Hyperessay #1: A Seminal Multimedia Experience

When I started to think about moments in my life when a multimedia experience really challenged my preconceptions, the first thing that came to mind was this guy:

While he might be the best cyclist of all time, Lance Armstrong is by no means a master of multimedia. But, as a pretty serious cyclist and cycling fan myself, I have to credit him for changing the way I think about social media, journalism (in all its forms), and communication in general.

Throughout his career, and still today, Armstrong’s had a tumultuous relationship with the media. Reporters and enthusiasts have accused him of doping to enhance performance, a charge never proven to be true (but very well might be). And, frankly, he’s the kind of headstrong Texan that tends to rub people the wrong way and is always insisting on total control over messaging related to LiveStrong or his own brand… the kind of attitude that journalists loathe.

So, in May of 2009, Armstrong just stopped talking to them.

He didn’t stop commenting on cycling stories, cancer, his comeback, and his personal life. He was still in published pictures and videos. He just stopped talking to reporters and posing for photographers. Armstrong already had a huge fan following on Twitter, mostly his target audience of cyclists and cancer survivors. So he cut out the middlemen (journalists and their publishers) and began speaking almost exclusively through his personal Twitter account. When the races were over, he’d stroll right past the media scrum and into the team bus, where he’d tweet his daily thoughts.

Surprisingly, the reporters played along. All of a sudden I stared to read Armstrong quotes in the media that ended with, “said Armstrong on his Twitter feed,” or “according to a tweet sent by Armstrong.” He gave them no choice… either follow him on Twitter, or get scooped:

As the New York Times reported a few weeks into his refusal to speak with reporters:

“By taking total control of the coverage of his own comeback, interviewing himself on video and choosing which comments on Twitter to respond to and which to ignore, Mr. Armstrong has ensured that, for as long as his press blackout lasts, he can write his own story and present himself to his fans on his own terms, without even having to acknowledge any criticism or doubts.”

He sure did.

This, of course, also changed the way I started to seek out “Lance news.” Why turn to any media outlet when I could get it right from the source? Also, guess where the best behind-closed-doors photos of Armstrong’s teammates came from? That’s right, Lance’s iPhone… no longer some photog with a zoom lens. Even crazier, now I could talk to @lancearmstrong, just like the reporters shoving microphones into his face at the end of the race, and he might respond to me directly — or anyone else with a Twitter account. Print, photos, video… they way I got multimedia and who I got it from had suddenly changed.

All of this opened my eyes to how the same thing could be happening in almost every news arena. Why would Barack Obama call a news conference instead of just posting a video on his YouTube channel? I can’t even begin to describe or explain the way social media affected the Arab Spring and other revolutions around the world. Nor can I fully understand how this has changed the media business, and what it means to be a reporter.

What I do know is that sometime in the late spring of 2009, Lance Armstrong, of all people, was the guy that really helped me “get it” when it comes to the modern multimedia experience. Social media is so much bigger than a way to keep in touch with friends. It is an entirely new way to create and share multimedia, some of which can be very important and meaningful. Plus, multi-sensory experiences are now interactive and personal — more than just words on a page or news on the TV. This was by no means my first multimedia experience, but Lance Armstrong ushered in a new age of it… at least for me.

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