from the world's big
Bill Wasik Takes Modern Media to Task
Wasik is the author of And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture (Viking, 2009). He is also the editor, with Roger D. Hodge, of Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper's Magazine (New Press, 2008)
Question: What are the pros and cons of viral media?
Bill Wasik: Well, in terms of pros, I think that it is amazing how much the internet has leveled the playing field for people who want to find a large audience and to find it very quickly. You know, all of the clichés about, you know, the sort of amateur explosion in the way in which that the little guy can compete with the big media, all of that is essentially true in the sense that somebody can throw up some YouTube video that took them 20 minutes to make using just the tools that were available to them in their basement or their garage and if it’s good enough or if it’s grabby enough then it can get millions and million of hits in the span of just a few days and so that’s just remarkable and you can’t help but be…you can’t lose sight of how revolutionary that is, you know, and also the pros are you know the way in which the internet allows us to find things that are very, very specifically relevant to us, you know, the long tail idea that Chris Anderson gets into, that having sort of infinitely accessible culture allows us to segment ourselves in ways that can be very satisfying and very useful.
You know, if you’re a particular fan of a particular band or particular actor, or a particular style of music or anything, you can very quickly through the internet find communities of people who are like you, you can find recommendations for other things that you might have not have known about that you would like because, people who have similar taste to yours like them to. The internet can be very useful in helping people feed very niche passions and thereby to create market opportunities for people in a very mass culture would have a hard time getting by, you know, if you play a particular obscure kind of music then, you know, you might have had trouble finding the 5,000 people out there in the world that would be inclined to buy your CD but over the internet, you know, you can have a growing business for anywhere in the world, you know, taking orders and mailing out CDs and that can be very useful.
In terms of the cons though, you know, I feel like the technology both on a personal level and on a cultural level encourages this relentless distraction. It encourages short-term thinking in the sense that the internet is always dangling in front of us these incredibly sort of viral, contagious, little bits of culture, you know, whether they’re videos or songs or little pieces of political news that sort of thing that we become obsessed with, you know, in any given day then that sort of drowns out any more boring kind of, but like more important than longer-term considerations that we might have. That to me is the fundamental downside and it’s to me the thing that we really need to come to terms with, you know, because right now I feel that for a lot of us the level of distraction in our own lives and the level of distraction in the sort of media ecosystem has become unsustainable
Question: How can today’s media companies make money?
Bill Wasik: I think that the Kindle is a really interesting device and a great thing to keep your eye on. One of the things I love about the kindle is the fact that it separates the act of choosing the information from the act of consuming it and that I think is more valuable than a lot of people think. I think part of the reason why people hesitate to pay for any content online is that, you know, it slows them down. They want to be, you know, surfing from this thing to this thing to this thing and just the idea of having to stop and pay for something feels like too much of an intrusion in this kind of like hyper-textual surfing through, you know, what’s going on in the world.
The thing I like about the Kindle is that, you know, you either through the Amazon store you buy a book of there’s an email address through which you can send yourself say a long article or even your own word document that you want to read and then it beams down to your device and then you are able to take your device to some other place. It’s not connected to the internet, you sit there and you read, you know, in a more leisurely way to things that you picked up for your self. That I think contains the seeds of a sort of possible business model because it seems to me that the kind of content that it seems clear that short stuff is inherently going to be free in part because there’s so many people making it, you know, in part because, you know, its going to be a part of this sort of big, sort of churny conversation but that the longer stuff even if you’re aren’t getting in the physical form I think you might still be able to convince people to pay for especially if what you’re essentially giving them is an experience away from your computer, away from your BlackBerry, away from your iPhone, you know, where it comes into a special device that’s designed to, to be a respite for all that.
So, I’m hopeful that the Kindle might represent a way for not just book publishing companies but also for…for magazines and sellers of long form journalism to potentially make money off of their work. For the shorter stuff, I don’t really know what the answer is. There is just never been…there’s just hasn’t been a successful business model where they’ve been able to get people to open up their wallets to pay for access to these, these streams of information. Maybe after somebody’s company start to fail and information becomes scarcer that then the value proposition becomes clearer for consumers, you know, that if you’re local paper shuts down, you know, then maybe you start to see value of letting…of giving New York Times some money, you know, or else it’s going to go out of business, you know. I think I agree with people also who say that the nonprofit business model looks pretty good to newspapers right now in that maybe it’s may be even the best way to think about newspapers a sort of public trust that we don’t expect them to turn a profit, we don’t expect them to be used as profitable corporations which is what, you know, the big companies that have bought them like, you know, have expected them to be over the past decade or so but then instead, you know, they can mostly make back what they…what they spend meanwhile they’re providing us some incredibly important public service. That I think is going to become a really big model in the future as well.
Question: What are your favorite media sites?
Bill Wasik: Well, you know, the New York Times is certainly number one and, they, by the way, I think have done a great job in the past few years of reinventing themselves on the internet model and integrated blogs and multimedia stuff. You know, they’ve gone big on to twitter—they haven’t figured how to make it pay yet, but certainly they’ve been nimble on the editorial content side of figuring those things out. I really like MetaFilter, which is a group blog that’s been going for I think ten years now. It’s motto is, “best of the web” and it’s essentially just a bunch of members who go out and find really interesting stuff and post them for other people and it’s to me a sort of constantly fascinating way to find new and interesting stuff online. I read a lot of different blogs,
There’s another sect called BuzzFeed, which is run by Jonah Peretti, who I profiled in part in the book, which is another great site that’s out there. They actually have sort of automated engines that call through blog statistics and everything to find interesting trends and what people are doing and talking about online. BuzzFeed definitely give me lots of great stuff. I think I’ll leave it at those three.
Recorded on: June 3, 2009
Electronic media builds communities but also distracts us relentlessly.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.
Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.
- Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
- Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
- The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
These new status behaviours are what one expert calls 'inconspicuous consumption'.