«! HANSON R. HOSEIN ! ! Storyteller Uprising: Trust & Persuasion in the Digital Age Copyright 2011 by Hanson Hosein. All ...»
HANSON R. HOSEIN
Storyteller Uprising: Trust & Persuasion in the Digital Age
Copyright 2011 by Hanson Hosein.
All rights reserved.
Second Printed Edition, May 2011.
Published by HRH Media and University Book Store Press
Printed on the Espresso Book Machine
4326 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105
i. Action Idea for this Project
With the decline of traditional journalism, there’s an increased need for trusted information. This presents a huge opportunity to individuals, communities, companies and organizations. They can fill that void by telling their own multimedia stories and creating their own channels of distribution -- thereby serving as trusted sources in their own right. That’s the “uprising” — people seizing control of communication by building ongoing credible connection through story and digital technology. Storyteller Uprising explains why this is now possible, and why you should harness the power of story in your own communication endeavors.
ii. Acknowledgments Thanks to Sheetal Agarwal, Jay Al Hashal, William Mari and Elizabeth Norville for your research. Scott Macklin, Anita Verna Crofts and David Domke were partners in the conspiracy to produce this manifesto. The University of Washington has been enthusiastically supportive. Beth Koemans helped engineer the cover design. I’m glad that Oxford University Press dragged its feet, inspiring me to pursue more disruptive, responsive publishing platforms, and engage my mom as copy editor! To Heather Rae, Harper Rose and Hendrix Roland for your patience and inspiration – all my stories begin with you.
Note: All hyperlinks in the printed edition of this book are easily accessible online by downloading the latest (free) electronic version of this book at http://www.storytelleruprising.com.
1. Telling Your Story -- Hereʼs Mine “Anyone can practice journalism,” Dean Joan Konner said, on the first day of school at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in September 1993. “And anyone usually does.” Most likely, Dean Konner intended that her words serve as a rallying cry for us, the chosen few who would bear the standard of professional journalism: well-trained, well-educated, armed with progressive ethics and principles. Newspaper readership was already in decline in the early 1990’s, but that had little to do with a barely noticeable worldwide web. An explosion in cable news outlets and a number of other electronic sources of information made newspapers seem less timely, and necessary. Despite this competition and drop-off in audience, the writing would not appear on the wall for these print organizations for another fifteen years. At that point, they’d blame the Internet and profess to not have seen it coming.
Still, it was coming – even then. We just didn’t know what to call this creeping sense of unease. Yes, there were more channels, more magazines – more content. But there was also more criticism, more declaration of mistrust of “The Media” as the citizenry would call this increasingly concentrated group of large corporations. Starting in the 1980’s with deregulation, Hanson Hosein 2 conglomerates would snap up the Big Three networks (ABC, CBC, NBC), competing newspapers folded into each other creating one-paper towns, and companies like Clear Channel would start programming radio stations from a central location thousands of miles away, dispensing with local DJ’s in some cases. It’s no coincidence that the public decline in trust in the American press began in 1985, according to a 2009 Pew Foundation study.
As I was set to graduate from Columbia, my colleagues and I looked out in dismay at what our professors were calling the “toughest” journalism job market that they could remember.
So when NBC News unexpectedly offered me a job a couple of weeks prior to my graduation day, I figured it would be the best chance for me to land on my feet. One of my favorite professors had already called journalism the “first downwardly mobile profession,” meaning I guessed, that I had better love what I did because the salaries just weren’t going to get close to what a lawyer or an investment banker made.
I was fine with all of that – I was on a grand adventure.
And though I had never watched much news on NBC, at least I’d have the benefit of working for a prestigious, and somewhat powerful, organization.
This sunny outlook was despite the fact that NBC was paying less than what I could afford to live on in pricey 3 Storyteller Uprising Manhattan, and without any health benefits whatsoever. An NBC News vice president would try to take the sting off of this hardship by proclaiming that more and more people would be flooding into journalism thanks to the proliferation of new distribution channels (primarily cable) like Headline News, CNBC, National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, which would only further depress salaries. He may have added that he was glad that he’d be retiring by the time the worst of this coming catastrophe would hit (he did).
Similar to Dean Konner’s “everyone” declaration, this was still pre-Internet-as-mass-media slayer chatter. Non-linear editing software was too expensive for anyone but professionals and deep-pocketed hobbyists. If you didn’t have six figures for a professional video or film camera, you were dabbling with decidedly consumer grade resolution with VHS, Super8 or 16mm. In the ‘90’s, we were still in a mass media state of mind, deep within the heart of the world’s media capital.
I would still get my chance to experience the power and glory of working in a top mass communications company, first as a producer at the still-flagship evening newscast, helmed by celebrated anchorman Tom Brokaw (ratings were already in decline from their 1980’s nadir), and then on a prestigious overseas posting as the network’s Middle East producer, based out of Tel Aviv, Israel. I was in my 20’s – this was too good of Hanson Hosein 4 an opportunity to pass up, and by the time they sent me to Israel, I was getting paid fairly well. Besides, I had the incredible opportunity to report firsthand on historical events.
Of course, it was an exciting life, working for a recognized American institution, within a country that appreciated American institutions. We would report on the news, sometimes produce features when the news cycle was slow, all overseen and vetted by management in New York. It was a simple process – someone would first pitch a story. From our end, it would either be a lead we had gleaned from a contact, or a nugget we had borrowed from the local news. From 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where NBC was headquartered, it’d more likely than not be something they had come across in the day’s issue of the New York Times. We’d work up a story pitch, send it to New York, get approval to shoot the story (since it would cost us time, effort, and expense if we had to travel or hire freelance support), then head out as a foursome: producer, correspondent cameraman, soundman, maybe even a translator if we were going to interact with Palestinians. The team would shoot the story, return to our office to review the footage, write a script, get more approval from New York, then sit down with an editor to marry the images and sound to the script. Once we had finished the piece, we’d use an expensive satellite uplink to send the 2-minute story to “30 Rock” in time for the broadcast.
