I just had the thoroughly enjoyable experience of “guest hosting” (which really just means throwing in a couple of lines here and there) The Stream, an Al Jazeera English show on serious current events that are being discussed in the social media, but are under-covered in the traditional media.
I may do a separate post on the substance of the show – which involved interviews with two Lebanese women on opposing sides of the debate over whether to introduce domestic violence legislation in Lebanon. But for now, a few reflections on the model – which I suspect other “guest hosts” have commented on along similar lines before me, but nonetheless . . .
The show’s content is driven by The Stream’s online community. According to the team behind-the-scenes, in practice this is a 50/50 split between conversations they monitor online and pitches made directly to them via Twitter and Facebook.
What this means for those obsessed with website hits is that The Stream has an inbuilt audience for each show. What it means for those of us who like the idea of experimenting with the democratization of the media is that the audience is not an amorphous anonymous mass that journalists deliver content to, but rather an engaged partner in the conversation. And, best of all, that relationship carries through on-air.
As a guest on the show one of the greatest aspects was having live twitter responses from the audience as we talked – directing our attention to aspects and gaps in what the people we were interviewing were saying. Have you ever been the at-home viewer screaming at the interviewer inside the television box – “WHY DON’T YOU ASK HER/HIM X?!” (or maybe that was just me as a kid?) – Anyway, for anyone who has ever experienced that, this set-up is the ultimate remedy.
The other aspect of the show that should be mundane by now, yet through their consistent use of it is still striking, is Skype. All interviewees on the show are reached through Skype. When I say it is striking, what I mean is that as a consequence of this they have thrown out the need for any Washington-based “expert” (one of my current pet-peeves) on events in Lebanon, China, Syria, Sudan, wherever – in favor of in-country experts. This is a direction I would love to see all TV news go. And given the technological ease of doing so, it’s hard to think of any excuse not to.