My bandwidth story
Sunday, August 20, 2000 by Dave Winer.
Yesterday I almost got thrown off the stage at the Bandwidth conference in San Francisco. I could hardly finish a sentence.
In previous sessions they had been tip-toeing around the central issue, people were talking about the music industry as if Napster had never happened. On my panel I was determined that we would get and stay connected to reality.
I asked for a show of hands, how many people think that Napster and Napster-likes are the mode of the future for music use? Everyone agreed, including the panelists.
Even so, they gave their pitches as if Napster didn't exist. I warned them beforehand that as a moderator, I interrupt. Some people don't like it, but it isn't personal. Watch the best interviewers on TV and radio, they do it too. The moderator's first responsibility is to the audience. If I'm getting bored, it's a sure thing they are too. And by asking challenging questions, people start thinking and participating.
These can be the very best sessions, if I get support from the people who run the show. I had a rebellious panelist at the Can Apple Survive? panel at Seybold/New York 1997, when Gil Amelio was running the company. It was the right time to ask that question. The users had a lot of concerns. The Apple guy tried to get me replaced as the moderator during the warmup session. Craig Cline, the editorial director, politely told him to get over it.
It was a great discussion, I cut people off when they were droning, asked the questions they didn't want asked. I was careful to ask the new Apple guy a couple of leading questions, and to thank him for participating in a panel that asked a question that must be hard to deal with. I honestly think that panel helped Apple survive. Sweeping questions under the rug doesn't get rid of the questions, it just postpones dealing with them.
Yesterday, the editorial director, Ashli Lewis, did the wrong thing, imho, she stepped in and started running the show. The subject didn't change. The conversation still revolved around empowered fans listening to the music they want to listen to and the industry saying it's bad. There were a lot of hurt feelings. Too bad, we could have learned a lot more, especially my panelists who have been routed around as the music fans have taken over.
(This morning I'm listening to Tevya, played by Zero Mostel, asking his wife if she loves him, a gorgeous duet, an Americanization of a Russian-Jewish way of life; and Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell singing "It Just Takes Two", a Motown version of the same theme. Show me a radio station that will play both those songs 5 times back-to-back. I just want to program music for myself, it's a pretty simple idea.)
I stayed on stage, and eventually resumed my role as moderator. Of course they don't like being routed around, so say it, but keep it professional. It was one of the toughest jobs I've ever had, esp when they started talking about *me* in not very kind terms. I kept my mouth shut. It was great theater, I was the foil for the disdain the companies have for music lovers. They complain that we don't respect them, but they have little respect for us; you could see that being acted out on stage. I had the last word, and that's how it's going to go in the market, like it or not. The users always win.
(If you want users to behave responsibly, start treating them like adults, not children, and that means listen, and be quiet when they talk.)
I talked with Ms. Lewis later, she said she was afraid the panelists would walk off the stage. To which I said, that's their right, they can do it if they want to, but for one hour that stage was mine. A good editor must step back and let the show go on. My last comment on stage was that no one fell asleep during this panel. I'm sure it's true.
I took a walk, got a coffee at Starbuck's and came back and participated in a discussion lead by Ken Rutkowski and Brian Zisk. Guess what, we talked about the same things. This time the execs weren't there, so no one told us to shut up. They missed the best part of the show, and an opportunity to learn how their business really works now.
On my walk I thought "Glad that's over!"
Then I remembered that I'm leading a discussion on the same subject at Seybold on August 29.
Craig is still standing behind me, and Liz Grady too, so I'm pretty sure it'll go well, even if strong opinions are expressed.
PS: I've invited my panelists to post their own stories, I'll point to them from Scripting News if they respond.