iPhone and the future of news

Something significant happened in the coverage of the otherwise insignificant and comically unnecessary lines that formed outside Apple stores waiting to get the iPhone:

The event was covered live, in video, directly to the internet and to the public, by the people in the story, without news organizations.

That is a big deal: the start of live, video witness-reporting. Scoble did it. More than one of Justin.tv‘s folks did it. So did GroundReport.tv and Diggnation and the gadget blogs and more than I can list.

Not to mention, of course, all the reporting that went on via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, blogs. . . .

Two months ago, after the video of the Virginia Tech shooting went up online — more than an hour after the news occurred — I speculated that someday soon, we’d see that same video from a news event being fed live, directly to us on the internet.

Well, that didn’t take long.

As I said in that post, this necessarily changes the relationship of witnesses to news and news organizations. When it is live, producers don’t have time to edit, package, vet and all the things that news organizations have always done. They can’t intermediate. All that news organization can do is choose to link or not link to what we, the witnesses, are feeding, as the news happens.

The news is direct, from witness to the world.

The infrastructural challenge in this is that we, the audience, won’t necessarily know where to find what’s going on. For a time, there will be portals for live — UStream et al — but it’s already hard to find out what’s happening there. Portals don’t work. So I imagine that news organizations will need to devote people to combing all the live video to see what’s happening out in the world. The real value will then be alerting all the rest of us that something is going on now so we can watch on the internet . . . or perhaps on our iPhones.

ijustineiphone.jpgAnd, of course, soon those iPhones will be the means of gathering and sharing that news, as soon as they have video cameras and as soon as AT&T gets its act together. Son Jake told me that iJustine, one of the Justin.TV lifevloggers, doesn’t need to carry a backpack; her small camera hooks up to a Vaio in her purse. So the gigantic ENG (electronic news gathering) and SNG (satellite news gathering) trucks with their dishes and expensive equipment and expert operators are replaced by . . . a purse, and soon a mere phone.

This also makes this transaction interactive: The audience can interact with the reporter. We can ask questions and share information and suggest they go shoot this instead of that.

Now add in GPS and SMS and the idea that people who happen to be near a news event can be alerted and assigned to open their phones and start shooting: Everybody at the Glasgow airport with a video phone gets an SMS suggesting that they start shooting and sharing whatever they see; a flaming car just rammed the front of the terminal. Others there can be warned to stay away from the door where the danger is. Live.

So imagine that Wolf Blitzer on CNN is standing in front of a wall of screens showing our video from the scenes of news. Imagine that MSNBC sends us alerts when news happens live so we can tune into the internet to watch. Imagine if the BBC can assign viewers near any news event to start shooting and sharing. Imagine if CBS News prepares for an event — a storm — by asking the public to all be streaming in their witness-eye views. Imagine also that we can go around these organizations and set up alert systems to tell each other, directly, what’s happening where and to show it happening, live; that is precisely what happened in the case of the iPhone lines.

Problems? Of course, there are. I never sit in a meeting with journalists without hearing them obsess about all the things that could go wrong; that is, sadly and inevitably, their starting point in any discussion about new opportunities. I blew my gasket Friday when I sat with a bunch of TV people doing just that. So, yes, someone could fake a news broadcast and, because it’s live, you don’t have the time to vet. But you can issue caveats and triangulate with others in the area or choose not to link to or show something you doubt. You can also set up systems to vet trusted contributors and ban fakester. We in the public will also doubt and it is the job of journalists and educators to help them doubt; that is the media literacy we need to strengthen already in the age of 24-hour cable news. Yes, nasty things could happen before our very eyes and ears. Someone who’s in grave danger in front of the Glasgow airport might actually say “oh, shit.” I would. And, yes, through each lens, we’ll see just one angle on the story; it is necessarily incomplete. But we can also get more people to show more angles on that story than we ever could with just one camera and one SNG truck — which usually arrived long after the news is over, leading to the tortured tense of TV news: “Police are this morning hunting for… Firemen are this morning sifting through… Neighbors are this morning wondering…”

Life becomes a 24-hour news channel. And we see news through the eyes of witnesses.

Even though the mass of iPhone lines in front of the Apple stores was a nonstory, it still was a story that changed news profoundly.

: LATER: Just read a very good related post at TechCrunch by Duncan Riley. He calls this eventstreaming: “Eventstreaming is the missing link in Web 2.0’s challenge to network television.”

  • Good post, Jeff. The iPhone’s been a long time in coming – I predicted it in my PhD dissertation, back in 1979.

