Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Phoenix of New Media

I took this picture of KREX-TV burning this morning. I also took some video, using the same fairly cheap digital camera, and uploaded it to YouTube:

The video was taken from northwest of the fire. The house in the foreground is that of the late Rex Howell, the visionary founder of what Ralph D'Andrea today called a "great uranium-boom experiment, a TV station in the middle of nowhere". KDVR has some great raw video on their site, which shows the building from close up, the impressive destructive force of the fire, and the considerable smoke that it generated. Ralph went on to say:

"Much, if not all, of that history took place in an odd little building in the Hillcrest neighborhood whose architecture was a strange mixture of 1930s Art Deco and 1950s kitsch. Originally built in 1931 for radio...that odd little building, an important piece of Grand Junction history, is now gone...As a community, we're a little smaller today with the loss of that odd little building on Hillcrest".

Agreed. The amount of remodeling that little building underwent to accommodate a modern day television presence likely contributed in part to its' demise. Listening to GJFD attack the fire this morning lent some credence to my theory. They weren't in the building but 5 to 10 minutes before the Safety Officer pulled all of them out and called for defensive operations. Some of the crews were reporting backdrafts, possibly because of numerous concealed spaces created by false ceilings and other byproducts of multiple renovations and additions to the structure.

While thinking about Ralph's comments, it occurred to me that this event was a local benchmark of transition from the traditional way we think about the media to the possibilities that the Internet and other technologies provide to a free society in the documentation and distribution of information.

Thanks to the alert staff of the Daily Sentinel, the KREX fire was on the Internet within 45 minutes of the call going out for firefighters, complete with pictures and some raw video (it does help if the Editor lives down the street). KJCT posted viewer photos on its' web site. Links to the local efforts were on most Denver media outlets within another hour or so.

I thought about the digital content that I had. While certainly not broadcast quality, today's events show that there is an emerging marketplace of ideas that is looking for this kind of stuff. Not the sensationalistic or pandering kind of place, but local outlets, be they local mainstream media, blogs, or message boards. With my camera and laptop I can transfer the video, edit it, toodle by my local Starbucks and use the free Wi-Fi to send it anywhere, all within a very short time. If I have a PDA or smartphone with an integrated camera, one device can collect, edit, annotate, and send it from anywhere, within minutes.

The potential for these capabilities to provide a comparatively inexpensive means of forming a new, community-driven local media is pretty mind-blowing. The effects of the digital revolution on the music industry have been well-documented; what's next for the information industry?

Perhaps its' time for more local media players to embrace the concept of citizen journalism and public access. There is a provision in the City of Grand Junction's franchise agreement with Bresnan Cable for a Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access channel, in addition to Mesa County's Channel 12. All the City has to do is ask for it.

The kinds of information collection and dissemination used today could be leveraged to help create content for a diverse and vibrant community television outlet. We've got plenty of local expertise in all facets of a best practice, that being technology, processes, and people. What's holding us back?

My condolences go out to the KREX staff. Best wishes to them as they begin rebuilding. Given the growth being experienced in this media market, KREX is unique in its' historical position in this media market, as well as its' recent history of listening to the desires of many for Denver TV news. It seems well-positioned to take the quality of local programming yet another step further.

Like the mythological bird, what kind of new commitment, capabilities, and renewal will rise from the ashes on Hillcrest? It's all dependent upon the imagination and drive of those who choose to be involved, and are willing to open their minds to the possibilities.

We've got what it takes here. Rex Howell knew that. Here's to the future.

P.S. Big-time kudos to Bresnan and KREX management for making it a priority to get the CBS and FOX network feeds back on the cable system. Definite customer-oriented thinking there.

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