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an interview with amanda congdon

  • amanda congdon

In 2004, Amanda Congdon rose to fame on computer screens as the face of Rocketboom, a daily three-minute online roundup of news and quirky features presented in a mock newscast format. Now Amanda is video blogging for ABC News. In this interview, conducted Feb. 26, 2007, "News War" Associate Producer Ariana Reguzzoni asks Congdon about her career, whether she considers herself a journalist, the line between news and entertainment, and more.

How do you describe yourself professionally?

I always call myself a videoblogger because I think that best describes, encompasses all the different types of things that I do, because I use video for so many different reasons. I use it to communicate with friends, I use it to communicate with fans, I use it to impart information and I also use it to hopefully entertain. …

In your bio you also mention writer, actress, producer…

Yeah. If I'm going to use many words, then, yeah, I am all of those things.

Does the word "journalist" come in there at all?

No, I actually do not call myself a journalist. I do believe that anyone is capable of committing acts of journalism, and that you can have citizen journalists, then there's of course the traditional journalists, but I stay away from that word just because I feel like there's a connection with that word with being unbiased or trying to make sure that whatever you're saying isn't clouded with opinion and I think most things that I do are clouded with opinion and commentary. "Blogger" better satisfies what I am in that way because it's more about the personal angle and it's open with the bias. I'm completely open about the fact that almost everything I do, if not everything, has a layer of opinion over it.

What kind of opinion? Is it a political opinion, or is it lighter than that?

It just depends on the subject matter. If I'm going to be talking about politics, I'm going to come to them with my own kind of political biases. Same with, say I'm talking about a Web site that's really cool, I'm going to say, "This Web site's really cool and here's why." …

“I think that people are craving right now kind of an honesty and a communication with whoever they're watching or reading.”

I think that people are craving right now kind of an honesty and a communication with whoever they're watching or reading. Whether it's text or video or audio, people are craving a real person on the other end -- a person with feelings and opinions and I think that's what I do.

Would you consider the person you are on air a character that you have come up with that you play, or is that actually a true representation of yourself?

Well, I think it is me, but I think it's definitely "show Amanda." I think people have lots of different facets of their personalities that they exhibit at different times for different reasons and that's my on-camera personality. … I would say it's me in the best possible mood I can be in.

Did you have to change your on-camera personality at all when you went to ABC or could you just easily transition from an independent blog to the network? Have they imposed any sort of definitions on how you can be on camera?

You know, actually I was expecting more of a struggle in that department, and there hasn't been much of a change. I really think it's the same. I'm really able to, luckily, have the same kind of personality as I would on an independent Web site on ABC -- the only difference being mainly the swearing. … I got "ass" bleeped out once and I had to switch the word "balls" to "cajones," which was funny.

Because in Spanish is not nearly as offensive.

Yeah, no, because in Spanish you know it totally changes things. …

Why do you think your blogs have gotten so popular with audiences?

I think again, it goes back to the idea of having a personal relationship with whoever's on the other side of the screen and people craving kind of an intimate and honest viewpoint.

I think TV mentality is kind of like let's dumb it down, let's make it so it's palatable for everyone. And I think instead, what people want, even [if] they don't agree with you, they want to see that you have an opinion. And that, for obvious reasons, is I guess a new way of communicating.

And, also the whole idea of mixing entertainment with news into a kind of hybrid form. I can't in good faith call myself a journalist when, last week, pretending to have lost my job and like mindlessly stapling things -- I mean that's not reporting facts about an event.

But on the other hand, I do report information. There are acts of journalism in my video blog. It's kind of like a hybrid and I think it works because people like to imbibe information in different ways nowadays. And if you can impart information in a way that is fun, I think that that will set you apart.

Do you have any sense of if this is people's main outlet of news?

I don't think so. (Laughs.) This isn't completely scientific information, but from the comments and from what I've read on blogs, this is something people are kind of using to wind down or as, you know, coffee break. I should hope not this is not where they're getting their hard news, because it's certainly not that. …

What do you think your particular style of news and entertainment adds to ABCNEWS.com and why do you think they wanted you there?

Well, to be honest, they were just really interested in getting more invested in the digital world. It's come to the point, I think last year, where the news media was starting to feel like, okay, yeah, we have to do something, what are we going to do? And getting into video blogging I think was a really smart move for ABC and I think what it adds to the Web site again, is just a real person with a point of view. …

We're looking to make the Web site more interactive and make it more like a blog, I think as it becomes more bloggy that will be even more apparent.

Is that the plan at this point?

Yeah, because right now it's not like a typical blog, like the video is separate from the comments, and it's a little bit difficult to navigate. I'm pushing really hard to try to make it more -- to make it feel more like a blog when you watch it. To have more "blog" experience, I guess.

Do you mean in the sense of having the public put their comments on it more?

No, I guess I'm just talking physical infrastructure -- and this is probably not that fascinating to other people except for me. But it's the idea that, there's a certain look and feel to a video blog that I think we are looking to move towards. But under the large ABC umbrella, it's obviously more of a challenge to move in that direction quickly than it would be for an independent site.

Do you feel like they are putting some kind of restrictions or limits on that part of it?

I definitely feel if it were an independent site, it could move more quickly towards what I would ideally want the site to look like. But I feel like it's so exciting that they're listening and I feel that real progress is being made in that department. You have to start somewhere. You can't just automatically assume that a large network is going to completely, 100 percent, get blogging. So, I think the fact that we're moving in that direction is so exciting.

