Podcast Producer 2: Still a work in progress

I was eager to install Snow Leopard (SL) Server on the Mac OS X server I manage at work, primarily because of Podcast Producer 2 (PP2). This component of SL Server represents a major advance in functionality over the first version of Podcast Producer, which was introduced in Leopard Server. Unfortunately, after creating over 500 podcast episodes with PP2 so far, I’m convinced it’s still a work in progress. I’ve uncovered numerous little bugs that should have been caught in beta. I’ve reported these using Apple’s bug reporter (bugreport.apple.com), and so far I’ve heard back on exactly one of my bug reports with a terse message that it was a “known issue.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a great program. It’s much easier to configure and tweak than the first Podcast Producer, which was essentially unusable for my purposes. One great feature is the new Podcast Composer application, which makes it a breeze to create new workflows. The quality of the finished video podcasts is significantly better than what I was able to do previously with a combination of Drupal modules and the open source “Swiss Army Knife” of web video applications, ffmpeg. So all things considered, I think Podcast Producer 2 is worth the upgrade to Snow Leopard Server.

But I’ve discovered the hard way that it isn’t perfect, and some of the deficiencies are serious. I’m hopeful that Apple will soon release an update that addresses at least some of the issues I’ve identified. Until then, let me share a few of the annoying bugs I’ve found, and some of the workarounds I’ve discovered. I know from experience that when things go south, a webmaster’s best friend is Google, so perhaps some kindred webmaster will come across this blog entry and appreciate my documentation.

Earlier this month I documented three of these bugs with short videos that I posted to my MobileMe Gallery . If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth at least a few thousand more, so if you’re interested, I’d encourage you to check out these clips.

One of the biggest problems: PP2 doesn’t create episodes that reliably play back on Windows computers. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise; after all, this is a Mac program. But it’s a Mac Server program, and Mac Servers need to service Windows clients, so I would have hoped that this would have been better tested in beta.

Essentially, if you create a podcast from a video file using PP2, using a workflow that posts the podcast to the submitting user’s blog, the result is a blog entry that looks and works great on a Mac, but not on Windows computers with the latest Quicktime plugin installed. At first I thought this was an issue with Internet Explorer, and to some extent, the issues are greater with IE. But I believe the primary culprit is the Quicktime plugin, since I’m able to reproduce this bug with IE, Firefox and Safari for Windows. Yes, this bug even affects Apple’s own browser.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered a fix. The root of the problem seems to be the way that the podcasts are posted to the user’s blog. Rather than using an EMBED or OBJECT method, PP2 (and the SL Wiki Server that manages the blog service) links to the podcast via an ALT attribute to the IMG tag of the thumbnail, with a ROLE attribute added so that the thumbnail acts as a button for the video file. This is pretty slick coding, except for the fact that it doesn’t quite work right on Windows IF the HEIGHT or WIDTH attributes don’t match the dimensions of the video. And PP2 doesn’t insert the full HEIGHT or WIDTH attributes, presumably because the goal was to provide a thumbnail, not a full-size image. On a Mac, this is not a problem, as Quicktime on a Mac can play back fine within the scaled-down dimensions. But it’s a deal-breaker with the Quicktime plugin for Windows. If you click on one of these thumbnails on a Windows machine, the file loads, but you only hear the audio; no video appears. As best as I can tell, this is because the video doesn’t scale down to the dimensions provided in the IMG tag. Audio doesn’t have to scale so it comes through, but what’s the point of a video podcast if you can’t see the video?

The workaround is to delete the width and height attributes. While the result are full-size thumbnails, at least they work on Windows. Since I’m only deploying the iPod/iPhone resolution files (640 x 480), the thumbnails aren’t that huge. But it is a rather huge task to manually have to delete these width and height attributes. I would like to just delete this in the templates so that I didn’t have to do this every time a podcast is posted. And I can see where the templates are on the server. Unfortunately, editing the templates available in the Wiki Templates folder does not have an effect on the resulting code. Apparently, PP2 (or perhaps Wiki server) doesn’t read the contents of this templates folder when creating the pages. Perhaps there is some way to synchronize changes in the templates with the actual code produced (one would think there would be) but I’ve yet to discover it. If I find out, I’ll be sure to post an update. Until then, I’m manually editing the code of each podcast so that the majority of users who use Windows can actually see the videos.

