Site sponsor: MSNBC.com ONA 2003 Conference and Awards Banquet, Chicago


Panel: How technology will change news
Reporters, readers get new ways to publish and read
By Vivek Shankar
November 15, 2003

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Reading the news on a computer may soon be passe. Internet-enabled mobile phones and hybrid devices are fueling the next wave of change, and journalists need to know how to deliver content to these devices.

A panel at the ONA Conference Saturday discussed how technology will further change the way news is presented.

Vin Crosbie, managing partner at Digital Deliverance, moderated the panel and started off the proceedings with a touch of irony, quoting a newspaper publisher from the early '90s. "Why would anyone use a Web site?"

Today, a Web site is almost a necessity for a media organization's function. Reporters need to harness technology continuously to make their storytelling more compelling. Martha Stone, training director at Ifra Newsplex, showcased NewsGear -- an initiative to identify the latest mobile and multi-media newsgathering tools.

Dubbed the backpack edition, NewsGear 2004 includes a video-conference-enabled tablet PC, a multi-media mobile phone, digital video recorder capable of producing broadcast quality video and a portable scanner. Stone had nothing but praise for Visual Communicator Pro, a media creation program. "Its a whole lot easier than [Macromedia] Flash -- it's drag and drop."

Talking about camera mobile phones, Stone said technology now "enables our users to help us tell the news." She emphasized that journalists need to "use technology wisely to enable good journalism."

Andrew Locke, deputy editor of multimedia at MSNBC.com, said portable devices are "extending what we think of as the Internet." Some soap operas in Korea, he added, are produced only for mobile phones. The U.S, however. is lagging behind in the mobile technology segment. The reason, Locke explained, is the early adoption of analog mobile technology in the country and therefore the slow move to digital technology.

"If a phone has a camera it can most likely browse the web," Locke said. Nokia recently claimed to be the largest manufacturer of cameras. Locke was quick to add that the mobile industry is a technological nightmare because of the different standards in use. The takeaway, Locke said, is to use flexible content management systems, which produce different formats of the same story.

Brian Dennis, assistant professor at Northwestern University, pointed to Really Simple Syndication (RSS) -- a Web-based content syndication system, which is software and content independent. He said publications like the BBC and the New York Times use RSS on their Web sites.

RSS feeds, Dennis said, can be accessed via specialized software or a browser. RSS is spam-free because of their explicitly opt-in nature. This also makes the feeds ideal for targetted advertising, Dennis said.

Ironically, the only skeptical panelist was the publisher and founder of a technology news Web site. "News has become a commodity," said Jai Singh, vice president and editor in chief of Cnet News.com. News on the Web will not be profitable any time soon, he added.

So far, Singh said, customers have paid willingly only for sports and horoscopes. He said Cnet had discontinued some of its audio and video offerings because customers were not interested in paid subscriptions.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it," Singh quoted Yogi Berra with a hint of cynicism.

Singh there is a marked difference between the price of online content and what the consumers want to pay. The panel agreed that media outlets need to change the way they think about advertising.

Stone seemed to drive home the point -- the media needs to "be more clever in selling advertising."

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