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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Today Show, viral video can’t be reduced to a formula

The Today Show is a frequent target of my rants because I must secretly enjoy it on some level. However, the shows liberties with journalism and pop culture drive me to yell at the screen all too often. The latest example was this week’s effort entitled “Today Goes Viral,” whose premise is Brian, Meredith, Al, and Ann will create buzzworthy Internet videos simply by copying existing viral vids. The point they are missing is viral defies explanation. There is no tried-and-true formula. Instead it rewards risk-taking and independence and spits in the face of the corporate media empire that would try to bottle it.

Today’s first video really irked me. I wasn’t familiar with producer Mike Tompkins‘ a cappella work until this morning, but I instantly pulled up his YouTube account because he represents the independent spirit on which viral videos rely. I’ve studied this phenomenon a bit with my OT and IT Wiki, which I’ve adapted as an academic paper that’s making the rounds, and I remain fascinated by those who have the guts to risk making a fool of themselves online. Tompkins may have professional chops and equipment, but he created his one-man music online empire through sheer force of will, not with overpaid wannabe celebrities.

To me that’s what makes him viral in same vein as OK Go, the Gregory Brothers (who will be tomorrow’s featured viral video creators on Today), even Felicia Day and the Guild, Lisa Nova, iJustine, or my latest favorite Danny Fong. I’m laugh when I watch his a capella renderings of cartoon theme songs, but I marvel at the same time as I recognize his talent and his ability to entertain. I see that in Tompkins, especially in his less slickly produced Maroon 5 cover.

Jagi, the third of four Hokuto brothers, tries to keep his head together after surviving Ken's attack.

I don’t see that at all in the Today show version. I saw a bunch of ‘journalists’ hamming it up for the camera. I mean Matt looked like he was that character on Fist of the North Star trying to hold his exploding brain together.

Look I don’t have a problem with journalists cracking a joke here and there (see my posts on Brian Williams), but they can’t be making fun of their sources and simpletons who watch YouTube at the same time. Viral video creators like Tompkins and Fong respect their material. Even more, they respect their audience.

Maybe I’m just too sensitive or grouchy that early in the morning, but I didn’t feel respected. I’ll probably keep watching because I’m betting Today has assembled an impressive cast. I will, however, be skipping Hoda and Kathie Lee because if their first video is any indication, their disrespect of Judson Laipply is even worse.

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4 Responses to “Today Show, viral video can’t be reduced to a formula”

  1. Cedric Coleman #

    YOU, obviously, need a life–soon! I like seeing stuffy TV people get loose–and, BTW, All Mike and others did was a parody of an EXISTING song, that the original artists DID NOT ASK THEM TO DO!! (and Mike and others probably did not pay royalties to the songwriters for getting famous off of their song, either).
    As to the journalistic integrity of the TODAY show staff–anyone who watches the morning shows know that the Anchors do very little real journalism–they have assistants who do all the grunt work–all they do rip and read (that is why Couric went to CBS and is staying there–she wante REAL journalism).

    December 2, 2010 at 4:10 pm
  2. Hans #

    Good points Cedric. I agree that little real journalism is accomplished on the Today Show, but the show is so high profile that I think it clouds the journalism picture. For many people, my students included, that’s the only ‘journalism’ they see.
    I also agree that Mike and other artists are copying existing songs, and they’re probably not paying royalties. But I don’t really care about royalties. I want artists to be fairly compensated for their work, but what the record companies have created with their royalty system, is a way for them to control and profit from all entertainment. They do not reward people who take a risk, like viral video creators. I’m glad the Internet does, and I hate it when big media tries to copy that formula. It just shows me they don’t get it.
    Thanks for the comment! I do need a life!

    December 2, 2010 at 5:16 pm


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