Social Media Week Chicago: Reinventing media careers

by | Sep 26, 2011

Social Media Week Chicago took place last week, and one of the sessions generating some online buzz was the event above on Friday evening, featuring:


Moderated by Bill Adee (@Bill80) and running an hour and a half, the conversation may only appeal to Chicago media junkies. As one of those, I found the camera work worrying, and certain details interesting.

Of the four panelists, former Fox Chicago and current WGN-TV journalist Nancy Loo is particularly agile at juggling both traditional and social media. She’s often on location reporting a story while tweeting about it and updating Facebook, and then writing it up for her Big Tiny World blog. She may yet coax WGN-TV into the current century.

Here, however — dividing her attention between the physical room and the online conversations on her phone — she is swamped by the three men. They cut her off several times, and she seems content to go back to her device.

Loo writes about this “Reinventing Media Careers” session in her blog, relaying some of the onlne community’s shock at vulgarity during the event. It’s always amazing to me that so many grownups can get their feathers ruffled by the same small handful of forbidden words they’ve known since childhood.

Richard Roeper offers mostly superficial opinions on social media. For example, he boasts about using technology to have video of his movie reviews quickly edited and put online, lauding this as far superior to the old media process of the TV show he did with Roger Ebert (20:45). This overlooks the excellence of Ebert’s current TV show, Ebert Presents At the Movies, which surpasses anything Roeper did with Ebert, thanks both to its commercial-free format and to its outstanding critics.

Roeper asserts that Twitter users merely retweet news only after it has been “broken” by mainstream reporters (22:10), but perhaps he simply doesn’t follow the same people that, say, NPR’s Andy Carvin does.

In mentioning an upcoming personal appearance, Roeper notes that contests can attract Twitter followers (33:52). That stands to reason, but if you’re just interested in numbers, you can always buy Twitter followers, too. Roeper has 38,181 Twitter followers, far more than anyone else on the panel. But looking at Klout metrics — which also consider social engagement — Nancy Loo, with just 9,455 followers, outranks Roeper 76 to 65.

Steve Dahl (on whose radio shows I spent roughly a decade of my working life) speaks about social media as a bit of an annoyance. Dahl says he basically uses Twitter and Facebook to try to get people to go to his website and subscribe to his podcast (23:15), and he views the public comments section under a professional columnist’s work as a disservice which permits “any idiot in the world” to post an opinion (42:12). In his opinion, commenting “bogs things down” (47:28).

Describing his own career reinvention as a subscription podcaster, Dahl pinpoints the overload of commercial interruptions as radio’s fatal obstacle (24:10). His uninterrupted podcast avoids this pitfall, but is his strict subscription model the best solution? WTF with Marc Maron seems to be succeeding with a more creative assortment of revenue streams. Also, Dahl ignores public media, which freely offers infinitely richer and more valuable content than he does, both on radio and online. If I have an extra $10 per month to devote to spoken audio, should I subscribe to his podcast — or give it to WUWM?

The deepest insights and the most surprising social media journey are recounted by Robert Feder. Despite being the media reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, he was a virtual online virgin until after taking a buyout from his newspaper job in his early 50s. Feder picked up blogging and tweeting skills following a revelatory moment at the Newseum during his hiatus. His cellphone use, text messaging, and social media interaction all began in the last three years.

The key thought Feder highlights (16:36) is that the old media system is gone like the old Hollywood studio system which used to groom and market and protect its movie stars. Media people are now on their own, he says, responsible for their own education, their own brand, and their own destiny.

Feder devoted a blog post today to Dahl’s remarks: Out on a limb: Dahl views podcasting as ‘perfect medium’. Meanwhile, media guy Dave Martin (@martindave) transcribed Robert Feder’s remarks on his Posterous: “Robert Feder at Social Media Week – Chicago.”

The most exciting development to come out of this event was the fact that Neil Steinberg (@NeilSteinberg) was in the audience (35:00). The irrepressible columnist is a skeptical Twitter newbie (initial Twitter doubt is common) who nevertheless wants to know more, and Robert Feder was only too happy to evangelize to him — especially about the joys of experiencing big public events with the communal wit and wisdom of a well-chosen Twitter feed.

Today, Steinberg’s column was devoted to this Social Media Week event and his own Twitter account: “Twitter might be the future, but we’re still here in the present.”

Steinberg’s tentative steps toward Twitter remind me of another Chicago newspaper writer who once emailed in response one of my blog posts. It was Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago), who in late 2008 was thinking about using Twitter. “Is it just me, or would Twitter become a black hole for my consciousness?” he asked.

Like Robert Feder, I evangelized about the miracle of connectedness. I also forwarded a link to the Clive Thompson article “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” but Ebert remained unconvinced. “I somehow feel I’m busy enough,” he concluded.

It was another nine more months before Roger Ebert finally began tweeting.

1 Comment

  1. Margie of More Please

    I’m mostly unplugged from Chicago media, social or otherwise, but enjoyed this post. I was a fan of Steve Dahl’s radio show in the 80’s, but now I listen almost exclusively to public radio (at least when I’m in charge of the dial).  I’m starting to explore podcasts, but so far sticking with free content. Hopefully my comment doesn’t bog down your blog too much ;)


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