Thursday, August 10, 2006

The revolution will not be televised

Is anyone outside of the mainstream press covering the post-Katrina recovery?

Er ... well ... isn't that what we bloggers are all doing here?

That's what irked me a little when I read the well-intentioned, if somewhat unresearched, claim by blogger Chartreuse that nobody is reporting "the truth" about the Gulf Coast situation. He's decided to finance a team of citizen journalists to "extract the truth." That's all well and good. I honor the commitment to the well-being of people going through the long, hard Katrina slog. Go for it Chartreuse! Thank you for your interest, and for fronting your own hard-earned cash to get first-hand accounts. There are as many stories to tell as there are millions of people down here, and there aren't enough people reporting those stories. There's certainly a lot more to do, so I say the more the merrier, but I also want to suggest that it would have been easy to find bloggers writing about the Gulf Coast if you'd fired up a Google search for New Orleans blogs (or how about this Google search for examples of New Orleans citizen journalists).

I'll close the Chartreuse topic with what I think is my final word -- that being my comment to an adrastos post, where he fomented a long discussion by New Orleans bloggers about the merits of Chartreuse's approach:

What you risk by getting on your high horse and flaunting your truth-telling mission is looking like Geraldo Rivera grooming himself before he stages a rescue and weeps in front of the cameras. Just as Geraldo thinks the universe revolves around his ego, when you go out and sanctimoniously profess to be the only one "extracting the truth," without acknowledging what now number over 100 Katrina bloggers, you open yourself up to ridicule.

Chartreuse's team of citizen journalists are scheduled to leave for the Gulf Coast this Friday. I hope they get some kind of orientation to what's going on. I've lived in New Orleans for years, and I can say it takes that long just to scratch the surface on an extremely complicated jambalaya of politics, class, and race, which were all put in a spin cycle complements of Hurricane Katrina.

Now, it may be that in Chartreuse's part of the world, no one is reporting what's happening here -- but that wouldn't be for lack of the information getting out there for people to see. Rather, it would be for a lack of others seeing and celebrating what's being done here already. As I've said before, the blogging trend, in particular in post-Katrina New Orleans, has gained momentum and matured into a revolution unlike anything seen before in citizen journalism. This is one of the most unique networks of storytelling, fact-checking, scoops, opinion, and mutual support ever seen in any media realm.

For an interesting commentary on the blast of citizen journalism which blew into New Orleans along with Hurricane Katrina, read Nicolas Lemann's recent New Yorker article, "Amateur Hour: Journalism Without the Journalists."
There were more ordinary people than paid reporters posting information when the tsunami first hit South Asia, in 2004, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, in 2005, and when Israeli bombs hit Beirut this summer. I am in an especially good position to appreciate the benefits of citizen journalism at such moments, because it helped save my father and stepmother’s lives when they were stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: the citizen portions of the Web sites of local news organizations were, for a crucial day or two, one of the best places to get information about how to drive out of the city.

One of the citizen journalists I'd like to celebrate is Lucy, the author of Mapping Lucy, one of Der coole Kinderladen. She's earned her citizen journalist press pass by gutting a house in the Lower Ninth Ward -- and she did her homework before she arrived. Along with thousands of volunteers from around the country who are coming down to New Orleans in droves to help people clean out their homes, people like Lucy are not just documenting an event, but their very spirit is helping to restore the soul of New Orleans -- a gift that can't be paid for in any currency.

Not only is Lucy capturing the essence of life in New Orleans by working as an active participant reporter, but she writes in an intimate style that reads like a travel journal -- no surprise, since the Crescent City is just one stop of many in her travels around the globe visiting places like New Orleans which contain a plethora of architectural gems.
For now, the site is a lonely hive of activity in an otherwise ghost town of a street .... Two big patches of sunflowers have been planted by Common Ground Relief. The sunflowers are supposed to suck excess arsenic and lead out of the soil and should apparently have been disposed of just before they bloom. But no-one seems to be motivated to remove the blaze of yellow optimism just yet.

By the way Lucy, you might be interested in finding out about how sunflowers also symbolized the rebirth of Kobe, Japan, after the 1995 earthquake.

As you read through Lucy's posts, look for her extraordinary pen-and-ink illustrations like this one.

Thanks Lucy! I wish we could keep you.

