Uncle Al Wants You 

To help him revolutionize TV. (But he won't say exactly how.)

The ad for "The Best New Job in TV" featured two poster children of cool: a young man with a tattooed arm clutching a video camera, and a young woman wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with a paraphrased version of the George Orwell epigram: "In a time of universal deceit, to tell the truth is a revolutionary act." The symbolism was designed to be hip and to appeal to young people who might be interested in working for INdTV, the forthcoming television network from entrepreneur Joel Hyatt and former Vice President Al Gore.

Last May, Gore and Hyatt paid a reported $70 million for Canadian cable news network Newsworld International, which reaches about seventeen million US homes. Their stated goal was to create programming by and for the demographically desirable 18- to 34-year-old market. Gore pledged that INdTV will be apolitical, and is not intended to be an ideological counterpoint to the right-wing slant of Fox News. "This is not going to be a liberal network or a Democratic network or a political network in any way, shape, or form," he said at the time.

Instead, INdTV aspired to something even more revolutionary -- to counteract the purported impact of media consolidation by handing control of the airwaves to a creatively empowered new generation.

Until recently, the network said little more about its programming goals, but Gore's apparent interest in the onetime MTV video diary Unfiltered offered an early clue into INdTV's approach. Unfiltered was real grassroots television, a program whose producers selected its story ideas based upon calls from actual viewers. INdTV planned to take this approach one step further. The network's call for applicants suggested that it would take young people with no experience in television, put them through a four-week training course, give them their own camera and laptop, and then air their stories.

This seemingly revolutionary prospect inspired hordes of young people to apply for a job as one of the network's fifty "digital correspondents." INdTV began a national search last August through film schools and postings on Web sites such as Craigslist, MediaBistro.com, and Filmmaker.com. The ads solicited "compelling real-life stories, created by and for young adults ... a broad spectrum of programs from magazine to documentary to reality to comedy and satire."

INdTV's method of recruiting these correspondents was every bit as revolutionary as its programming aspired to be. It set up a video-enabled Web log and created an online forum where applicants could supposedly have two-way dialogues with recruiters. The word "transparency" was used to describe this effort, and the idea was to empower the applicants by providing them with extra information about the hiring process. This revolutionary new paradigm in hiring would complement INdTV's revolutionary approach to programming.

But this supposedly open process revealed surprisingly little about what the network was seeking. Even today, after an almost-six-month recruiting process and about three months before it originally intended to begin broadcasting, the network is still remarkably mum about its programming plans. If the way it set out to reinvent the hiring process is any example, INdTV's efforts to revolutionize television itself could be messy and disappointing.

One thing is certain; the network certainly has yet to make many friends among the 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

The choice of San Francisco as INdTV's home base reflected the desire of its founders to stand out from the crowd. Last July, Hyatt told San Francisco Magazine: "We're looking for where our permanent home will be, and San Francisco is on the short list. I don't believe we need to be in New York or Los Angeles. We're going to be different." By October, INdTV had permanently settled into a vacant office at 118 King Street, originally designed to be the headquarters for ETrade.

Hyatt would serve as chief executive officer and Gore was to be chairman. Hyatt soon hired his former Stanford University student Jamie Daves, who has been active in Democratic Party youth outreach and served as an assistant to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during the Clinton administration. Daves in turn recruited the two people apparently most responsible for the network's unorthodox recruitment process: Joanna Drake Earl, a former digital media consultant credited by one source with conceiving the INdTV video blog, and Michael Rosenblum, who was engaged to locate and train the network's army of inexperienced digital correspondents.

More than anyone else, Rosenblum became the keeper of INdTV's revolutionary programming vision. An industry veteran who has worked for CBS and New York Times TV, and consulted to broadcasters such as Oxygen Media, Voice of America, and a host of overseas companies, Rosenblum has made a career of creating storytellers out of journalists who had never before touched a camera.

Rosenblum said Gore was keenly interested in his ideas about the "democratization of television," which he articulated in the mission statement for DV Dojo, his New York video training school. The phrase soon became an INdTV buzzword. "In the beginning, they just wanted to talk about the 'democratization of television,'" Rosenblum said in a December interview. "Al had a lot of input in the beginning. He really dug the democratization of TV thing and made it his own." Rosenblum was retained as a consultant to identify and train the digital correspondents at one of his immersive boot camps.

Even the process of applying for a job would be different at INdTV. The application hinted that a documentary might one day be made with the videos submitted by applicants. "We want to document our recruitment process and may use the material we collect from you to tell the story of our network launch," read a note on the release that all applicants had to submit. The release gave INdTV the right to use jobseekers' videos and even their likenesses.

The network's Web site became the focal point of all the action. INdTV called it a video blog because the written postings by employees -- mainly journalist Gotham Chopra, the son of spiritual guru Deepak Chopra -- were supplemented by occasional video postings. These communications were meant to keep applicants abreast of the recruitment process and to explain the INdTV mission. Before and after submitting their applications, visitors to the site could read the text, watch the videos, and write their own responses to posts by staff or one another.

Chopra became the public face of the recruitment effort. Although it is not entirely clear what his official role was -- that is, whether he was an employee of INdTV or just its telegenic spokesman -- he contributed to the network's young and hip image.

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