TCS Daily

Guerrilla Media

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - February 26, 2003 12:00 AM

One of the interesting things about this war is that - presumably because people feel that "mainstream" media aren't talking about the things they think are important - ordinary Americans have gone out of their way to express themselves. In a very real sense, of course, the explosion of weblogs after September 11 was the first manifestation of this phenomenon. But it's been interesting to watch the phenomenon grow, and move beyond the "traditional" Blogosphere. (Which itself has been around for all of eighteen months or so).

As I predicted way back in, er, December, the coming thing in alternative web media is multimedia. Some of it's comparatively modest - the addition of photos, made much easier by digital cameras, for the coverage of things like antiwar protests. Here, for example, is a photo I ran along with a report of an antiwar protest by Earth First! here in Knoxville, here's a report, with multiple photos, from a protest against Chirac at the French Embassy in Washington, and here is a report, with a rather stunning panoramic photo, of an anti-Schroeder protest in Mainz.

These reports would have been possible without digital photography, but there's no question that the pictures add something. I've noticed that people respond more favorably to reports with pictures, and they offer an immediacy that mere text doesn't bring to the table - which is, of course, why newspapers run photographs.

But it's gone beyond that. The striking new development is the growth of guerrilla web video. Here, for example, is a pro-war music video called "Bomb Saddam," that's very slick and professional (if you've got a fast enough connection, play the "Large" version that streams at 1.475 Mbps to see just how slick). Heck, it's better than a lot of what you see on MTV, and it's much better than anything that ran on MTV in its early years - though it's not the sort of thing you're likely to see on MTV. Which is, of course, the point.

Though the production values aren't quite as high, Evan Coyne Maloney's interviews with anti-war protesters have gotten even more attention, being shown on FoxNews and other programs. Equipped with a camera and a microphone, and fairly rudimentary titles and editing, Maloney produced a video that reached literally millions, and that sent a message very, very different from the one that mainstream media were sending about the protests and those protesting.

With video equipment getting cheaper and better and more portable all the time (recently on a visit to Circuit City I looked at this minuscule video camera that's about the size of a pack of cigarettes, and stores things in MPEG4, suitable for direct uploading. That trend will only continue - and between hardware (my normal-sized Sony video camera is capable of outputting MPEG files directly to the computer) and software (good video-editing software more than adequate for web-type productions, like Sonic Foundry's Video Factory, is available for under $100), and plummeting prices for storage, servers, and bandwidth - it's likely to accelerate.

This may, as I've suggested, put some pressure on television news operations, but I don't think they'll be the most affected parts of the media. Instead, I think it'll be political talk shows, and especially humor shows that first feel the pinch of web competition. Everyone has an opinion, after all, and lots of people can express their opinions more amusingly than, say, Bill Maher.

Already Jeff Jarvis has put up opinion pieces (video-weblogging, or "vlogging") that are as good as most of what we see on TV. And Jarvis's efforts have produced humorous responses, such as this "Plog" (don't ask; just watch it) and this piece by Don McArthur, that can only be called "vlog noir."

Smart networks will be watching the Internet to spot rising talent first. Smart - or just motivated - people will use the Internet to get noticed. And smart stars of today, like Bill Maher, will keep one eye on the competition. Because there's about to be a lot more of it.

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