Every Blogger is a Star at the Webby's

News & Notes regular tech contributor, Mario Armstrong, and Gary Dauphin, News & Notes web producer, talk to Farai Chideya about the annual Webby Awards, as well the explosion of television on the Internet.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

It is Friday and once again I have gathered my friends with geek superpowers. This time, we're going to talk about the Webby Awards. The Webbys are given out each year to honor excellence on the Internet. All kinds of people have won Webbys, not just tech folks. Prince has a Webby, so did the Beastie Boys and former vice president Al Gore.

The 11th Annual Webbys were held earlier this week in New York City. And our regular tech contributor, Mario Armstrong, was there. He joins us now to tell us how it all went down.

Hey, Mario.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: Hey, Farai. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. And we are also joined by our Web producer and two-time Webby nominee, Gary Dauphin. He's also worked for AOL Black Voices, Africana.com and BlackPlanet.

Hey, Gary.

GARY DAUPHIN: Hey there.

CHIDEYA: So Mario, let's start with the actual Webby Awards. I went to one a long time ago and it was, you know, it's like Craig of Craigslist was there.

ARMSTRONG: Right.

CHIDEYA: And it was perfectly lovely and, you know, a lot of people with somewhat modest social skills. Things have changed quite a bit in the past few years, right? It's a little glitzier.

ARMSTRONG: Much glitzier. This was the 11th Annual Webby Awards. And for those that don't know, the Webbys are essentially - they're presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. And it's essentially the leading international award for honoring excellence that's on the Internet. So it's kind of like - some people refer to it as the Oscars of the Web.

So, you're right. It's 70-plus categories. So there are a lot of people. And they had the red carpet going this year. They had a lot of celebrity factor going on. You felt that a little bit of even paparazzi moments in geekdom was a little weird. You just cameras flashing left and right and almost fighting in the line to try to get interviews with co-founders of YouTube and others. And I'm fighting against the BBC and all types of other media that was there trying to get a few words from some of these awardees.

CHIDEYA: Gary, you're a double-nominee. How did you - in what categories and what were you doing at the time?

DAUPHIN: Basically, I was working for two different Web sites BlackPlanet and AOL Black Voices, which were two sites that I'd managed. BlackPlanet was actually a People's Choice nominee so it was generated from users of the site. AOL Black Voices' nomination was from peers, basically. So that was a real exciting moment.

Actually, I'm a little jealous listening to Mario because nominees don't get to attend, only winners, or least they didn't get to attend when I was up. So I didn't get a chance to get the full glitz effect. But, you now, it's just a great honor to be able to have your peers in the business recognize the work that you do. And also, you know, most of the work that I've been doing has been for African-American sites, so that was also really special to have that kind of work nominated as well.

CHIDEYA: So Gary, why don't you talk about this first, and then Mario? What about black folks and the Webbys? Have there been - has there been recognition of African-American content? And because some of this is a matter of making yourself visible, have African-Americans even made ourselves visible enough in the blogosphere and the Web space. Gary first.

DAUPHIN: Well, you know, I believe allAfrica.com won a Webby a couple of years ago. So from the standpoint of visibility, you know, there are black folks working in all aspects of all businesses. And so, we participate in these events as well. That being said, those specifically African-American sites have not made it past the nomination process. It's in - I think, basically, that just reflects the Web audience in general. This is still a pretty white business and the general audience itself were a subset at that audience, and so nomination drives are difficult to factor into it unless you have a large site like BlackPlanet.

CHIDEYA: Mario?

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. You know, it was one of those things, obviously, when in these types of events, whether it's the consumer electronics show or the video game E3 Expo. These are large industry-wide events. And I consider the Webby Awards one of those large industry-wide events. That kind of gives you a snapshot of who is doing what in the industry and who is being recognized in the industry. And it was a little disheartening not to see communities of color really in strong numbers. I mean, I think between the two days - it was a two-day event -I could count maybe the amount of people of color on one or two hands at most. And none of them were winners, I don't think. I think some of them work for the public relations firm and some others. So it was a little disheartening.

But I wonder if it's just a matter of exposure. I mean, this is one of those things - the Webbys is one of those things that many folks that I talk to aren't even aware that they can nominate themselves. They've always felt that other people had to nominate you. And they also felt that maybe you had to be a corporate site. You have everything from educational Web sites to non-profits and associations to individuals and blogs nowadays being nominated. So the field is wide open. I just don't know if the exposure is getting out to that community.

CHIDEYA: So we're talking - if you're just tuning in - to Mario Armstrong, NEWS & NOTES regular tech contributor. Gary Dauphin, who is our Web producer, who's worked for BlackPlanet and AOL Black Voices. This is NPR's NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

And Mario, you were just talking about it being heartening to see so few people of color sometimes in the Web space when the Web becomes - manifests in the form of a human being. I was just, last night, at this amazing award ceremony, the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award for Al Pacino. And this woman walks up to me, this African-American entertainment executive, and she's, like, I'm so glad to see you. She's just, like, she's like, I think there's four of us here.

