Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Online New Television Formats: The RGTV News Experiment - How Did It Go? What Next?

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Just about a month ago I decided to test a new grassroots live video format by utilizing the zero-footprint and zero-cost technologies available to anyone wanting to start a live video news channel.


The idea was one of leveraging the latest live video streaming technology to create an experimental grassroots independent news channel that would broadcast news from all of the major cities around the world. I announced my idea and plan in this article, made a call to volunteer newscasters and then went about putting it into practice.

As in the past, I am at heart a true media experimenter, and I had decided to take up this challenge, not because I wanted to make a business out of it, but only because I really thought that the time was ripe, and for the first time, to go out and try something totally from the roots in this new direction.

The technologies are now there and they are free... there is infinite bandwidth available to you and me at zero cost... we are fed up to the nose with the lack of relevant and more personalized news from the mainstream media... what better opportunity for me, the guy who loves to be a new media explorer to go out and recruit a small newsroom of independents and do this?

...or at least this is what I thought.

There's nothing I could learn if I knew the solution to any new media development looming out there. I, like you, have to go out and get my hand dirty to find out. And so I did.

After a little less than a month and with a over 20 newscasts having been published online on RGTV News my initial enthusiasm has indeed faded a bit, especially since I was presumptuous in my expectations of how difficult it would have been to get people to do this, but not my desire to further test and explore.

And so, nonetheless the very humble results (only a few thousand views so far) I find this experiment to have been a truly valuable learning experience so far. And writing about it publicly, makes it dramatically more so.

To be honest, and I have made this mistake before in the past, I thought everyone was going to really get a kick around the idea of being part of a grassroots independent international newscast channel where to contribute his original 5-min newscast. It wasn't so.

Most everyone thought I was crazy to ask for those 5 minutes a day, and counter-proposed to do a bit, here and there, possibly in the weekends.

From over 12 newscasters I had hoped to get together, I ended up with four only, including myself.

But all these mistakes, have allowed me to learn and uncover aspects of my own approach to independent publishing, that are absolutely priceless to me. And in the Sharewood spirit that characterizes this site (the desire to share with others what you have of value independently of professional or economic interests) I decided to share the story of what I learned so far in this new media experimentation.


After an initial set of enthusiastic responses, most of my own contacts evaporated like perfume under the sun. after having written how much they thought this was a great idea, one by one disappeared into eternal silence to never reappear. The idea of having to stop their existing workflow to broadcast a 5-minute personalized news break was too much of a challenge for most everyone.

But I am not blaming them... or I would not be learning anything useful here.

It was my plan that was defective from the beginning, and I think I have learned a lot in this initial flop.

What did not work?

Photo credit: Laurin Rinder

Well, asking prestigious and busy professionals to go record or go live for a newscast for 5 minute a day, 5 days a week, for no money and on a channel that has someone else name (mine), is really like asking people for 50 dollar bills while they are waiting at the red light.

But evidently, I was so enthused by my own idea, that I did not see things this way and insisted more than it was wise to, on these very premises.

In the beginning, and I am talking here about the first week of July, we had probably the most momentum and were able to start a mini-newsroom of four thanks to great spirit and spontaneous contributions from John Blossom, Mike Shea.

You can see some of our humble attempts at doing some kind of alternative and very informal news reporting on the archive of RGTV News channel, or right here:

John Blossom


Looking back at them, they were not that bad indeed, and I actually liked some of them very much. What lacked was having a few more newscasters and more than that a minimal marketing and promotion apparatus to give continuous light to this new endeavor.

Glaringly lacking was a way for the audience to participate into the newscast, even asynchronously, by having a way to post comments. Reviewing this first phase of the project, I think this has been a major mistake, though I can't be sure we would have had a substantial amount of comments without having first done our homework on the community, marketing and communication fronts.

One other major realization, is that I can't really pull off this magic, brave experimental new media feats, unless I start grooming in a serious way my own community. This is well too evident now and a powerful lesson for any independent online publisher still toying with the term community and not yet understanding that without this new media component little change action can be achieved collaboratively and at-a-distance.

A strong community, one ready to support, criticize, and promote your new initiatives and project would have served beautifully the challenging goals I had placed ahead of us.

Indeed good ideas, great reporting or technology scoops can only do so much when it comes to moving individuals to do something. It is rather the social media component that when properly cared and supported by dedicated staff can truly provide marketing penetration and access to talented human resources like no other service could.

In synthesis, I am not yet a good enough promoter of my own initiatives (I tend to limit self-promotion as I feel it could take away some of my credibility). I have not built a community of supporters and have not partnered with whoever else could have helped push this initial phase to a larger audience of contributors.

The technology factor

Photo credit: Marius Jasaitis

To be fully honest, I have to admit that the idea of this international video grassroots channel had been sparked by the highly innovative and promising Mogulus video broadcasting platform. Mogulus, if you have not yet read anything about it, is a video publishing platform which already provides to anyone willing to try it, the opportunity to broadcast live video on the Internet while being able to coordinate a miniaturized control room and live / recorded contributors from any connected location.

But Mogulus, nothwithstanding the great things that it already does, did not deliver. It did not the reliability and performance I needed, it didn't allow me to record (which it now does, though with some significant limitations in re-usability of those recordings) the way I wanted, it did not provide me with enough control on the distributable video player (issues with resizing, transparency, pre-sets) and on the live correspondents connecting into my video control room.

I decided then to opt for a less risky approach, and suggested to the distributed newscasters team to simply log on to their YouTube account and to record their newscasts directly there, which makes the process very easy.

This in turn gave me the opportunity to "test" and verify much better how each one of the newscasters was going to perform and whether or not he was going to have some technical issues of some kind (audio not god, bad quality video, etc.).

