We Need Whole News

local news

Journalism is in trouble because journals are going away. So are broadcasters that do journalism rather than opinionism.

Basically, they are either drowning in digital muck or adapting to it—and many have. Also in that muck are a zillion new journalists, born native to digital life. Those zillions include everybody with something to say, for example with blogs or podcasts. As Clay Shirky put it in the title of a very relevant book about our topic, Here Comes Everybody.

An odd fact about digital life is that its world is the Internet, which works by eliminating the functional distance between everybody and everything. Think of this habitat as a giant three-dimensional zero: a hollow sphere with an interior that is as close to zero as possible in both distance and cost for everything on it. This is a very weird space that isn’t one, even though we call it one because space works as a metaphor.

Still, we are all embodied creatures operating in a natural world with plenty of distance and lots of costs. This is why we form communities, towns, cities, organizations, institutions, and social networks of people who see and talk to each other in the flesh.

For more than a century, the information center that held a town or a city together was its newspaper. This is no longer the case. The Monroe Country History Center and the Herald-Times (our local paper) explain the situation in an outstanding exhibit at the Center’s museum called Breaking the News:

If you’re reading this on something small, click on it to see the full-size original.

But hey! There are still plenty of journals, journalists, and news sources here in town, including the Herald-Times. That’s some of their logos, gathered at the top of this page. I also listed them in my last post, calling them all, together, wide news. If their work is well-archived we’ll also have what I call deep news in the prior post.

I suggest that the answer to the question asked by that exhibit—where will it go now?— is whole news. That’s what you get when all these media cohere into both a commons and a market.

And, as it happens, we have some resources for creating both.

One is the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University, where my wife Joyce and I are both visiting scholars. The workshop carries forward the pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for her work on commons of many kinds. If we’re going to make a whole news commons, the Workshop can be hugely helpful. (So can other folks we know, such as Clay Shirky. Note that the subtitle of Here Comes Everybody is The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Clay will be here to speak in our salon series at IU in December.)

Another is Customer Commons, a nonprofit that Joyce and I started as part of ProjectVRM, which we launched when I started a fellowship at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center in 2006. Customer Commons (says here) is “a public-facing organization focused on emerging issues at the intersection of empowered individuals and the public good,” while ProjectVRM is a community with hundreds of developers and others working on new business models that start with self-empowered customers. Within both are business model ideas for journalism that have been waiting for the right time and place to try out. (Examples are intentcasting listenlog and emancipay.)

But the first step for us is getting to know the people and organizations on the supply side of news here in Bloomington, where Joyce and have now lived for two years. We know some local journalists already, and would love to know the rest. If I don’t reach you first, email me at doc at searls dot com.

And, as I said in the prior posts, everything I’ve written above is subject to corrections and improvements, so I invite those too.




Posted in advertising, Broadcasting, Commons, Culture, governance, Journalism, marketing | Tagged | Leave a comment

We Need Wide News

Bloomington, Indiana, my new hometown

How do people get news where you live? How do they remember it?

For most of the industrial age, which is still with us, newspapers answered both those questions—and did so better than any other medium or civic institution. Newspapers were required reading, delivered daily to doorsteps, and sold from places all around town. Old copies also accumulated in libraries and other archives, either as bound volumes or in microfilm reels and microfiche cards. News also came from radio and TV stations, though both did far less archiving, and none were as broad and deep in what they covered and how. Newspapers alone produced deep news.

And wide news as well. Local and regional papers covered politics, government, crises, disasters, sports, fashion, travel, business, religion, births, deaths, schools, and happenings of all kinds. They had reporters assigned across all their sections. No other medium could go as wide.

After the Internet showed up in the mid-’90s, however, people also began getting news from each other, through email, blogs, texting, online-only publications, and social media. To keep up and participate, newspapers, magazines, and other legacy print media built websites and began to publish online. Broadcast media began to stream online too. But the encompassing trend was the digitization of everything and everyone. Consumers became producers. Every person with a computer or a phone was equipped to become a reporter, a photographer, a videographer, or a podcaster. (In the 24 September 2004 issue of IT Garage, I reported that a Google search for podcasts got 24 results. Today it gets 3,84 billion.)

In the midst of all this, the local and regional newspaper business collapsed. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post found ways to survive and continue to thrive. Many other major papers are getting along but none are what they were. Nor can they be. Today most local papers are gone or shrunk to tiny fractions of their former selves.  Countless local commercial radio stations are now owned by national chains, fed “content” from elsewhere, and maintain minimized or absent local staff. Public radio has survived mostly because it learned long ago how to thrive on listener contributions, bequests, and institutional support. TV news is still alive, but also competing with millions of other sources of video content. None of its coverage is as wide as newspapers were in their long prime.

