Friday, January 19, 2007

Mobile News Gathering

Last week we had two guests from CNN (Paul Ferguson and Terence Burke) come in to talk about their experiences in international news gathering. Paul talked a lot about the technology that CNN has developed over the past 3-4 years to facilitate better mobile news gathering including a system they put together that allows a one-man band or a pair of journalists in the field to gather, edit, and upload news video with equipment that fits in a backpack. They can even go straight to air over a mobile-sat connection with this setup! Now they're experimenting with the Nokia N93, which is a sleek and flexible mobile phone that does mp4 video at 30 fps.

One of the interesting effects of having a mobile and (unobtrusive in the case of cell phone video) capturing rig is the access to new situations that it allows for. No need to lug around big and heavy equipment. Not only that but the reactivity associated with people seeing larger video equipment and satellite uplinks is no longer affecting their behavior: the result is a more true to life depiction. So instead of people stopping to gawk at a gaggle of reporters, news video can be gathered more surreptitiously and thus show the raw reality. Citizen journalism is peppered with stories of people catching newsworthy events on cell phones and this is only bound to increase with more and more sensors in the field.

Another interesting point that came up in talking to the seasoned journalists was how important social networks are to their news gathering efforts. A professional news organization like CNN has spent years and years cultivating sources and developing databases of contacts for various pieces of information. Who's got the information? If they don't know the guy, they might know the guy that knows the guy. It's all about leveraging the network and the trust that's built into that network. This is paramount especially when the motivation of sources might be in question and serves to increase the quality of information that a large news organization can bring to light. There are a few questions here. In the transition to participatory journalism, how can citizens who don't have a trusted network of sources collect information about difficult topics? Also, can social networking technology enhance the news gathering efficacy of either traditional or citizen journalists?

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