Sep 1, 2010

Castles in the Sand

My Nokia N97 broke on the day I arrived in Rhodes. I was surprised to find out that my rehab from Facebook and connectivity took only two hours. Walking in the sun took me off the habit at once.

Rhodes is an island with about 15 thousand inhabitants and more than a million tourists during high season. It was a risk to go there since I am the the quasi-academic type that hates everything massified.

But with such a massive tourist business I realised soon that the masses develop varieties of undercultures that include not only the sickening clubbing scene in downtown Rhodes. You can also find refreshing cafés and even a small art scene.

The best thing about Rhodes is, however, something common to mass consumption on the whole.

Rhodes prides with a history deep enough to survive the t-shirt shops and the arrogant service by these children of odyssean heritage. The Rhodes castle is nothing less than the forefather of all castles in childhood games, classical ruins emerge from behind curves on the coastal highway, the mere knowledge of the athenians who first embarked on the shores of Ixia during the Peloponnesian war, all remind of the time iconic to all westerners despite level of connaiscance.

These icons remain in our European subconscious and here on Rhodes to my joy in the conscious as well. Here this heritage is as real as we, us tourists, are.

So, this tourist trap is what I needed to reflect on my busy media life. I was reminded of something I realised before in Yosemite National Monument: a tourist trap is usually set in a place with something the tourists cannot destroy. On Rhodes they didn't build castles in the sand, they built business inside a castle.

Maybe there is an analogy here:

Should we not look more at what long lasting already exists around us and start building on that? Maybe that way we wouldn't destroy what is good in what we do when we see sheer novelty as virtuous.

Feb 11, 2010

In the Post Bus

I am often asked what my job is like. Well.

The World Economic Forum had filled Davos hotels and we had to book beds in a small town an hours trip from the Congress Center.

58 minutes to be precise, it was after all Switzerland. The 58 minute train ride took us to a completely new world. Guarda is situated in another valley reached through a 25 minute trains-only tunnel. On the other side there are no ski centers. Guarda is a town populated by 150 people, who, until 9 years ago felt more Italian than Swiss, and speak swiss, i.e. retoromanian - a beautiful language by the way.

The Guarda train can be reached by car in 5 minutes or by foot in 45. Of course the hotel Piz Buin's owners were glad to give us a ride to the station when needed, but generally we used the official schoolride, the post bus...

So we attended the biggest economical forum in the world traveling everyday by this post bus - train -another train trip (we had to change trains but ah the Swiss timetables!)

It was ok until we needed to stay in Davos past 10.02 p.m...

I ran towards the station only to see the train slowly moving, hailed a cab, took it to the next station, missed the train again, took the cab to next station 20 km away. 99 swiss francs took me to the last train through the tunnel. A taxi ride around the mountain would have taken 3,5 hours. And there were no free beds there.

The next evening - a saturday - I had to go to Davos after a 21 hour working day followed by a full day's edit session.

In the post bus I met a tipsy older lady who happened to be a Szontian psychologist from Zurich. We continued our conversation in the train - about her husband, a stage-frightened celloist and my psychotherapy, not to mention critisizing the overpsychologising organizations.

And I forgot to change trains.

Luckily there was a restaurant next to the station after my station. Like I said, there are no ski slopes in this valley... I wonder what the young lady at the inn must have thought about this strange looking guy in a suit (I had to wear on, it was th WEF after all) and a long coat coming in from the night with a computer for a beer and Jagershnitzel.

It was good, though. I took the next train back an hour later. And took the next train back, after I delivering our footage.

That's what a TV producer does: stupid things in odd places fullfilling some weird assignments - but most often in in beautiful places amongst wonderful people... are there any other kind?

Jan 26, 2010

In the Epicenter

Today I was down and out because of too much work, kid-raising contemplation, -20 degree weather and overall confusion. Story of my life...

Stepping out of my taxi cab to my kids' parent-teacher meeting, the driver handed me two DVD's by his guru. On the way I had already wondered why this grey-haired man listened to meditative music in his Mercedes Benz.

My cynicism against people pushing their beliefs runs deep. However, this time I was in a low down Gram Parsons style country music state of mind and was flabbergasted by the fact that this taxi driver was much more than just that. Maybe he is my boddhisattva or whatever they may call demiurgs in his mental home.

Tomorrow I will be traveling to Davos following the philosopher Pekka Himanen on his trip to the World Economic Forum. I have an idea what I need to do there but I don't have a clue why it's me whose accompanying him.

