CNN launches iReport

This week CNN launched iReport, a video sharing citizen journalism site where users have a chance to upload reports which might be picked up and used on-air at CNN.  The launch builds on previous experiments by CNN to incorporate citizen journalism into its reporting.  The site is technically in beta now, and is slated for launch in March.  I should also mention that CNN is hardly the first network to stumble across the idea of citizen journalism: The Real News, a non-profit progressive TV news show, has been supporting citizen journalism through their community website The Real News Junkies for several months now, with a significantly lower budget.

iReport is, as might be expected, far from perfect.  TechCrunch has already taken it to task for failing to compensate contributors and for relatively lackluster content.  In many ways, iReport is really just a shadow of YouTube, with the main difference being that iReport submissions have the chance to be picked up by a large international TV network.  CNN does provide a few helpful hints on the type of video that has a better chance at getting on air: stories about presidential candidate sitings, salutes to the troops, and severe weather.  At least they're not setting the bar too high.

I'm curious to see whether this site could become an entrypoint for progressives to push news coverage on CNN further to the left.  I'm under no illusions that Bill Bennett will have his racist keister ejected from election night coverage, nor that Lou Dobbs will join a mariachi band and issue a teary-eyed apology for his hate-mongering past.  I'm fairly positive that CNN will start off by deciding which stories it wants to run, and occasionally turning to iReport for cheap footage that reinforces their predefined point of view.  But eventually, I'd like to hope, a deluge of reports with a leftist bent - hearings on global warming, let's say, or personal testimonials that indict the health care system - will encourage story editors to adopt a more progressive slant.  Such a deluge would be an incentive for the network to offer substantive, progressive news by lowering the cost of doing so.

Or, we could watch stories about ketchup.

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PBS or Fox? What's the purpose of progressive TV?

Whenever I write about progressive TV, I inevitably get a healthy dose of criticism in the comments from folks who think that progressive TV should be dispassionate, non-partisan, objective, and truth-focused - essentially, a recreation of PBS.  (In fact, the last post featured a commenter who asked why more progressives don't just support PBS.)  I also get a reasonable amount of pushback every time I suggest some variant on the notion that progressives should develop a mirror image of Fox News - a hyper-partisan, foaming-at-the-mouth progressive channel.

For the record, I don't think that creating a mirror image of Fox News is a good idea, for several reasons.  One, I don't think progressives react well to that style of news, and a progressive channel that can't do well within the progressive base is a non-starter.  Two, I think Fox News isn't so much a conservative channel as a Republican Party establishment channel.  As Eric Boehlert pointed out earlier this week, Fox's cozy relationship with the Republican Party is now putting its audience share at risk, and I'm not sure I want that kind of future for a progressive TV channel.  Finally, I think the core tenet of progressivism - "we're all in this together" - simply doesn't have room for Fox's aggressive, divisive, insipid style.

On the other hand, I firmly disagree with the notion that progressives need to build their own PBS.  Many progressives seem to think that it's possible to build a TV channel which trades in fully objective journalism, and that doing so would benefit the progressive movement as much as Fox has benefited the conservative movement.  I think that it's both impossible and non-beneficial for the progressive movement besides. Follow me across the flip for details.

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Success factors for progressive TV content

Over the last few months, I've written a fair amount about progressive TV, especially about creating new progressive TV offerings.  For the most part, I've focused on the delivery mechanism and, at a fairly high level, the business model for making it real.  I've described an entrepreneurial strategy for creating a network of leased access progressive cable channels and I've reviewed the efforts of The Real News to distribute a progressive news show in as many different format as possible.

Today I want to zero in on the problem of creating content for progressive TV, since I think it's crucial to success.  For a long time, I've been frustrated to see that the TV clips which generally get embedded in the progressive blogosphere are takes from Countdown, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report (well, that was the case before the writers' strike, anyway.)  Democracy Now! and online progressive shows like GoLeft.TV, by comparison, don't tend to get much buzz.  That's a problem for the progressive movement, because it means that some of our most partisan media outlets - the progressive blogs - are generating buzz for allegedly non-partisan shows controlled by media conglommerates like GE and Viacom, and anchored by white men.  That's no way for us to build a diverse, independent progressive media enterprise.

