By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

“Back pocket” journalism

In my Journalism of the Web class last semester, we spent some time talking about “backpack journalism” — that is, journalism done by reporters toting laptops, video cameras, digital audio recorders and satellite phones so they can function as one-person purveyors of online text, video and audio reports from anywhere in the world.

Kevin Sites is a good example of this, although a recent report in the Washington Post showed how backpack journalism is being adapted to community newspapering as well.

Now, according to Clyde Bentley, the backpack is turning into your back pocket. In this piece for the Online Journalism Review, Bentley introduces us to the Nokia N93, a cell phone (the label hardly does it justice) that can record high-quality video, still photos and audio, that runs Microsoft Word and other programs, and that can be used to write stories either directly or with a plug-in keyboard. When you’re done, just upload through the cell network or a WiFi connection. Bentley writes:

My dream scenario is walking into a neighborhood in jeans and sweatshirt, an N93 in one pocket and a keyboard in the other. Sans my tell-tale computer bag and camera, I think I could be just one of the boys as I developed my contacts. And when the time came, I could record audio clips of background sounds, take a few photos of the street corner crowd then shoot a video clip of that great old codger. Back at the café, I could type my story, file it to the office and amble into the sunset.

In the emerging news-media landscape, journalists will need to possess a variety of multimedia skills, whether they like it or not. At least they won’t have to worry about getting a hernia, too.

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  1. A.J. Cordi

    It’s amazing how portable things are becoming. I could only imagine the price tag on some of these devices.

  2. Anonymous

    Sounds like another easy way for newsroom management to demand more from fewer reporters. But Bentley’s comment – maybe I’m reading it too closely? – is even more disturbing: his dream is to go somewhere without having to identify himself as a reporter, work the crowd, then snatch his photos and sound bites. How about identifying yourself up front, so the people you’re “developing” as contacts understand that you’re not there to be their buddy, but to report what they say? We used to call it ethics, in the typewriter newsroom.

  3. Anonymous

    Kewl gadget. I might ask if the device actually produces broadcast-quality video, but it’s probably irrelevant–the TV stations likely don’t care about the quality of the video any more than they do about the quality of their newscasts.Question for Dan (btw, like your blog, and always like to see you on Beat the Press). We’re in Wellesley. About a dozen years ago, my partner was interviewed–purportedly by CNN–at the town Recycling and Waste Disposal Facility (the fancy name for the town dump) about recycling issues. He complained that, despite our fairly high property taxes, the town did not provide trash pickup. We don’t know whether that was broadcast over CNN (we didn’t get cable at the time) or over broadcast media here, but it was apparently distributed to broadcast media in other cities–my parents in Cincinnati saw his interview over broadcast media there. The question is, just how much are these various feeds and snippets distributed among various outlets?

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 8:58: I took Bentley’s comment to mean he could act more like a print reporter, bringing people along slowly without bristling with three tons’ worth of gear. I don’t think he meant portability would allow him to be deceptive.Anon 9:50: I don’t know the answer to your question, except that plenty of broadcast outlets use stuff from CNN.

  5. Lisa

    Local videoblogger Steve Garfield’s videoblog was one of about a dozen chosen for a pilot program with TiVo to distribute videoblogs to TiVo owners to watch on their TVs. I asked Steve, what do you shoot it with? He held out a little point and shoot Canon digital camera. I said, does it work on a big screen? He said yes. I later had the opportunity to view it and several other videoblogs this way, and they ranged from passable to pretty good. Yes, they looked different from regular broadcast — but overall I was really surprised at how good they actually did look.For the web, of course, even if you have beautiful high resolution video, the first thing you’re going to do is compress the hell out of it — having the huge files is just a pain if the web is your primary or only medium. Videobloggers have responded to the limitations of simple equipment in interesting ways, IMO.

  6. Aaron

    Techie-geek that I am, I do love these little gadgets…and I’m consistently impressed/amazed at how far digital audio/video technology has come in the past ten years. Thanks in no small part to high-speed internet connections, of course.But like all technology; it can be used for good and for evil. It’s great that this high-quality recording technology is available to more and more aspiring journalists. The downside, of course, is that it’s available to more and more aspiring journalists! By which I mean that many of them stink and will never be better than “hacks”.This isn’t a bad thing, mind you…it also means that more “diamonds in the rough” will get a chance, too.Unfortunately, while it means media consumers are getting more choices and more information…it also means a lot of people are getting overloaded.What I’d like to see more of is technology designed to help media consumers actually sort through everything. I don’t have any ideas on that at the moment; probably could spend years writing a thesis on the subject. But it’s something I’d love to see, regardless…

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