Is Olbermann’s departure the nail in the coffin for Current TV?

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With the news circling around fledgling cable network Current TV firing liberal talk show host Keith Olbermann, we’re left wondering what’s next for both parties.

While Current co-founders Al Gore and Joel Hyatt duke it out with Olbermann in court (and in public) over who “wronged” who first, let’s spell out the possibilities for both.

Current has already replaced Olbermann with former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, so we know what’s next for the channel aggressively reinventing itself as a progressive news talk station.

But will Spitzer’s “Viewpoint” last any longer than his cancelled CNN show “In The Arena”? Olbermann was at the top of his game when he left MSNBC, gathering around 1 million views a night. Joining Current was a coup for the station and an opportunity for the ever-annoyed Olbermann to have things his way and build Current’s brand of progress news around his show. He was even given an equity stake and made the chief news officer. But even being one of his own bosses didn’t stop the inevitable breakup.

Olbermann’s calling Current a “penny-pinching, incompetent clown show” according to an article from Business Insider. Check out the “angry email trail” Olbermann’s team has put together and shared with The Daily Beast.

I was an intern for Current back in 2009, when the logo used to be a stylized pixel version of the word Current, which you can see above. I thought that was pretty cool, and still rock a track jacket zip-up with the 4 green dots.

In the last year, the station has turned into a whole different beast. Gone is the award-winning and boundary-breaking investigate documentary team Vanguard and long lost are the hilarious shows like infoMania and SuperNews!

Since the network brought on Olbermann, they built a lineup of liberal-leaning talk shows. Most of which I could care less about.

Since the station has been tumbling through startup-style experimentation since its inception in 2005, it’s time to grow up. That much I get.

But runner-up to MSNBC, whose slogan is “lean forward”, sounds like a pretty raw deal. And without a heavy hitter to improve ratings, it seems imminent that Current will lose its relevancy, especially with its target 18-35 demographic.

The biggest concern of all? The only news Current actually produces comes from its internal controversy. Do a quick search and the headlines rarely relate to programming or progression. Instead, it’s a handful of media flurries from the 2009 capture of two Vanguard reporters to its latest controversial breakup with its biggest star.

Closest competitor MSNBC has the Comcast-NBC parent company with genuine news reporting chops, while Current just fired the last of its journalists when it disbanded Vanguard.

What’s next for Olbermann is yet to be determined. But despite his prima donna ways, someone will scoop him up and pay him the big bucks. And it will work. Just like it works in the NFL and in Hollywood. The big stars still get big money and big turnout, whether they’ve still got “it or not. See this Forbes article for more on that.

… [update] …

In an interview with David Letterman on “The Late Show” April 4, Olbermann admits that the breakup is his fault. At the same time, he refers to himself as a $10,000 chandelier with no house, mansion, lot or building permit to live in. Ouch.

Drone journalism: interesting, impractical, but possible

The use of drones in America has started to whirl around the news as law enforcement agencies and hobbyists are building and buying these unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for surveillance, or in some cases, just for fun.

Around 150 journalists, coders and techno enthusiasts gathered at the headquarters of San Francisco startup Storify to discuss the prospect of what’s being referred to as “drone journalism”.

The editor of Wired magainze, Chris Anderson, was one of the speakers.

These drones are not the Predators you heard about in the news that our military uses to bomb our enemies.

No, these devices are more like remote control airplanes and helicopters for adults. They’re armed with advanced surveillance like high quality cameras, gyroscopes and a variety of sensors. Law enforcement agencies have used these eyes in the sky to track down marijuana growers.

News organizations have toyed with the idea of using them to document dangerous events like natural disasters or protests like the Occupy movement.

As the domestic use of this technology outpaces the laws in place, ethical questions start to arise. Who’s allowed to fly these things? Can anybody get a permit? What happens if one crashes? Who’s using them now?


Current TV cuts ‘Vanguard’ staff

The 2010 Vanguard team

I can only imagine how my old friends at Vanguard are feeling right now.

