ABCNews + Amanda Congdon – Rocketboom = Whuh?


Her first story: "Only Folgers has the aroma-sealed cannister."

Wait, what? Oh. It's an ad. Before the video blog. (I'm sorry Amanda, but I'll have to deduct a point for that.) At least the ad refreshes every time you watch her show. The second time it was plugging a Chase Bank credit card. The Rolling Stones sold one of their earliest songs to the monolithic financial institution. (Ironically, they sing "I'm free to do what I want, any old time.") Everyone has their price, I'm thinking — just as ABC's official four-note news jingle introduced their newly acquired video blogger.

"Hello and welcome!" she coos — and the historic moment has arrived. "I'm Amanda Congdon, videoblogging for ABC News! Each week, take a little break, a little trip with me."



Each week? Whoa. I guess any breaking news on Thursday will have to wait until next Wednesday. That's very Web 1.0. I really think they should've hired kidnapped, tortured, and "re-educated" Ze Frank, and given the show to him.

Amanda is the show's co-producer, which raises the question of whether her show will get too self-indulgent. The first impression wasn't promising. "One of my favorite things to do is explore, online and off," she begins, "so that's just what we're going to do!" She then stops the show to acknowledge co-producer Jason, adds that he doesn't want to come on camera, and teases him for being "such a big baby." My first thought was that she doesn't have the stage presence to carry off this kind of empty banter without the fast edits they'd augmented her with at Rocketboom (and even then...).

But I was grateful that the tone turned quirky and peremptory. "As I was driving to work today [footage of Amanda driving to work], I thought about just how much JavaScript sucks."

Hooray! I'm thinking. Something geeky, and esoteric!

"Yeah! Let's go with JavaScript for my new show at ABC News.com," she says. Later I'd ask myself why the vlog's script specifically included this segment? I can only guess they're trying to show us one of two things.

1. Amanda dreams up her own ideas, spontaneously.
2. They're teasing mainstream viewers by pretending it's going to be very geeky — before abandoning the premise altogether.

"ABC News.com," Amanda continues, arriving at work. "An appropriate place to start the day." Okay, now you've said "ABC News.com" twice. Don't make me deduct another point for flagrant corporate fellating.

"After scanning the headlines I followed an advertiser link to NYT.com, where I found—"

Bzzt! Okay, that's it. Apparently this show is just a way to pimp paid sponsors on the web site of Amanda's new broadcast network overlords.

She swings that rubbery neck in her signature style (what a move!) and summarizes the New York Times' story about spam, makes a single wise-crack, and then moves on to another story she found on their site — people surfing in Cleveland.

She included a video question from her "discovery," vlogger William Hung — a kid in serious need of a brisk slap to the side of the head for that affected non-accent.

"I want you to be seen and be heard," she says later. "Every week I release a new episode and I think it would be so much more fun to do it together. Let's re-invent the host viewer relationship and truly make this a two-way street." That's very "Web-me-too point oh" of her. Let's see if she can pull it off.

Out of all the amazingly cool videos on the web, the one she found was a woman using her Wii and doing some karate-like dance moves. Maybe the message here is that Amanda really is open to showing your home movies. If she truly opened her doors to a flood of user-submitted videos — that could be interesting. Maybe.

There are times where her enthusiastic cadence actually does add something to the story, but mostly she has to artificially synchronize it with the words in her script — like the one for virtual snowflakes. ("It's so cool," she reads, "how you can drag your cursor across them, and read and comment...") If Robert Altman were directing this, he'd have her bantering spontaneously about the sites with her co-producers, then edit together moments of genuine spontaneous enthusiasm. (Both this vlog and Amanda's work at Rocketboom were the polar opposite of spontaneous.)

Rocketboom's stories were always mildly interesting, but maddeningly lacking in real drama or excitement. Now at ABC, Amanda's story choices were reasonably interesting — the new blood substitute she covered had been overlooked by nearly every other news site. It was nice to see footage of Tori Spelling's infamous garage sale, along with some appropriately cynical commentary about how "it blurs the lines between reality and fiction." Her detachment can work against her efforts to welcome user submissions, but it does position her to offer a counter-commentary. (Or as the New York Times puts it, "The news, it seems, kind of grosses her out.") But I was disappointed that the show wasn't geekier. ("In case you're wondering, we are working on the whole JavaScript thing," Amanda says at the end.) I'm guessing she doesn't really know much about technology. She's no Gina Smith — who successfully made the transition from technology journalist to ABC on-air talent before becoming a technology CEO.

The show doesn't really end. There's an ad, and then another clip of Amanda, and then another ad, and then another clip of Amanda. ABC hits you with everything in their multimedia vault, like a malfunctioning jukebox. Although I appreciate that Amanda recorded two separate pleas for user-submitted content.

Then she included a special report by Kenny Munich, who doesn't shine until he's had his Folgers. Then he bakes muffins.

Oh wait. That's another ad....

See also:
Worst Video Blogs of 2006
Interview With Valleywag Nick Douglas
Where in the World is Nick Douglas?
Don't Go There: 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
Is Iraq really THAT bad?

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