Thursday, October 20, 2005

An Open Letter to Al Gore

Dear Vice-President Gore,

My name is Josh Wolf; in the Current Studio, I post as Insurgent, and I'm the organizer for the San Francisco Current TV Meet-up group. I really enjoyed reading your speech at the We Media conference and was fortunate enough to find the video on Andy Carvin's blog. I couldn't agree more with your perceptions on the state of American democracy, and I too have been feeling like the country has entered an alternate universe for quite some time. Of course, living in San Francisco, we live in an almost alternate-alternate universe. A place where things just seem to make more sense. People in this city seem to think a little bit more, or maybe they just think more like me. Either way, it seems to me that San Francisco lives in a unique ecosystem in which people really are exposed to a more egalitarian plate of information. Between the independent weeklies, and our net-obsession, mainstream media really does take a back-seat. I think FOX news is watched more for entertainment than it is used as a means to actually stay informed.

I agree with everything you stated in your speech, but, at the same time, I'm disheartened by how Current TV isn't living up to the ideologies that you've embraced in your address. Like you, I agree that the marketplace of ideas has closed shop, and, done ethically, Current TV has an opportunity to play a vital role in restoring an egalitarian means for the dissemination of information. Thus far, Current has not really worked towards achieving this goal, and I think this has brought much frustration to many people amongst the community of independent producers; Jeff Jarvis' recent sentiments on Buzz Machine reflect this. In order to become a true success, it's crucial that Current stop looking at the community as potential assets and embrace us as the integral part of this movement we are. In the words of Alice Walker, "We are the people we've been waiting for." It is counter-intuitive to approach the goals you've proposed without solidarity and compassion.

When INdTV decided to abandon the Digital Correspondent position, your company had a moral duty to come clean with the 2,000 applicants that poured so much of their time and energy into becoming part of such a transformative network. Instead, a cryptic e-mail was sent out days before Thanksgiving, and no one at the company has ever publicly stated that Current's model underwent a dramatic change and eliminated the position. Did you owe it to the community to hire the 50 DCs INdTV originally intended? Of course not, but, I do feel that INdTV's response was somewhat deceptive. This incident was the first of several which have left me feeling like Current is in need of maturation before it can begin to truly address its mission.

As you stated in your speech,
The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1) It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all;

2) The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual responsible for them;

3) The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about."

1) Current TV is open to an elite group of individuals in that participation mandates the possession of both a fairly-recent computer and video camera. Unless Current TV were to establish a partnership with public access stations across the country, or developed its own brick-and-mortar media centers then only people of a certain economic standard that can afford the equipment, can really contribute to the marketplace. Furthermore, as almost all of the pieces green-lit seem to be from producers with either significant professional or academic experience, to have a piece screened on Current TV one needs a significant level of expertise within the craft which is not to any real extent being facilitated by Current.

2) Within the Current Studio, those judged to be the best by the Studio members are only considered for air, and the actual criterion necessary to achieve entrance into the marketplace is vague at best and quite nebulous. While the ten pods with the most green-lights have mostly been chosen for air, a cursory glance at their stats clearly indicates that they have received a disproportionate exposure, and as one would expect, have more green-lights than other films that have been viewed a fraction of the time. Unless there is an objective and transparent criterion set forth for a video to get on air, and unless that process is directly affected by community input, then Current TV is not working towards democratizing TV so much as playing one on TV. Furthermore, as Current has elected to seek much of their content from outside the Studio community, Current has a duty to provide compensation which, if not equal to the costs associated with this other material, is at least equitable.

To offer a first-time VC contributor $250 for exclusive rights to his video, and then acquire other pods produced by a commercial entity at market rate is exploitation and effectively paints the studio community as second-class producers. The rate doesn't need to be equal, but it either needs to be equitable, or Current needs to pursue a non-exclusive license instead. The way the system works right now, Current's success could potentially threaten the advances that truly independent media is making through the internet right now. Literally thousands of people are putting their media on to the internet every day, and many of these people are doing it for free through sites like

And people really are tuning in, videoblogs are being watched by a niche group, but it's a growing segment of the population, and with the release of the video iPod its success is almost guaranteed. One vlog, Rocketboom has over 10,000 visitors daily. What you say is true, "as exciting as the Internet is, it still lacks the single most powerful characteristic of the television medium... it does not support the real-time mass distribution of full-motion video," but there is a growing community, the early adopters, who really do consume most of their video via the internet. You can't possibly argue that these people aren't contributing to the marketplace of ideas in a real and profound way, and yet Current TV forces them to choose whether to independently publish their media or to allow Current to be its sole home.

3) Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what the third tenant embodies, but something tells me that the implication of a wiki within Current TV could further this goal.

I'm very excited about the potential Current TV has to make a difference, and your words at We Media were empowering. It was my initial experiences with INdTV that helped inspire me to help establish the Rise Up Network (RUN), a non-profit organization providing the tools and resources necessary to facilitate the democratization of the media with a focus on video production and online distribution. I'm curious to know whether you feel my concerns have merit, and would appreciate the opportunity to converse with you and to help make Current the network its waiting to become. "We are the people we've been waiting for." Let's make Current a network the community can truly call its own.

Thank you for your time.


Josh Wolf
The Revolution Will Be Televised