This thought first occured to me several weeks ago when I was in "the other" Washington (DC) and, at PBS's request, went to a contract studio to tape what became a small part of a video that was shown at the PBS Showcase meeting here in Orlando today. There were several of us whose comments made up the video, each appearing a minute or less I suppose and taped at various times. But the taping session itself was remarkably professional for something that will never be shown to anyone outside the public television community (distribution is limited to station personnel). I was ushered into a studio, make-up applied, shirt adjusted to minute perfection, and the production staff fussed with the lighting at some length to be sure it was just right (maybe it was the glare off my large forehead). The taping took maybe 30-40 minutes during which I was asked a range of questions.
The remarkable thing was that none of this was remarkable. All of this "craft" is SOP in my business -- make-up, grooming, lighting, thoughtfully prepared questions, shooting ratio (perhaps 50:1 in my case), etc. It makes for very good television.
Fast forward now to last weekend when I attended the Beyond Broadcast 2006 conference at Harvard Law School, about which I've made several posts in the past week. Although there were several broadcasters in attendance, most of the attendees seemed to be from the new media community. Video and audio production of the proceedings were done throughout the meeting. No one had make-up applied for the event, lighting was whatever existed in the rooms, editing will likely be very light when it exists at all, the shooting ratio will be pretty close to 1:1, and it will all be posted online for anyone to see or hear (the audio's up now, and video is coming soon).
There couldn't be a more profound and, I think, portentious contrast between Beyond Broadcast and PBS Showcase in the area of craft. PBS Showcase is an annual homage to craft -- craft with roots in feature films, right down to the lengthy scrolling credits. Nothing makes long-time broadcasters, myself very much included, more proud of what we do than to preview the excellent productions that our talented producers generate for the programming pipeline. This meeting recharges our batteries, reinvigorating our dedication to what we do.
And yet this same level of craft isn't really transportable to the new media world. There, the values of full documentation, user-generated content, and open distribution are in the ascendancy and one has to wonder what's the role of craft as we know it in that environment. And if new media is in the ascendancy, does that mean that sticking with the values of craft too long will keep us from adopting quickly enough to the new realities to survive? I think that's very possible.
A number of traditional television production entities are producing differently for new media. WGBH (with WNET perhaps the "craftiest" of the production houses) shoots the WGBH Forum series for web distribution with very modest production resources. WCET's (Cincinnati) CEO, Susan Howarth, said today from the dais that they're using different production standards for the web. My own television operation is doing the same for a university lecture series. More of us need to get used to variable production standards for diverse distribution platforms, the sooner the better.