Rory Cellan-Jones

Hi-tech hacks

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 23 Nov 09, 08:19 GMT

What kind of technology does the modern multimedia reporter need to master - and where is the boundary these days between the professionals and amateurs? Two questions I've been debating over the last couple of weeks with journalism students at the Cardiff School of Journalism, and with colleagues from other broadcasting organisations at a conference in Paris.

Festival Europeen des 4 ecrans screengrabThe session at the Festival Europeen des 4 Ecrans was about multimedia journalism, and the challenge that poses to traditional media organisations. My presentation was about the way the BBC newsroom has been transformed by the integration of web, radio and TV journalists but also by the recognition that the audience has changed from passive recipients of news to eager contributors of everything from blog comments to video of breaking news stories. I showed a short video shot on a mobile phone to illustrate the importance of what we call the UGC (user-generated content) hub.

But it looks as though some broadcasters are going even further in getting the audience to do the journalism. Vincent Giret from France 24, a trilingual news channel running services in French, English and now Arabic, described an experiment called "The Observers". The channel has recruited about 2,000 people from around the world who send in short video reports - everything from footage of a bomb going off in Baghdad to an Irishman giving his views on the Thierry Henry "main de Dieu" incident.

There was some sharp questioning from the floor about whether these "citizen journalists" are paid - they're not - and how France 24 can be sure about the authenticity of their reports. Vincent Giret insisted that there was still a rigorous editorial process before anything was shown on TV or on the website.

Then we heard from a man who seems to me the very model of a modern multimedia journalist. Damien Van Achter works for the Belgian TV station RTBF - and his card describes him as community manager, editor developer and journalist. But his role seems to be to act as a kind of new media agent provocateur inside quite a traditional organisation, encouraging older broadcasters to try all the new tools that are now available.

Even while we were setting up our laptops for our presentations he was using tools like Audioboo to record and upload sound to the web, putting video from his phone online within seconds, then showing me how he uses an iPhone app to edit his videos, inserting titles and effects.

His blog, "Blogging the News", is where he brings a lot of his journalist experiments together but it seems most of it is his own rather than RTBF's material - he's really a backroom boy at the station rather than a mainstream correspondent. All the more interesting then that the US State Department, which had spotted his blog, contacted him before Hillary Clinton's visit to Brussels and offered him exclusive access to the secretary of state during her tour.

He seemed just a bit defensive when I asked how the political or diplomatic correspondents at RTBF had greeted this news - he insisted they did the professional job of analysing the politics of the trip, while he provided access and colour, which you can see here.

Now I have struggled to acquire just a few of the multimedia skills that Damien van Achter has in abundance, and while I feel they've enriched my journalism and made my life a lot more interesting, I do think that there are questions to be asked about whether the modern professional journalist can do absolutely everything. If a reporter has to shoot and edit video, record audio and take a few stills, will they still have time to do those age-old journalistic tasks of ringing people up, asking them questions and getting to the bottom of an original story?

The student journalists I met in Cardiff all seemed incredibly talented and multi-skilled - they'd come from a morning in the courts learning about law reporting, but were eager to discuss everything from the way Google Wave might change journalism to which iPhone apps were best suited to mobile reporting. They were bravely preparing themselves to enter a profession in crisis, where the very idea of paying people to do journalism appears to be under threat.

I told them that it was great to learn a wide set of skills, but that news editors would not want to employ someone who could just about shoot a video, muddle their way through a court story, and slap together a few minutes of unpolished audio. They would rather have someone who was brilliant at one thing and they still cared about the fundamentals of journalism. Spotting a story, crafting a powerful intro, telling people something they didn't know - these skills have not been rendered obsolete by the web revolution.

