When the comes from the people – live. A new architecture of news.

Again, I have no doubt that in a very short time, when the next big news story breaks with reports coming from the scene and from witnesses, it will be live. Video, audio, photos, and text can and will come to the web as the news happens from the people there and we will see it live.

I keep thinking about the implications of this as I watch the coverage on big media, relying on witness-reporters and as I read the students’ own news coverage and as I read Robin Hamman’s most thoughtful post about the producers and reporters who descended on the blogs of the students who were reporting what was happening, begging them for contact and interviews. It begs questions about the very architecture of news.

So imagine if Jamal Albaughouti’s seminal camera-phone video/audio of the shooting yesterday had come in live, as technology now allows. How would it be seen? Yesterday, he uploaded it to CNN. But how, live, would he get the attention of the closed infrastructure of a newsroom? How would that get on the air? How would they know and verify what was happening? It’s hard to imagine how newsrooms could reorganize themselves to accept such news as it happens. It’s hard to figure out how those news organizations market to people who do not know they will be witnesses to major news, telling them to come to them with the news they see when it happens (though, clearly, CNN’s marketing with with Albaughouti). And it’s less hard to see how we will know where to turn to find such live coverage (we’ll do that at the speed of links, which is not instantaneous; it will cause a lag in the news).

And so I don’t think it will work to feed this live news through the big news organizations, exclusively. I see that in Hamman’s post, with scores of reporters each trying to get their piece of the student’s voice when, as Robin sagely realizes, the student’s voice and account is already online for all to see, on a LiveJournal blog. The right thing to do is to point to that, to quote it, to link to it.

This yields a new architecture of news, a distributed architecture. It’s what is bound to happen. Those students put their news up on their own sites because they have them and because the people they care about know their addresses and will read them. I’m surprised that Albaughouti’s video didn’t go up on YouTube (I sat next to a YouTube exec last night on a panel at NAB and he said, “it will”). I have no doubt that people will soon have their own live YouTubes/blog pages where they broadcast what they are doing at the moment: Twitter Video. We will all be Justin.TV. And sometimes, what we broadcast or blog will be news, big news, live news.

So what is the relationship of big, old, centralized media to this new, small, decentralized architecture of news? They need to link to reporting at its source. They will not have the time to get exclusive interviews and feeds. It’s live. They will try, as they should, to confirm the authenticity of what we see, but they won’t have the time or means to do that, either, so they will have to issue caveats and we, in the audience, will have to understand those caveats just as we understand today that everything we see from a live report — from the Iraq war or the West Virginia mine disaster — is live and may not be correct.

And so the key skills in a newsroom will not be to get reporters to the scene — that will come later, after the news happens — but to have antennae up to listen and find news reports as they happen, as people link to what’s happening. You can’t possibly have enough reporters, editors, producers to do that on your own. You need to have lots of friends who’ll alert you: When I put up a link here to something I find compelling — or even embed and broadcast it here, live — will I also alert CNN? I don’t know. Would you? Do you have such a friendly relationship with CNN? Maybe that will happen but that, too, is insufficient. So you need to use every tool that’s available — the Technorati of the live video web — to see what’s happening in the world.

This isn’t about creating one serial broadcast show. It’s also going to be about creating a window onto the news in the world as it happens from no limit of witnesses with the cameras and tools to share news as it happens. There is a role for big media, incumbent or new, in that: to discover, organize, and vet it. That is a vastly different and vastly expanded vision of how news will come to us. And it brings no end of additional implications about our ability to know what is true and what is not as it happens.

So now take recent news events and imagine them shared live, by the witnesses at the scene. Would such coverage of Katrina have spread better information or more misinformation? Would live 7/7 coverage from mobile phone to mobile phones have saved lives or caused panic?

I have said before that since 9/11, I have carried a camera with me every day. There were scenes from the disaster that live only in my memory; I could not share them. But more important, I think it is important to get the street-level, eye-witness perspective of the news. The world saw 9/11 from rooftops a few miles away: It was gigantic, beyond human scale. It looked very different on Church Street. What if many of us had shared what we saw as we saw it? How would our view of that event have changed?

Live, distributed news gathering and sharing will change the news more radically than we can yet imagine.

  • http://deleted Tansley – addendum

    Agreed completely. A couple notes:

    Verification of authenticity can be easily managed with GPS circuitry incorporated into cellphone technology. It’s not Science Fiction anymore. Once a ‘reporter’s’ location is verified, the feed can go live.

    If the technology had been available during 9/11, it would have been even more shocking, I believe. We would have had feeds from INSIDE the Trade Center. The scale would have been apalling. And far more terribly intimate.

    This is going to happen a lot sooner than anyone thinks, I believe. Pandora’s box is opening…

  • http://www.collegemediainnovation.org/blog Bryan Murley

    You haven’t mentioned the independent daily student newspaper – The Collegiate Times, which has also been covering this story.

  • http://maryspecht.com Mary Specht

    I wonder to what degree users will care about the vetting of the MSM. Today it seems obvious–especially to journalism majors like me–that users will turn to esteemed publications like the New York Times or Washington Post to make sure the information in user-generated reports is accurate.

    But as more user-generated news appears–and as more of it is video, which in many cases can’t lie–will audiences be conditioned to trust it without the MSM’s stamp of approval? I think they may.

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  • http://www.unclejayexplains.com Jay

    Here’s how much CNN cared about authenticity in the midst of the Columbine shootings in 1999: when it wasn’t yet clear that the shootings were over, CNN breathlessly announced that they had a student on the phone who had witnessed the shooting and escaped, and was hiding in a janitor’s closet with his cell phone. They put him on the air. He spoke a few words about the description of the shooter, and then said he thought the shooter had a “strong resemblance to Howard Stern.” In other words, it was a prank call, responding to Howard Stern’s challenge to listeners to get his name on as many media outlets as possible.

  • http://deleted Tansley – addendum

    For Jay: A cogent argument for verification. Luckily, as Mary Specht pointed out, it is sometimes impossible for video to lie. It will be quite some time before we see the power of a portable video editing studio packed into a device the size of a cellphone.

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  • http://migs.wordpress.com Migs

    Here in the Philippines, 3G technology is gaining ground. Which enables those with mobile phones to perform video calling and other cool stuff.

    I haven’t seen any media firm use this yet for their live reports, but i’m sure we’ll be able to see this in the coming days or months.

    The scenario would be, a normal person out in the street with a nokia N70 phone stumbles upon a bank robbery. he calls the local police and reports the incident. He happens to know someone from the media (a TV reporter) and informs him about it. That reporter asks him to make a video call. The reporter has an nokia N95 (or any phone with TV output).

    The reporter, who happens to be inside the news room, feeds the live video for everyone to see.

    I just hope he carries with him an extra battery. Or maybe the TV crew will be on the site before his battery runs out. =p


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  • James

    Twitter may well play a role in finding the news – see http://gracedavis.typepad.com/i_am_dr_lauras_worst_nigh/2007/04/why_twitter_may_1.html for how twitter beat USGS for the recent Mexican earthquake.

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  • denzzy

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