Friday, 14 August 2009

Will new media be saying "goodnight and good luck" to the tv news correspondent?

I think it is fair to say that there is a sense of impending doom regarding the digital takeover of everything in our lives. It took a friend of mine to point out that even in the world of news, people are getting worked up over new media and how they feel it is replacing the old news traditions. Although I don't believe it is changing our old news values, I do agree that some of the more archaic news traditions are on their way out. None more so than that of the TV correspondent.

Anyone going into news now thinking that they can be a John Simpson, a Kate Adie or a Christiane Amanpour is living in a fantasy world. There is no future for the jungle-suited, Holiday Inn-dwelling face of a broadcaster. Here's why:

As one former BBC correspondent once said "news is where the journalist is" and nowadays they really are in quite a lot of places, and they certainly don't look like they used to. Nowadays a credible source of news video or witness to the event can be anyone who happens to be there and is attached to their computer or smart phone. Everyone knows that local people get the most access to the story and that's just who these new newsmakers are. Once that resource is tapped in a constructive and organised way, the world is a news broadcasters oyster. Most major broadcasters have employed local stringers for years, now they just need to take it a step further. Schmoozing with the other journos at the hotel bar is now an unlikely way to get you access to the freshest pictures on a story because someone will have blogged it and received a few thousand hits before you've had a chance to knock back your first Martini. With a little bit more technology and foresight the social networkers of today will be our 'man in the field' tomorrow, posting credible updates on breaking news events and producing compelling, high quality video blogs.

Turn on your television right now and flip to a rolling news channel and you are very likely to see a report that has been cut and voiced by a producer/video journalist in a London, or Atlanta news hub. At the end of that report there is a good chance an anchor will casually throw it over to a live stand-up from the correspondent who has been sent there, or even worse, to a pre-recorded piece to camera. Why? I ask! Now before the abuse starts, hear me out and don't misunderstand what I am saying: in no way do I think that we should stop sending people to the field. It will always be very important to build a story on the ground and create original journalism. There would be no personal stories coming out of a conflict zone. No chance to understand the devastating consequences of a flash flood. And certainly little chance of getting the proud personal tour of a new home owned by kids who have escaped the slums of Mumbai simply because of a successful Hollywood movie. We need those news producers to do those jobs and we always will. That is what we journalists train for and aspire to, but what we don't necessarily need are the big personalities getting their face time. Surely news consumers won't complain if there is a little more story and a lot less ego.

So what part does social networking and new media play in the potential demise of the correspondent?

A strong shift in attention to web based news certainly seems to be a contributor in my opinion. Think about it....when you go online for news video you may go to the news website, click on the story and you will read up on the latest. There may well be a link to video. That report is rarely a voiced report and it is even more rare to see a piece to camera. After all, the text tells the story alongside the video and is easily and cheaply updated, whether it is by a producer/journalist in the field or a hub based producer across the latest wires. You can still get the same analysis and information; you just don't need a news 'celebrity' to give it to you. In another example, newspapers are striving to survive and are often branching out into video journalism (see the Guardian or the Times as examples). Here you will see amazingly shot and voiced pieces, or even subject led pieces minus a pretentious standup whacked on at the end.

I'm sorry but I can't not mention the T word. Producers and reporters have been updating their tweets straight from the field for a while now. Updating their followers and their viewers on the latest from the ground through Twitter is something that can only develop into a beautiful thing and I have little doubt that it will one day morph into the replacement for the beloved old-school TV correspondent. As yet, I am unsure what form this development will take, but I think there is a good chance that Twitter or social networking will be both the catalyst and the delivery mechanism.

Although it is sad that we will be losing a news institution, I think this change is positive and only improves the news for those who read it, view it, click it....tweet it. The demise of the correspondent shouldn't be looked at with regret, it should be viewed as an opportunity. An opportunity to push aside the eccentric caricatures of what reporters once were and get to the heart of the story and those who it affects.

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