October 22, 2003

Hello Sweetheart, Get Me Wi-Fi

The natural marriage of reporters and the wireless Internet seems to be catching on.

The Wall Street Journal reports that correspondents for ABC News Radio in New York are filing notes and digital sound clips direct from their laptops using Manhattan's many public wireless networks.

A station executive says the wi-fi tryout is an experiment, but he sees providing reporters with another mobile tool and possibly saving the station money at big events on the cost of installing landlines.

Newspapers should follow suit.

As I mentioned the other day, the Virginian-Pilot is reporting live to its web site from the trial of Washington, D.C., sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad, something that could be done from major sporting events, registrars' offices on election night and other breaking news situations where a continuous stream of reporting could give newspapers an online advantage or a fresh flow of notes to the office for rewrite.

All reporters should have laptops they could use as a virtual, mobile newsrooms when not docked into the network. (They should also have cheap digital cameras and voice recorders, but that's a union fight in many newsrooms. An editor at a top-ten U.S. paper told me the other day he was thinking of starting a blog for his section, but wasn't sure union rules, which typically define newsroom jobs in narrow, protectionist language and often don't allow editors in management to write, would allow it.)

Much ado is made about convergence at newspaper gatherings and in industry training organizations, but newsroom acceptance has been slow.

Tools work. Money talks. How you budget defines your priorities.

Side note: Wireless proliferation should increase consumer demand for better laptop batteries. You can't stay connected no matter how many nodes your community has if your laptop's battery dies in two hours or less as many do.

 Wall Street Journal Wi-Fi's Limits Are Put to Test By Reporters Working On Deadline

Posted by Tim Porter at October 22, 2003 09:21 AM

At some point we'll all be TV stations, I suppose. Other side of this issue is: how much information is essential to have in an instant, vs. how much can keep till tomorrow or the next day? I can see how somebody using the internet for laser surgery needs real-time info, but just about everything else can wait. The ability of technology to speed things up is overpowering our inclination to slow things down.

Posted by: tom mangan on October 22, 2003 10:36 AM

The issue isn't just speed, it's also reach. In too many newsrooms, reporters spend too much time at their desks. Giving them cell phones and wireless computer technology eliminates any excuse they might have for not being out in the field, where the stories are.

Posted by: Lex on October 23, 2003 06:48 AM

You're right--reporters do spend too much time at their desks, and sometimes it's because editors want them there. Editors and reporters need to develop a trust--editors cut reporters loose to look for stories, reporters repay this by filing timely, relevant and well-written copy for the Web, then add context for the print edition. Newspapers should welcome this technology, as it allows them to reclaim breaking news from television. Unfortunately, too many newspapers continue to report the news as though there were no other game in town, like radio, television and the Web. The latter gives papers the opportunity to cover news stories as they break, and clear space in their print editions for stories that put the news into context, the behind-the-headlines stories that television can't do. Unfortunately, this requires good storytelling, and too many papers cling to the inverted pyramid like it was the Hope diamond. If a story is good, readers will take the time to read it. The reason they don't read past the jump is because newspapers give them no reason to.

Posted by: Jonathan Potts on October 23, 2003 09:07 AM
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