Posts Tagged ‘Media’

The 911 Surfer

September 11th

As I waited on hold for a conference call with two clients to begin at 9 a.m. I listened to the mindless recorded music of the conference line and I had Morning Joe playing in the background.  Much was predictable political chatter.  Should Governor Romney be running a campaign that more sharply defines conservative differences?  Should he be specific?  Is the President’s post-Convention bounce going to endure?

And then Willie Geist interviewed the “911 Surfer” and his wife.  This man has such an incredible story to tell but his survivor’s guilt has apparently kept him from telling it for 11 years.  He was in the second building to fall, going down the stairs as fast as he could and he had reached the 22nd floor when the building fell.  Somehow, miraculously, his slab of concrete was supported as the building collapsed around him and while he may have fallen 14 stories or more he opened his eyes and had survived.

I was back in 2001.  That day, like 2012, was beautiful and clear.  I was watching the Pentagon from across the river when it exploded in a fireball.  I remember my knees went weak and adrenaline shot through me.  The federal government was shut down and mid morning, while driving home I was caught in traffic.  On an incongruously beautiful Pennsylvania Avenue at 12th street I was stopped dead with my roof open listening to NPR.  A traffic cop and I struck up a conversation as I sat there next to him.  “You could try going up there to the White House or maybe down there to the FBI”, he said.  There were rumors on the radio of car bombs and speculation about whether there was a fourth plane.  Neither path seemed to be particularly appealing.

The 2012 conference call ended and MSNBC was running NBC’s coverage from the morning of 911.  Listening to Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw and Matt Lauer try and figure out what was going on was remarkable.  First, they learned the story one piece at a time while they were live on the air.  But they made remarkably few comments that they should regret today.

Even more dramatic was the way in which their conversation reflected the innocence of an isolated America.  “This is the first time since the war of 1812 or what we did to ourselves in the Civil War, that Americans have ever seen any damage from an attack like this on our soil”, Tom Brokaw said as the television showed the smoke from the collapsing tower literally white out all of lower Manhattan.  “This is so unreal that it’s like scenes from a movie” Katie Couric said.

What struck me in watching it play out again was how much time there was if you had known what was going to happen.  The 911 surfer had stayed in the building for 80 minutes after the first attack.  There was no reason to think that the building would not be safe, he said, and he and a few colleagues were told to stay.

Reading the 911 Report several years later I was struck in particular with how many clues there had been to the planning and the practice runs of the terrorists and how many Americans had to believe that we were safe from the clearly articulated threats.  There were dozens of people who could have stopped the events that played out that morning of 911.  But there was no concern with what everyone would have agreed was possible, but unthinkable.

There are these moments when it becomes clear that after this, everything changes.  In the US we have been so fortunate since 2001 that the plots have been foiled and there have been no new everts.  Human nature will push these matters to the back.  But there is no question that 9/11 was a strategic inflection point on many dimensions.


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The Great Media Mashup

January 6th

The media critic of the New York Times, David Carr, offered his views on the future of big media on January 2nd in an article entitled The Great Media Mashup. He describes the surreal experience of watching the gradual decline of long time media institutions that have defined our society. There may have been a great deal of conversation about the transformation of the communications industries, but suddenly the speed is beginning to accelerate.

There is no news in seeing “two year old web sites are worth more than 50-year old magazines.” Nor is there news in seeing that social media have now stolen the spot light in center stage. But taken as a whole, David Carr’s list of changes shaping the media makes for compelling reading.

  • The End of the Verticals. The phenomenon that iPod owners and Apple TV owners will recognize where the distinction between TV, radio, Internet and books is less clear than it was a year ago. For Borders this is a grim reality. The world has not yet reached the point of understanding that the competitive playing field may be the screen of an iPad and in that framework the Apps look a lot alike.
  • Hybrids for the News Highway. Withdrawal of the advertising base that has supported the mainstream media (whether this is coming from marketing or from Google or Craig’s list) has eroded the business models and created a world in which the great institutions cooperate because they can’t afford to compete.
  • Televised Social Media. Carr imagines a “tent pole” in televised media that permits social annotation. Technically Apple TV could do this today, right? So the threshold of a new medium where the device makes it possible for Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin or Karl Rove or Oprah or the Center for American Progress or the Jersey Shore brings together an audience to watch and crack wise. Couldn’t American Idol do this now?
  • The Non-Linear Grid. With 21% of global shipments of televisions now a web enabled TV, the largest screen and most centrally located device can be added to iPads, mobile phones and other vehicles for connecting audiences. Carr imagines a world in which the “linear programming” of cable and broadcast television is history and appointment television is so 20th Century. Carr imagines a world in which elections and sports like professional football become critical to the future life of broadcasters.
  • Print Looks for a Payday. David Carr explains that the New York Times and others will soon invite their regular users to subscribe on line. But recognizing that it might have been a mistake to have decided to give away the content on line is coming a little late. He explained to me that online media revenue surpassed newspaper revenue for the first time in 2010.

Being invited in to think about these things I recognize that the impact of the eBook on Borders and Barnes and Noble is astonishing and the speed with which the wave has come is incredible. Watching the anchor store to Bethesda Avenue shift from Barnes and Noble to the Apple store is more than a little surprising.

The speed of the growth of ebooks may be astonishing but the fact that Netflix accounts for 20% of peak Internet traffic and threatens the Infrastructure of the Internet is equally surprising. Welcome to the world of the non-linear grid.

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