It also would have been nice if the developers had included (or at least made available as an option) a Javascript player for the Quicktime videos posted to the user blogs by PP2. I find it interesting that nearly everywhere you see a Quicktime video on Apple’s own website, it’s presented in a Javascript player. Note only do such players look a heck of lot more “Web 2.0-like” than the standard OS 9 look of the Quicktime plugin, a more modern player might have alleviated the big problem of cross-platform playback. Indeed, one of my early efforts to develop a workaround for this problem was to present the videos using a Flash-based player (Dash Player by TMT Media). The Quicktime videos produced by PP2 will indeed playback quite nicely in an embedded Flash player (at least one that can handle MP4 files). But because making such a change would require extensively rewriting the code produced by PP2/Wiki Server, I eventually settled on the much easier (although still time-consuming) method of deleting the width and height attributes. I can understand why Apple wouldn’t include a Flash player with SL Server, but they could have at least put in a Javascript player.

Another small annoyance (and an almost humorous faux pas) is the fact that the “Subscribe in iTunes” link that is posted prominently on a podcast-enabled blog page doesn’t actually work. The workaround I’m using for that is to simply delete the button in the Theme files (which are honored by Wiki Server, at least if you’re careful to follow the rules carefully). For those users who want to subscribe to a podcast using iTunes, I send or post a link that does work, using an appropriate RSS feed from the Podcast Library (another nice addition to PP2).

One very serious bug I discovered has to do with overwriting files. I’ve always felt that one of the cardinal sins of programming is to create something that destroys data. But if you’re not careful, PP2/Wiki Server can do just that. It probably won’t happen very often, but given the volume on my server (between 500 and 1000 videos a month), it didn’t take long for me to find this bug. If a user submits a video with the same name as a video submitted earlier in the day, the older video is overwritten by the newer one. Actually, the older video still exists in the Podcast Library, just not in the podcast directory that is referenced in the code posted to the user blog. The workaround here is to manually edit the entry to point to the correct video in the Podcast Library. I’ve also taken some steps to try to enforce some naming conventions on PP2 users to help prevent this, although really, I shouldn’t have to do this. PP2/Wiki Server should be smart enough to not overwrite files, and I would hope Apple would squash this bug quickly, as it is genuinely serious.

Again, all things considered, I’m quite pleased with the advancements made with Podcast Producer 2. To be fair, most of the bugs I’ve found aren’t necessarily with PP2 per se, but rather reflect deficiencies in how PP2 works with Wiki server when writing podcasts to user blogs. My guess is that PP2 and Wiki Server (two very important components of SL Server) had largely separate developer teams working on them in Cupertino (or wherever the developers are located). Even so, one would hope the quality control teams at Apple would have tested this better before releasing it to the world. It would have been nice if “real world” users such as myself could have participated in the beta testing. As it is, I guess I am helping to beta test this product, since in some key areas, Podcast Producer 2 is still a work in progress.

And that’s the way it was… Remembering Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite died last night at the age of 92. Or should I say, he was 92 and a half. In my opinion, anyone who lives to be in their nineties has earned the right to keep track of age in half-years. While it’s sad to see him go, I’m glad he lived to a ripe old age.

Much has already been written about Walter Cronkite. Of course, many have noted that he was an outstanding news reporter and news anchor. His work at CBS News greatly contributed to the tradition of excellence established by Edward R. Murrow. Cronkite will long be remembered for his even-handed delivery of the news of President Kennedy’s death in 1963, and his almost giddy reaction to the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. And who can forget President Johnson’s reaction to Cronkite’s 1967 broadcast on the Tet offensive in which Walter concluded the Vietnam War was essentially a lost cause: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” And that’s the way it was; public opinion on Vietnam deteriorated in the years to follow.

I would like to share just a few things about Walter Cronkite from my own perspective, a few tidbits that are less well known, or at least, not widely reported or commented on.

You probably knew that Walter Cronkite sported a mustache. But you might not know that he was one of the first news anchors to have facial hair, and to this day, he remains one of the few men in national TV news to have proudly worn whiskers. NBC news legend Lowell Thomas had a mustache, but Thomas is more associated with radio news (although his radio newscast was simulcast on some early television stations in the 1940s). And H.R. Baukhage, one of the first TV news anchors at ABC (1948-51) appears to have a faint mustache in some of the available photos from that era. But if you don’t count Thomas (who really was a radio guy) or Baukhage (who really was not well known) Walter Cronkite was the first nationally-famous network news anchor to have facial hair. All of the notable anchors of network television news before Cronkite were clean-shaven, including John Cameron Swayzee, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley at NBC, Douglas Edwards at CBS (whom Cronkite replaced in 1962) and John Charles Daly (the first truly memorable anchor at ABC). And of the network TV news anchors since Cronkite, only Max Robinson at ABC comes to mind as having a mustache. Of course, Wolf Blitzer at CNN wears a nicely trimmed set of whiskers, but I’m talking here about national news anchors at the major broadcast networks. In any case, Walter Cronkite remains one of the few men in national TV news to have facial hair.

