In chatting with my friend, film professor Jeff Parkin, today, it got me thinking about changes I would hope to see in BYU's broadcasting. This powerful medium for reaching millions is currently suffering from nice but quite limited programming (mostly reruns of BYU devotional speeches and symposia). With recent changes in leadership, perhaps it is time for new ideas to take root. So here's my two bits:
Wanting to revamp BYU Broadcasting programming? Consider this:
- Be cautious about imitating secular programming (genres, styles). Secular genres (whether journalism, documentaries, feature films, etc.) do not necessarily fit Mormon people or purposes, and may in fact distort them, or reduce them to just another commodity in the entertainment culture. A Mormon sitcom? Why capitulate to the limits of such a genre?
- Don’t accept the assumption that only glossy content with costly production values is worth broadcasting. Engaging programming doesn’t have to take a lot of money, personnel, or time. Look at Dean Duncan’s very engaging Fit for the Kingdom series for some quality programming that is very inexpensive (http://fitforthekingdom.byu.edu).
- Come to terms with the new media landscape and Web 2.0, meaning
- Adopt a new production mindset. All productions are made with multipurposing in mind (website tie-ins, print tie-ins, event tie-ins).A great example of a newspaper who caught the vision of becoming a multimedia publisher is the Lawrence Journal-World online. Its director, Rob Curley, explains how successful they have become in integrating their media productions and reaching out to the public online (Direct link to mp3)
- Adopt a new audience mindset. If you don’t have an online presence to match your broadcast presence, you are losing a lot of your potential audience and effectiveness overall. Consider blogs, podcasts, surveys, maps, photo galleries–supplemental media to enhance every production, add value, and generate interest. A good model for this is the recent PBS Helen Whitney documentary, The Mormons. Check out the wealth of ancillary interviews and materials at the PBS website-–including the ability to stream/watch the video online, and to watch extended portions too long to air on the broadcast documentary.
- Interact with audiences (don't just treat them as a demographic).This means involving and collaborating with listeners and viewers. Broadcast media are traditionally top-down, the opposite of where new media are going. Citizen media and collaborative media are where things are going. For broadcasters, this means tapping into the public’s desire to talk back (blog comments, discussion forums), to tag information (social bookmarking), to self-publish (blogs, flickr.com, YouTube), to remix (mashups), and to have their info on-the-go (text message broadcasts to cell phones, direct broadcasting to cell phones, video podcasts for video iPods, etc.) Successful broadcasters will capitalize on user-generated content. Note how some TV programs show (nearly instantly) a window with highlights from e-mails just received).
- Allow for and encourage partnering (collaborative productions). Other entities are generating content (print publications, websites) which could become supply chains for content if appropriate relationships and workflow were details were worked out. For example, BYU Broadcasting should have close working relationships with other print and web media coming out of BYU and the whole Church Educational System–particularly alumni publications (BYU Magazine) and scholarly publications (BYU Studies, Neal A. Maxwell Institute, etc.). If other BYU or church-friendly entities produced their material with potential BYU Broadcasting tie-ins, this would ease the process. For example, if librarians mounting an exhibit knew that this could be featured on a BYU TV broadcast, it could change the way they document or prepare their materials to maximize its broadcastability, and could even do a lot of the work for BYU Broadcasting (generating their own media that could be used by BYUB).
- Allow for and encourage bottom-up innovation. Get out of the over cautious, corporate top-down model. The Church’s PR style is overpolished and therefore makes people suspect the sincerity of the programming. This means sponsoring and allowing for faculty initiated, student-developed and nonprofessional media–such as segments of student shot video of field studies and study abroad experiences. Marcus Smith’s Thinking Aloud series on KBYU could be expanded as professors become comfortable with the idea of bringing their expertise to the microphone or camera
- Target special interest minority groups. Target programming for new Latter-day Saints (welcome to the culture!); non-American or non-English speaking Mormons (wouldn’t it be nice to see original Spanish programming with English subtitles?); the elderly, etc. Consider programming aimed at LDS professionals, at LDS artists, etc.
- Produce, sponsor, or broadcast independent documentaries across a host of topics not yet covered: Sister missionary life; the life of a bishop; regional Mormon history (as done in Ensign to the Nations), etc.
- Make the media a topic. How do we deal with it while it is in such transition? Promote media literacy and positive approaches to it as well as the cautionary approaches that are also important to discuss.
- Experiment with formats. Don’t feel obliged to follow TV journalism or academic lectures as baseline models. Look at styles of documentary film that are not safely within the house style of the church. Tap into the energy and experimentation happening with student film, for example.