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<nettime> Heaton on The Live Coverage Revolution (Digital Journalist)
Soenke Zehle on Wed, 12 Nov 2003 01:34:23 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Heaton on The Live Coverage Revolution (Digital Journalist)


I would have put (the term) postmodernism in the deader-than-dead box of
trends, hoping that it was gone for good, but here it is again. Anyway,
the end of top-down journalism Heaton announces (once again) is not that
new a topic, to say the least, and Nik Gowing has been writing better and
more comprehensive essays on the matter for almost a decade now. But what
I find curious about Heaton's tech-piece is his comment on how the grainy
images from 3G live broadcasts are supposed to re-incorporate 'youth
culture' into top-down media apparatuses - whose disappaearance 3G and
Wi-Fi are, at the same time, supposed to signal - by giving network
visuals some kind of street credibility, as well as his (largely
unexplored) invocation of OhMyNews and it's much hailed
every-citizen-a-journalist approach along with the idea that the future
role of journalists will revolve around the 'authentification' of street
media sources (what exactly are journalists doing today?). And then
there's is the strange role played by Pantic, who appears to get into the
general business of regime change wherever he ends up, so read on. sz

Heaton, Terry L. "TV News in a Postmodern World: The Live Coverage
Revolution." Digital Journalist 73 (Nov 2003).
<http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0311/heaton.html>


      Of all the technologies that have changed the presentation of
television news, none have made a greater impact than those that bring a
live signal from outside a TV studio to the viewers' homes. Moreover, live
coverage has not only changed the way news is presented but also what's
covered. For example, nobody would bother with a high-speed chase, if the
helicopter couldn't beam a live picture back to the studio, and
wall-to-wall coverage of major events is made possible by live pictures.
Every day, producers build live shots into their newscasts, whether
there's anything going on at the scene or not. Live, after all, brings a
sense of urgency and drama to a newscast, which can make for compelling
TV. Granted, it's gotten out of hand, but TV news will always have live
elements, because human nature yearns to take part in history. We want to
know how it's going to come out, and we want to know at the same time
everybody else does.

      In the days before microwave trucks, if we wanted to get a live
signal from across town, we called the phone company. And back then, there
was only one phone company, so we paid a premium for those hard lines, to
say nothing of the waiting time it took to get one installed. I remember
one election night in Milwaukee during the early 70's. We had two phone
lines to cover the mayor's race, and we all thought we'd died and gone to
heaven. Imagine that - a party over two live signals! Of course, the phone
company was using microwave equipment to accomplish the task, and we
eventually figured out it would be cheaper to have our own than to keep
lining Ma Bell's pockets. But even when we got into the microwave
business, it was hard to believe you could actually transmit a video
signal "through the air."

      There are two technologies in the pipeline today that will play
significant, live-newsgathering roles for TV news in a Postmodern world.
The first is that little device nearly everybody carries these days, the
cellular phone. With a little engineering, the output of some new phones
can produce a television picture.

      The BBC is far ahead of its U.S. counterparts in applying New Media
to television news. They were the first to adopt the VJ concept of
newsgathering, whereby everybody in the newsroom is a video journalist.
Now, they're experimenting with cell phones, specifically 3G (3rd
Generation) video mobile phones as cameras. "It's almost like having a
satellite truck in your pocket," says Dave Harvey of BBC Bristol. Well,
not exactly. The phones produce a fuzzy and distorted picture when blown
up from its original size, but Harvey says this is actually an advantage.
"For younger viewers who are interested in new technologies and use them
all the time, there's something edgy in seeing this sort of image on BBC
television. It could make us seem less remote, make us more credible with
that age group."

      BBC Bristol is using the 3G phones in special reports on underage
drinking, with teenage recruits reporting on how easy it is for them to
buy liquor. The phones have generated considerable buzz among those who
see possible applications, such as reporters "going live" from breaking
news before the satellite or microwave truck gets there. There are also
predictions of these opening up entirely new avenues of coverage, because
their portability and reach allow for coverage from places where
conventional technology isn't allowed or those it can't easily access.

      These phones will have a place in the new world of television news,
although picture quality may limit their use. The U.S. is also far behind
other countries in the deployment of 3G, although Ted Friedrichs of
Qualcomm's 3G Today says things are moving forward. "We're just waiting
for the 3G operators (e.g. Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless) to accept
compelling video-enabled devices from the Asian vendors (e.g. Samsung, LG,
Pantech&Curitel, Sanyo, Toshiba, Hitachi etc.) and start hosting
downloaded or streamed video content. He adds that Verizon Wireless
already offers broadband wireless service in Washington DC and San Diego
and is expected to roll out 20 of their top markets next year. What it
means, he says, is that "high speed wireless streaming video is coming to
a Verizon cell phone near you." Friedrichs predicts it'll be a reality
within six to eight months.

      Meanwhile, another technology that is showing dramatic results in
the U.S. is Wi-Fi, and I think this may become the most dramatic
breakthrough in the video news business since the invention of video tape.
It also poses a significant threat to broadcasters, because it's just
another one of the tools available to anybody who wants to make their own
newscasts. That includes the local newspaper or anyone with a broadband
Internet connection.