Another reason for the decline of local news media is economic. Craigslist and its imitaters killed newspapers’ classified sections, which had been a big source of income. Advertisers abandoned the practice of targeting whole populations interested in sports, business, fashion, entertainment, and other subjects. With digital media, advertisers can target tracked individuals. As I put it in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff, “Madison Avenue fell asleep, direct response marketing ate its brain, and it woke up as an alien replica of itself.” That replica cares not a whit for supporting journalism of any kind.

Eyeballs and eardrums were also pulled toward direct response marketing by algorithms rigged to increase engagement. A collateral effect was pulling individual interests into affinity groups that grew tribal as they became echo chambers favoring the voices that excelled at eliciting emotional responses. Naturally, media specialized for feeding tribal interests emerged, obsolescing media that worked to cross partisan divides—such as old-fashioned newspapers. (In the old days, papers with a bend to the left or the right isolated partisanship to their opinion pages.) Talk radio and cable news became entirely partisan operations.

So, by the time Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) said “Facts don’t matter. What matters is how much we hate the person talking” (March 13, 2022), what Yeats poetized in The Second Coming seemed fulfilled:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And yet, as James Fallows told Joyce and me a couple of months ago, if you talk to people in small towns about anything but politics, they’re just fine. Moreover, they still work together and get things done. (Jim and Deb gained this wisdom while researching their book and movie, both titled Our Towns.)

Towns do have their fault lines, but people everywhere are held together by their natural need for the conveniences that arise out of shared necessity—for markets, medical help, education, public spaces, and each other. They also need good information about what’s going on where they live. By good I mean the kind of information they used to get before newspapers—and the daily ceremony of innocence newspapers provided—were obsolesced by the Internet.

Back in the mid-’00s, the idea of “citizen journalism” (which went by other labels) first showed up in the writings of Dan Gillmor, J.D. Lasica, Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, myself, and others. All of us were also concerned about the decline of newspapers. So, in January 2007, after The New York Times sold the Santa Barbara News-Press to a billionaire who fired the staff and made the paper a vehicle for her personal interests, the Center for Information Technology and Society (CITS) at UC Santa Barbara convened a charrette to discuss the future of local newspapers. The title was “Newspaper 2.0.” It was led by yours truly, then (and still) a fellow of the Center. Some of the people mentioned earlier in this paragraph were there, along with exiled News-Press staffers, educators, and other local media, including “place blogs” that were also daily newsletters. Here is a photo series from the event, and the wiki we put together as well. I don’t know to what extent that gathering helped enlarge the degree to which other media made up for the failure of the News-Press (which finally filed for bankruptcy this summer, after a decade and a half of irrelevance). I do know that Santa Barbara now rich with news sources.

Meanwhile, my full attention is here in Bloomington, Indiana. Our local newspaper, the Herald-Times, is still alive and kicking, but not what it was when giant rolls of paper were delivered by train car weekly to the back of the paper’s building at 1900 South Walnut Street, and it was the source of wide news for the town and the region.

Now it’s e pluribus unum time. There are many other media in town, covering many topics, and I’m not yet clear on how much they comprise a news commons. But, as a visiting scholar (along with Joyce) at Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop, which is all about studying commons, I want to see if our collection of local news media can become an example of wide news at work, whether we call it a commons or not. From my current notes, here is a quick, partial, and linky list of local media—

Periodicals (including newsletters and websites):


  • WFHB (has local news and podcasts)
  • WFIU (has local news and podcasts)
  • WIUX (IU student station, has local stuff)
  • WGCL (legacy local radio, AM & FM)
  • WBWB (B97) (pop music, has local news, sister of WHCC)
  • WTTS (legacy Tarzian FM music station, broadcasting from Trafalgar, on the south side of Indianapolis, with a popular local translator of its HD2 channel called Rock96 The Quarry)
  • WHCC (local country station, has some local news, sister of WBWB)
  • WCLS (local album rock station, has a calendar)



Indiana University

Civic Institutions:

So my idea is to hold a charrette like the one we had in Santa Barbara, to see how those interested in making wide news better can get along. No rush. I just want to put the idea out there and see what happens.

I think one thing that will help is that nobody is trying to do it all anymore. But everybody brings something to the table. Metaphorically speaking, I’d like to put the table there.

Thoughts and ideas are invited. So are corrections and improvements to the above. I see this post, like pretty much everything I write online, as a public draft.

My email is doc at searls dot com.