Anyone who wants to discover the New Orleans blog phenomenon should start by going to the Rising Tide Conference listing of local bloggers, or check out the listings in the PGR sidebar.

One more example of how New Orleans bloggers are forging a new direction of community-based media is represented by the Rising Tide Conference (Aug. 25-27), being organized solely on the initiative of local bloggers to:
dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels. We aim to be a "real life" demonstration of internet activism as the nation prepares to mark the one year anniversary of a massive natural disaster followed by governmental failures on a similar scale.

Everyone's invited to attend the Rising Tide Conference. It'll be held at the New Orleans Yacht Club (403 N. Roadway St.). More information is available at the ThinkNOLA New Orleans wiki.

While I'm talking about the blog phenomenon, I'll admit that I'm a late bloomer to the practice of navel-gazing about blog trends, but there are a couple of aspects that merit attention.

Ernie the Attorney introduced me to The Long Tail, an idea, a concept, a feature common to the statistical distribution of some phenomena, and now a book by Charles Anderson that explains how forums like blogs and podcasts are elongating the information dissemination curve, transforming the way in which people get information, and potentially revolutionizing media power. By focusing on their unique niches, bloggers are part of the leading edge of a dramatic realignment of media power.

Heretofore, media control was concentrated due to limited access to channels of information dissemination (e.g., licensed radio and television stations, high costs of newspaper production, shelf space in book stores). The internet and the blog revolution have reduced the costs of entry to insignificance. Everyone who has something to say can say it and be heard. The result is that mainstream media may still be looked at as authoritative, but they'll increasingly be forced to compete with an ever-broadening stream of content by countless other niche providers -- like New Orleans citizen journalists in the blog, video, and podcast realms.

There are now over 50 million blogs, according to Technorati, and over 175,000 new blogs are being created daily. A lot of these may be commercial spam blogs, and others are people who really have little to add to the collective human experience, but others stick around and contribute in a meaningful way. The ones to watch out for are those who get good at it (like the growing number of us in New Orleans)!

When the cost of inventory storage and distribution fall, a wide range of products become available. This can in turn, have the effect of reducing demand for the most popular products. For example, Web content businesses with broad coverage like Yahoo! or CNET may be threatened by the rise of smaller Web sites that focus on niches of content, and cover that content better than the larger sites. The competitive threat from these niche sites is reduced by the cost of establishing and maintaining them and the bother required for readers to track multiple small Web sites. These factors have been transformed by easy and cheap Web site software and the spread of RSS.

The flattening of the media curve isn't just conjecture. It's already happening, and is being documented in places like Sifry's Alerts.

Here's an example of how hyperlinks to some of the better-known blogs rank above even major media organizations. The red bars represent blog sites like Boing Boing, The Daily KOS, and the Huffington Post. As you move farther out on the curve, blogs make up an increasing number of links -- that means more eyeballs looking at niche content. offered this description of the long tail concept:
What happens when the bottlenecks that stand between supply and demand in our culture go away and everything becomes available to everyone?

"The Long Tail" is a powerful new force in our economy: the rise of the niche. As the cost of reaching consumers drops dramatically, our markets are shifting from a one-size-fits-all model of mass appeal to one of unlimited variety for unique tastes. From supermarket shelves to advertising agencies, the ability to offer vast choice is changing everything, and causing us to rethink where our markets lie and how to get to them. Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it, from DVDs at Netflix to songs on iTunes to advertising on Google.

However, this is not just a virtue of online marketplaces; it is an example of an entirely new economic model for business, one that is just beginning to show its power. After a century of obsessing over the few products at the head of the demand curve, the new economics of distribution allow us to turn our focus to the many more products in the tail, which collectively can create a new market as big as the one we already know.

The Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance. New efficiencies in distribution, manufacturing, and marketing are essentially resetting the definition of what’s commercially viable across the board. If the 20th century was about hits, the 21st will be equally about niches.

Of course, to keep up with the media revolution, you'll want to read The Long Tail blog.

I have my own top-secret ideas for how to profit from the media revolution (I'll have to kill any of my fellow bloggers if you sell my idea to XM, Sirius, or Clear Channel), but it will take a little capital. If you're a tech-savvy venture capitalist who wants to get in on the ground floor of the media revolution and make a gazillion dollars on something that will soon become as common as baseball and apple pie feel free to contact me.

