March 27, 2004

Access to public media could expand if we do right on the web 

Just got back from a conference in Indianapolis focused on how to build a better public media system on the web. Public broadcasting content producers like me got together with IT experts and library science people to talk about "interoperability," i.e. how to make our content universally available thru the Internet. We have some problems to solve: Most public TV and radio stations produce a lot of content that has lasting value, but it's stored in different media formats. We're talking about everything from cassette tapes (yuck) to files on hard drives, from analog to several dozen flavors of digital file types. I can tell you WILL has several decades of worthwhile content stored on everything from 18-inch steel platters, 1/4 inch magnetic tape, half a dozen analog videotape formats, DAT, MD, CD, DVC Pro, DV cam, Betacam, not to mention digital file formats like WAV, MPEG2, MP3, Real, Windows, and Quicktime media, and a few truly bizarre and proprietary formats. Not all of that may be worth preserving, but here's the actual rub: How do we even know what the material is? And that points to the real problem we're trying to solve, the "elephant under the carpet" as they say. It's all about the metadata, that is, the information describing the content. We can devise tools to convert that content into preservable digital files and share those files over the Internet, but we have to know what we've got. And it would help if everyone used the same language to describe their content, so we can build a big global media library throughout the public broadcasting system. It turns out that universities, libraries, research centers, and other public information providers are trying to do the same thing. So the idea is, let's build a system whereby if someone wants to know about something, they can get at any content in any format anywhere anytime. Sounds like the Internet, right? Yes, but if you think Google is pretty useful now, just wait until we get our act together. We're building a public media architecture that would establish a universally accessible interface to every facet of human knowledge. Turns out we can actually do this with the tools we now have if we all work together. Let's just hope we can finish it before they pull the rest of our funding.

March 26, 2004

Our Friend Bob Edwards 

Bob Edwards leaving as host of Morning Edition? The news hit me like a death in the family. For almost 25 years his voice has been like bedrock in the morning. His calm, deliberate style welcomed me back to wakeful reality but not too quickly. And there's something in his voice that suggests no matter how complicated the story seems, it's really even more complicated than that. We just have to patient to understand. So the intrigue ramped up a notch when it was revealed Bob's leaving Morning Edition was not his own idea. Associated Press first reported that he was "forced out of the job," scooping NPR with the real story, as it were. According to NPR's initial news release, "Bob Edwards, the award-winning, 30-year NPR veteran broadcaster and host of Morning Edition since its first broadcast, announced today that he is leaving as host of the program effective April 30, 2004, to take on a new assignment as senior correspondent for NPR News." NPR then released a document entitled "Questions and Answers" which clearly states "This change was the decision of NPR Programming and News management." The latest info on NPR's web site reflects a settling down of the spin, a thorough acknowledgement of Bob's long-lived contributions to NPR and public journalism, and his acceptance of a new role as a senior NPR correspondent. I guess I can't get mad at NPR for trying to spin the story, since I know any large public organization would do pretty much the same thing when making this kind of personnel change. I do wonder if it's a wise decision, and only time will tell. If you have a reaction to all this you can voice it here, and you can also contact the NPR ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin at: (202) 513-3246 or ombudsman@npr.org. Your feedback to NPR would be a very good thing, no matter what you think. Meanwhile, I'll miss Bob Edwards on my radio in the morning, and I hope the new Morning Edition hosts won't be all cheerful and wake me up too quickly.

March 22, 2004

911 Commission hearings begin Tuesday, March 23rd 

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States needs some kind of resonant acronym. Beyond that, as hearings begin in one of four commissions assigned to investigate various aspects of events leading up to 911, and the response of our federal agencies, we hope we're paying attention. As per WILL's tradition, the hearings air live on AM 580: Tuesday, March 23rd from 8 am to 4 pm Central; and Wednesday, March 24th from 8 am to 3:30 pm. Do we have time to hear hours of federal hearings? Here's a suggestion. Turn it on in the background and get some work done, but let the compelling parts grab you from time to time. Radio really works well that way, even radio on the web. And if there are no compelling parts? Add it to the lifelong costs of citizenship.

