'Rocketboom' May Be Future of TV News

'Rocketboom,' Daily Webcast Staged As Mini-Newscast, May Be Future of Broadcast Journalism


The Associated Press

NEW YORK - What's ahead on TV? In a couple of weeks the broadcast networks will announce their fall schedules.

Meanwhile, viewers await word on how "The CBS Evening News" will be retooled into a newscast for the next generation. Thus does television race to meet the future.

But there are clues to that future available to anyone who looks for them. Check your computer screen, for instance, for evidence of what someday may be known as what used to be TV like "Rocketboom."

"Rocketboom" is a Monday-through-Friday video Web log, or vlog, staged as a mini-newscast. Modeled on television yet summoned from cyberspace, each bite-sized dispatch shines a light on what the future seems to be: Whatever you feel like putting out there, accessible to anyone at any time, and (since there will no longer need to be fixed roles in this process) whatever everyone else feels like putting out there for you.

Already you can click to "Rocketboom" whenever you want to catch today's 3-to-5-minute installment or tap the archives.

Then, after the burst of flashing images in the opening sequence, what you get is a slice of Internet culture with a playful twist. It might be a selection of quirky bulletins or a music video. An on-the-street survey (question: Mac or PC?), a remote from a comedy club or an outing to the top of the Empire State Building.

On the March 4 "Rocketboom," it was a long-distance chat with a patron in a Charlotte, N.C., barroom, as seen by the bar's own Webcam. Conducting that interview was "Rocketboom" anchorwoman Amanda Congdon in Manhattan, from her no-frills set: a desk barely larger than a TV table in front of a world map tacked to the wall.

Congdon is reason enough to watch "Rocketboom." A fizzy ingenue with a mischievous streak, she bridges the gap between the program's dual missions: to be a newscast homage and a New Media breakthrough. She makes "Rocketboom" comfortable and cool, all at the same time.

"We wanted to have a creative video blog that would be palatable," she says. "A lot of the video blogs out there are by someone in their bedroom, half-awake. Mainstream America is not gonna want to watch that. We wanted to get people watching stuff online, to get people interested in this new medium."

An aspiring actress, the 23-year-old Congdon appeared last season on NBC's "The Restaurant" (a "pseudo-reality show," she scoffs, for which she was cast by the network as a disgruntled coat-check girl).

Then last September, she spied the "Rocketboom" casting call on the craigslist Web site.

"Rocketboom" creator Andrew Baron, a 34-year-old specialist in Web design and technology, says he was seeking someone "professional, who was also versed in Web logs" except Congdon wasn't.

"I had never gotten into vlogs or podcasts or anything like that," she admits. "When I auditioned, I went, `So you're gonna take me and put it online? Cool!' I never really understood what I was getting into, that it would be so much more than that.

"I'm completely submerged into that culture now."

But Congdon, who rounds out her workdays auditioning for roles on TV and other old-school media, finds too many people are stuck in the past.

"People in the casting world tune out when I tell them about `Rocketboom.' I can see it in their eyes," she says. "They just can't grasp that anything online could be worthwhile, which to me is strange, considering how the world is moving."

The audience for "Rocketboom," which began last October, is currently 25,000 downloads a day, and mostly dependent on word-of-mouth (or should that be word-of-mouse?) it's growing.

Baron has recently hired correspondents in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Boston. To make the venture pay, he peddles ad time at the end of each report.

How big, how lucrative, how revolutionary could "Rocketboom" become? Nothing is sure except this: Technology won't hold it back. From day one it blanketed the globe, issuing forth from a consumer-grade videocam and a laptop.

"It's raw," allows Congdon, but that, of course, is part of the fun. "Not like TV production, which is polished and perfect. If something has a TV finish, people are suspicious.

"But I WOULD like to get the lighting better."

Adds Baron, whose Upper West Side flat serves as the "Rocketboom" studio: "I'd like to get it out of my apartment."

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EDITOR'S NOTE Frazier Moore can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org