ARMSTRONG: You're the other one. You're the other one.

CHIDEYA: Yeah. But that said, you know, the awards were great but it's something that happens in a lot of industries, in the top echelons of film and the top echelons of television. And a question that remains in my mind is often is this a process of exclusion or a process of self-selection? In a sense, you were just mentioning, Mario, that, you know, people may not know - you and Gary were mentioning - people may not know that they can put themselves up for awards.

Gary, what do you think about exclusion versus self-selection? Or does it even matter?

DAUPHIN: I think it's a little bit of both. I mean, I'm old enough to remember there was an era in the late '80s and early '90s where every smart media-savvy African-American person wanted to be a filmmaker. And now, you know, everybody wants to be either a record producer, in television. So there are vogues(ph) and there was a moment when a lot of people were working on the Internet. And hopefully, there'll be more people working in the future. But it is a medium where, you know, good work does rise to the top. I know it's kind of a cliche but it is true. That could work as able to get recognition.

CHIDEYA: Mario, what do you think about the future of African-American content on the Web. Because, I myself, full disclosure, worked on a couple of startups as a contractor back in the day, back in the flush dot-com days, which quickly became the dot-bomb days. And these were hip-hop oriented or urban-oriented sites and there was a river of money flowing through this, millions of dollars. And people like Russell Simmons getting involved. That didn't quite work out. But do you think that there is going to be a resurgence of, you know, multimedia sites that specifically are a little bit more flashy. I'm not talking about news site but these entertainment sites.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah. I do believe so. And I do believe that you're going to see, you know, more power in the individual. I mean, if you think about it for a second, TIME Magazine Person of the Year last year was you, the individual. And so there's a lot of focus on that. And you're seeing a lot of, like, stars and icons start to come out of the Web. I'm thinking of some folks that are of colors and others that are just being very popular by creating their own independent little shorts, videos, and placing them on Web sites like YouTube or AOL's "Uncut" and really getting a traction, a following behind their content, behind their style, behind their delivery.

And I'm hoping that that is going to actually translate into more new media sites that are niche-oriented, that actually get the funding and have the backing and the support of a fan base that would maybe allow them to get some of the funds to really create those higher-end Web(ph) types of Web sites, especially in the entertainment realm.

CHIDEYA: Gary, I remember this company and I can't remember their name right now. They threw like a $300,000-party and they were out of business within a year.

DAUPHIN: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's the pattern. I mean, people - there was a moment when everyone believed you need a big marketing and big celebrities. And actually, what we've learned is that you just need a lot of people and a good product that people connect to.

ARMSTRONG: Right.

CHIDEYA: So we've been talking a little bit about the Webbys. What about other kinds of awards that African-American sites might get? You know, are there internal blogging awards or internal ceremonies the same way that there is like the NAACP Image Awards? Gary, what do you (unintelligible)?

DAUPHIN: There's a Black Weblog Awards, which you can search basically to see your black Web blog awards. And you can find it. For the last couple of years, they have nominated the best and the brightest of African-American Web blogs. It's a fairly community-based effort in the sense that there's basically one individual, one blogger who manages and puts it together. But it's the beginning - you know, this institution starts small and it's the beginning of the bigger process.

CHIDEYA: Mario, I want to actually transition us to televisuals. This is a term that a friend of mind clued me into. So you've got television, which is stuff that you watch on a television. And then you have stuff on the Internet, the Web streaming video and audio. And televisual is kind of a word that's for video content that - regardless of what it's playing on, whether it's your iPod, whether it's your television, whether it's your computer - now, there is a fight over what kind of awards that televisual content should be nominated for. Basically, two branches of the Emmys are fighting over whether or not televisual content on the Web should get Emmys. What do you think about this? Explain more a little bit about it, Mario.

ARMSTRONG: This is interesting that you bring this up because you may not have known this, but this year - bringing back up the Webbys for a second because it plays a role - this year was their inaugural year to actually create a Webby Awards Day specifically for film and video. And it was kind of the same thing. So I wonder if - I have always been wanting to ask the executive director this question - have they been noticing this battle going on with the Emmy's and such to figure that maybe they should take the lead on being the body that would give these types of awards. Because you had people from "The Office," one of the stars, one of the co-stars of the TV show, the popular TV show, "The Office" was there because they won an award for best Webisode.

And these are television productions from traditional media outlets but are specifically and exclusively done just for the Web. And you can play them on multiple devices like you mentioned earlier.