One thing I know, though, is that true things may sometimes grow from odd grounds. And on my trip closer to the sky I will be listening to this cab driver's gift. Who knows, maybe I find the truth up there!

Aug 17, 2009

Peer to Peer with Your CEO

Interesting week this August: on Tuesday an ESPN employee tweeted that his employer was restricting the use of social media by its employees. On Wednesday ESPN most openly revealed its policy and gained acceptance for transparency as one of its most important guidelines. What are the implications?

A journalist has two lords often in feud:

1. the ethics of his/her profession
2. the ethics of his/her employer
3. (well maybe three, the spouse being the third)

In another kind of corporation, say, a pulp manufacturer or a stock broker, it goes without saying that an employee can be restricted from speaking out about its employer’s stuff. But in the media the case is not that simple.

Journalism can be considered a profession. With this I mean it’s not just a job. In most societies and definitely in western ones a doctor or a lawyer is always morally taking care of a patient or running a case for a person or “the people”, prior to his/her employer.

They take a vow. But even if journalists don’t, there is a sound responsibility towards the society that, when push comes to shove, overrules brand or corporate loyalty.

I work for a public media company, but this does apply to all media companies, ask any journalist. Yet I know that many have been fired, even sewed by their own employers for - excuse my language - pissing in their own corners (a Finnish proverb).

ESPN, according to a list they published after the above case, prohibits its employees not only from writing about sports but also takes care to note that it may prosecute anyone who does.

A company must have its right to secrecy but a journalist also must have a right to seek the truth and speak out as an individual.

Now, if you build a media presence in the social media, you can try being there as a media company. This is the old fashioned way: Tweet impersonally under your company name or hide behind pseudonyms.

But what if you make a new kind of deal with your employee? What if you let them work as individuals who contribute to your common cause and change your company from the inside? What if you let them wave their own flag and let them work with more passion and less restrictions?

Gradually the company begins to resemble itself: to look like its employees.

Of course this means a whole new era of corporate transparency, a corporate philosophy operating much more on peer to peer trust than before.

Is this possible? If it is, who will control news in 50 years?

If news no longer come from corporate desks but from peer to peer messaging? Sure, the money will go somewhere else from the slow present day corporations, maybe to new ones with state of mind assets. (Hopefully the money comes to me, of course).

But what about the news? Are they reliable in this utopia?

Are they today?

Maybe then people become more aware of the fact that in the media nothing can be taken for granted. Nothing ever has. Not even on ESPN.

Jul 14, 2009

Nothing was Forever: on Yeltsin, IRC, Tweeter and Iran

Gia sas!

This is where I begin my blogs. I have been contemplating this for a while but it wasn't until I started using Twitter in thirst of direct news during the Iranian election crisis last June that I decided to bring my thoughts online. The grim Tweets reminded me of a time about twenty years ago.

The attempted coup in Moscow by soviet generals in 1991 was the first time I was able to follow major change occuring online. With BBC World and CNN behind my back and far behind the net I knew a social tsunami was about to start forming. I was then, as I was this summer by Twitter, astounded by the way the early IRC at Helsinki University was able to deliver. On a green-on-black screen I could read entries from close to the site where Boris Yeltsin rose atop a tank and changed the course of history.

For a 23-year old braught up during president Kekkonen's Soviet policy (a stagnate time when we were taught that Soviet Union is forever and we'll just have to cope with that) it was a land mine bursting everyhing in my life. To me it was comparable to the tearing down of the Berlin wall. Nothing was forever.

Later I got fed up of the way the ever so masculinely geeky and growing internet society abandoned all social manners in online discussion groups and slowly hung up. Since then it all has obviously changed, so have I and so has Finland.

The title Gnomon, for those who don't know, is an ancient babylonian device used by greeks to measure distance. It is familiar to us as the centerpiece of a sundial, the stick or triangle casting a shadow that indicates time.

The late historian and president of Estonia Lennart Meri speculates that the greek voyager Pytheas used a 2,22 meter gnomon to define a point whereby he could start measuring the distance between Massilia (Marseille) and Cornwall, thus beginning a new era in not only geography but in seafaring. The same Pytheas, Meri speculates, traveled all the way to Finland and Estonia looking for Thule.

I don't wish to imply my blog is the gnomon, but i do see parallels: we need constantly and with and increasing pace to define time and history all over.

Hence the title. I am looking for shadows to show me points of no return. For me Yeltsin through IRC was in 1991, and the IranElection on Twitter this summer. From here we start measuring. Luckily, in these times, we are all our own Pytheai.

BTW, FYI, I work as a transmedia developer at YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, in Helsinki