Something just happened online that is highly indicative of where we’re headed in terms of new media. Look at these two stories on VBS.TV and Reddit. They are totally independent from each other and nine months apart, but the two sites are presenting readers with unparalleled access to a fascinating story: how an Oklahoman was inspired by a ’60s-era underwater adventure show, went on to work at NASA to develop self-sustaining habitats, and is now developing an undersea colony off the Florida coast. One did the video and the other is hosting a nearly-live conversation with the NASA engineer right now.
It’s stories like this – stories that would once rate a few feature pages in Discover magazine or Omni (remember Omni?) – that are now percolating through the Internet, to our benefit and to the detriment of old media who can’t keep up. Now we get the real story sans any nonsense graphics, anticlimactic taglines or fluff. It’s the future, everyone.
Saying that the Internet is killing traditional media is disingenuous at best. The Internet herself isn’t the antagonist, nor are the traditional media companies that are swiftly making online a priority. It’s the independent sites fueled by nothing but raw passion and curiosity that are transforming news consumption.
VBS.TV picked up the story early last year and produced an 18 minute video about the NASA’s undersea Atlantica Expeditions. Of course the video had the outlet’s trademark high production values and direct-but-honest approach. This is what VBS.TV does. They find an off-beat subject and cover it properly. See their coverage of North Korea. Or the art of nude photography. (NSFW) Or The Aquatic Life of Dennis Chamberland.
This particular video was produced under VBS.TV’s Motherboard.tv channel, where the site’s editor, Alex Pasternack, told me that they focus mainly on “The weird and exciting side of technology.” They discovered this man while searching for a story on undersea living and colonies. It was the perfect fit for Motherboard.tv: a quaint backstory, great shooting location, and a man with words “NASA Bioengineer” on his business card.
This video and blog post were the result of the meeting. National Geographic went on to run a similar story in the Fall of 2010 that explored the subject in a broader sense over multiple episodes, but still (albeit less prominently) features Mr. Chamberland.
This is what VBS.TV and its shows like Motherboard.tv do. During the previous season, just the Motherboard.tv team was outing one featured documentary a week while simultaneously managing a clever website — which follows the same guiding principle but allows for user-submitted posts — that saw 500k unique visitors in December 2010. VBS.TV is a go-to alternative news outlet where this sort of stuff is the norm.
But here we are today when, nearly nine months later when Dennis Chamberland’s son encouraged the NASA bioengineer to do an IAMA on Reddit. Welcome, to the Internet, Mr. Chamberland.
Reddit is famous for their community of honest and curious users. These IAMA posts — Internet speak for “I am a [insert profession or human trait]” — are part of what makes Reddit great. Anyone from random users with an interesting story or celebrities do these sort FAQ posts. The purpose is that Reddit users are then open to ask questions that the IAMA will then answer. Reddit’s effective user moderation system then filters the good from the bad, resulting in an sincere, mostly flame-free, Internet conversation.
It’s this sort of interaction on Reddit, and story production and discovery from VBS, that is driving the Internet past traditional media. Take away the VBS.TV video and this NASA engineer could have still seen similar results and satisfying interaction on Reddit as Internet users crave new and fresh content.
Old media moving to the web and even blogs like us are not the so-called killers of print media. It’s the ability to bypass news outlets altogether and interact directly with the story or subject that will slowly draw attention away from the establishment.
The old standbys did pick up this story. National Geographic did their series on it, but watch it after the Vice video. One is frank, genuine and direct. The other is filled with fancy graphics and lots of filler. Then yesterday, on January 12th, CNN ran the story as part of their partnership with Vice but failed to add anything new to the story.
It’s not just Vice and Reddit. It’s Twitter and Facebook in a broader sense. It’s athletes interacting with fans on Twitter and Sarah Palin’s Facebook soapbox. It’s increasingly easier for the average world citizen to derive their own conclusion about a subject directly from the source and not through a news outlet’s political or corporate filter.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s interesting to note that one man’s quirky job became a meme, then a news topic, then a topic of general conversation. The news cycle isn’t dead, it’s just happening in new places.