March 19, 2004

Dennis Kucinich interview 

Earlier this week, we had a pretty interesting hour-long interview with Dennis Kucinich. I could get flamed for this, because it sounds like blatant self-promotion since I did the interview. I could also get flamed because we did an interview with Dennis Kucinich but none of the other presidential candidates. That's not fair, is it? It sure looks like WILL has a favorite candidate! The point is, none of the other presidential candidates would give us 2 minutes, let alone an hour. One could argue WILL is a small-fry in the big media picture, and the big candidates are too busy to spend an hour with the public radio audience in Illinois. And Illinois is late in the chain of caucuses and primaries, so maybe it doesn't make sense to spend the candidates' valuable time trying to drum up Illinois primary votes. True, the presidential candidates used to give us interview time, but that was before they had expert consultants to help them script every message, every encounter. The candidates may be coached and scripted, but where does that leave actual dialogue? We do what we can, though it may not be enough.

March 17, 2004

Illinois Primary results 

This blog is not a place where I can vent my own political views, if any, nor celebrate or lament a particular candidate's passage thru the primary campaign meat grinder. All I can say about that is, I got one of those little I Voted stickers and earned it the hard way. (Yikes!! I just did a Google search to find an image and maybe get cute with a hyperlink, and found sooo many other people writing about getting their I Voted stickers. Oh well, too late, I wrote about it again.) Anyway, the WILLblog URL of the day has to be our Illinois Primary vote tally page, where one finds the static version of what last night was rather dynamic. It was fun punching the numbers into our too-clever little spreadsheet, with the phones ringing and the AP light flashing through the night. So this is really a gloat: We beat everyone else in our region, consistently, with the vote tally update. That and 3 bucks gets me a double soy latte at Cafe Kope, not counting the tip. Let's enjoy this brief pause before the election shifts into third gear.

March 15, 2004

MP3 files from WILL: Why not? 

Trying to stream on the cheap ain't easy. There's a whole debate in the public broadcasting system about maybe charging for the privilege of listening online. Some people really believe the only way we can pay for streaming is to charge you for every file. But this means you'd have to authenticate (ya know, username and password) into the site to get access, and probably pay by credit card. Or use iTunes, like Fresh Air and This American Life and others are already doing. Now I swear I love iTunes, and I'd love it more if I didn't have to pay my bills on a public radio paycheck. So for this brief moment in time when we can actually pull this off, we're offering free RealAudio streaming files, and MP3 downloads of our locally-produced programs. I'll probably rant about Real some other time. Today marks the first time downloadable MP3 files are available on our site. There, I buried the lead. People have been asking for it, so there it is. And while we can get away with it, we're giving away as many megabytes as possible.

March 05, 2004

RSS or just BS? 

Nobody can figure out if RSS is the new Internet killer ap or just another experiment. Heck, the whole Internet is an experiment, albiet one that surely will last for quite a while. RSS would probably be better if we knew what RSS stands for, but never mind that. Maybe we'll evolve a better acronym. (I'll accept nominations, though I don't know what I'll do with them.) Anyway, this marks our foray into the Feeding frenzy. Here is WILL's RSS URL, which you can look at on the web or add it to your RSS subscriptions if you have a reader. If you want to find an feed reader, please do check out atomenabled.org. And please tell me if you find a good free reader, and what you like about it. I mean, other than it's free... And what did Grace Slick say? Oh yeah, feed your head.

March 02, 2004

WILLblog purpose 

To give life to content that would otherwise pass as mere information in the public broadcasting infosphere; To create a space for storytelling with a human voice on subjects related to public affairs, education, and culture; To dialogue on all things related to WILL-AM-FM-TV and public service broadcasting; To apply WILL's mission of education in the broadest sense to the new medium of blogcasting. Is that grandiose or what?

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