I also remember Walter Cronkite for his public speaking skill. Beyond his contributions to broadcast journalism, Cronkite should also be noted as someone who clearly understood the importance of speech communication, and vividly demonstrated effective public speaking techniques. His mastery of public speaking was evident in a video he was featured in called “Presentation Excellence.” I remember this video quite well because I used it frequently in the late 1980s when I regularly taught public speaking at William Jewell College. Although it may seem a bit dated now, the advice contained in this video is quite good, and still remains one of the better videos one can use in an introductory public speaking course. One particularly notable section of the video is Cronkite’s analysis of Barbara Jordan’s speech at the 1976 Democratic National Convention (which many rhetorical scholars believe was among the most important speeches of the 20th century). I don’t believe this video is still available, but perhaps CBS will consider releasing an updated version (the original 1984 video was jointly produced by CBS and Fox).

One more thing about Walter Cronkite that I will always remember: the location of the school named after him. That’s because the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is at Arizona State University, the first school that hired me as an adjunct instructor after I completed my master’s degree. In fact, the journalism department at ASU was just being named after Walter Cronkite and elevated to school status in 1984, the year I left Arizona State for a tenure-track post at William Jewell College. If things had worked out a little differently in my career, I might be teaching at ASU today. I still know a few of the long-time faculty members there, including Don Godfrey, always a friendly face when I regularly see him at the annual convention of the Broadcast Education Association. The Walter Cronkite School has become one of the best broadcast journalism schools in the country, rivaling the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State. And certainly one reason for the excellence of the Walter Cronkite School was the active involvement by Walter Cronkite himself in the early years of the school. Cronkite was, after all, a healthy and vibrant man when he was forced to retire from CBS in 1981 at the age of 65. Many people believe he could have gone on to anchor many more years had he been given the chance. But rather than retire to a life of leisure, Cronkite kept active in his golden years, and his imprint on the Cronkite School remains to this day a testament to his exceptional talent.

In memory of Ed, Farrah and Michael

This past week saw the passing of three of my heroes. My memories of each are very different. Each was important to me for different reasons. But they were all significant figures in my life, and especially during my youth. So I just have to share some of my own personal reflections on the trio of celebrities who passed away this week: Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

Ed McMahonEarlier this week came the news that Ed McMahon had died. This was not entirely unexpected, as it was widely known that Ed had been having health problems. I found the timing a bit ironic in that Ed’s passing occurred in the same month that Jay Leno passed the baton of hosting The Tonight Show to Conan O’Brien. I think Ed would have been pleased with the way Andy Richter is developing in his role as Conan’s sidekick. Unlike the rather minor role that Edd Hall played on Jay Leno’s version of The Tonight Show, Andy is assuming a stronger supporting role to Conan, with a chemistry not unlike what I remember between Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. Indeed, even Conan’s band leader, Max Weinberg, has assumed a role more like Doc Severinsen than the one which developed between Kevin Eubanks and Jay Leno. In many respects, Kevin was Jay’s Ed, always available to enhance the timing of a joke, and to poke fun of the ones that fell flat.

That’s something Ed McMahon did very well. He clearly understood his role as “second banana” to Johnny Carson, and he was very good at it. He also happened to be an excellent announcer, a profession that I once pursued. He had a great voice, and was one of the last great “live copy” readers, who regularly delivered commercials live on camera, something that is rarely done anymore. People routinely zap past commercials nowadays, but there was a time when people stayed tuned in for live spots, like the very memorable one where Ed McMahon extolled the virtues of Alpo Dog Food with a panting Johnny by his side. They just don’t make TV like that anymore. Here’s a tip to Conan’s producers: let Andy loose on some live commercial copy. I think he could channel Ed’s spirit quite well, and it would be refreshing to see the comeback of live copy on commercial television.