Vanguard is — er, was Current TV‘s critically acclaimed, yet underappreciated documentary series.

Vanguard stood out in a lot of ways.

It strived to tell stories that weren’t being reported and investigated issues in a captivating way that appealed to young people. In part, that’s because the personalities you see on the above poster are younger, hipper and more impassioned than your typical TV reporter.

A lot of people are probably familiar with something about Current.

First off, it was started by Al Gore in 2005. Then there’s the two Vanguard journalists who were detained in North Korea in 2009; Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

More recently, the network brought on progressive liberal talkshow host Keith Olbermann and gave him a major stake in the network to help transform and refine what has been a long, drawn-out experiment in really cool things that didn’t always work (pods, or short-form pieces and user-generated material have been two big ones that have been mostly phased out).

The interesting thing here is that Olbermann revered Vanguard and stated the show would be a focal part of the network’s future. To date, that has included the prime-time 9pm spot after Olbermann’s own show on certain nights.

The New York Times’ Media Decoder blog broke the news Dec. 4:

In what some called a cost-cutting move, the channel last week dismissed most of the roughly 10 “Vanguard” employees. Some were offered other jobs. The channel will continue to produce “Vanguard” documentaries, but with freelancers.

David Bohrman, the president of Current TV, said in a statement that production was not being canceled. “But given the network’s new focus on political news and analysis, we have chosen to change the present in house production model for ‘Vanguard.’

It is essential that Current keeps these talented reporters and producers on board in one form or another. Some of them have been around since the inception of this fledgling cable network and it would be insulting to eliminate the staple that has, although flimsily, kept just a hint of the old Current alive in the midst of the new, politically-charged agenda.

Check out my previous posts on Current and Vanguard. I interned with Vanguard in the Los Angeles offices during a tumultuous time that included Ling and Lee’s return from Korea and unannounced layoffs.

Read the full details on Media Decoder.

Communication, baby

Its funny.

You major in a degree called communication, but in reality, you know nothing.

You take intercultural communication, mass communication, communication theory…

It all seemed pretty silly at the time. One professor talking about “saving face” and another about peeling the layers of someone’s onion.

Most people major in communication because they couldn’t think of anything better.

Not me.

I was one of the few lucky ones who actually knew what they were doing in college almost right off the bat. (After I figured out I actually wanted to go to college, anyway.)

That was journalism.

That magical one word: journalism.

The art and science of writing, reporting and communicating all the crap that happens in the world so other people can learn about the day’s or moment’s events and join the global conversation.

But I don’t need a degree to tell me I don’t know jack when I hit the real world.

All one needs is a romantic relationship; a significant other; a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife.

So much of a relationship relies on keeping the conversation going. Just like a reporter converses with a reader through his/her words, a boyfriend must communicate to his girlfriend with a different set of words — the spoken kind.

Well, more often anyway.

I can write more eloquently than I can talk.

Putting my fingers on the keyboard gets my brain churning in a way that allows me to gather my thoughts and get them “on paper” in a comprehensible way.

But the spoken dialogue can be the biggest challenge.

“That’s not what I meant!”

“I didn’t say that!”

“You take that back!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Its a never-ending series of statements that reflect two people trying to communicate to each other. To say something that the other understands, to phrase something lightly or delicately, bluntly or plainly. The real trick is to say what you mean without getting under the other’s skin.

I’ve learned more about communication in the past three years with my girlfriend than I could in any classroom.

Same could be said for everything — most true trades are learned outside the classroom. But as someone who studies language and follows all the newfangled ways we humans communicate, I’m always surprised by how much I learn.

Always trying to meet in the middle, find a place where two people can agree is a truly challenging thing.

Especially when the conversation between a serious twentysomething couple spirals into the taboo: marriage, kids, moving in together, etc.

How do two people from totally different backgrounds with similar values but opposite timelines maintain?

Through one way and one way only: communication.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Apologize when you’re wrong or when you said something mean. Stand up for what you believe in, but always be willing to compromise. Because, without that, there’s nothing.

