Rory Cellan-Jones

Twitter, Qik, Flip - how to cover news?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 10 Sep 08, 12:30 GMT

What's the best way of using new media tools to cover a news event? An issue close to my heart, as I now travel round with a whole lot of clobber designed to enable instant communication, in text and video. I decided to try out various options at Apple's music event on Tuesday evening - not a major story, so a good venue for a bit of experimentation.

Rory Cellan-Jones with iPod NanoI set off for the Islington Business Design Centre - where the keynote from San Francisco was being relayed to a huge crowd of expectant hacks from across Europe - with a very overpacked kitbag. I took a laptop with a 3g dongle for instant net access, three phones - one with a video camera and the Qik streaming video application enabled - and a Flip video camera, a very cheap and simple device that produces reasonable pictures. Plus an invaluable gadget called Dan Simmons, my multimedia colleague from Click, who brought along his much more professional video camera.

My aim was to Twitter, Qik and Flip my way through the event - and work out which method was best. I had previously asked on Twitter which option people favoured - and, surprise, surprise they favoured a constant stream of Tweets.

So that's what I supplied. From the moment Apple's very Gallic European boss talked of a "great lunch" - it turned out he meant the launch of iPhone 3g - through a rather subdued "Stevenote", to the Jack Johnson performance at the end I attempted to provide some instant headlines. Now I'm not sure if it was "broadcasting" - after all Twitter is a pretty narrow community - but it was an enjoyable way of covering the event, with plenty of interaction coming back to me from other Twitterers.

As I left the hall, I came across other journalists who'd been trying the same trick, and one who'd been following my own Tweets while watching the keynote, which must have been a strange experience. I'd also been reading messages posted by colleagues at the San Francisco event, so what Twitter succeeded in doing was creating a temporary micro-community, which built up a mosaic of news and comment about Apple.

But, along with the micro-blogging, I managed a bit of instant video, using Qik. The quality is pretty poor - it's being streamed over a 3g network which seemed to struggle to get into the hall - but immediacy is the thing here. Apple is very controlling and bans live video relays of these events, so there is a kind of "pirate" appeal to getting the pictures out ahead of time. We now have a new BBC application which takes video straight from a mobile phone and feeds its straight to our broadcast server - but I judged these pictures did not merit that treatment.

Then there was my Flip video, which has the advantage over a mobile phone of shooting an hour of material wthout needing a charge - it uses a couple of AA batteries - and the disadvantage of a lack of instant connectivity. Still, I loaded it straight onto my laptop, cut it together with a simple editing programme and produced this behind-the-scenes video.

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But of course it was Dan Simmons with his small, but semi-professional, video camera who made the most important contribution - after all his pictures were of far greater quality than mine, and reached a far bigger audience.

So what's the conclusion about the modern reporter's toolkit? Well, a laptop with a wi-fi or 3g connection seems pretty essential, whether to send reams of text or the odd 140 character Tweet. A mobile phone with an instant video application can get you out of a hole when there's no alternative. But I'd be reluctant to go anywhere without the services of a professional, wielding a decent video camera. As I think you'll agree if you look at my pictures.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for the experiment, Rory.

    I was thinking about it, this morning. Following your tweets gave the launch much more immediacy - and a feeling of being involved in the event.

    Though the video isn't high quality, it is certainly entirely adequate to see what's going on.

    You know you were saying the other day about how you could say things in a way on Twitter that you might not do in a more 'formal' broadcast medium? It struck me that the same is probably true of using tools like Qik/Flip for less formal broadcasts.

    Either way, your coverage was very welcome and gave us interest and entertainment.

  • Comment number 2.

    Rory, I can't believe that you referred to us Twitterers as a 'narrow community'. I myself am quite wide and I sure that there are other Tweeters who are too!

    Seriously, though, I would venture that the reach of Twitter is far greater than the reach of, say, HD TV but that seems to be a great priority. Of each of the social networking options you looked at, Twitter is the largest and is the simplest to follow - after all, you can get your Tweets delivered directly to any mobile - something you can't do with the video-based upstarts.

    Twitter's alerted me to a host of interesting articles and has given me instant reaction to all sorts of stories in a way that the others cannot do.