I shot the photo above on a flight from Indianapolis to Houston after giving this lecture at IU. Here is a whole series on Bloomington from that flight. And here is the rest of the flight as well. All the photos in both are Creative Commons licensed to encourage use and reuse, by anybody. I have about 60,000 photos such as these published online here, and another 5,000 here, all ready for anyone to put in a news story. I bring this up because public photography is one of my small contributions to wide news everywhere. You can see results in countless news stories and at Wikimedia Commons, where photos in Wikipedia come from. I put none of those where they are. Others found them and put them to use.

Posted in Indiana, Journalism | 8 Comments

We Need Deep News

An exhibit at the Monroe County History Center, in Bloomington, Indiana

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.
— Thomas Jefferson

News is the first rough draft of history. Countless journalists

“Breaking the News” is the title of an exhibit at the Monroe County History Center here in Bloomington, Indiana.* It traces the history of local news from the mid-18oos, when several competing newspapers served a population of a thousand people or less, to our current time, when the golden age of newspapers is long past, and its survivors and successors struggle to fill the empty shoes of local papers while finding new ways to get around and get along.

Most of the exhibits are provided by what’s left of the city’s final major newspaper, the Herald-Times, which thankfully still persists online. Archives of the paper are also online, going back to 1988. I am told that there are microfilm archives going back farther, available at the Monroe County Public Library. Meanwhile, bound volumes of the paper, from the 1950s through 2013, are up for auction. (More here, including word that older bound volumes are apparently lost.)

Meanwhile, in our other hometown, the Santa Barbara News-Press is gone after serving the city for more than 150 years. The Wikipedia article for the paper now speaks of it in the past tense: was. Its owner, Ampersand Publishing (for which I can find nothing online), filed for bankruptcy late last month. You can read reports about it in KSBY, the LA Times, the IndependentNoozhawkEdhat, and a raft of other local and regional news organizations.

From what I’ve read so far (and I’d love to be wrong) none of those news reports touch on the subject of the News-Press‘ archives, which conceivably reach back across the century and a half it was published. There can’t be a better first draft of history for Santa Barbara than that one. If it’s gone, the loss is incalculable.

Back here in Bloomington, Dave Askins of the B Square Bulletin, which reports on what public offices and officials are up to, has issued a public RFQ for a digital file repository that will be a first step in the direction of what I suggest we call deep news. Namely, the kind that depends on archives. It begins,

The B Square is seeking proposals from qualified web developers to create a digital file repository. The purpose of this repository is to provide a platform where residents of the Bloomington area can contribute and access digital files of civic or historical interest. This repository will allow users to upload files, add metadata, perform searches, and receive notifications about new additions. We invite interested parties to submit their proposals, outlining their approach, capabilities, and cost estimates for the development and implementation of this project. For an example of a similar project, see: https://a2docs.org/ For the source code of that project, see: https://github.com/a2civictech/docstore.

The links go to a project in Ann Arbor (where Dave used to live and work) that was clearly ahead of its time, which is now.

We also need wide news, which is what you get from lots of organizations and people doing more than filling the void left by shrunken or departed newspapers. (Also local radio, most of which is now just music and talk programs piped in from elsewhere.)

News reporting is a process more than a product, and the Internet opens that process to countless new participants and approaches. Many of us have been writing, talking, and working toward Internet-enabled journalism since the last millennium. Jim Fallows (see below), Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer, JD Lasica, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, Emily Bell & crew at the Tow Center, and Joshua Benton and the crew at NiemanLab, are among those who come to mind. (I’ll be adding more.) Me too (for example, here).

Wide news, when it happens, is a commons: an informal cooperative. (The Ostrom Workshop, where my wife and I are visiting scholars, studies them.) I think we are getting there in Santa Barbara. But, as the LA Times story on the News-Press suggests in its closing paragraphs, there are gaps:

Santa Barbarans have turned to other sources as the newspaper’s staff withered to just a handful of journalists. Along with the Independent and Noozhawk, some locals said they turn to KEYT television and to Edhat, a website that relies heavily on “citizen journalists” to report on local events.

Melinda Burns, one of many reporters who left the paper after feuding with management, now provides freelance stories to many of the alternative news organizations. Burns, who has spent decades in the news business, including a stint at the Los Angeles Times, said she has seen gaps in coverage in recent years, particularly in the areas of water policy and the changes wrought by legalized cannabis. She continues to report on those topics and said she gives away her in-depth stories free to reach as many people as possible.

“It keeps me engaged with the community and, God, do we need the coverage,” she said. “The local news outlets are valiant but overworked. It’s just a constant scramble for them to try to keep up.”