At least I hope that is true. But the big question is whether we will be willing to pay for the craft of journalism - either the old kind or today's multimedia variety - in the coming decade. New technology, from blogging software to YouTube to iPhone apps, is making it possible for anyone, amateur or professional, to make news and give it to the world. What's becoming ever harder is working out how to make a living from journalism.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Rory,

    Thank you for this kind description of what I'm trying to do. It's still experimental and, as you say, we only have 2 arms. Thinking that "everything is possible"for a multimedia journo is not a raisonnable option and I think we should set our mind to a "layar" model instead. Adding value is a collective work. Some guy will work in real-time to describe what they see & feel on the ground, other will take time to go deep into analysis ... If we can match the two (and give links to what others have done, if it's good), then you become essential & usefull for "The People Formerly Known as the Audience" :-) Hope to see you soon again and don't hesitate to call me when you'r coming to Brussels !

  • Comment number 2.

    The news can be like the bible it depends who reads/hears it and it can be slanted towards particular views or opinions. Good journalists bring critical balance. They research the story, get behind the obvious and seek to deliver a context outside personal prejudice. They should always have a place and that should be at the centre of trusted news organisations.

    Empowered public reporting is great but it is in essence one persons view in a particular place or time, it often is influenced by their own opinions and rarely provides the background analysis that professional journalism brings. I hope that trained, experienced and professionally paid journalism is not lost in the heat of our excitement over technological advances that delivery cheaper faster and more accessible visuals.

    In the meantime let’s hope that good editing prevails.

  • Comment number 3.

    Post #2
    "Good journalists bring critical balance. They research the story, get behind the obvious and seek to deliver a context outside personal prejudice"

    That sums up nicely what Rory unfortunately is not.

    Where is the Ubuntu follow up? are the stories on the two big linux distro releases Fedora 12 and OpenSuse 11.2????

    "BBC's technology correspondent" - sorry, you fail.
    I recall a while ago, you (or Maggie) asking what sort of things we'd like to see covered and that you're not wishing to turn it into a geek-fest but you rave over MS's new touch-screen and other features they stole from other OSes, you rave about Macs but where is the detail Linux fans crave?



  • Comment number 4.

    #3 - badger_fruit.

    Oh dear, you really do have a bee in your poor little Ubuntu bonnet! Get over it as making cry baby statements back at Rory makes Ubuntu users look like a joke when they can't get there way.

    There won't be a Ubuntu 9.10 follow up - sorry it hurts but that's life.

    Where is the constructive contributions you have as all OS's have their strengths and weeknesses and ALL of them borrow ideas from each other!

  • Comment number 5.

    "Get over it as making cry baby statements back at Rory makes Ubuntu users look like a joke when they can't get there way."

    1. It's "their", not "there".
    2. Wow, I didn't realise I represented all the Ubuntu users; even stranger when you consider the fact that I don't even use Ubuntu.

    Anyway, you're right I am annoyed; it was promised but never delivered.

    Not only that but I really don't think that he's the right guy for that particular task ... given he seemed to dismiss it without really using it.

    I'm not the one writing statements such as from his blog as quoted "They research the story, get behind the obvious and seek to deliver a context outside personal prejudice" ... the Ubuntu blog stank of personal prejedice; he never "got behind" the story either - his face said it all on the photo of him looking afraid.

    Do you work for the BBC?
    How can you be so sure there won't be a follow up?
    If you do work for the Beeb, that's a very unprofessional response to a reader's concerns!

    As for all the OSes borrowing from each other, I never said they didn't but to go in detail on the main tech pages about the "amazing new features" of Windows 7 and the new Mac OS, it is only fair they should write the same articles for Linux distributions.

  • Comment number 6.

    badger_fruit wrote - I'm not the one writing statements such as from his blog as quoted "They research the story, get behind the obvious and seek to deliver a context outside personal prejudice" ...

    I did, but what's your point? I was talking about the need for good journalism as opposed to a description or recommendation of one.