The more advanced among them took immediately the opportunity to do more advanced work, including video editing and picture in picture compositions that allowed them to showcase interesting web pages and new tools.

Some like me, who were stranded on a remote location with no immediate connectivity to the Internet, just recorded with their own webcams locally and then, once a connection spot was found, uploaded it rapidly to YouTube. All these approaches had their pros and cons and they appear to me as being all valuable format styles that can be employed in these situations.

But the greatest technology surprise came from my need to create a continuous playing loop of the news clips that would come in gradually during any given day. In those days, about a month ago, YouTube playlists were having some serious problems, would not play back through all the clips and just behaved erratically. As timeliness is an important factor, I immediately headed west to seek some alternatives among our recently reviewed video publishing tools.

I suddenly remembered that Splashcast had a cool system to assemble playlists of just about anything, and did have the ability to embed its programmed player on any web page. And in fact it did. Splashcast allows easy embedding into your site or blog, can create daily shows, and though it still misses an automatic loop function, it does most everything I needed inside a web-based, reliable package.

The human side

Photo credit: Iryna Kuran

Also, for those who had volunteered to be among this brave new RGTV newsroom, the issues were quite a few.

Not only the time issue was very relevant for everyone, but more than anything the logistics of making this happen seemed to scary the majority of the original volunteer contributors out of the picture.

Mogulus is too slow... which webcam should I use?... why doesn't this mike work OK.... what dress should I put on... and so on. Each one had a thousand and more questions that I didn't expect.

There were editorial issues too. Not everyone got a clear idea that this was not a personal promotion channel and somebody decided to feel hurt that he could not publicly recount the story of his group and founder inside a world video news channel. Well... too bad.

I like to be open and democratic but if you want to do personal promotion I think you can just publish these things on your blog. No need for Robin Good to create a new channel for it...

As I well knew, these endeavors always require you to be proactive, to guide step by step your kind friends and to be both tolerant and highly respectful of their personal needs. Unless you are willing to be a social nurse for each one of them, it is going to be very hard that notwithstanding their liking your idea and having the tools to do it, they will be confident and motivated enough to do so.

And so I learned quite a bit here as well, especially in the direction of planning enough human resources and time to devote all of those you would like to see participate. Each one of them needs a little hand-guiding and a some encouragement to start. Not a list of errors or a detached reprimand.

I also remembered that more than technology, it is the individuals that choose to work with you and the clarity of your original idea that make the most significant difference.

Where do I go from here

Photo credit: Hypermania

Coincidentally, and with no particular personal merit, something came to mind this week that suggested to change the channel format approach, especially in view of the decreasing enthusiasm coming my already very small newscasters team.

I said to myself: Well, if it is so hard to get these guys to do newscasts and if I hate so much to scream wide and large that we are doing this new project and need more of you joining us, why don't I just go out and "aggregate" the ones that are already doing this spontaneously?

Isn't it written on the wall already that wanting at all costs to be a content producer today is not as smart as wanting to be a high-quality content aggregator?

I even personally praised the value of this understanding in my intro to yesterday's outstanding contribution from John Blossom: Online Content Quality: Its Relevance In Context-Driven Web Publishing.

And so I did.

Armed of patience and a good dose of curiosity I headed out to see if there was the possibility to reverse my independent world video news grassroots equation, by scouting for independent or hard to find news content of the last 24 hours, that I could indeed preview, evaluate, select and assemble into a daily news compilation.

And boy did I find some interesting stuff!

This is a full-time job... and especially so until the tools available to manage, preview, select and organize this ocean of video content don't get a LOT better than what is out there now. Today, you have to be superman to find good video news content in this ocean of crap. You really need to know what you are looking for, and you need to have serious time to do it.

But the moment you realize the above you also realize that it could be a person just like you who could really perform these very initial, primitive but highly useful curating and video newsmastering of such new and original daily video news compilations.

And so there you have it. Curating grassroots, independent or just plainly unknown video news from around the world into a daily news compilation could very well provide a valuable new format to aggregate and distribute effectively some of the great underground or little-known material available out there.

It is my strong opinion that such an alternative aggregated format has much greater value than my original idea, which it can integrate, and it serves useful social purposes in acting as a natural, human-powered filter-aggregator that provides, within a specific audience demographic, more relevant news and information from sources that are truly alternative to the mainstream media.

It goes with this that a strong editorial direction, high and tight standards in the selection of what goes in and what does not could make of a project like this a potential evolved equivalent of Slashdot, which could be slanted in a hundred different themes.

I am not saying I am going to be ever able to pull off such a highly respected news source, but I am certainly making the road easier for whoever will.

Some open questions

Should the two formats be mixed?
- Should I mix video aggregation with selected newscasters contributions?
- Should I interject this new experimental format with my own personal news like I was doing before while pushing for more newscasters to join in?

What would be the best way to provide audience participation?
A chat? Forum?
In which format?

How else would you like to see this video news channel evolving?

And if you haven't yet, go, check out RGTV News (click on the Channel button and see al of the past newscasts)

Original article written by Robin Good for Master New Media and entitled "Online New Television Formats: The RGTV News Experiment - How Did It Go? What Next?"

Robin Good - [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2007-08-03 20:22:14

Des Walsh

Thanks for trying and sharing. The argument for being an aggregator is clear. But is there not a challenge in terms of getting clearance for use of material? MSM newsrooms have agreements in place and people responsible for that. Doesn't appeal to me as a one man show responsibility.

2007-08-03 06:28:53


Nice try, anyway Robin. Congratulations on your self appraisal. I will keep visiting your site almost everyday from Badajoz, Spain. I find it highly enlightening and filled with useful information and excellent and inspiring ideas. Keep it up.

posted by Robin Good on Thursday, August 2 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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