Friday, September 09, 2005

Reinventing the Nightly News | Business 2.0

Via the ABC's intranet blog, Digital Futures. Sorry, staff only.

News gathering is changing. We all know it and It's going to happen regardless of whether we're ready for it or not. The technology is already here for a single operator to shoot, edit and distribute video content to huge audiences. Once major media outlets pick it up and run with it it's likely to become the new methodology, with traditional news gathering and editing held only for the largest news arenas for special stories.

Of course there's a lot of hurdles to jump before we get to that stage.

"Employees at San Francisco's KRON haven't started their lessons yet, as the station's management still hasn't managed to talk unionized workers off the ledge. Unlike in Nashville, KRON's editors and photographers are unionized and thus hesitant to toss out their job descriptions."

"Assuming that the VJs catch on at WKRN and KRON and the concept begins to spread to other stations, the VJ philosophy could send the same message to TV news that blogging has already sent to anyone who reports using the written word: Master an entirely new skill set and point of view, or else be left behind by the technology. And if you think blogging is hard, imagine having to write, shoot, and edit a three-minute movie on your laptop every day by 4 p.m., or else."

" "The problem we had in television in the early days was that the technology was so expensive, we fractionalized the jobs," ( Michael Rosenblum, founder of television consultancy Rosenblum Associates) says. Now that the price of technology has gone down, reintegrating the roles of reporter, photographer, and editor could prove to be extraordinarily painful. WKRN's first graduates are certainly suffering during their climb up the learning curve.

" "That's the down of change," KRON's (general manager Mark Antonitis) says. "Not everybody is going to be able to adapt." That goes for both TV journalists and their employers."

Which begs the question, is it worth it? I'm sure those responsible for budgets would say yes;

"Rosenblum is well aware that videojournalism's cost-cutting angle is what gets him in the door at most networks, and his own rhetoric provides plenty of ammo for critics. "The local news is pretty repetitive," he says, "and the difference between stations is pretty marginal. In San Francisco or anywhere else, their cost point is about the same, and their product is about the same. When we switch over to the VJ model there, we'll have 40 to 50 cameramen out there, and they'll drive their costs down 60 percent." "

The debate raises all sorts of other issues regarding quality, accountability, ubiquity, workload, and the list goes on. O.K., so you have on shift, for example, 5 camera ops, 6 journos and 3 editors. Does that mean that the camera ops have to learn how to present and edit? Or that the editors have to crowbar their asses out of their dark, cosy booths and go out to shoot a story? Do a stand up? Wear a suit and tie for that matter?

The natural assumption is that journalists have superiority because they have an understanding of how to write a story, so therefore it makes sense to teach them the technical aspects of visual storytelling. The only issue is, most journos I knew in the TV newsroom have no interest in such things (obviously things are different where I currently work), just as most, if not all, of the camera ops and editors have zero interest in going out and doing stories.

It's going to be a hard road to get to a point where this is likely to happen, but in the mean time it opens all sorts of opportunities for citizen journalists to take the next step, beyond a simple text-only weblog, and start reporting and distributing the news as video content themselves. How it's organised is another thing. Would it be sent from individual sites or aggregated through a single portal? Will individuals band together to create a national or even international news bulletin by sending video files to each other to be packaged into a single bulletin, a la Rocketboom?

It's empowering, frightening and a little dissapointing all at the same time.

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