There goes the neighborhood: LA Times’ Brand X says goodbye

Yet another news publication has bitten the dust.

Its not quite the headline-breaker like Rupert Murdoch‘s recent folding of the News of the World, the 168-year-old British tabloid that has received allegations for hacking into the cellphone of a murdered schoolgirl.

But, the free, LA Times-owned, weekly arts, entertainment and culture magazine known as Brand X has been a staple in the Los Angeles youth scene for a few years.

And by youth, I mean the twentysomething hipster population that has taken over spots like Silver Lake, Echo Park, Eagle Rock and West Hollywood.

Its strongpoints, at least to me, were extensive reporting on the rising Los Angeles craft beer movement and its coverage of the indie music scene.

There is, however, a silver lining. The Los Angeles Times Media Group also announced in a memo that it will be expanding its roster of community newspapers.

I interned at Brand X (formerly, the site was taken down July 8th) when it was still Metromix Los Angeles (formerly, folded into the Times, then morphed into Brand X). This was back in 2009 and was my first of three journalism internships after college.

I was really going to miss the weekly tabloid, as I’m moving (back) to the Bay Area in a few days.

But now, everyone will miss this fun and edgy guide to what’s what, who’s who and what’s happening in LA.

I’m sure it was only a matter of time.

Best of luck to Deb Vankin, Alexandra Le Tellier and the rest of the staff with their new roles at the Times.

More information check out LA Observed‘s coverage.

One of my first non school-related publications was on in 2009. The short blog contribution is below:

Published on in 2009.

New ‘Countdown’ begins on Current TV

The liberal firebrand news host known as Keith Olbermann returns to television tonight after departing from MSNBC a little under six months ago.

As I reported HERE, Olbermann takes his “Countdown” show to the fledgling TV station and Web community known as Current TV and (Current was founded in 2005 and pulls in under 60,000 viewers during peak hours according to the New York Times)

The real motivation for Olbermann here is a majority stake in the company. He joins former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt as an executive of the company.

Full disclosure: I interned for Current’s Vanguard back in summer ’09. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Current is not exactly a house name just yet, but getting a heavy hitter such as Olbermann on board may start to change that — at lest that’s what the station is banking on.

Besides Vanguard and now Olbermann, the network received mass media spotlight for its two reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, that were held captive in North Korea.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Current has always been forward-facing: it initially gathered much of it’s programming through incorporating submissions from online contributors and was the first station to incorporate tweets into it’s coverage of the 2008 presidential debate.

But with new efforts focused on getting the station into more homes and a recent redesign (or more like design overhaul), I have heard few outcries but my own over what I find to be one very big problem:

Current, which was known for bridging the online and televised worlds, stopped allowing full episodes online. So much for anywhere, any time. What year is it?

The channel says the only way to continue carriage on networks like Verizon, TimeWarner and Comcast was to offer exclusive deals and Olbermann tweeted that the TV companies have them “over a barrel.”

Instead, Current is pushing clips big time, all over Hulu, iTunes and YouTube.

But for those of us who already cancelled our exorbitant cable subscriptions, we’re shit out of luck.

I can’t even legally purchase the shows in their entirety…anywhere. Now that’s just not right.

That’s why I scheduled a viewing party of sorts at a friends house for tonight’s premieres of Countdown with Keith Olbermann and a new season of Vanguard.

WATCH TONIGHT: Countdown premieres at 8/9c and Vanguard’s new season follows at 9/8c.

Check out behind the scenes with “Countdown” HERE.

Current TV adds Olbermann to shake things up

The tectonic plates of the American media landscape are starting to shift once again.

Two major events have given me a new spirit of hope in news media, both occurring this week. And both by Tuesday!

First off, Keith Olbermann, the former liberal host of MSNBC‘s “Countdown” announced that he will be starting a new show on Current TV, the fledgling entertainment and world affairs network founded by former Vice President Al Gore and businessman Joel Hyatt in 2005.

