Subservient Congress: What Burger King could have taught news about video in 2001
This post is part of the monthly Carnival of Journalism.
Online journalism as a market force has clearly, utterly and totally lost the battle for online video supremacy. In the not-so-quiet armsrace, journalists and other traditional bearers of the craft were laid seige by nimbler, more driven marketing counterparties selling their services to the highest bidder.
The results have not been pretty: Ad dollars have been diverted from print to Facebook, Google, viral marketing campaigns and other online sources in droves. But there's hope: These marketing insurgents on the traditional ad spend have shown new ways of embracing the online video medium, investing the R&D and experimental spend that traditional media wouldn't and then sharing their victories with the world.
The future of online news video is a more integrated, playful medium that stops thinking in terms of play, pause and pageviews and instead engages in ways that are more educational, more engaging and more immersive than today's simple Flip Cam renditions.
Enter Subservient Congress.
During periods of rapid technological transition - from print to cinema, from cinema to television to web - the early, mass-media results are often imitation of the prior form. It's a quick yet lingering phenomenon: Think of the crashing headlines of 1940s WWII Newsreel, or the front pages of online newspaper sites that so closely mimic their print counterparts.
There's good reason for this transitional period, both in educating and easing the new medium for both new audience and new creators alike, but the mediums quickly move from transition to transformation, pushing, finding and playing with the new boundaries.
Today's newsroom video efforts are still highly imitative: Video comments at CNN iReport echo letters to the editor or, even more closely, the squawk box of talk radio. User Flip Cam videos of newsworthy events echo both the cameramen of yore (and today, to be fair) as well as as home video submissions we have seen for decades - although scaled up.
But among the rank and file, true transformation hasn't occurred: What would simply be impossible or, better yet, incomprehensible to online news videos' ancestors?
I think CNN's The Moment is an apt example: While not "video" in the traditional sense, the photo mirage captures a moment in time both individually and collectively, merging thousands of photos taken from nearly, but not exactly, the same time to create a living, breathing sense of President Barack Obama's inauguration. Such a news metaphor - capturing the moment at both deeply personal and widely collective levels through a participatory process - would simply have been nonsensical in any other medium but fluid, online manipulation.
This, then, points to the future of online newsroom video: Forms and lingo not possible with yesterday's tools, but native to tomorrow's audience. And while Microsoft's Photosynth technology is deeply impressive, this lingo is not properly and fully a technological problem so much as it is a problem of linguistics: Newsrooms only partially understand the cadence and slang of online video. Not surprising since they only partially understand the cadence and slang of non-linear textual representations, but the medium will evolve and grow over time as the innovative lessons learned elsewhere - and the lucrative loot they bring with them - are infused into the way newsrooms engage.
Think Subservient Chicken, Burger King's lightly subversive viral campaign that asked users to order around a chicken via a grainy web cam and simple text orders: Lay egg, sing, backflip.
The technology was relatively simple, but it asked users to engage with a fictional character in a way that, again, would have been incomprehensible in another medium. A similar tool, perhaps dubbed Subservient Congress if the creator was un-creative enough, could be used to both solicit feedback and educate participants about Congressional influences: A user could take a turn asking Congress to "Pass healthcare", "Show up", "Repeal Healthcare" with either a witty animation resulting or a serious response to the challenges in doing that, interspersed with information drawn OpenSecrets showing how politicians were often subservient to interest groups with deep pockets, whether in passing earmarks or rejecting unfavorable legislation.
The simple link is often trotted out as an essential defining element of the web versus legacy media, and the humble truly deserves such recognition. But web video must start to go further when interpreting what the link is, playing with its boundaries in new and creative ways applicable to redefining what the traditionally linear medium is and can do going forward.