    PS can you check my selling :>)

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree with Seamus, professional reporters will always have a place, or at least should. They are the only ones who can reliably supply a balanced view and professional editors and film crews will always be superior. That's not to say the general public can't report in the same way and maybe even film and edit, but the chances are vry unlikely and thus it they are not a reliable source (at least for news sources such as the BBC). User generated content is useful though, even if it should not replace professional reporting, it is useful to supplement it.

    begin rant:

    badger_fruit, this blog post has nothing to do with Open Source (at least not anything worthy of merit) and yet you still decide to bring up the even more irrelavent argument against Rory for blog post on Ubuntu. I'm surprised that your comment, that has nothing to do with anything in the blog post has even got passed the moderators (provided their human). Firstly, my personal view is you should stop this "crusade" against Rory. Secondly, if you haven't already guessed, this is a blog, Rory doesn't have to have a balanced view on it, it's meant to be more personal. Finally and I do hope you already have picked up on this, stay on topic, please.

    PS No one likes the grammar police.


    Anyway, an interesting post Rory. It brings good issues surrounding the future of reporting and its integrity.

  • Comment number 8.

    On a light hearted note. I only took the P out of spelling ;)

  • Comment number 9.

    ok, ok, point taken and apologies for hi-jacking the thread and wandering (by miles) off topic. Clearly, I'm not very pleased about a tech correspondent who writes that they will produce a follow-up piece but then does not deliver but this was the wrong place for it.

    I'd also like to quickly add an apology, I am sure that he's a very busy man doing whatever it is he does but it would be nice to see a more balanced view.

    I agree somewhat that the blog is more personal than an article, again, apologies for the (my) confusion.

    I mean no harm or offence to anyone here or the blog writers.

    As for my thoughts ON TOPIC ... well, one would think that as with anything,it's best to stick with what you're good at. I don't use or never have (and probably never will) Twitter to reach the "youth", it was suggested as a method of communication at my work but dismissed as our clients are unlikely to use it.

    There's a big difference between a professional writer and a guy in their back-room - ultimately though the guy in the back room is more likely to say things the pro would not.

    Where does the future lie for reporting? Well, who knows, in times of crisis, I'd respect more the cameraman/reporter who drops their tools and helps those in need instead of recording it for their next wage packet.

    (There, is that better?)

  • Comment number 10.

    badger_fruit - most gracious :)

    I do understand what you mean, there must be a temptation to 'take sides', do the right thing or to simply get out of the line of fire.

    However the camera operator or reporter at the cutting edge captures news and raises awareness. The footage of the starving in Africa engaged the public with their plight and 'Live Aid' was born. The news crews in Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, G20 London or 1970s Belfast do/did us all a favour by not dropping their gear and joining in, or running. They captured a glimpse of real history.

    The modern 'public reporting' and the desire to publish our lives on facebook and YouTube will say plenty about us. I just wonder how it will be translated. Future generations will have archives that combine traditional reporting, personified by the hack that won’t let go, the reporter that will not back off and the editor that ruthlessly condenses, with the contemporary public reporting that our technology now delivers. The mobile phone video of history as it happened prior to the polish and edit of a newsroom. The voicemail, blog, tweets and IM's of everyday people will enhance the understanding of all that was good and bad in our time. It will make for fascinating study.

    Now back to the real world – lets never forget the golden rule, the man with all the gold makes all the rules, or, on any day 'good news' is no news, bad news is what makes the news.

  • Comment number 11.

    I'd like a tecnology correspondant to not drop the word iPhone into his blog quite so often. There are other smart phones out there, some even with apps.

    Sent from my iPhone

  • Comment number 12.

    It seems to me that the other thing modern journalists, especially tech journalists, have to face up to is their readers find it increasingly easy to reply. Witness the fact I'm typing this!

    To my mind, this is a good thing and can only improve the quality of reporting as long as it doesn't descend into the farce that can be seen in the comments sections of most of SJVN's articles.

  • Comment number 13.

    'But the big question is whether we will be willing to pay for the craft of journalism - either the old kind or today's multimedia variety - in the coming decade'

    Well, Rory, you've got just under a year to find out.

    Have a Happy, Prosperous and Accurate 10th and last year of the 1st Decade of the 21st Century in 2010.

    1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,,9 one more to go...


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