Saturday, January 28, 2012

Day two: another personal conclusion

Exciting two days, a fascinating round of devoted radio makers, thrilling discussions. But questions remain.

Everybody has been talking about multimedia for the past ten years. That was just the wrong discussion. It never was about multimedia. It's about media instead. About stories, thoroughly researched and artfully crafted. Stories told on all channels there are today: radio, TV, the web, games, audio guides, pods and pads, mobiles, virtually any device capable of reproducing sound.

Of course: Radio documentaries are expensive, and budgets are cut down. Yet, the audience will always be in need of good stories, and public radio managers will always be in need of good content. And: There are a number of options.
  • There's inventive and participatory projects, there's user-generated content.
  • There's viral marketing, social media communication, crowdfunding.
  • There's radio events engaging young listeners as well as producers.
  • There's new multimedia platforms minimizing the distribution costs.
  • There are different backgrounds for radio docs, like classical or rock and pop channels.
  • There's collaboration with other feature makers, cross-company, cross-country.
  • There's cooperations with other broadcasters, with newspapers, telecom and mobile companies, universities, museums.
  • There's new forms and formats, fascinating combinations of radio doc and other art forms.
And above all: There's all those original, weird, fantastic ideas making original, weird, fantastic pieces of audio art. This is what it's all about.

Paths in the legal jungle

"Copyright is very complicated", says Peter Goethals from the legal department of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). International treaties, EU-wide harmonisation attempts, national copyright laws (defining subject matter, originality, authorship, ownership, moral richts, and contract aspects) are a legal jungle. There are reproduction rights. there is the right to broadcast. There are authors, performers, CD producers, film producers, broadcasters, ISPs, and they all claim their rights. A way out might be a more efficient licensing model, Goethals says: Today's complex licensing processes lead to wasting money on administration instead of spending it on creativity. Simplified licensing is also important in the fight against online piracy.

In 2010 the EBU made a proposal ("Modern copyright for digital media") in order to achieve a modern, coherent rights clearance system for both traditional radio and TV services and proadcasting-related online services. "Its basis", Goethals says, "is to apply the law of only one country, being the law of the member state in which the broadcaster sits". The EBU also proposes a broader use of the "Extended Collective Licensising Systems", a rights clearance system successful in northern Europe that is more flexible, technologically neutral and future-proof. Another EBU proposal: a simplified music licensing for online services. "What we need is a one stop shop", as Goethals puts it: Public service broadcasters are mass-users of music (a major broadcaster uses up to 200.000 music pieces per year), and EBU members pay over 1 billion Euros every year. Today's individual licensing system does not make sense any more.

Radio from the printing press

Audio used to be the property of radio. But these times are gone. Newspapers are crossing the borders. Francesca Panetta (The Guardian), head of audio, has been a radio maker for a long time, before she went to the Guardian five years ago. Today she and her team produce 30 minutes podcasts ("intelligent high quality audio") of all kinds, including documentaries. Successfully: The Guardian website counts 375.000 listeners a week.

Usually the print journalists come up with the ideas and topics, whereas the radio journalists do the audio and video programmes. Multimedia is a growing part of the company (costs: £ 3M/year), Panetta says, and their task is to implement the Guardian's "Digital First" strategy. Multimedia projects, audio slides, an IP TV channel, long format TV - "the Guardian, 190 years old, is a very agile company", as Panetta puts it. "They are not afraid of failures. When I came there was just a newspaper website. 'Launch something else', they said to me. And we do. It's a really exciting place to be."

Nutshell: John Theocharis

What a nice coincidence that your ‘digital’ discussion in Leipzig takes place exactly 75 years since a British scientist, Alec Reeves, filed the first patent describing Pulse-Code Modulation in 1937. Within five years, in 1943, his invention had led to the first Digital Scrambled Speech Tx System, and by 1985 to the first 12-track mixer-recorder. And the rest, as they say, is History, and very exciting too!

I am pleased to say that by and large I agree with the views, the challenges and the reservations already expressed. I was lucky enough to experience the great advantages of digital recording and editing in the early nineties, and I certainly taste the offers of the likes of Radio Player, BBC iplayer etc...

