Editor & Publisher and the New Newsroom

I’m eating up this story in the latest Editor & Publisher on reporters going mobile, using technology to spend less time in the newsroom and more time on the street reporting, writing and filing stories from the field. They’re doing this with laptops, wifi, video cameras, MP3 recorders and more. It’s a fascinating peek at where the industry is no doubt headed:

When word came down on March 12 that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was going to resign after revelations that he’d paid more than $80,000 for sex, Jeff Blackwell of the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle grabbed his video camera and headed to a nearby diner. As the lunchtime crowd at Jim’s Restaurant watched the governor’s resignation live on television, Blackwell recorded their reactions and later posted them online, using additional comments for Web and print stories.

“The picture and the sound show the expressions on their faces, the tone in their voices,” Blackwell says. “You could tell if they agreed with what he was doing or not.”

Such an assignment is typical for Blackwell and other “backpack” or “mobile” journalists, who spend most if not all of their time outside the newsroom recording, shooting, and writing stories without ever sitting at a desk. “It is probably 60% of my time that is spent out; there are days I don’t come into the office at all — at least once or twice a week,” says Blackwell, 44.

The piece gives multiple examples of newspapers giving reporters the technology to run out and file multimedia packages almost instantly from all manner of news events. Many reporters seem energized by the possibilities this offers and the chance to take full advantage of what the Internet offers readers.

There are also the doubters, newspaper people who think reporters, spending too much time in the field, miss the interaction and information sharing that being in a newsroom affords. That also leaves reports with less “face time” with editors, who also feel overwhelmed with many reporters are posting lots of information to the Web at once. And then there’s the cost of these multimedia kits, which can easily stretch into the thousands of dollars.

Those are good points, but I think newspapers and reporters must nevertheless adopt these new multimedia skills in some form. As Internet convergence continues, reporters well need to be adept at all the ways you can tell a story — with sound, photos, video, text and animation — and be prepared to deliver it. Younger reporters are already rolling into their first jobs with many of the skills to do this, having grown up using the Internet, making online videos and publishing to the Web.

Of course there will be growing pains. Note this story from ArkansasBusiness.com last week. KTHV, the local Gannett-owned CBS affiliate, laid off a handful of workers in its graphics department and control room. Among the reasons why: new reporters, often hired as self-contained “backpack journalists” like the ones mentioned in the E&P piece, can easily build the simple graphics their video packages require.