Maybe it helps to know that a landmark local news institution is gone, and the community needs to create a journalistic commons, together: one without a single canonical source, or a scoop-driven culture.

I think the combination of deep and wide news is a new thing we don’t have yet. I’ll call it whole news. We’ll know it’s whole by what’s not missing. Is hard news covered? City hall? Sports? Music? Fashion? Culture? Events? Is there a collected calendar where anyone can see everything that’s going on? With whole news, there is a checkmark beside each of those and more.

Toward one of those checkmarks (in addition to the one for city hall), Dave Askins has put together a collective calendar for Bloomington. Wherever you are, you can make one of your own, filled by RSS feeds and .ics files.

At the close of all his news reports, Scoop Nisker (who just died, dammit) said, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”

So let’s do it.

*Breaking the News is also James Fallows‘ newsletter on Substack. I recommend it highly.

Posted in Business, Commons, Journalism | 3 Comments

All home now

header images for three blogs

From 2007 until about a month ago, I wrote on three blogs that lived at blogs.harvard.edu. There was my personal blog (this one here, which I started after retiring my original blog), ProjectVRM‘s blog (also its home page), and Trunkline, a blog about infrastructure that was started by Christian Sandvig when he and I were both fellows at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society (and which I kept alive with very occasional posts since then). The image above is from those blogs’ header images.

All three are now re-homed. This one is at doc.searls.com (a URL that had redirected to blogs/harvard.edu/doc for many years), ProjectVRM’s is at ProjectVRM.org (a URL that had redirected to blogs.harvard.edu/vrm address) and Trunkline’s (which had been at blogs.harvard.edu/trunk) is now at trunkli.org.

Their hosting service is Pressable.com, a WordPress subsidiary that worked with the Berkman Klein Center to make sure that every link on the Web pointing to pages at those three Harvard-hosted blogs now goes to those pages’ new locations, without anything being 404’d. Which is just. freaking. awesome.

My thanks and gratitude to all the people who helped, both within those organizations and in my own network of friends. Together they demonstrate that the Web is a living archive and not just a whiteboard.

Posted in Berkman, Blogging, Harvard, infrastructure, Journalism, VRM, WordPress | 3 Comments

Microsoft Bing Chat 0, Perplexity.ai 1.

So I thought I’d give Bing a try at using ChatGPT to answer a question for which I knew the answer.

The question was, “What group sings the theme song to the podcast ‘A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs’?”

Bing search took me to a page of search results about the podcast itself, which didn’t help; but I saw a chat menu under its search bar. Clicking on that brought up a huge popover headlined, “Chat mode is only available when you have access to the new Bing.” For that I need to “unlock conversational search on Microsoft Edge.”

Which I already had, but had hardly used.  So I went to Bing on Edge and clicked on the Chat link. Next, it wanted me to log into Microsoft itself. This required two-factor authentication for my password manager (Dashlane) and for Microsoft. Annoying, but we live in an annoying time.

Still, I got to engage Bing Chat, asking it the same question. It replied, The theme music for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is called “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles1. I hope that helps!

It didn’t help. In fact, it could hardly be farther off.

So I said, “No, it’s a female group, and the song was recorded in the 1930s.” It replied, I’m sorry but I couldn’t find any information on the female group that sings the theme music for “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” that was recorded in the 1930s. Would you like me to help you with anything else?

Nope. So then I tried ChatGPT, and got this answer:

The theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is performed by a group called “The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.” The band is known for their unique blend of punk rock and Victorian music hall influences, and they have a dedicated following within the alternative music scene. Their song “Margate Fhtagn,” which is used as the theme song for the podcast, captures the spirit of the show’s exploration of rock music history.

Wholly shit. Talk about hallucinating.

Then I went to perplexity.ai, which gave a correct answer, complete with sources: The theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is called “Rock and Roll” [1]. It is a song from 1934 and is believed to be the very first song to use the phrase “rock and roll” in those words.

The “1” is a footnote going to the source of the answer. which is a post for the “500 Songs” podcast itself. Again, the song is called “Rock and Roll,” and it’s by the Boswell Sisters.

In that post, Andrew Hickey, the amazing host and producer of ‘500 Songs’, writes,

The song is called “Rock and Roll”, and it’s from 1934. It is, I believe, the very first song to use the phrase “rock and roll” in those words — there was an earlier song called “rocking and rolling”, but I think it’s the first one to use the phrase “rock and roll”.

It’s performed by the Boswell Sisters, a jazz vocal trio from the thirties whose lead singer, Connee Boswell, influenced Ella Fitzgerald among others, and it was written by Richard Whiting and Sidney Clare.