It would also be refreshing to see the comeback of shows like Charlie’s Angels, and of characters like Jill Monroe, brought vividly to life by Farrah Fawcett. Sure, the show was cheesy. Plots tended to be predictable, and villains were often cartoonish. It wasn’t a critically acclaimed show, nor did it try to be. To put it bluntly, it was the classic example of the “jiggle factor” on television, something that later shows like Baywatch refined to perfection. Certainly the vividness of my memories of Farrah Fawcett are rooted in her appearance, and in particular, the provocative pose captured in the iconic poster that could be found hanging in nearly every college dorm room in the country, including my own.
Farrah Faucett's Famous Poster
But while Farrah Fawcett may be remembered for her appearance, we should not forget that Charlie’s Angels was one of the first major dramas on television to feature women starring in roles that had traditionally been reserved for men. It was remarkable for its time. It expanded cultural notions of femininity at the same time it reinforced traditional norms. And I think Farrah understood this fine line that she and the other “Angels” were walking in the cultural whirlpool that was the 1970s. She embraced the contradictions inherent in a character that at one level reflected a “liberation” of women from deeply-held stereotypes and at another level reflected a raw sexuality that resonated with a culture longing for a return to tradition. In short, she was perfect for this role.

Yesterday afternoon, I thought the big news of the day was the passing of Farrah Fawcett. When I mentioned the news of Farrah to someone at work, the response was something like “first Ed McMahon, now Farrah Fawcett, we’re losing the great ones.” But then came word late in the day that Michael Jackson had died. For many people, the death of Michael Jackson was the biggest news of the week, not only eclipsing the passing of Ed and Farrah, but also putting the unrest in Iran on the back burner on CNN.

Michael Jackson was a relatively young man of 50. In contrast, Ed McMahon was 86 years old when he died on June 23. Farrah Fawcett was a much younger 62 when she died on June 25, but her deteriorating health was brought into vivid focus last month by the TV documentary Farrah’s Story. So when Michael Jackson died at a mere 50, just a few hours after Farrah passed away, the news came as an extreme shock. Within a three-day period, we had lost Johnny’s loyal sidekick, an iconic sex symbol, and now, the king of pop. The world had some clues that the days of Ed and Farrah were numbered. But who knew that the man who brought us the best-selling album of all time was soon to become history?

The Best Selling Album of All TimeMichael Jackson had become a tragic figure in his later years. It’s hard to deny that his well-publicized troubles tarnished his reputation. Allegations of child molestation haunted him, even though he prevailed in court. His Neverland Ranch seemed like an almost desperate effort to enjoy a childhood he never had. Some saw his private life as rather odd, even weird. And yes, he was the butt of many jokes on late night television. Michael Jackson’s personal foibles provided a lot of fodder for Jay Leno.

But I think Michael Jackson’s contributions to our culture and popular music are far more weighty than his deteriorating image in the public eye. There will undoubtedly be those who will fixate on the negative. But I think far more of us will remember the Michael Jackson who brought us some of the most memorable music of all time. Certainly this would include the music found on Thriller, an album which has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. No other album has even come close to this figure, and given the state of the music industry, it is very doubtful that any album will ever match this distinction.

While I enjoyed Thriller, my memories of Michael go back much further. When Thriller was released in 1982, I was nearing the end of my career as a radio DJ. I was completing my Master’s degree, and I would soon begin my career as a college professor. Thriller was a great album, but my fondest memories of Michael date back to his earlier years, and in particular, his work with the Jackson 5. One of my favorite Michael Jackson tunes, in fact, is an ode to a rat. Perhaps only Michael Jackson possessed the sheer ethos that could turn the rather silly premise of Ben into a touching musical masterpiece. For me, this song was the one that showcased for me what I liked best about Michael Jackson, an uncanny combination of childlike innocence, unshakable confidence, and a truly remarkable voice.

Yes, I’ll miss the great ones that passed away this week. When so many powerful figures in our culture die in such a short time frame, I think it causes us to appreciate even more the fragility of our own lives. I know that my life has been enriched by the contributions of Ed, Farrah and Michael. Each of these celebrities has had their “ups and downs.” But ultimately, I think each, in their own ways, have left us with enduring memories that will last for generations to come.

Shawnee Mission North Panoramas

I enjoy taking panoramic photos from time to time. They are especially useful for capturing wide angle images that are difficult to view in a traditional photo. I’ve also experimented with various methods for presenting panoramic photos, including QuickTime VR, which is an excellent tool for navigating panoramas.