Do you have any sense of how the ABC News staff reacted to you being hired and to the news -- the Web site component at least -- going in that direction?

I don't really know. Whenever we feed the tape to New York, I have fans that are sweet to me, but other than that, I'm kind of in a way, a little bit isolated here in L.A. since the large majority of the staff is in Burbank and in New York.

Is it just you there in LA?

Every week, I produce the show with one co-producer and that co-producer changes between three different producers, depending on whether I'm in the field, whether I'm in L.A. or New York. And then I sit with the editor and edit the video. So, there's basically two other people involved. …

Why do you think big-name politicians and celebrities have given you interviews? What is the benefit for them to appear on your blog?

I think that right now, especially celebrities and politicians are really looking to connect with the Web crowd. It's kind of seen as a new, a savvy thing to do. …

I've been doing this since 2004 and still there's very few -- I mean there's like Lisa Nova who's doing MAD TV and who else? [YouTube's] LonelyGirl? There's no one else really doing what I'm doing in terms of pseudo-journalism. So, I think that's why. Not because we're special or anything. I think it's a way to reach a younger audience and a more Web-savvy audience and a blogging audience.

Do you anticipate, with the upcoming election more of the candidates reaching out to you or you to them?

Yeah, I'm actually going, I won't announce who, but I'm going to interview a presidential hopeful at the end of this week in D.C. And, yeah, I think if you just look at the fact that all of the Democrats announced via online video, I mean it's clear that their campaign managers are telling them, look you have to do this. You have to get online and really make a presence and you know, online real estate is critical to their campaign. So, yeah, I think that we're going to see all of the candidates trying to reach out and make themselves known online as they do in the real world.

Do you think the Republicans as well will take advantage?

Doesn't John McCain have a video? I think the Republicans are slower to embrace online video, but I think it's just going to be literally inevitable. You just can't fight it.

You had been quoted to say that being on ABC would allow you to go more in depth with your stories. What do you mean by this and has this happened?

I think that, because I moved to a weekly format, the shows have gotten a lot longer. When I was at Rocketboom, I was doing three-minute shows; now my shows are five to six, sometimes seven minutes. So part of the frustration at Rocketboom was that all of the stories were a flash in the pan. And then they were gone, and that was part of the charm. And I certainly do some of that -- like last week I just mentioned Club Mom, and said oh, it's the MySpace for moms. But I'm able and I'm thankful for this, at ABC, to really go and explore a Vermont farm that is using cow poop as their electricity. I'm able to go to Cirque de Soleil and to do a whole feature on it. I'm given the ability to go in depth or not. And I think that part is really fun. …

Do you feel like the short length of your stories is an appeal to a lot of people?

I think to have the videos available in kind of like iPod, bite-sized format is definitely an advantage. Because everyone has video iPods now and people need content to put on them. So the fact that I make video that's tailored to that kind of personality, and that kind of consumer, is definitely an advantage.

Do you have the same freedom to choose the subject of your stories?

Yeah, I have complete control over everything I say. I am grateful because I do have a great executive producer that worked with Peter Jennings for 15 years, Michael Clementi at ABC, and he will e-mail me stories and say, hey, check this out, is this interesting to you? And if it is, I'll incorporate it and if it isn't, I won't. It's great. …

If the job of a reporter or anchor on the evening news at ABC came your way, would that be something you'd be interested in?

I had a conversation about an anchor position -- it wasn't at ABC. I just decided, ultimately, even though it would give me a lot more exposure, that it wasn't part of my long-term goals to be a traditional journalist. And I just don't think it would be fair for me to be sitting in that anchor chair because there are so many people out there that really pursue journalism in a traditional way that have gone to school that really know the ropes and are committed to unbiased reporting. I'm not saying, clearly not every reporter/anchor out there is committed to that, but there are so many people that are, that it would be unfair for me to be doing that. So, the answer is that no, I wouldn't want to do it.

Is it fair to say that, if you had to use the word journalism in your description you would say, untraditional journalist or unconventional journalist?

Yeah, what would I use? I don't like the word citizen journalism because it has some weird implications. Yeah, I would say a blogger, but yeah, untraditional journalist could work. …

Can you tell me about your HBO show?

I'm kind of not allowed to talk much about it, but I can just say it's a comedy and that it will be cross platform. I just found, last month I found a producer I love and that I'm working with and we have a meeting with HBO on March 5 and it's a slow but steady process.

If you could see yourself 10 or 15 years from now what would be your goal? Where would you like to be at that point?

Hopefully I will either have just have just finished a successful TV/Internet hybrid or I will be in the middle of it. Ideally, what I really want to do -- and a lot of video bloggers are hoping to crack this … -- how do we create programming for television and for the Internet that is original and that works with both mediums? I think that that's kind of the thing to crack right now and I'm really hoping to be the one to crack it.

And when you say programming, do you mean more non-fiction news-style programming?

No, I mean entertainment programming. That's one of my main goals and my other goal, the goal that I think is, will hopefully be fulfilled through the ABC outlet is just bringing Internet culture to a wider audience. Because I feel like there's a real disconnect between the Internet culture, video blogging, blogging, and mainstream culture. I love the Internet and I consider myself to be a fairly mainstream type of person, so if I can bring that to more people, that's, that's what I want to do.

A broader demographic of people?

As in, the type of audience that would go to ABCNEWS.com.

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posted feb. 27, 2007

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