They actually wrote it for Shirley Temple — they’re the people who wrote “On the Good Ship Lollipop” — but it was turned down for use in one of her films so the Boswells did it instead.

The version I’m using is actually the version the Boswells sang in a film, Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, rather than the proper studio recording. That’s just because the film version was easier for me to obtain.

So there you have it.

I don’t know who does perplexity.ai, but it is by far the most useful AI chatbot I’ve found so far. (Though I’ve been briefed on another one in the works. Stay tuned for that.)

[Later…] I just asked Bard the same question, and got this answer:

The theme song to the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is “Rock and Roll” by the Boswell Sisters. The song was released in 1934 and is considered to be the first song to use the phrase “rock and roll” in its lyrics. The Boswell Sisters were a jazz vocal trio from the 1930s who were known for their harmonies and their innovative arrangements. Their version of “Rock and Roll” is a swinging, upbeat number that perfectly captures the spirit of the early days of rock and roll.

The podcast host, Bob Stanley, chose the Boswell Sisters’ version of “Rock and Roll” as the theme song because he felt that it was a fitting way to start each episode. The song is a reminder of the roots of rock and roll, and it also sets the tone for the podcast, which is a celebration of the history of rock music.

Right about the Boswell sisters, wrong about the host of the podcast. Again, it’s Andrew Hickey, not Bob Stanley.

So Perplexity.ai still wins.

[Later (27 July)…] Retesting before pointing to this post again.

Bing: The theme song for the podcast ‘A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs’ is called “500 Songs” and it is performed by the band The Heat Death[1]. (The [1] footnote just goes to https://500songs.com/. Not very specific, that.)

ChatGPT: As of my last update in September 2021, the theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is performed by the host of the podcast, Andrew Hickey. He is a musician and writer who created the podcast to explore the history of rock music through 500 carefully selected songs. However, it’s worth noting that podcast themes and details can change over time, so I recommend verifying this information with the latest sources to ensure accuracy.

Bard: I’m a language model and don’t have the capacity to help with that.

Perplexity.ai: After conducting a search, I could not find any information about a female group that recorded the theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs”. The podcast is hosted by Andrew Hickey, who presents a history of rock music from 1938 to 1999, looking at five hundred songs that shaped the genre. (Six footnotes are appended.)

So this time all of them failed.

I only followed up with Perplexity.ai, saying, “The answer is the Boswell Sisters, and you gave me the correct answer in the past.” It replied, I apologize for the confusion. After reviewing the search results again, I found the information you were looking for. The Boswell Sisters, a female vocal group, recorded the theme song used by Andrew Hickey for his podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs”1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and I apologize for any inconvenience caused. The footnote, irrelevantly, goes here.

[Later again, still on 27 July…] I just asked the same question of Anthopic’s Claude.io. Here is the dialog:

DS: What group sings the theme song to the podcast ‘A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs’?

Unfortunately I do not have enough context to determine what the theme song is for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs.” Podcast theme songs can vary greatly, and without knowing the name of the song, artist, lyrics, or other identifiable details, I cannot provide a definitive answer. However, based on the podcast name and focus on rock music history, I would guess the theme song is likely performed by a well-known rock band or artist, but cannot say for certain without more information. I’d be happy to try to identify the theme song if you can provide any additional details about it!
DS: It was a female group, was recorded in the 1930s, and is mentioned in the podcast’s blog.
Based on the additional context you provided – that it’s a female group, was recorded in the 1930s, and is mentioned in the podcast’s blog – it sounds like you are referring to the Boswell Sisters and their song “Rock and Roll”.

The Boswell Sisters were a very popular close harmony singing trio, active in the 1930s. They were known for their jazz, blues, and pop vocal styles.

In the blog for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs”, the host Andrew Hickey mentions that he uses a 1932 recording of “Rock and Roll” by the Boswell Sisters as the podcast’s theme song. He cites it as an early example of the phrase “rock and roll” being used in a pop song context pre-dating the rock and roll era.

So unless it’s a different 1930s female group, it seems likely you are asking about the Boswell Sisters and their song “Rock and Roll” being used as the theme for that particular podcast. Let me know if this helps identify the artist you were asking about!

DS: That is correct. Thank you.

You’re very welcome! I’m glad I was able to provide the right answer for the theme song to “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” after you gave me some helpful additional context. Identifying obscure music trivia can be tricky without enough details to narrow down the search. Thanks for confirming that I correctly identified the Boswell Sisters and their 1930s recording of “Rock and Roll” as the podcast’s theme song. Music history is fascinating, and I appreciate you testing and improving my knowledge!

So I’ll give Claude half a point for that answer.