Another excellent piece of panoramic photography software is DoubleTake, which has recently been updated to version 2.2. I like DoubleTake because it is one of the easiest and quickest ways to create a panorama from “stitching” a series of images together. While there are more sophisticated tools available, DoubleTake provides a great combination of ease-of-use and quality results.

Presenting panoramic images online is another issue. Panoramic images can be huge, and most online services that offer panoramic photo viewers place limits on how large a file one can upload. One popular site for panoramic images that I’ve recently posted images to is Panoguide. This service provides a fairly good java-based viewer for viewing panoramic images, but it limits uploaded images to a maximum resolution of 8 megapixels. One of the panoramas I recently took at my godson’s graduation at Shawnee Mission North High School was 48 megapixels, so I had to drop down the resolution quite a bit to upload it to panoguide.

But for what it’s worth, below are links to the two panoramas I took at Trevor’s graduation. The first one is a 180 degree cylindrical panorama of the football stadium just prior to the graduation ceremonies. The second is a tighter close-up cylindrical panorama of the graduating class just prior to receiving their diplomas.

Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission North Class of 2009
Shawnee Mission North Class of 2009

If you’ve never used a panoramic viewer before, try clicking on the image in the viewer and moving the mouse around to navigate. You can zoom in and out by using a scroll wheel or using the two-finger gesture on modern Mac trackpads.

Developing a vision for converged student media

Earlier I posted the text from a presentation I gave to the 2009 Convention of the Broadcast Education Association. I mentioned in that post that I gave two presentations, but I hadn’t posted the text of the second one yet. This second presentation, which I gave on the morning of the last day of the convention, wasn’t nearly as well attended as my first presentation. I think many people had caught early flights out of Las Vegas, or perhaps some were sleeping in after a night out on the town. So for what it’s worth, here is the text of my talk on developing a vision for converged student media.

Monroe Einstein Large

Do you recognize the person in this photograph? If you said Marilyn Monroe, take a closer look. [For those reading this on a computer screen right now, it might help to see the effect of this hybrid image by changing your distance from the screen. You can also see the effect by looking at the hybrid image at different sizes. Does the image on the right look like Marilyn Monroe? For more on this and other hybrid images, visit Aude Oliva’s Hybrid Image Gallery.]

Monroe Enstein smallMonroe Enstein smallMonroe Enstein small

This photo illustrates something about vision. And at the same time, it says something about convergence. So it provides a good starting point for my talk today about developing a vision for convergence in student media. In the next few minutes, I’d like to share with you two general principles that I think this photo illustrates about the problems and opportunities for developing a vision for converged student media. And then I’d like to conclude by sharing just a few ideas from my own experience of advising multiple media.

This first general principle I think this photo illustrates is that vision is highly dependent on one’s range of vision. I’ve been a faculty advisor to various student media outlets for almost 30 years now, so I’d have to say I have a pretty long-term range of vision. And no doubt my perspective on student media is going to be at least somewhat different than the perspective of my students. I’d like to hope we can have a shared vision, but I have to admit that most of my students have a much more shorter-range vision. That is, they find it difficult to see very far beyond a couple of years, probably because they won’t be around in a couple of years. Well, hopefully they’ll be around somewhere, but if we’re doing our jobs, they’ll graduate. Their time with student media is finite. Faculty advisors keep coming back for more. So while I might be able to see things from a sufficient distance to see Marilyn Monroe in this picture, students tend to have a more close-up, short time frame view, and might be stuck staring at Albert Einstein. Personally, I think Marilyn is a bit easier on the eyes.

So developing a vision for student media really requires both the longer-term maturity of vision that a seasoned faculty advisor can bring, and the shorter-term immediacy of vision that enthusiastic students bring. And while I tend to think the faculty advisors role in developing a vision is important, I also think the students role is important. In fact I think it’s more important.

I didn’t always think this way. When I was younger and just getting started advising student media, I thought I knew more than the students, and that my knowledge made my vision more important. I thought my role was to direct student media, to manage things, to define the vision. But soon I discovered that students typically have their own view of how things should be. And sometimes, their vision turned out to be pretty good. I still think I know more than my students, at least about the things I know a lot about. But I also know that I don’t know everything, and I’m OK with that. I would much rather be working with my students in developing a shared vision, than working against my students in imposing my vision. So to sum up my first general principle: when developing a vision for student media, work with your students to see things from both a long range and a short range perspective.