Nothing perfect under the sun, and, like any other relatively new departure, the spread of Digital offers excitements along with some worries as has already been noted. I see no need to go over known ground, but I certainly hope that the marvellous facilities in recording, editing and compiling Radio Features, for instance, of exceptional sound quality won’t compromise the essential quality of content and production. I’m sure none of us would be interested in the radio equivalent of ‘fast food’, thank you very much! The customer we serve, the good, serious radio listener, deserves better.

I firmly believe that ideally in radio drama and Features 1+1=3; that, if you like, 2+2=5, or even 6! The structure, the juxtaposition of elements can create fleeting yet almost solid entities on the listener’s inner screen, and give him or her a rare insight or satisfaction. So, let’s be positive, try to solve practical questions of Rights, of length of time allotted to recording, production, editing etc. And, above all, let’s always do our personal best for the sake of our fellow-worker, the listener.

Sorry about the size of this Coconut, but do allow me to conclude with a few lines from something I wrote for another radio occasion.

The listener’s Computer-Brain,
- The world’s most wonderful machine -,
Enables him to bring to life
What’s only heard and never seen.
At its most brilliant, Radio is
A perfect form of Television;
It gives us sounds, silence and words,
And we ourselves supply our Vision.
Yes! Genuine Radio is at heart
A Visual Craft that’s life-enhancing.
A crafted piece of Radio
Can take a man or woman
To the essence, to the very heart
Of being alive, human."

John Theocharis, freelancer, United Kingdom

Nutshell: Andrey Allakhverdov

As my colleague Elena Uporova noted, before asking whether there's future for the radio (we mean documentary radio) in my country, one has to ask whether it had the past and the present. A very short answer for Russia is no, it didn't. It was a very short period in the post-Soviet radio history when journalists got enthusiastic about making documentaries but in a very short time it became clear that the stations which can broadcast such formats would not do it for political reasons, and commercial stations would not do it for commercial reasons. And there is no culture of listening to such programmes in my country. But we regard radio documentary not only as a product but as a process, the process of making it. And strange as it may seem, in my view the new formats where video, audio, photo, graphics are mixed up can (not necessarily will, but can) give a new life for the radio documentary, at least here in Russia. All the serious documentary-makers say that a new documentary is based on an audio narration, on a story told in sound. It is radio journalists who are the core of a team which would make new documentaries. So the process has a chance to stay. It definitely won't be the good old radio which you only listen to. But its power, its palette, the deepness of a radio story will remain. At least in my country I see no other way. I understand that what I say is a bit simplified view, but I had to keep it short."

Andrey Allakhverdov, FNR, Russia

Go web young man

Gisela Krone (ARD online) presents the ARD radiofeature, the central platform of Germany's seven feature departments built in 2010. The site provides an easy-to-use feature gallery providing information on the piece, the author, a preview audio teaser as well as the full broadcast for downloading together with the manuscript. The documentary player provides a large timeline and additional material such as photos, illustrations, charts, texts, or links. The site focuses on a small number of elaborate and investigative radio pieces.

Dokublog is the web 2.0 platform of the SWR feature department built in 2008. Dokublog is a platform "for sound hunters and feature makers", as Dokublog maker Wolfram Wessels puts it, inviting them to submit their pieces as well as all the sounds they recorded. Selected productions are broadcast in SWR's feature broadcast "Mehrspur". The site can be browsed not only by features, broadcasts, recording locations or authors but also by sounds. Any feature or sound may be re-used for new productions. 1800 recordings and features have been submitted so far.

Wikileaks made in Sweden

"SR Radioleaks" is radio closing in on Wikileaks. The idea was a really quick starter: In December 2010 the idea was presented to the SR director, and the day after (!) the press releases were out. "Radioleaks" is a website allowing whistleblowers to securely transmit their information. Once submitted to the SR, the information will be evaluated, checked, researched, and finally the stories are made. "Many people know about the abuse of power, about corruption and misconduct, but they have no connections to the media", says Rolf Stengard, editor in charge and former head of the Swedish radio news department.

"Radioleaks" started in March 2011. 600 hints have been submitted so far, leading to 50 news stories (corruption, tax fraud, careless construction). "Radioleaks" is about to go local, Stengard says: All of the 25 local radio stations will have their own whistleblower platform.