Posted in AI, audio, Research | 1 Comment

An exercise in perspective

I wrote this today for a list that’s mostly populated by folks in overlapping music, broadcasting, legal, tech, and other businesses who share a common interest in what’s happening to the arts and artists they care about in a world now turning almost completely digital.—Doc

Here is a question I hope can get us out of our heads, our histories in the businesses (music, broadcasting, entertainment, publishing, law, pick-your-art), and up past the 30,000-foot level, out into space, so its possible, at least conceptually, to see the digital world that now coexists with the physical one, but with completely new blessings and curses that may have little to do with the physical world models that operate with and under it.

With that in mind, let’s try putting our minds outside the supply side of the marketplace, with all its incumbent mechanisms and rules, and where all of us have operated for the duration. We’re in space now, looking down on the digital and physical worlds, free to see what might be possible in these co-worlds.

Now try visiting this question: As a consumer or customer (not all the same) of artistic goods, what would you be willing to pay for them if payment was easy and on your terms and not just those of incumbent industries and their regulatory frameworks?

For example, Would you pay the recording artists, performers, producers, and composers the tiny amounts most of them get from a play on Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, Apple Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, a radio station or indirectly through the movies or TV shows that feature those goods?

Try not to be mindful of standing copyright regimes, deals made between all the parties in distribution chains, and subscription systems as they stand. In fact, try to put subscription out of your minds and think instead of what you would want to pay, value-for-value, in a completely open marketplace where you can pay what you like for whatever you like, on an á la carte basis. Don’t think how. Think how much. Imagine no coercion on the providers’ side. You’re the customer. You value what you use and enjoy, and are willing to pay for it on a value-for-value basis.

To help with this, imagine you have your own personal AI: one that logs all the music you hear, all the programs you watch, all the podcasts you listen to, all the radio you play in your car, and can tell you exactly how much time you spent with each. Perhaps it can tell you what composers, writers, producers, labels, and performers were involved, and help you know which you valued more and which you valued less. (Again, this is your AI, not Microsoft’s, Google’s, Facebook’s, or Apple’s. It works only for you, in your own private life.)

Then look at whatever you’re spending now, for all the subscription services you employ, for all the one-offs (concerts, movies in theaters, bands night clubs) you also pay for. Would it be more? Less? How much?

The idea here is to zero-base the ways we understand and build new and more open markets in the digital world, which is decades old at most and will be with us for many decades, centuries, or millennia to come. It should help to look at possibilities in this new non-place without the burden of leveraging models built in a world that is physical alone.

I submit that in this new world, free customers will be more valuable—to themselves and to the marketplace—than captive ones. And that sellers working toward customer capture through coercive subscription systems and favorable regulations will find less advantage than by following (respecting Adam Smith) the hand-signals of independent customers.

We don’t know yet if that will be the case. But we can at least imagine it, and see where that goes.

Posted in AI, Art, Business, Cognitive Science, music, Subscriptions | 6 Comments

A look at broadcast history happening

When I was a kid in the 1950s and early 1960s, AM was the ruling form of radio, and its transmitters were beyond obvious, taking the form of towers hundreds of feet high, sometimes in clusters formed to produce directional signals favoring some directions over others. These were typically landmarks out on the edge of town, or standing oddly on salt bogs or farmland.

From my bedroom in New Jersey, not far across the Hudson from New York City, I could see the red lights on the tops of towers standing in the “Meadowlands” (we called them swamps then) with Manhattan’s skyline beyond.

The towers in the photo above are three of those, tasked with beaming WMCA/570 and WNYC/820 toward New York’s boroughs from a pond of impounded water beside the Hackensack River and the east spur of the New Jersey Turnpike. Built in 1940, these three towers have by now become the most-seen AM radio signal source on Earth. For a while, they were also the most heard. That’s because, in its prime, which ran from 1958 to 1966, WMCA was also the leading top 40 music station in the world’s leading radio market. (WABC, with a signal ten times as strong, ruled the suburbs, with a night signal heard across half the country.)

While these days WNYC is the AM side of New York’s public radio empire (which brings in more money, largely from listeners, than any of the commercial stations in town), it is most famous for Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s “Talk to the People” show, which ran in the first half of the 1940s. (Back then WNYC had its own towers standing on what’s now WNYC Transmitter Park, alongside the East River in Brooklyn.)

Prior to the Internet, major media comprised a fewness of sources, in both print and broadcast. That fewness is over now, and the writing of over-the-air broadcasting’s end is being written on the Internet’s walls, perhaps most purposefully by yours truly. Because I’ve shot and shared thousands of photos of transmitters and antennas, knowing that the land under the most vulnerable ones—those on the AM band—tends to be worth more than the signals themselves. Many of these sites have already been sold off, with signals moving to shared towers on other stations’ sites, or just going dark.