I think this double-vision photo also reveals something about convergence. You know we’ve been talking about convergence for a long time. I was looking through my old BEA programs, and saw the theme of the 1997 BEA Convention, twelve years ago, was “Reinventing electronic media: Multimedia in the new millennium.” Well, we’ve been in this new millennium for almost a decade now. And while on one level some convergence seems to have taken place, there is one thing about convergence that’s hard to deny. We still have separate media. We still have radio. We still have TV. We still have newspapers, at least we have a few. And we still have the web. And while they might work together, they are still pretty much separate.

Sure, some student media web sites give the impression of convergence. In fact, the other day I was at a session where a student and his advisor from Wartburg College was showing off a really nicely done convergence site. But even though this website, which they call “the Wartburg Circuit,” looks great and brings together all of the different student media on campus for a unified web presence, they still have a radio station, a TV station, and a newspaper. It’s just that now they have another thing.

This isn’t so much true convergence, then, as a presentation of convergence, much like this picture here. This isn’t a picture of Albert Monroe or Marilyn Einstein. It’s two pictures, smushed together, and whether you see Albert or Marilyn depends a lot on your perspective. But it’s rather hard to see both as a converged thing. Rather, your eyes tend to want to see one or the other.

So developing a vision for converged student media is, like this picture, a bit of parlor trick. For just like our eyes find it hard to focus on different images at the same time, so too do our eyes find it hard to lock onto a clear vision of what converged media would look like. If anything, the vision that does emerge is, like this picture, a smushing together of things that are easier to focus on separately. So to sum up my second general principle: convergence probably won’t replace individual media, but it can provide opportunities for a combined presentation of media.

So let me conclude today by suggesting just a few things from my own experience about developing a vision for converged student media. Please take them for what they’re worth… a few ideas based on my experience in advising multiple media at West Chester University.

First, a little background so you know where I’m coming from. Part of the reason I was hired at West Chester was because they needed someone to help them launch a campus radio station, which I did. We got our FM construction permit during my first year and built the thing and got it running during my second. After four years of advising the radio station, the students asked me to advise the TV station, too. And a couple years later, they asked me to advise the newspaper. For a while, I was advising all three. But you know, that’s hard work for an old geezer. I was desperate for some kind of convergence on a practical level, if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity.

So I tried to influence the radio station, the TV station and the newspaper to meet together and work together and produce content that crossed media boundaries. At first students were excited about doing so. But then they realized that convergence, true convergence, is a lot harder than they thought. Pretty soon questions of turf came into the picture. And questions of equality and fairness. And questions of money. And yes, questions about whether one faculty member should advise three different media groups. If it was just one truly converged media group, maybe that would be OK. But we couldn’t. Or we wouldn’t. No matter how hard we tried to converge, some things, primarily related to the technologies we used, kept us apart.

But we did discover, together, that convergence came most naturally on the web. And that’s my first suggestion when looking to develop a vision for converged student media: look to the web. All three student media groups have content we put on web sites. So it makes sense to combine at least some of our web efforts and cross promote each other on our web sites. The vision of converged student media that is gradually emerging is largely one of multiple student media working together to create a more unified web presentation.

Here’s another idea: use the web to share content among student media. Start with a good online content management system. I like Drupal, because it’s open source and easily customized, but WordPress is mighty fine for some applications. Store your various media assets in a shared web database, something that all of your media groups can take advantage of. By encouraging students to share content with each other, they begin to focus less on the differences that separate the media and more on the content that they have in common. And it also helps students discover the emerging qualities of the most shareable content, that is, how to be more platform agnostic in creating media content. That’s an important lesson, but one that is more easily discovered through practice than through imposing a contrived vision of convergence.

My last suggestion, and one that I hope doesn’t upset anyone here at BEA, is to bring students from multiple media groups to the College Media Convention, which is held in the fall each year. This year it’s in Austin, Texas. If you’ve never been to a College Media Convention, you should go, and you should bring your students, and if you can, bring students from all of your media groups on campus. I used to bring students to BEA years ago. In fact, I tried to start a student division of BEA years ago. And a few of my colleagues still do. But BEA really isn’t a convention for students. The College Media Convention is. There are far more students in attendance than there are faculty, and that’s one reason why I’ve grown to love the College Media Convention. Co-sponsored by College Media Advisors, Associated College Press and Collegiate Broadcasting, Incorporated, this annual mega-conference is a great opportunity for students, and it’s a great way to build bridges between media groups on campus. There’s nothing like getting TV, radio and newspaper kids to share crowded hotel rooms, go to sessions with each other, and yes, maybe even party a little together. A lot of vision for convergence can emerge once you leave all the questions of turf back on campus and spend a few days together at a really well done convention, where students can quickly develop a broader perspective on convergence.

