Person Of The Year

Ed Gorham, Associate Director of Syracuse University’s alumni relations, left me a message last week. “We’re hosting a panel Monday night,” he said. “The subject is the future of television. We’d love for you to participate.”

“Bob Costas not available?” I quipped.

Never one to pass up an opportunity to a) address an audience or b) pimp my singer/songwriter sideline, though, I said, “Of course.”

“You can speak on whatever trends or issues are appropriate to your specific specialty,” he said. “Anything from media consolidation to the encroachment of the Internet.”

“Encroachment of the Internet!?!” I thought. “What does he mean, ‘encroachment’!?! The future of television is the Internet!’

“And it would be really helpful,” he concluded, “If you could reassure the stdents that there is life after SU.”

Fast forward to last night. I’m seated with a few thirtysomethings at a long, narrow table in front of a few twentysomethings. The panel included a video editor, a researcher, a series director, an anchor, and an executive. I was the executive. And the oldest person on the panel. Both of which were kind of astounding.

I gave the students an abbreviated version of my usual speech, de-emphasizing all my extra-curricular activities except rock ‘n roll. “When I was fifteen, I was the editor of my high school newspaper, and played in a band called Neoteric Youth. I’m thirty-five now, the executive producer of MTV News Digital, and play in a band called, well, Benjamin Wagner.”

Unlike some of my peers who actually prepared for the presentation, I was (obviously) freestyling.

“I mention the fact that I’ve self-released ten records in the last ten years not because I want to grow my audience (though you can download my songs on iTunes),” I said, “but because a) you need to remember that that which you do does not define who you are and b) the fact that, at thirty-five years old, I have even a sliver of a music a career is completely salient to what we’re going to talk about tonight: the death of the mainstream, and the rise of the long tail.”

Only after my brief introduction did it occur to me that twenty-two year olds might not have any idea what “the long tail” is. So I tried to explain.

“The Rolling Stones haven’t recorded anything good since ‘Sticky Fingers,’ but they still have a career. Why? The long tail. They can sell a ten copies of each of their first ten records for ten days and make more than they will on ‘A Bigger Bang.’ Remember ‘A Bigger Bang’? Exactly.”

When asked to represent the biggest trend in my corner of the industry, I’m sure I sounded like a lunatic.

“There hasn’t been a revolution in media this big since Gutenberg started printing Bibles and Martin Luther nailed his ’95 Theses’ to the church doors.”

The students kind of giggled, and I said, “I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I’m tellin’ ya’: this is an exciting time. Anything goes. All bets are off.”

I’m not going to bore you. Actually, I’d be happy to bore you, but I don’t have time at the moment (I should, after all, be working). Anyway, you read stuff; you know what I’m talking about. Big Media is dying. Gatekeepers are losing their grip. Blogs, transparency, user generated video, dynamic intelligence, time shifting — everything is changing. It’s not about worshipping at the alter of The Big Three, it’s about making your own videos and posting ’em on You Tube, it’s about shooting your own movie and distributing it on iFilm. It’s all about You, Me, and Us. Heck, we’re Time magazine’s Person of the Year!

I’m not sure how articulately I communicated any of the above. Probably not so. But I certainly communicated my enthusiasm, and — hopefully — my optimism. ‘Cuz, I mean, I always expected to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. But Time?

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