May 22, 2005

At Disneyland, Everyone is a Reporter

I heard a really awesome podcast the other day, one that really shows what can be done with grassroots media and citizen’s reporting. And it was actually an episode of the MousePod, which I’ve been following ever since it started four months ago.

It all came about because of Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary Celebration kickoff. On July 17th of this year, Disneyland will have been open for 50 years. And they’re going to be celebrating the birthday all summer, so they picked May 5th (05-05-05) to start the celebration. On that day there were ceremonies and speeches and a red carpet of Disney-related celebrities, and the unveiling of a new parade and fireworks show. The event was pretty well covered by the media, and Disney themselves even leapfrogged into the future by hiring podcaster Michael Geoghegan, of Reel Reviews, to put together an official Disney podcast about the event. That ‘cast is pretty excellent in itself, and you should go check it out if you haven’t yet.

But anyway, the MousePod is the number one unofficial Disney podcast, so of course you knew Jesse would try to do some kind of special coverage of the event on the 5th. But Jesse was stuck in San Francisco with laryngitis, so there was no way for him to get to Anaheim to cover the festivities. Instead, the stroke of genius that he had was to recruit his listeners to become a band of roving reporters, and he set up a voice mail box for them to call in with updates on what was happening at the park. This turned out to be a great idea, and the result is one of the best podcasts I’ve heard yet.

For as great as Michael Geoghegan’s offical podcast was, it was still a P.R. move by Disney, and as such it was heavily sanitized. There was nothing negative in the podcast. It was all good news, interviews with happy people who didn’t have any complaints, and a parade of celebrities that are used to putting on a good face for the press. By listening to that ‘cast, you get the impression that everything went off without a hitch and the 50th kickoff was flawless. The MousePod, however, gives you a slightly different, more realistic version of how things went down that day. Jesse played at least a dozen voice mails that he had received during the day, from different people all over the park. And the reports coming in from the men and women on the street weren’t quite as rosy. They told stories of enormously long lines, closed restaurants, no drinks, and packed walkways. His reporters were too far away from the stage to hear the speeches, couldn’t find a place to see the parade, and not in the right spot to view the fireworks. They were all thrilled and ecstatic to be there, of course, but the conditions weren’t ideal, and they ran into problems and frustrations. So, basically, by listening to the MousePod you get the feel of what it was really like for the thousands and thousands of ordinary people that were in the park that day. And it’s so different from what Michael Geoghegan, a member of the press who certainly had Disney handlers scheduling events for him, experienced.

This is what the future of reporting looks like. The stories will be told by people who are in the middle of it, who are living it. Sure, we’ll still need outside reporters to get the big picture, and PR releases to find out what the company thinks is important. But now you’ll also be able to go inside to get the real story, and it will be so much more engaging than anything else.

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