If we want to succeed in building a traditional progressive media empire, especially a progressive TV empire, then we'll need to focus on the problem of producing content for progressive TV.  In particular, progressive TV will need to produce content which is most likely to be readily adopted by grassroots progressive audiences and progressive bloggers.  This kind of organic adoption is key to stealing audience share away from more conservative or middle-of-the-road traditional media, and building sufficient buzz for progressive TV to make it sustainable and even profitable.

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Distributing progressive voices on Internet TV

Over the past couple of months, I've blogged quite a bit about the prospect of creating cable TV networks which feature progressive news and opinion.  These pieces range from an exploration of existing satellite progressive TV, to a proposed strategy for leveraging leased access into a progressive network, and thoughts about pushing MSNBC to the left in the near future.

There is another avenue slowly opening up for progressive TV: internet TV, which is taking baby steps toward broad adoption.  The past two years have seen an explosion in Internet TV technologies, from traditional-TV-on-your-PC Joost, to internet-video-made-easy Miro, to iTunes-to-TV solution AppleTV and video-on-demand-via-Tivo Amazon Unbox.  Of these technologies, I think we should be most interested in those which bring video from the public internet onto the living room TV sets.  This kind of technological innovation has the most potential to distribute progressive voices in a widespread way, since most people still like to watch video, especially video clips that are longer than 5-10 minutes, on their living room TV sets.

So it's exciting to see that AppleTV and Amazon Unbox (the latter of which garnered some well-deserved harsh criticism upon its initial launch in Sept. 2006) will soon be getting competition.  Netflix will be offering its video download service via set-top boxes later this year.  And StumbleUpon is latching onto the Wii to launch Stumble.TV for the Wii, which will give StumbleUpon users the chance to enjoy user-acclaimed video on their living room TVs.

At this point, the market for Internet television devices is still too cluttered with proprietary devices, awkward computer-to-TV interfaces, smarmy insider media deals, and similar cruft to make it ready for prime time.  But it's clear that the day that Internet TV is a widespread phenomenon, and has the maturity to take on cable TV as a mechanism for distributing niche content, might not be far off.  My belief is that widespread Internet TV will be a boon for the progressive movement, because it will enable us to more widely distribute our news and opinion, communicate with and grow our base, put an end to the ridiculous way politicians kow-tow to conservative print and TV news media, and more fairly compete with conservative news and opinion outlets.  If I'm right, then accelerating the Internet TV industry, and preparing for the day when Internet TV is widespread, should be important priorities for the progressive movement.  What can we do to meet those priorities?

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The Real News

Over the past few months, I've written a few pieces on the feasibility of establishing a progressive cable news channel.  I've written about opportunities to push MSNBC in a leftward direction for the short-term, as well as a long-term strategy for piecing together a new national network using leased cable access in a number of major metropolitan areas.  Today, I'll discuss the work of The Real News, an up-and-coming non-profit progressive news channel based in Canada, which has a fascinating long-term plan for establishing a national presence for progressive TV news.  If you're unfamiliar with The Real News, this interview with CEO Paul Jay gives a great overview to the channel's understanding of how to deliver high-quality journalism in today's environment.

I recently spoke with Geraldine Cahill, the director of social media for The Real News, about the channel's plans for 2008 and beyond.  The Real News has a lot of interesting plans for the future, and many of them are, I think, very much on the right track.  This is an exciting example of a new up-and-coming progressive institution which "gets it" in many ways, and I think it deserves a lot of support from the blogosphere.  Cahill and I spoke about the channel's plans for more content, more widespread distribution, better fundraising, and increased engagement of grassroots supporters and donors.  Much more across the flip.

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