Radio itself is also slowly being eaten alive: on the talk side by podcasts and on the music side by streaming services and webcasters. So I publish those photos as historical evidence of what in a few years (decades at most) will be no more. (Sorry, but no amount of lawmaking or regulation will save AM radio. Much as many of us—me included—still love it, neither the tech nor the economics can compete with the Internet, smartphones, the cellular system, and computers.)

So I recently ran a test of a theory: that it is good to have a conversation about all these developments, at least among professionals both active and retired in the broadcast engineering world. What follows is a post I put up for a private group that includes more than a dozen thousand of those.

Some hopefully fun detective work.

First, an ad in the November 14, 1949 issue of Broadcasting, the Youngstown-based company that built (or supplied steel) for countless AM stations in that band’s golden age. The image is of the array of six 400-foot tall self-supporting towers putting out the directional night signal for WFMJ, now WNIO/1390. HT for scanning and publishing that page goes to David Gleason, who gives us the amazing and valuable [https://worldradiohistory.com/](https://worldradiohistory.com/)

Second is a Google StreetView of what I think is the current view of the same site, with the transmitter shack and the six towers replaced. One of those is also a tower in WKBN’s own directional nighttime array. (Also, in the distance is another tower that appears not to participate in either station’s system.)

Third is a Bing Birds Eye (a fixed-wing aircraft) view of the whole site:

And a fourth is the Google view from space of the same.

Of possible relevance is that WNIO and WKBN are non-directional by day, the former from a tower at another site in town. Also that WNIO was a 5kw DA-N from the site for most of its life and is now 9.5kw from the day site and 4.8kw from the night site we see in these images—and that its six towers have six different electrical lengths, ranging from 105.8° to 215.1°, apparently in slightly different positions on the ground. Also that WKBN has been 5kw day and night since the late 1940s.

We can also see from the Truscon ad that the original address of WFMJ was on Poland-Broadmans Road, which I think is now just Broad. (The current shack for WNIO is on East Western Reserve Road, while WKBN’s is at the end of a long driveway off that same road.) One can also see from above something of the entrance off broad and possibly something of the original footprint of the original tower layout.

So, some questions are:

1) Is the first photo from the entrance to the site in the Truscon ad?
2) When did WKBN show up, or was it already at this site?
3) Are the different lengths of towers in the current WNIO array the result of more efficient towers in it, and also why the 4.8kw signal roughly matches the old 5kw footprint on the ground?
4) In 1949, were six towers about the limit of what one could do with a directional array using long math, trig tables, and graph paper, and perhaps a record number for its time?
5) Was Truscon the outfit that pioneered narrow rather than fat towers, and ones with three sides rather than four?

There are other variables, of course. But I just enjoy this kind of detective work, and I’m kinda chumming the waters to bait others who like to do the same. Thanks in advance.

We’ll see who rises to the bait and with what.

[Later…] Old pal Scott Fybush pointed to one of his transmitter visit reports and added this:  “Summary: the current WNIO night site is not the original 1949 six-tower site. That was on what’s now Boardman-Poland Road (US 224) at what’s now the Shops at Boardman Park strip mall. It succumbed to development in the early 1990s, at which point 1390 moved to what’s now its current day tower. The current six-tower night array on Western Reserve Rd. was built in 2003, next to the 1977-vintage WKBN array. WKBN’s original DA was at the WKBN studios at 3930 Sunset, which is still the WKBN-TV facility.”

Given that radio’s content (as we now call it) is gone at the speed of short-term memory (unless it’s recorded, which mostly it isn’t), this kind of reporting may be the only history it has. So, if history matters, this kind of inquiry also matters.

The top photo is one of many I’ve shot on en route to EWR (Newark Liberty International Airport). By the way, these towers were built when one could walk on the land there. One needed boots and a scythe, but it was possible. The water was impounded in the 1990s, I think. Here are some shots from a visit to the site nine years ago.

Posted in Broadcasting, Business, history, infrastructure, radio | Leave a comment

Toward customer boats fishing on a sea of goods and services

I’ll be talking shortly to some readers of The Intention Economy who are looking for ways to connect that economy with advertising. (Or so I gather. I’ll know more soon.) What follows is the gist of what I wrote to them in prep for the call.

First,  take a look at People vs. Adtech, and/or Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.

Both are still valid (IMHO), but don’t yet cover what A.I. will inevitably do to advertising. There are two possible ways that can go.