If you don't, you'll run the risk of becoming yesterday's newsprint news, as Ernie the Attorney explains.
All kinds of people are noticing these changes, people in Bangalore, kids in high school who learn Japanese so they can understand manga better, and pretty much everyone who is adept at computers and the Internet. What's sad is not that those people are noticing the changes, but that our leaders --particularly here in the United States-- are only dimly aware that any kind of change is taking place, much less that it is a radical change and that it is developing at an accelerating pace.

That pretty much defines the term "revolution" doesn't it? -- a change that the ruling elite doesn't even see coming.

Years from now, people who want to learn about what Hurricane Katrina, and what post-Katrina reconstruction was like, might look at archived news stories by mainstream media, but to really appreciate the things people were feeling and doing in the daily Katrina slog, they'll look to the record of thoughts expressed in forums like blogs (if they're archived somewhere).

For people in the present, to stay ahead of the revolution, they'd be well advised to pay attention to the revolution as it's being reported every day in New Orleans blogs. In many cases, what's happening on the ground is being reported here first.

Okay, so the revolution might be televised, but the chances are better that it'll be blogged first.

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At 8/10/2006 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Editor B said...

Thank you for articulating these thoughts. I was a little taken aback at some of the other bloggers' vociferous reaction to Chartreuse. You explain your reservations well, but in a more moderate tone. I feel I understand the issue better now.

At 8/10/2006 12:42:00 PM, Anonymous Adrastos said...

Good post. The reaction to the so-called Team NOLA by fueled by googling the members. It looks to me as if they figured out a way to raise money for a free trip to New Orleans. Given the content of their blogs I don't expect much to come of it.

My original post was just my usual mockery as opposed to a rant. The extent of the reaction surprised me too. 34 comments and counting.

At 8/10/2006 05:39:00 PM, Anonymous Sophmom said...

I dunno. I'm an "outsider" too and was astonished at their chutzpah. I try never to forget that I am neither there nor from there in my interactions with those of you who are, and I don't think that they were respectful of your perspectives, or even really aware of the dynamic into which they charged headlong. At best, it was arrogant and insensitive.

Mappinglucy’s post was beautiful, a perfect example, and I’m glad she mentioned Tulane, as did the Fortune article, but I’m sorry that neither of them mentioned Loyola, Xavier, Dillard or UNO because I still believe their opening in January was one of (if not the) most important events in the recovery, to date. While all the government entities and various panels and commissions were talking about what to do, those five universities just did it. They opened their doors, brought their administrations, staff and faculties home, which meant employees bringing children, necessitating schools opening their doors, and people all over the country, ordinary people who lived in nice *safe* places, sent their sons and daughters back to New Orleans to go to college. I still cry when I think about it.

As for the remainder of your post, Schroeder, it was incredible. I think you're exactly right. This is such a great time to be alive. I believe that it's a revolution like none before it, the greatest since the invention of the printing press. I think that online community and the fact that it enables like-minded people from disparate everything: geography, age, socio-economic status; to interact, to share ideas and become "friends", will change the world. I don't see how, over time, tyranny and injustice can survive, with the truth so easily transmittable throughout society. There will always be wrongs, but as time and technology advance, it will become impossible to power them by secrecy.

Great, great post. You're on quite a roll, Schroeder. Hitting your stride, darlin'.

At 8/10/2006 06:10:00 PM, Anonymous Marco said...

Where do you get the energy to compose these phenomenal posts?
Mapping Lucy is the real deal.
Keep on pushin'.

At 8/11/2006 09:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it interesting how dismissive and rude the New Orleans bloggers have been to Chartreuse.

A simple technorati search would show that his blog is one of the more popular ones on the internet.

He's been written about in the New York Times and other mainstream media. His blog is easily one of the most influential, especially among the tech crowd.

As a regular reader of his blog I know that he has been writing about New Orleans for a long time. Long after everyone else stopped writing about it.

His blog is one of the most inspiring because he writes all the time about the power individuals have and being brave.

His team going to New Orleans is an example of that.

At 8/13/2006 09:52:00 PM, Blogger Schroeder said...

I don't know anonymous -- I don't have anything against the guy's motives, but I don't know him from Jack with regard to what's going on here. If anything, it's not us being "dismissive and rude," it's him.

At 9/06/2006 07:30:00 PM, Blogger Professor Zero said...

Brilliant post!

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