuscitated several hours later.

Upon regaining consciousness, many patients have no memory; but others report seeing a bright light and feeling a very loving presence.  They recall having their life reviewed with them and feeling pain as they recall times when they caused others pain.  Some patients report being inspired to try to do better with their new lives.

So perhaps instead of giving our prisoners a lethal injection, we could give them “death thearapy”.

I can imagine that were this resuscitation perfected, so that the risk that patients stay dead is reduced, many wealthy people would pay for such an experience.

The Temptation of Jesus, Mercedes edition


Superbowl Ad, 2012: Mercedes-Benz 4 , 5

Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the Desert to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell the stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” 6

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God, he said. “throw yourself down.  For it is written:

“He will comand his angles concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” 7

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8

Then the devil showed him the new Mercedes CLA, and all the fame and glamour that it would bring, saying, “Sign your soul over to me and all this is yours.”

As Jesus was carefully considering the devil’s offer, he saw the CLA’s price of only $29,900 and said, “Thanks, I think I got this.”

Resolution for 2013: avoid the endless flow of the web

This is the time of the year when sites around the web compile “best of” lists, as a way of reflecting on the past year.  It’s one of the few times we reflect on which of the many messages we’ve been drowning in will have lasting significance — what messages are more than just noise.

In 2010, Robin Sloan wrote an article that provides a useful vocabulary for thinking about creating and consuming content in a world with 24/7 news, endless facebook updates, and twitter.

Robin introduces the terms “stock” and “flow”:

There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a static value: money in the bank, or trees in the forest. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour, or three thousand toothpicks a day..

I actually think stock and flow is the master metaphor for media today. Here’s what I mean:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
Havasu Falls

I feel like flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but we neglect stock at our own peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: Oh man. I’ve got nothing here.

So what are the ways that I can increase my ratio of stock to flow?

Zucherburg’s Law

Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook believes that every year people will share twice as much information as they did the previous year, so they’ve developed tools to help their users cope.

You can choose to subscribe only to what is most important and you can filter out messages from people you know less well.  It would be nice if there were a service I could subscribe to which could dial back the level of flow and receive a greater quantity of stock on the web. Monthly magazines are supposed to serve this function.  Or I can just go to the library and find some classic books.

So for 2013, my resolution is to increase the quality of what I read — more stock and less flow.