5 Storyteller Uprising It was a tried and time-tested process, replete with several checks and balances, as well as with a number of creative contributors, all in support of a short piece of video that would air nationwide, and then end up in the archives.
I remember thinking that it seemed like an awful lot of effort for two pages of writing. And it felt all so transitory – even superficial – compared to the amount of work that we had put into produce so much content. Maybe ten percent of that content would end up in the final story.
And how could we gauge the impact of our work? Other than the requisite feedback that we’d receive from a colleague via the internal computer system, and the odd letter of complaint or support from a viewer or special interest group, many of our stories disappeared into the great news vacuum.
Especially if it were breaking news, the average viewer would be hard-pressed to distinguish our work from the “alphabet soup” (CBS, ABC, CNN, and sometimes the BBC) of the other networks’ output.
If the local people we had interviewed for the story wanted to see the final product, we would have to dub a copy to VHS tape. This was always an ordeal, as we would have to first convert the video from the American broadcast “NTSC” standard to “PAL” for the Middle East.
Hanson Hosein 6 We always got access to the powerful players that mattered, within the military, government and militant groups.
Sometimes, we would have to resort to the anchorman’s star power to book a head-of-state or a charismatic, elusive leader like Yassir Arafat (who exuded “guerilla chic”). We knew what buttons to press, and were well aware of the rules of engagement if we wanted to sustain access to the subjects.
When I once helped assemble a story that took a hard look at corruption and human rights abuses within the Arafat regime, we received an angry call from Brokaw just before his show went on the air, accusing us of maligning an American ally.
Arafat was not Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. It reminded me of that old adage, “he may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-abitch.” It was a cozy, insular, influential world. It was also very much a one-way communication environment, with little feedback.
My arrival in Israel coincided with the Dot Com boom, the 24-hour news craze, and the launch of news organization websites such as MSNBC.com. As I got the hang of my new job in the TV news world, I quickly discovered that I had a more substantive outlet in the less developed, less entrenched online one. Over the three and a half years that I would spend in the Middle East, I would increasingly spend my free time 7 Storyteller Uprising crafting web versions of the stories we were broadcasting, adding more detail, creating behind-the-scenes “Reporter’s Notebooks,” and eventually pitching more enterprising features for the.com team. Many of these stories were ones that I knew TV producers would never commit to, partly for financial reasons, mainly because they couldn’t fathom how a mass audience would gravitate to what would translate to a small anecdote within a standard TV news story.
Other than the freedom to provide more detail, and thanks to developing digital imaging technology to provide my own images without having to rely on the efforts of a professional cameraman, I reveled in this ability to communicate directly with the audience (via an e-mail link at the end of my stories), and send behind-the-scenes missives to friends and family. I eventually purchased a broadcast-quality Sony digital video camcorder with my own funds, and used it to shoot still images (video file sizes were still too large, internet access speeds, still too slow) that I would append to my “proto blog” – my very own online diary of life overseas as a network journalist. These were obviously still very early days, and I didn’t tell too many
of my colleagues about the “Hanson’s Self-Center” site:
I was probably still concerned about the appearance of “talking out of school” and potentially running counter to Hanson Hosein 8 NBC’s strict editorial policy. And perish the thought that I might not come across as “objective” – still the halcyon of mainstream American journalism.
It was already too late for me however. As I became further enamored with this more gratifying way of interpreting the news, which employed more subjective observation and reflection, as well as audience interaction, I grew increasingly frustrated with what felt like an editorial and creative straitjacket on the network side.
Near the end, NBC would award me stock options, as well as offer to promote me to serve its chief overseas producer based out of London. This happened after we produced a superb run of stories from the war in Kosovo in 1999. But this institutional recognition only filled me with a feeling of dread, and not one of elation. I knew I wasn’t on the right track. I turned down the promotion, and then asked for the impossible.
Would management allow a guy with the same last name (pronunciation-wise) as the dictator still in power in Iraq to take to the American airwaves as a correspondent, but primarily contributing to the network’s flourishing web presence? I would experiment with more cost-effective, compact technology, and perhaps lead the way as the news organization contemplated the changing nature of the business ahead.
Their response was a quick and definitive, “no.” 9 Storyteller Uprising I was left with few options. Violence between Israelis and Palestinians was beginning to flare, as the second Intifada (Arabic for “uprising”) was about to start. I had just convinced the woman who would soon become my wife to leave Seattle and move into my apartment in Tel Aviv. NBC presented me with two options: extend my stay in Israel another year, or return to the United States as a domestic news producer. There were no resources, interest or patience for an untested staffer like me to make the jump to become one of the public faces of America’s top news network. My good fortune at the Peacock had run out. I was further weakened by a stress overload that put me in a Tel Aviv hospital with all the symptoms of a stroke.
So when the network’s foreign news editor asked me definitively whether I would renew my contract for another year, I was quick to decline. And then I resigned.
I was so determined to pursue another kind of creative path that I turned down attractive offers from Canadian TV networks to take national, on-air correspondent positions (ones that NBC would never had allowed me to fill). But to me, it felt like more of the same, with a defined institutional career path down the traditional road of journalism.