One is toward hyper-personalized advertising based on even more pernicious uninvited tracking than we already have, with A.I.s rather than lawyers and hired intermediaries finding loopholes in privacy law that will automate specious forms of “consent” far more efficiently than possible without it.

The other is toward finding the best vectors for targeting the right audiences rather than the most-tracked individuals—and to find those amidst the millions of podcasts, newsletters, blogs, mainstream media, and other online outlets into the ever-widening world of thought, opinion, news, scholarship, journalism, sports, and the rest of it.

The former will make tracking and personalized targeting far worse, and the latter will make advertising targeted at audiences far better. It will also do a much better job of supporting journalism in the process because more money can get through to publishers and reporters who won’t be fed by an evil hand they avoid biting.

Those two directions are the chaff-vs-wheat choices for A.I.’s future in advertising. For now, there is surely far more action happening with the former than with the latter, given the sizes of today’s spinning adtech flywheels. But this also means there will be bigger opportunities with the latter: a blue ocean away from the red one.

What makes the intention economy ocean blue is that it will exist almost entirely outside both those advertising systems—and inside horizons that are far more expansive than can be seen through the lens of advertising and marketing as we’ve known them.

Here the opportunities will be in creating better signaling from demand to supply, and better intermediation between them: forms that will safeguard the privacy needs of individuals and the legitimate needs of businesses. In some cases there will be no intermediation at all—just forms of agency on both sides that are friendly to each other and can interact directly. And, where intermediations are required, they will find a wide-open space for what we’ve long called fourth parties.

To visualize the opportunities here, think of every customer as a boat afloat on a sea of goods and services, and friendly to the ecosystems where demand encourages supply at least as well as supply satisfies demand.

If you’re looking for market opportunities in this vast new ocean, here are thirteen of them.

Posted in adtech, advertising, AI, publishing, VRM | Leave a comment

Truckin’ forward

Open road

Welcome to my new old blog.

My old-old (but not oldest) blog—the one I’ve written since 2007—is still there, in complete archival form, at blogs.harvard.edu/doc, where it has always been. It is now also here with a different URL: doc.searls.com, which had pointed at blogs.harvard.edu/doc for many years. Now it points here, to its native location. No more redirecting.

Put another way, doc.searls.com was a Harvard blog until yesterday (and again, everything until that day remains so: that’s its legacy). From now on, it’s mine alone. It has crossed from one state to another. I’m not sure yet how it will change, if at all. But I feel energized about what I might do with it.

So, before I hit the gas here, I want to thank Dave Winer for getting me going as a blogger in the first place with my original blog (archived at weblog.searls.com) in 1999, again with this one in 2007, and now in this new location on the Web.

I also thank old and new friends who helped me make all the transitions involved—especially the Berkman Klein Center. It is as good a friend and colleague as an institution can be.

And yes, I know this blog needs a fresh new theme. Recommendations are invited.

Posted in Blogging, community | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Moving on

dead truck

I started this blog in August 2007 after the host for my original blog went away. (That blog has been preserved, however. Find it at http://weblog.searls.com.)

At the time I was told something like “Hey, Harvard has been around since 1636, so your blog will last a long time here.” Well, the duration will be a bit less than sixteen years: Harvard is shutting the server down on Friday. [Later: it didn’t.]

I just got this news here, in an announcement posted in March. I missed it until Rogers Cadenhead (@rcade) told me about it on Twitter. [Later: the announcement was put in an obvious place: in the blog’s dashboard header. I still missed it. Disclosure: sometimes the obvious is not apparent to me.]

So I am scrambling now, with the help of friends, to move the contents of this blog to a new place. Hopefully, that will be blog.searls.com or searls.com/blog or both. We’ll see. [Later: it landed here at doc.searls.com, which had been a redirect URL aimed for many years at blogs.harvard.edu/doc.]

Two other blogs I run—ProjectVRM and Trunkline—also need to be moved. ProjectVRM is the one that matters more. If all goes according to plan, projectvrm.org will map to the same blog in its own new place. Trunkline will go to trunkli.org. [Later: both of these are (as of early July 2023) in the midst of both staying where they are and moving elsewhere. ProjectVRM should appear at some point at projectvrm.org.]

Here are my final Harvard-hosted posts on ProjectVRM and Trunkline:

My thanks to the Berkman Klein Center for hosting these blogs for so many years, and for the amazing community it serves— and in which I remain a devoted member.

The image above is of a truck I borrowed being towed away after the engine blew up in King City, California, back in 2005. It’s not a good illustration of what’s going on, but the best I could do in a hurry. I’ll find a better one later.

Posted in Berkman, Blogging, Harvard, infrastructure | Leave a comment