Monday, May 19, 2008

Why Obama Matters (and it's not his charisma)

A relative of mine drew my attention to the October 2007 blog entry of Leslie Griffith, entitled Thank You Dan Rather. Ms Griffith was an award-winning TV journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area until she lost her job. For me, her situation points to why Barack Obama, as an advocate of an open and regulated media, should be the Democrats' nominee and be the preferred choice in the Fall presidential election.

Mr. Obama has very clear positions about Media policy, about communications technology and about America's communications infrastructure. By contrast, media and telecommunications policy are invisible on his opponents' Web sites.

Although Hillary Clinton is, along with Mr Obama, a co-sponsor of S-215-IS, the "Internet Freedom Preservation Act" introduced by Sen Byron Dorgan, she is also known to have taken large donations from corporate media, including News Corporation (owner of Fox News, which was established by Roger Ailes.

In addition to Mr Obama's stated policy objectives, I would urge Mr Obama to complete his media policy agenda as follows:

  • Re-regulate Media Ownership - see my blog

  • Advocate for increased localism to balance homogenized, bottom-line-driven corporate news like CNN, Fox, et al

  • Make it easier for Low Power FM, so new and community-based voices can have airwaves, not just the biggies.

  • Restore Full Funding for public broadcasting (aren't you tired of Pledge Drives? Amen!)

  • Eliminate the position of Ombudsman in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

  • Outlaw the use of political talking points in broadcast journalism, unless the source is cited

  • Restore the FCC's Fairness (in Broadcasting) Doctrine (intellectually, we should be sufficiently honest not to be afraid of both sides of any policy or political discussion aired in the broadcast media - unlike our Unitary Executive, who is vulnerable and, in an effort to be Reaganesque, would immediately veto any attempt to restore the Fairness Doctrine)

...and remember...

Wherever the talking heads are making the most noise, look in the 180-degree opposite direction, where you are likely to find both the truth and the things "they" are most afraid and vulnerable of.

In May 2008, George Bush used a speech before the Israeli Knesset to attack Democrats, and by inference, Barack Obama. Bush used the word "appeasement" and cited Hitler to illustrate the danger of talking with our enemies. This elicited a strong response by Mr Obama and echoed across the media echo-chamber.

Later that week, MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews interviewed two media figures about the incident. The conservative talk show host Kevin James virtually spun out of control when asked to step outside of his talking points. To me, this is clear justification that the media needs some policing that it hasn't had since the years of Ronald Reagan.

Americans count on the media for the facts, and should receive nothing less. The media should be obligated to tell Americans the difference between fact and opinion. Our democracy depends upon it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A remedy for Apple's nay-sayers

Despite announcing record results for the latest fiscal quarter, Apple stock took a nose-dive this week. Many think that the financial analysts blame "slowing" iPod sales. Apple can revitalize the iPod and simultaneously enhance its content business in a few easy steps by adding a model or two, and beefing up iTunes:

  • Add audio encoding via line-in and built-in mic.

  • Add direct A/V input, via Firewire and/or USB

  • Add a model between the iPod Touch and the MacBook Air: a content-centric tablet-like device that combines multi-touch and a pen interface, so users can capture, edit and share their own User-Generated Content (UGC).

  • Since Apple would be late in joining the UGC community, they could jump start themselves by running contests for creators and give winners exposure in the iTunes store. If other UGC Web sites can do it, why not iTunes?

  • Give iTunes the ability to distribute content from YouTube and other UGC sites, as MPEG-4 so it can be distributed to iPods and even AppleTV

Unleashing the creative capabilities of the Mac to put UGC over the market-leading iTunes store could be a boon to Apple and users alike.

None of this is impossible technologically. It's just a matter of setting revenue-splits with the content owners and distribution partners. Most of the user interface work is done, with multi-touch, WaCom tablets, etc.

The ABC TV network, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company (of which Steve Jobs is the largest shareholder), could monitor this user-generated content as a way to scout both for content and for new acting talent for its TV shows. NBC Universal has been doing this with YouTube since mid-2006 (as I was told by George Kliavkoff, Chief Digital Officer of NBC Universal). It's possible that ABC has been doing something like this too.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mainstream portable computing, circa 2011 - today

The computer industry pundits are all a-twitter about Apple's new MacBook Air laptop computer. It's a brilliant design. I tend to buy a new laptop ~every 3 years, so I'm not running out to buy one, but perhaps variants on this form-factor will proliferate across the Mac line by the time I'm in the market again.

People are complaining about lack of Ethernet and FireWire connections, lack of CD/DVD drive. But wait, hang on!

--> Today, wireless is almost ubiquitous, so I don't really need Ethernet.

--> As for FireWire - unless you use it to hook up your video camera, most use it for backups to an external drive. But Apple intro'd another truly ingenious product this week for backup, called Time Capsule.

--> If I'm using a home media server or am wirelessly networked, I don't need the CD/DVD drive for movies or music (or backups, see above)

Also, Apple was first to deep-six the floppy drive - when's the last time you used one of those? Similarly, there's no modem in the current generation of Mac laptops: you must purchase a $50 external modem for the current generation of MacBook Pro machines. But when's the last time you used dial-up?

No, I think Apple has a very interesting product that seems like sort of a "niche" head-scratcher product now, but is a harbinger of mainstream portable computing, circa 2011.

Ziff Davis has published a review and commentary about the MacBook Air - it's fun to read the reader responses.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Another Test of Checks & Balances

As expected, the FCC relaxed media ownership rules, and issued 42 permanent waivers allowing media companies to own newspapers, radio or TV stations in the twenty largest markets.

Congress - and not just the Democrats - is challenging the move, and it is likely to end up in Federal Court, as did the last attempt to relax ownership rules, in 2003.

Add Media Ownership to the long list of issues that are testing the US Constitution (First Amendment, 1789-1791) and the American system of checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of our government.

Right up there with Free Speech Zones (First Amendment), internal surveillance (Fourth Amendment), the right to a speedy trial (Sixth Amendment), international treaties (Article VI, Clause 2), declarations of war (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11), illegal torture (Third Geneva Convention, 1949, Article 17), and habeas corpus (The Magna Carta, 1215, clauses 36, 38, 39, and 40). I'm sure I'm leaving something out...