Olbermann told reporters on a conference call Tuesday morning that it will be an “amplified and stronger version of the show that I just did.”

But the even bigger news here is that Olbermann will become Current Media’s Chief News Officer and take an equity stake in the company. Meaning he will be up there with Joel, Al and CEO Mark Rosenthal as one of the hotshots.

Current’s own employees didn’t know a thing until the New York Times announced it.

At least that’s what Mariana Van Zeller, one of the investigative reporters in Current’s investigative documentary series “Vanguard“, told me today in an e-mail.

Keep an eye on this five-year-old channel, because despite setbacks and low ratings, (around 25,000 viewers during prime time) shows like Vanguard, infoMania and now Olbermann’s are worthy of your attention.

Full disclosure of course: I interned for Vanguard in 2009. Blogged about my experience here and also contributed to Current’s news blog here and here.

Read more about Current’s reinvention here from MediaBistro.


NEXT UP: AOL + HuffPost = a reinvention of the news wheel?

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,100 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 22 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 68 posts. There were 46 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 31mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was January 22nd with 38 views. The most popular post that day was The CoCo and Leno Show.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for amazon mp3 logo, amazonmp3 logo, mata leon, couples retreat, and rx bandits wallpaper.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


The CoCo and Leno Show January 2010


Mirthless “Couples Retreat”, heartfelt “Wild Things” October 2009


Pomona’s big changes July 2009


Bay Area band Mata Leon emerges with fresh focus February 2010


First Listen: Gorillaz “Plastic Beach” floats on March 2010

Cal Poly Pomona grad competing in Miss California contest in Palm Springs

Since summer, I’ve been following the journey of one contestant in the Miss California USA beauty pageant.

Her name is Kelleen Lim Chea and she’s a recent Cal Poly Pomona grad. I got exclusive, behind the scenes access to her life as an aspiring beauty queen and how she made it to this weekend’s contest.

On Friday, I had a major feature air on 89.3 KPCC, the largest Southern California NPR station.

Here is the text, but be sure to listen to the report so you can hear my voice and audio from the interviews!

Good luck to Kelleen, representing the city of Anaheim and all the other ladies.


By Daniel Ucko

The “Miss California USA” pageant is this weekend in Palm Springs. Close to 400 young women are competing to represent the Golden State at next year’s “Miss USA” pageant. One of the contestants is a recent graduate of Cal Poly Pomona.

It’s a hot summer evening in August. Kelleen Lim Chea – or as her sash says, Miss Anaheim USA – glides across the floor of a rowdy Huntington Beach nightclub in high heels & a form-fitting evening gown. She’s leading a parade of young women in bikinis and lingerie. It’s a fashion fundraiser. A portion of the proceeds go to a campaign to help stop human trafficking. It’s just another day on the job for an aspiring beauty queen.

“I had this expectation of becoming a doctor but I just don’t feel like it’s my time or it’s my passion,” says Chea.

Since graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a chemistry degree, Chea’s had one eye on her career and another on beauty pageant glory. Now, she’s seeking the crown of Miss California. Med school will have to wait.

“And it’s been a struggle because I always knew this is what my family expected of me; however, deep down inside it just didn’t feel right,” says the petite 23-year-old.

But with her silky long black hair, winning smile and girl next door good looks, Chea is just right for pageant recruiters like Erik DeSando.

I met DeSando at a busy outdoor cafe in West Hollywood. He’s the middle man between pageant producers and the thousands of girls who apply for the Miss California and Teen USA pageants every year. He gets more than a dozen messages during our interview.

“The type of girl I attract for the contest is a five-finger girl. On the four fingers, we have loving, caring,” says DeSando.

“Then I point to my big finger, middle finger which is non-judgment. Then on the thumb, that’s where the beauty comes in.”

So now you know; the thumb is the most beautiful digit.

Kelleen Lim Chea tries to keep her beauty wholesome. Scar removal below the knee and teeth whitening are the only surgical enhancements she’s had. There are however other enhancements. Interview skills and stage presence are sharpened with the help of a pageant coach; Giselle Boone, a fashion show choreographer and former model. Chea & Boone spent the summer working on everything from posture to stage presence.

