Saturday, March 12, 2005

It's about evolution


Doug's posting about the Norwegian news operation's use of cellphones to cover public events reminded me of a couple of conversations with journalism educators and professionals. When "backpack journalism" was mentioned, I sometimes sensed confusion and fear. I suspect some students also feel anxious about what they're hearing and reading.
Why don't we think about these innovations as part of the natural evolution of our competitive profession, where speed in gathering and distributing news and information is one of the main goals. (THE primary goal is accuracy, of course.)
The use of cellphones is the latest development in the transmission of information, which began with the telegraph in the 19th century. In the 20th century, the telephone allowed reporters in the field to dictate their stories to staffers in the newsroom. Every journalist was expected to be skilled in giving and receiving dictation. That might be one reason why many new reporters started out on obits, where information was often phoned in.
Dictating information over the phone was common practice for decades. Then newsrooms purchased the clunky predecessors to today's laptops, and reporters and photographers were able to transmit text and pictures by dropping a telephone handset into a cradle and letting the machine chirp away at the mainframe computer.
When desktop computers were introduced into the newsroom, some old-timers continued to write their copy on typewriters and turn it over to the composing room to be set, but most staffers were expected to embrace the change or look for other employment.
I have no idea what will follow the common use of cellphones to cover public events but I'm confident there will be something because change is the only constant in this business.


Professor Wiggins


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