Well those are a few ideas for developing a vision for converged student media. If they sound rather modest, it’s because they are. Some of you may have noticed that I said earlier, “for a while I was advising all three media groups.” I’m not anymore, and to be honest, it’s a bit of a relief. Even faculty advisors have to have a life. I’m still not sure convergence is the wave of the future. But I do think we will continue to find ways to do a little smushing together, just like in this picture. Although the more I look at this picture, the more I think Marilyn needs to shave. Scarry.

BEA 2009: Ethical Dilemmas in Student Media

I just got back from the 2009 convention of the Broadcast Education Association, where I made two presentations. The first presentation was entitled “Ethic Dilemmas in Student Media: When Money Talks, Ethics Walk.” In this presentation, I tell the story of KWJC, a radio station I used to advise at William Jewell College. This paper was well received, and I got some great feedback, so I may polish it up and submit it for publication somewhere (probably in Feedback, a BEA journal where this sort of piece is most appropriate). But for what it’s worth, here is the script of my presentation as given at BEA 2009…

Ethical Dilemmas in Student Media:
When Money Talks, Ethics Walk

Today I’d like to tell you a story. A true story. A cautionary tale of money trumping ethics. If the story sounds a bit personal, well, it is. You see, I was a part of this story, or at least part of its history.

It begins long before I became part of it. About 40 years ago, the late Dr. Georgia Bowman, head of the speech department at William Jewell College, decided to start a student-operated radio station. It launched with a humble 10 watts of power, just enough to cover the Kansas City suburb of Liberty, Missouri.

In 1984, I was hired as a new faculty member at William Jewell. Among my duties was the role of faculty advisor to this station. And during the next decade, we made a number of improvements to the station. But perhaps most importantly, this station, KWJC, provided a solid foundation for a broadcast curriculum that educated hundreds, maybe even thousands of students over the decades.

I left William Jewell in 1997 to start another adventure in my life, and another student radio station, at West Chester University. But I left with fond memories, and high hopes for KWJC. I was confident that I had left a finely-tuned student radio station. It was, after all, the inspiration for one of my most widely cited articles on student radio, the “Enhancing the Electronic Sandbox” piece in Feedback.

So it was with great pride that I heard this station I left behind was honored by the Princeton Review in 2004 as one of this nation’s top student radio stations. The faculty advisors and students who followed me continued to build and polish KWJC, and I was glad their hard work was being recognized.

But in February 2006, the storyline for KWJC took an abrupt twist. The faculty advisor at that time, a young broadcasting professor named Todd Wirth, got an e-mail from the dean requesting a meeting to discuss the radio station. Not knowing what to think, but hoping for the best, Todd went. It was a meeting that would change his life.

For it quickly became clear that the meeting was not about discussion at all, but to inform Todd that KWJC would soon cease to be a student radio station. You see, the college had decided to accept a lucrative offer. In return for a sum of money, my sources tell me it was $90,000, William Jewell College would suspend student operation of KWJC. After nearly 40 years of excellence in student radio, there would be no more at William Jewell. In fact, there would be no more curriculum in broadcasting. And by the way, Todd’s contract would not be renewed.

I still remember speaking with Todd here in Las Vegas at BEA 2006. I found it shocking what he shared with me about what happened. I felt bad for him, of course. And I felt a personal sense of loss. But even more, I felt bad for all the alumni of the station, all those students whose lives had been touched by KWJC. Some of whom I’ve seen here on the NAB show floors.

Yes, I felt bad. But soon, I felt mad, as I’ve learned more about this situation. The organization that convinced William Jewell to get out of student radio is called the Educational Media Foundation. The EMF has precious little to do with education. EMF is the legal name of the operators of two powerful national religious broadcasting networks known as K-Love and Air-One. And I’ve since learned that this was not the first time EMF convinced a college to essentially hold a license for their benefit.

Western Baptist College in Salem, Oregon wanted to start a student radio station back in the 90s. Because of financial problems, they almost didn’t get KWBX off the ground. But then the EMF brought their checkbook. Today, the college, now called Corban University, holds a broadcast license. But like KWJC, KWBX is hardly a student radio station. It’s just there to give the Air-1 network a signal in Salem.

