On Messages, Mediums and Making Meaningful Connections with Audiences

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Strategy, Tech
We caught up with Steve Rosenbaum in New York to talk about the upcoming panel he assembled for South by Southwest: Designing a Better Media EcoSystem Without Ads.

Catching up with author, podcaster, curator and convener Steve Rosenbaum

On messages, mediums and making meaningful connections with audiences  

Chad Capellman recently had the opportunity to catch up with someone who has been a big influence on his thinking about media, society and technology, Steve Rosenbaum. Their interactions go back to Chad’s time as Managing Producer for the We Media series of conferences and at The Media Center at the American Press Institute.

Chad recently caught up with Steve in New York, after which he graciously agreed to be interviewed via email. Steve is soon to present at a panel he assembled for South by Southwest:  Designing a Better Media EcoSystem Without Ads. The panel intends to explore “a new way to fund content… one that connects readers with writers and builds a new generation of publishers.”


Chad asked Steve a series of questions from the Proust Questionnaire. Here are his responses:

What is your current state of mind?

I think a lot about the promise of technology and some of the unintended consequences of the openness of that technology. I’ve always believed in the important social impact that an open internet would provide. And I’m still optimistic, but more cautious now. The open web, when tied to an anonymous position and a lack of personal responsibility, has unleashed an era of hate speech, misogyny, and racial intolerance. I’m hopeful that this is a moment in history as we move toward a more connected, more accepting, more global community.

What excites you about your job?

Choose one? I have a few! I’m an author and podcaster, and that job is fantastic. Being able to use my years of experience and turn my understanding into topical, timely, relevant media is always exciting. The future of web video and audio podcasting is growing daily. My podcast, FutureForward, is cohosted by Gene DeRose. Gene is sharp and smart, and we take a weekly look at how tech is shaping the future.

At the same time, I work with startups, helping to build sustainable businesses development, content, and curation strategies. I’ve started five companies, each of them at the nexus of video and content curation. I love the energy and optimism of startups; it’s fun to be able to share experiences and insights that can help them reach successful heights.

I’m also a Senior Advisor at Oaklins DeSilva+Philips, which provides me with an opportunity to work with CEOs and Entrepreneurs who are looking to turn their years of hard work and endless hours into a successful outcome.

What is your favorite occupation?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a storyteller. I love technology and innovation, and merging storytelling and technology is my favorite role.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I would say two, so far. First, I’m very proud of the television series I created and produced for MTV.  It was called MTV UNfiltered, and it was the very first moment where media began to shift from authoritarian storytelling to audience-generated content. This was before YouTube, and UNfiltered heralded a future where technology gave individuals the power to tell their own stories in their own words, with their own pictures.

Then, there is 9/11. My company on 9/11/01 was based on 5th avenue, about 20 blocks north of the towers. The film that I made in the year after that terrible day was called “7 Days In September.” It was a curated collection of stories told by real people – and it was a story that I’m proud to have gathered and protected for future generations.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Leadership. I think that opportunities that succeed are a mix of intelligence, timing, good luck, and team building. The current business press turns a handful of individuals into business ‘rock stars’ – which puts them on a pedestal.

Questions from Chad:

You put a lot of effort into getting commitments to your upcoming panel. What was your big motivator for making this panel happen?

I think the future of society is – at least in part – about using our technology tools to build a platform for communication and sharing that doesn’t amplify hate and divisive behavior. That’s a big and complicated goal. The panel was created to ask a big question and explore the possibility that the future of web media financing isn’t based simply on selling goods and services. So, the motivator was to have a frothy conversation, ask hard questions, and bring together smart people to engage in what will hopefully be some possible solutions.

Your panel sounds like the kind of mental space many people have talked around being in, but haven’t actually thought through the real-world impacts of. Would you agree?

Maybe, but that might be giving me too much credit. All I want to do is invite some exploration.

There is a way to look at the different spheres like print, web, video, etc. as going from floating circles, to a Venn diagram, to essentially one big circle. This merger of circles has been disruptive to many.

Well, I think there are two sides to things. The first being the way information is delivered on paper vs. digitally, and the second being the way information is delivered verbally vs. through picture and sound. So yes, the merger is disruptive…but things are always changing.

What traits for a company have you found help it have the greatest chance of adapting to this change? What traits for an individual?

Well, I think flexibility and agility are strong traits for both companies and individuals. Brands that think they can drive messages to consumers are in old world thinking. People have choices, people have more media feeds than they can consume. So, when brands interrupt users and don’t treat them as ‘partners’ but as passive consumers, they’re going to lose out.

You once told me in an interview that “the days are over of an organization alone being able to tell the story of its own brand.” This is when you were in deep into exploration of curation. What are the things that an organization need to prioritize these days to best tell its story?

First, users are the most critical part of the brand story. Unhappy users, disappointed users and angry users are going to get traction and connect with audiences. So you can’t just ignore the unhappy outliers. At the same time, happy customers are your best brand advocates. So social-proof is going to drive brand strategy. On Amazon, a product with 3 stars is going to lose to a product with 5 stars, because consumer experience is authentic.

When we last met, you were on your way to see the play Network. What did you think? Did it manage to stay relevant in 2019? How?

Well, I loved the production and Brian Cranston’s performance. But Paddy Chayefsky’s words hit me as ironic and a bit sad. Chayefsky warned us about where media was going… he nailed it. And we ignored him. And we’re paying the price.