    Auntie needs to Twitter more!


  • Comment number 3.

    @ jmarko

    how do you get tweets directly to any mobile?

    they stopped doing this in the UK last month!

    that's why i have abandoned it, as it now serves me no purpose

  • Comment number 4.

    Can you tell us what video camera Dan Simmons was using? Thx.

  • Comment number 5.

    I love my gadgets, but even I am struggling to see a purpose to this.

    What do the audience gain from being drip-fed 140 character sound-bites?

    All I want (and need), is for you to summarise the event, jist some facts for me, provide the occasional picture or video and some links to external content. The current BBC news website does all of this more than adequately.

    The only situation I could ever see the sound-byte approach being useful was during the Olympics, when the BBC Olympics site had a refreshing aggregator of up-to-the-minute happening from multiple journalists across the whole Olympics.

  • Comment number 6.

    Agree with #5.

    For an event like this the 'instant update' nature of reporting is completely wrong.

  • Comment number 7.

    Some people here at being a bit grumpy about this. Twitter is great for putting out quick live updates from events - and there's no harm in being concise.

    As for the kit used, it all looks not too bad. I used a Nokia N95 to cover an event recently with the results viewable here:

    The danger I would see - for the BBC - is if they see the need to send a videocrew and umpteen journalists when you could have the cameraman take all the video and stills with the reporter doing audio soundbites and the normal reporting duties, but doing them for web, print and radio.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think this kind of journalism would be great for say, during the US election, with all correspondents tweeting and then perhaps a live tweet-bar on BBC World! (you know- above the ticker).

    Thanks for the experiment, I'm glad you had something interesting to do Rory, as the whole thing sounds quite boring otherwise.

  • Comment number 9.

    I have defended the BBC's coverage of Apple events on these blogs previously, but coming from the Technology page, where apparently 'Apple unveils "thinnest iPod yet"' was top story on both Tuesday and Wednesday (the same story is actually linked 3 times on the Technology page) and there is a video article on the new iPod, only to find that this blog is thinly disguised hype for the same event. Given that the story was "not a major story" I wonder why it is given so much coverage by the BBC?

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree with 5 and 9.

    At the risk of hi-jacking your blog, I'd be very interested to know exactly how many BBC employees attended this non-story.

    Or did you and Dan use the technology you had available to cover the non-story for BBC News, BBC Radio, BBC News 24, BBC Website, Local BBC etc.

    The technology is only of any use if you can do more with less.

  • Comment number 11.

    Can we have a follow up to all this hype? It was hardly a ground breaking announcement after all.

    Perhaps we could now have an article on how iTunes 8 is incompatible for many Vista users with Logitech and HP peripherals?

  • Comment number 12.

    Those who are complaining, I sort of fail to see the point. Rory's twitter feed was fairly clear on how much of a non-event he felt it was, but you'd hardly expect the BBC *not* to send a reporter to a launch event, would you? I think using it as a chance to try out different means of spreading information is quite a good idea, personally.

    I was idly watching the tweets while making my dinner. I liked the immediacy of reporting, although it'd definitely be of more use during more interesting events. ;)

    Video clips seemed to work fine but were a bit pointless for this kind of thing - perhaps just one to bear in mind for the next time you find yourself in the immediate vicinity of hurricanes, fire or flooding...

  • Comment number 13.

    The use of twitter isnt a problem, as long as it is in addition to a proper review and report, replacing it just wont do.

  • Comment number 14.

    Interesting stuff, these guys have got the twitter/news thing on the way.

  • Comment number 15.

    Some answers to a few of the queries and grumbles.

    4. Dan was using a Sony Z1 camera, rather than the bigger DSR500 used by many of our news crews.

    5 and 6.
    Not sure what point you're making. Surely feeding short messages from a news event using a new platform is something worth trying? It didn't cost the BBC anything - just occupied a couple of hours of my evening.

    10. Dan and I were the only BBC employees at this event - though Maggie Shiels was in San Francisco. Dan gathered pictures for my web video, but was primarily there for Click. As you can see, I blogged and contributed some video for the website. I would also have contributed to BBC radio and TV outlets if I'd thought the story merited wider coverage - but I didn't.


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