Oh Pioneers!

Steve Garfield is obsessed with a couple of things.

Obsession number one: Steve Garfield

“Own your name on the web,” he says, a moment after assuming his position at the front of our Reinventing the News classroom on Monday. “Stevegarfield.com@SteveGarfield on Twitter … Steve Garfield on Facebook… Steve Garfield … Steve Garfield … Steve Garfield.”

Really dude? Your name’s Steve Garfield? I wasn’t aware.

But that’s his strategy, and it seems like it’s working. At least in terms of his ultimate goal: getting his videos seen.

A true pioneer on the video blogging frontier, Garfield was posting videos online in 2004, a year before YouTube even hit the scene. Since, his work has flashed across television and computer screens nationwide through networks like CNN, the BBC and Rocketboom, morphing Garfield into some sort of guru in the art of getting seen, an expertise which he further explains in the book he recently released:  “Get Seen: Online Video Secrets.”

Check out this video Chronicle put together on the new media mogul:

Garfield obsession number two: his iPhone.

He’s videotaping the class the way he might cover an event, via his iPhone. He explains that footage can be streamed live to a website called Qik, which then posts directly to his website. And in this era of instant gratification, perhaps this brand of instantaneous, unfiltered news is just what the people want. He films the class, gives the camera a wave and slaps on his classic closing line: “This is Steve Garfield streaming live for Stevegarfield.com.” We watch it all streaming live onto his website from the projector up front. Instant is right.

Garfield’s third obsession is quite intuitive: his videos.

He plays a couple of his favorites in class. In one he’s documenting folks voting in Jamaica Plain. [until he’s kicked out for looking illegitimate] In another he’s interviewing GM employees about a new electric car. [until an assumedly drunk or mentally ill woman interrupts with some kicker questions of her own].

Now maybe I just don’t get it. But citizen journalism just doesn’t do anything for me. When I watch the news I’m looking for credibility, and when the reporter’s getting kicked out because he’s working with an iPhone [whether legitimately or not] that, to me, is not news. Absurd folks off the street stumbling into interviews, while certainly entertaining, knocks the source’s credibility down quite a few points in my book. Yes, she did ask important questions, but Garfield’s the reporter, not the nut case on the street. Watching the videos I think, ‘I could make this,’ and perhaps that’s the whole idea, but I suppose it just takes away some of the allure. I don’t order out what I could quickly whip up at home…

But within the arena of getting seen– getting work out there and having people watch it– Steve Garfield is king. Working with everyone from AT&T, Kodak and Nokia to CNN, NBC and PBS it’s obvious Garfield’s doing something right. But I wonder: how much of that success comes from being a funny, likable guy with a face that’s out there and how much of it is for creating substantial, reliable news from which people can draw conclusions about the world?

Sure, he’s been seen. But I’m not sold on his news.


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