And in Kansas City, Air-1’s signal blankets the metro area quite nicely. For shortly after EMF took over KWJC’s airwaves, the station was awarded a construction permit to increase its power to 7,000 watts. Yes, Air-1 has a dandy signal in KC, and it doesn’t even have to bother with all the responsibilities of holding a license. For the license is still held by William Jewell. In fact, it was the college’s status that helped give it the nod in a competitive FCC hearing for its construction permit. And who was William Jewell competing against on behalf of the EMF? Why, it was Community Broadcasting, which is the legal name for Bott Broadcasting, another powerful religious broadcaster.

Indeed, if you look at the organizations that have dominated applications for noncommercial educational FM radio stations in the last few years, you’ll notice that they’re not really noncommercial, and they’re not really educational. They are religious broadcasters, mostly protestant, evangelical, and fundamentalist.

Last week I did a licensee search in the FCC’s CDBS database. Bott’s Community Broadcasting group has 165 facility IDs in that database. Way-FM has 204. Bible Broadcasting 237. Family Stations 454. The American Family Association has 555. But no one comes close to the Educational Media Foundation. With 1,516 facility IDs, the EMF is clearly the Clear Channel of noncommercial education radio. No organization has been more active in aggressively building not one but two nationwide religious radio networks.

Now some might say this is just good business. Stations turn over all the time. Broadcasting in America is, if nothing else, a business. And money talks, it’s hard to deny that. But when money talks, should ethics walk? Especially in that special class of broadcasting called noncommercial educational? And even more especially in that very special class of noncommercial educational known as student radio? So before I conclude my remarks, let me suggest just a few ethical questions raised by the story I’ve shared with you today.

First, is it ethical for the EMF to pay a college to hold a license for a station that they program? KWJC’s license is still held by William Jewell College, even though they have very little to do with the station’s operation. I’m no lawyer, so it may be technically legal, I suppose, but is this really ethical?

Second, is it ethical for the EMF to essentially use this college and its broadcast license to gain an advantage over their competition in an FCC hearing? Yes, the EMF probably wouldn’t be interested in KWJC if they weren’t in a position to increase their power. But is it ethical to cut a deal with the college to help ensure that power increase, especially when it benefits the EMF far more than it benefits the college?

Third, is it ethical for a college to accept money in return for closing the doors on something that was a part of campus life for nearly four decades? Why would a college shut down an award-winning student radio station, one that was attracting students to the college? Why would you suddenly drop a broadcasting curriculum, forcing many students to leave the college to finish their degrees elsewhere? Why would you end the contract of a promising professor, one who has published in BEA journals…all for some money? Is that really ethical?

And finally, is it ethical for the FCC to routinely grant noncommercial educational licenses to a small number of highly profitable businesses? Consider the Educational Media Foundation. This is a business that took in almost a third of a billion dollars last year in revenue. And this is not unusual. Religious broadcasters make a lot of money selling airtime.

If you think it’s illegal for a noncommercial educational station to sell airtime, think again. It’s technically not illegal for these stations to sell airtime, it’s just illegal to sell airtime to for-profit companies. And there’s the loophole that religious broadcasters have used to bring in the bucks. They sell plenty of airtime to ministries, many of which are also highly profitable businesses. As long as they only sell to organizations that can legally claim non-profit status, noncommercial educational stations can sell 60 minutes out of every hour if they want to. It’s legal, but is it ethical? And is it ethical for the FCC to continue to grant noncommercial educational licenses to organizations they know will sell air time in this way?

For some, these may be difficult ethical questions. But not for me. It really wasn’t ethical what happened to KWJC. And it really isn’t ethical what’s been going on in the noncommercial band. No, it’s not ethical. But it is about money. And when money talks, ethics walk.

Let me end with another true story, and I promise to keep it short. A few years ago, Lake Charles, Louisiana, earned the distinction of being the largest city in the US that couldn’t receive a signal from National Public Radio. That’s because the two translator stations that had been supplying the city for many years with NPR programming were forced off the air in favor of full-power FM stations operated by a religious broadcaster, American Family Radio.

That was a wake-up call for public radio, and part of the inspiration for Public Radio Capital, an organization to help pubcasters fight for signals in the crowded FM band. So far, PRC has helped many stations preserve and expand their signals in the face of growing competition, primarily from religious broadcasters.

But what about student radio stations? Who’s going to fight for them? For my colleagues in student media, I hope the answer is you. I’m not sure if we can be successful. But I am sure we need to try. We need to be asking whether what is happening to the noncommercial educational FM band is ethical. And we need to keep asking…while we still have the chance.