  • And that is a great dissertation. It’s about how media evolve toward a more and more complete imitation of life.

    About that gasket blowing meeting. News professionals believe that if they have thought about all the thing that could go wrong with thing X then they have “thought through” X. Maybe that’s why so few inventions have come from the new biz.

    Good post, Jeff.

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  • News: the big brother of life.
    Smile: you are on “web cam”!
    The world is getting more and more a big village, where you are a part of the gossip.
    If you queue to buy a phone, or if you witness a crime, or you just happen to be in that place at that time.
    Being it New York or San Francisco or Milano, that doesn’t matter.
    You have good chances to be on “web cam”.

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  • It looks like the recent debate over what a “journalist” is will be overtaken by a debate over what a “reporter” is, no doubt to be followed soon by a debate over what an “editor” is. With major news milestones now coming at us every two months, changes are now happening faster than we can debate them. (For some reason the trackback to this comments section from my post didn’t work this time, but you can read it at The Future of News)

  • The simple fact is there is no stopping this. It’ s more a matter of how folks like my current employer embrace this stuff. Yes, it is problematic in some respects, but it doesn’t matter. That train has left the station. Watching Scoble’s iPhone line Ustream was interesting. A radio reporter came up to talk to him and he mereley became a guest on the Scoble lifestream.

    There is still a place for reporters, producers, camera folk, and live trucks. It’s not going away. Despite what Rosenblum and others preach. We just share the stage with empowered citizen journalists.

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  • Mike Wendling

    Great summary. Journalists should embrace these developments. The great part about this from the perspective of the pros is that it gives more time to actually go out and get original stories and think about how to cover them in original ways rather than following the pack all the time – a practice that is usually difficult, sometimes dangerous, and more often than not results in weary, cynical, burned-out hacks.

  • Fábio Silva

    Muito barulho e correria por uma novidade tecnológica que muitos outros dispositivos já fazem… as pessoas perderam o bom senso e a racionalidade… Steve Jobs é uma pessoa muito inteligente, ele cria a necessidades de artigos inúteis para outras pessoas.

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  • JamesBruni

    Nice post, Jeff. BTW-GroundReport produced the iPhone Launch TV in conjunction with Mogulus, which beats UStream tech. Mogulus, based here in NYC, was founded by Max Haot. Watch out for this pioneer in live TV on the Web.

  • Andy Freeman

    > So, yes, someone could fake a news broadcast and, because it’s live, you don’t have the time to vet.

    The beef is more accurately stated as “someone ELSE could fake a news broadcast ….”

  • Jeff,

    The vision that we here at Ustream have is of a future where millions of folks have the ability to Ustream live whenever they feel like it, and where we help viewers find the content that they want.

    The beauty of all this raw content is that we expect an entire ecosystem of editorial to arise around it. Not satisfied with the local news coverage? Piece together your own news coverage by mixing and matching from the various Ustreamers in the field.

    There will always be a place for professional content producers and broadcasters, but providing alternatives will help them raise their game as well.


    It was great to see Mogulus getting into the game with iPhone Launch TV as well. The more competition in this field, the better the results for the users and viewers. Naturally, I believe that Ustream will be able to learn from the competition and remain the leader (but I’m biased!).

    –Chris Yeh (CEO, Ustream)

  • Saw the Palo Alto store opening as an eventstream. It was blurry, the audio was terrible, all-around difficult to follow — and utterly riveting.

    Many of the earlier customers there were having credit card problems, we could overhear. I wonder if any these fly-on-the-wall encounters led to the subsequent “bad credit doesn’t bother us” stories that revealed the lure to pricier pay-as-you-go plans. Now, that’s crowdsourcing.

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  • It seems that increasingly the coverage of an event is more sought than the event itself. The coverage is the event. Planning the coverage–the outlets for the media streams–is as important as the event. It goes beyond getting good or bad press. We want the coverage itself. We want the words that mean coverage–Gawker, Gothamist. We look forward to the pure digital packets, the looking-in, coverage of coverage

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  • frank pirrone

    Hey Jeff…

    Cool stuff, very cool.

    It appears that conventional news media may be LEFT with, in addition to alerting viewers WHERE to look for the news, ANALYSIS and follow-up, or the production of special features, summaries, retrospectives, and compilations.

    Finally, an answer to the question: “Who’s watching the watchmen?”


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  • Nice post, Jeff. BTW-GroundReport produced the iPhone Launch TV in conjunction with Mogulus, which beats UStream tech. Mogulus, based here in NYC, was founded by Max Haot. Watch out for this pioneer in live TV on the Web.

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