So this televisual category is one that a lot of people are still confused about. I think you need to make sure that the content - part of the criteria should be that the content is exclusively made for the Web audience. No matter how they engage with it or how they download it or what they view it on, it needs to be a content that cannot be seen or won't be viewed on traditional media or traditional broadcasting.

CHIDEYA: You know, I want to go to our blog, Gary. You have really helped us out here with News and Views, which, again, is - the NEWS & NOTES blog, you go to it by npr.org/newsandnotes and then you can click on News and Views. And there's some really great content up here right now.

We have stuff from Christopher Johnson on Fishbone. We have me talking about Russell Simmons, which has produced a crazy amount of - just people responding. Somebody said that I got punked by Russell. Somebody said that I was…

DAUPHIN: I saw that. I saw that. It feels that…

CHIDEYA: That I was a political operative trying to entrap Russell. Other people said Russell's basically crazy. I mean, it's so much fun. Gary, tell us a little bit about, you know, because we're about to lose you back into all of your other hats that you wear. What has it been like for you to try to start something up, a space for dialogue, not just for African-Americans, but for people interested in the kind of coverage we do about the African-American experience?

DAUPHIN: Well, you know, it's been great. I mean, I think when you look at the overall African-American Web space, it's incredibly entertainment and incredibly sports-focused. And the kind of thing that NEWS & NOTES does just really doesn't exist out there. And I think the opportunity to build a community around NEWS & NOTES programming, around the great stuff that ends up on the radio is just crucially important. Just because - you know, we don't have enough African-American CNN. We don't have an African-American New York Times that sets a sort of national media agenda. And organizations like NEWS & NOTES and Web site like News and Views, which, I think, are really crucially important for doing that.

CHIDEYA: And it's so much fun. I just posted something. I did an interview with Da Brat about "Celebrity Fit Club" and, you know, of course, I did this fitness challenge. So I really posted from the heart and I put out a call, you know, for people to respond, and I'm sure that people will respond.

And, Mario, I know that you know what's like to get the kind of juice from having people dialogue with you.

ARMSTRONG: Yeah.

CHIDEYA: It's really about the dialogue, isn't it?

ARMSTRONG: It is all about the dialogue. I mean, what you and Gary and the whole crew there with NEWS & NOTES is doing is really great stuff. And for those that haven't checked it out, you need to do yourself a service, even if you don't decide to actually post anything yourself, just the fact that you can have an extension of the show and really read what is on people's minds. You know, the problem with an on-air broadcast, you have a limited amount of time to do it in and you don't get that opportunity all the time for a two-way dialogue. This really creates a discussion that continues to permeate into subject matter for the show.

By the way, I also get a ball just out of reading some of the stuff online because I was cracking up literally almost on the floor when I read the blog posted about you being punked.

CHIDEYA: Oh, I know. But it's great. I mean, the thing is I don't take…

DAUPHIN: It is, it's on it.

CHIDEYA: I don't take it personally. I'm tough. I'm tough. I'll grow with it. I'll grow with it.

ARMSTRONG: And that's what's good about it. That's what makes it a good blog and a good site. And that's, you know…

CHIDEYA: Yeah, it's funny. You know, also - I really feel like because the African-American experience is so diverse now, it's kind of a time for us to check in with each other. You know, no matter where you are, if you're in a big city with a lot of black people or a small town with a few black people or any other configuration. It's - the blogosphere has provided me with a way to stay in touch with people who I have never met, but who I share something with. Gary?

DAUPHIN: Yeah, I mean, we talk about buzz words like user-generated content, or, you know, Web 2.0 and what those things are really about is conversations. And, you know, black media has always been about a conversation between black folks for black folks. And I think that, you know, the great possibility of the Internet is that it makes a lot of these ideals that we have about black media a little bit more manifested. Like, you can actually go to the Web site and see the conversation as opposed to having it be something abstract in the air.

CHIDEYA: Mario, very briefly.

ARMSTRONG: Sure.

CHIDEYA: Any thoughts?

ARMSTRONG: Oh, in terms of - oh, within - no.

CHIDEYA: Our community.

ARMSTRONG: I mean, I think Gary said it all. I mean, that's - and we've talked about this when we talked about blog posting. That is the vital thing. The vital instrument is community. So really it's upon - you've created the location. Now, it's upon the listeners and those that may not always agree with your show on air to now chime in and build the blog and have those voices now heard. And Gary's absolutely right. We don't have a black CNN. This is one of the closest things that you can get to a true, natural, non-slanted dialogue and it's such a great way to continue the discussion of what happens on air, of - online.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, well, Mario, he's our regular tech contributor who covers technology for Baltimore member stations WYPR and WEAA. And this Gary Dauphin's last day as NEWS & NOTES Web producer. We're going to miss you.

DAUPHIN: No.

CHIDEYA: Thank you guys, both.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you.

DAUPHIN: Thank you, Farai.

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