      Wi-Fi is short for "wireless fidelity." It's the popular term for a
high-frequency wireless local area network (WLAN). These networks are
showing up all over the place, but it is the spreading public (free)
Wi-Fi's that make this such a compelling opportunity.

      In New York, Drazen Pantic is quietly conducting experiments that
are resulting in near broadcast-quality, 320x240-pixel live pictures using
a combination of consumer cameras, laptops with open-source software, and
public wireless networks. Earlier this year, Pantic produced a one-hour
call-in show from the roof of an apartment building using hardware and
software that anybody can easily and cheaply acquire. The program was
carried on a local cable access channel. The video was transmitted at 15
frames-per-second (FPS), which is about all the human eye needs to
recognize fluid motion. In further tests, his team has transmitted video
at the rate 20-25 FPS, very close to the standard videotape broadcast rate
of 30 (in my old news film days, the rate was 24 FPS).

      Pantic is an interesting fellow with a background in accomplishing
great tasks from the bottom up. He was born in Belgrade in 1956 and has a
Ph.D. in mathematics and a specialty in probability and random processes.
He is the founder of OpenNet, the Internet department of the pioneering
independent media organization Radio B92 in Belgrade and the first
Internet service provider in Serbia. Some believe he almost
single-handedly undermined the Milosevic regime. For his work with New
Media technologies as a force to counter political repression in
Yugoslavia, he was granted the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer
Award in 1999. He is driven to help the little guy everywhere, and right
now he's at the forefront in furthering the Internet as a medium of many
voices. Along the way, Pantic is putting pieces of the future puzzle
together.

      He's stayed with open-source software, because he wants anybody to
be able to do this. Among other things, he wants to make impromptu news
anchors out of anyone on the street by giving them a 1-2-3 solution,
probably in the form of a CD. Boot the computer. Plug in the CD. Click on
the broadcast button. Presto, you're on the air. "We just have to make it
pain-free," he said.

      "My vision is that very soon (within a year or two) we will see more
and more hybrid systems, sitting in the intersection of Internet
broadcasting, ITV and conventional cable networks. The key factor will be
the ability to transmit and broadcast unmediated hi-quality material from
any place towards TV distribution channels that will then filter and
select interesting material and package it into sellable units (shows) or
offer unmediated access to the raw material. So, to a large extent the
production side will be translocated towards the direct actants in the
events."

      This is pure Postmodernism and ever so close to the OhmyNews concept
of "Every citizen is a reporter."

      "By 'unmediated'," Pantic says, "I mean 'free of spin', not
necessarily unfiltered. What we see now with mainstream media is constant
spin, changing focus and relativizing the facts according to some
undefined rule of how news sells.

      "Audiences have been cultivated and irreversibly changed by the vast
amount of information available on the Internet. Many people have seen
(especially after 9/11 and the Iraq war) that they can find so much more
unmediated information on the Internet than on TV news channels.

      "But, on the other side, the majority cannot afford to invest that
much energy and time in searching for relevant information. So I think
that 'consumers' will demand more and more direct and unmediated reporting
from credible sources or direct participants in the events. The role of
journalists will be to certify authenticity of the material and make a
selection that will maintain a certain level of quality."

      While TV news departments doing conventional news can certainly
benefit from the technology that Pantic and his colleagues are developing,
the energy that's driving it is intended to undermine the status quo.
Pantic wants anybody to be able to do TV. That won't sit well with those
who already do so, and it doesn't make him very popular with those in
charge. I can tell you this. He doesn't care. He's already lived with (and
beaten) armed totalitarianism. The truly smart news organizations of today
will grasp the significance of all of this and work to position themselves
as credible translators of all this "unmediated" information. That's very
different than standing on the crumbling pedestal of objectivity and
asserting that only those already onboard are permitted to play the game
for real.

      Postmodernism is the Age of Participation. The need to learn has
been replaced by the need to apply, and that means all of the rules of our
culture are being rewritten, including those for television news.
Postmoderns (Pomos) trust their experiences, and if they've not
experienced it, they want to hear it from somebody who has. This means
information that is up close and personal and that includes many
perspectives, not that which is provided by arms-length experts or
delivered in some hyped manner that's a mile wide and an inch deep. Pomos
also don't want their information sanitized, because they don't trust the
sanitation workers. Part of that distrust is based on Postmodernism's
rejection of hierarchy and elitism and a desire for control over their own
lives.

      Pomos also want to talk to each other and share the "news" that's
relevant to them, and this is already occurring on the Internet through
blogs and social networking. In the expanding circles of what's important
to me, that which is closest and those who are closest are most relevant.
The Net facilitates that need like nothing since the telephone. Who would
argue that the news of my loved ones is more important to me than the news
of my nation?

      In the end, we'll see that the whole top-down media culture, whereby
information is trickled down to the masses through institutional channels,
is replaced by one that is much more user-centric and connected.
Involvement in all of life at the local level will increase, including
participation in the political process.

      These are, indeed, exciting times.




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