Thinking Different ... again

The world has changed.

Yesterday, Apple held a special event in which it announced the new Apple iPod. No, not the nano, that cute little music player that slips into the smallest pocket … this is the big one. The Apple iPod TV.

Now, and an iPod roughly the size of my iPod Photo, users can play music, display photos, listen to podcasts and now, finally, watch video. And we’re not talking .mov files of movie trailers; we’re talking about whole television shows and (presumably) movies.

And Apple was well-prepared for this innovation, retooling a portion of the iTunes music store to sell video files of popular television shows like “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” “NightStalker,” “The Suite Life,” and “That’s So Raven.” Each episode can be downloaded for $1.99, or season packages can be purchased for a discount.

Apple often claims to be on the verge of changing the world, but this is the first time since the introduction of the original iPod that I’ve felt its claims have been justified. Portable broadcast television. Portable DVR recording and playback capability (for the savvy among us, anyway). Truly one is closer to living in an interconnected media world than ever before.

And it didn’t hurt that they announced the whole project with an exclusive U2 music video segment.

Of course, I’m looking at this device for its potential. I care less about transferring all my DVDs or downloading broadcast content to my iPod than I care about the potential for video podcasting. Truly original video content distributed through electronic content services? THAT’s a change our media world has needed for some time.

Allowing cheap distribution technology to the masses gives us one more tool to ensure that more content is produced outside of the executive suites because of the large amount of capital investment needed to launch a new television program or movie. The potential gains for the documentary film industry alone are enough to create excitement.

Thinking locally, I can’t wait for our broadcast journalism students to be able to serve up their news programs through a digital network where individuals in any part of the world can download them automatically every morning for playback on their computer or portable video player.

Oh, yeah. Apple also introduced its new streamlined G5, a digital media center with increased power in a tight streamlined package. But that’s just a new computer …

An Evening with Kurt Eichenwald

I just came from the 2005 Rosine Smith Sammons Lecture in Media Ethics Featuring Kurt Eichenwald.

For those who don’t know, Kurt Eichenwald has been a writer and investigative reporter for The New York Times since 1988, and primarily covers Wall Street and corporate topics such as insider trading, accounting scandals and takeovers. Eichenwald’s work has earned a number of awards and nominations: the George Polk Award in 1996 and 1998, and a finalist for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Eichenwald also authored the 2005 bestselling book on the Enron accounting scandal, Conspiracy of Fools.

The evening was quite enjoyable. My wife and I were late additions to the pre-lecture dinner, and both the food and conversation around the table were as enjoyable as they were intriguing.

The lecture itself was a gem. Eichenwald focused on the institutional biases inherent in an occupation built around knowledge dissemination: too many reporters unable to acknowledge a simple truth about most topics they cover: “I don’t know.”

Eichenwald argued that truth is far too complex to present in 800 words or 2 minutes of air time, and journalists should remember that their job is not about delivering truth, but the incomplete facts that can lead to truth.

Though he cited many reasons for the recent decline of integrity in the field, Eichenwald’s central point was to illustrate the pack-mentality — that journalists pursuing a story too often deliver the journalism that the audience desires, conflict frames that reinforce the audience’s view of the world without challenging conventional wisdom.

When taking a systemic view of this phenomenon, the deterioration of the quality of information presented by journalists makes the world more confusing, not less so, and the level of critical debate soon degenerates into celebrity personalities screaming at each other while no one critically listens to the content of their opponents argument.

In this way, Eichenwald argues that rather than challenging the status quo, journalists often reinforce it by allowing incomplete data and evidence to pass muster unchallenged, creating a shallow sort of social “fact,” surrounding a given story.

Perhaps the highlight of my evening was hearing one of my students ask Mr. Eichenwald about his take on Weblogs. This particular student has consistently raised concern about the impact of blogging on the field of journalism, and it was pleasing to me to watch him adapt his concerns into the public realm. Clearly, more conversation will be forthcoming.

All-in-all, a fine evening for those who enjoy thinking critically about the field of journalism.

Commander-in-Chief: the WB meets The West Wing?

So, I’m going through my normal Tuesday night routine. Well, normal except for the fact that the baseball playoffs began today and my usual routine of reading and writing with the television on became more difficult as the evening wore on.

Seeking relief, I flipped channels for less distracting background noise. And then, I came across ABC’s new political drama “Commander-in-Chief.” Geena Davis playing America’s first woman president, elevated to the office after the death of her running mate.

Now, I love politics. And I love political drama (I am an avid "West Wing" fan). And while Rod Lurie’s The Contender wasn’t quite a masterpiece, I found it interesting. So, I decided to sit and watch and episode of Lurie’s newest entry into gender-based national politics.

So how was it? In a word … disappointing. The show seems to clash between wanting to be a snappy West Wing-type drama and a folksy "Jack and Bobby"-type family drama. And the two moods do not seem to mesh easily. Add to this the lackluster performances across the board …

Davis seems even more woody than normal. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by "The West Wing," but I just can’t buy her as the president. Or perhaps I simply don’t care to.

The filming is a bit cheesy, and there were several times in tonight’s episode in which the music rose to a majestic crescendo as a dramatic speech was delivered, but each and every one of these moment was too over-the-top. The great thing about this technique in shows like "The West Wing" is that the viewer DOESN’T notice the music building behind the words.

Finally, the episode story was interesting but really shallow. The plot centered on the political reality of power, for all the talk of sticking to the issues, none were discussed in any depth.

All that having been said, the story arc is laudable, and I think the series could improve over time. Unfortunately, I will simply have to look in later on. There’s little to hook me at this point.