Competing in beauty pageants also means marketing a glamorous image through sponsorship deals. Sponsors help raise money, and Chea needs it. All contestants must pay a $1700 dollar entrance fee just to compete in this weekend’s pageant. That covers everything from food to personal security.

“You wanna do this? I will show you 15 different ways to get that money together,” says Miss California recruiter Erik DeSando laying out another unconventional beauty pageant formula.

“A girl has a 20-100 sponsor. A 20-100 sponsor is $20 from 100 people,” laughs DeSando. “Now it’s simple as hell, but think about it, you can find 100 people to give you 20 bucks.”

You can also find friends willing to work for you on the cheap as agents, photographers and stylists. Chea has tapped several. It didn’t always work out though. Several friendships, including with her now x-pageant coach Giselle Boone, were cast aside in the quest for the crown.

“I couldn’t say if it was me or the other party, all I can say is we’re just not in alignment for the path I’m going to,” says Chea.

“My mother, she would probably be wishing that I would be going to medical school right now. But she understands life is short. Do you what you want to do.

But the life of an aspiring beauty queen is short. Kelleen Lim Chea is 23. At 28, you’re considered over the hill – even if you’re a winner. But just showing up to compete can pay off handsomely in scholarship money, endorsements, modeling jobs and more.

And the winner of this weekend’s pageant also gets the chance to represent the Golden State at Donald Trump’s Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas next summer.

Live stream on Justin.TV –

Google results of my feature below:

Life after college

President Barack Obama at the State Of The Union

This post originally published here on the Current TV News Blog.

I’ve been out of college for a little while now.

Six months, two weeks and one day to be exact.

Thing is, I’m not totally sure what I’m doing.

Then again, who is?

Options for college graduates are slim in this economy. And recovery isn’t happening overnight.

Jobs — or at least good ones — are still hard to come by.

One in 10 people in this country are unemployed. In California, it’s one in 12.

Fewer than 20 percent of 2009 grads that applied for a job have one, according to this survey. And it’s no better back in school.

State universities have been cutting courses and programs, like labs for science classes and student exchange programs. All with fewer days of education and tuition fees that keep increasing.

President Obama addressed the needs of the middle class during his first State of the Union address yesterday and expectations were high. He has plans on the way to help the job market, reform higher and lower education, cut taxes and keep his presidency accountable.

They’re minor in comparison to last year’s massive bailouts and the struggling healthcare overhaul, but not a bad start.

While the president attempted to bring back some of that hope we’ve all been missing, I was still left uneasy about the state of the nation.

My generation is experiencing the toughest times our age group has ever seen.

Today’s students, while often supported by their parents, have it harder than ever: we’re constantly under pressure to perform.

Between SAT scores, AP classes and GPAs, there’s always a new way of evaluating how qualified we are for the next step.

Yet, when do we have time to actually figure out what that next step is?

Personally, I’m in a hurry to stop losing money. I work part-time and freelance on the side, but the freelance market for writers isn’t exactly what it used to be.

Savings is a thing of the past. While my parents supported me through college, the deal was you’re on your own once you finish.

So I’m thrown into the wild with $15,000 in debt, not enough work in the field and little time to figure things out when rent is due each month.

There doesn’t appear to be any clear-cut path anymore.

“A high school diploma no longer guarantees a good job,” Obama told the nation yesterday. Yeah, well neither does a college degree.

But at least he’s listening. “In the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college” was another line from his speech.

It was our generation that ushered him into office, after all, so we should be entitled to some high expectations.

Obama is promising a $10,000 tax subsidy for community college students and loan repayment reform that forgets a students’ debt after 20 years.

He’s also planning to give tax breaks to parents with kids in college, extend unemployment and create new green jobs.

It all sounds great. Let’s just hope it happens — sooner, rather than later.

For now, empower yourself: understand your student loans, watch the job market, and hold our president to his promises.