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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 12:55 GMT
When technology makes the news
John Simpson enters Kabul
This is war and it will be televised
New technology has allowed the delivery of news to become all pervasive, compelling, faster and more immediate. But is there a price to pay for getting it so quickly, asks BBC News Online's Jane Wakefield.

In 1982 television viewers had to make do with still pictures of troops and the voice of reporter Brian Hanrahan, with the sound of gunfire in the background, to form their own picture of the Falklands conflict.

Come 2002, viewers had a much more intimate picture of the war in Afghanistan, complete with live pictures of the BBC's John Simpson entering Kabul.

It proved to those with short memories how far technology has changed the nature of news reporting.

For the journalist in the field the distinction between words, video and audio could become increasing blurred in the future as the convergence of technology leads to a convergence of roles.

Immediate news

So the future of news reporting could well mean a journalist sitting at a laptop in the middle of a conflict editing their own TV package on the move, as well as writing and sending still pictures for online and audio for radio.

Such a manic reporter will have little "thinking time" warns reporter Ray Whittaker from The Independent newspaper.

Originality is the hardest thing to protect from this kind of relentless journalism

Bob Jobbins, Rory Peck Trust
He believes that technology is often forced on journalists because it is more convenient for the news gathering machine rather than improving the life of the journalist.

Mr Whittaker recalls with nostalgia the days when journalists had to travel miles to find the nearest telephone.

With the advent of 24-hour news channels, digital interactive services and online news it can sometimes seem that there is information overload as news reporting enters the 21st century.

But does the ability to find comprehensive news coverage at the touch of a button or the click of a mouse lead to a watering down of content?

'Hamster wheel of production'

With the BBC collecting twice as much material as it can broadcast in a day, there is certainly no shortage of news.

In the fast-paced and competitive world of breaking news though there may be one casualty thinks Bob Jobbins, chairman of the Rory Peck Trust, the UK's only charity dedicated to freelance cameramen and women.

News 24 studio
24-hour news is commonplace
"The power of technology can lead to the homogenisation of content and originality is the hardest thing to protect from this kind of relentless journalism," says Mr Jobbins.

"The hamster wheel of production is driven by the logistics of supplying material back to the all-consuming machine."

That hamster wheel is about to spin even faster as digital services are pushed to consumers, increasing the number of channels and the number of news bulletins.

Currently around 30% of homes have digital TV but, as executive editor of BBC Newsgathering, Peter Mayne points out, not a lot is yet known about how they are using them.

"There is evidence that a lot are still using the analogue buttons although on the positive side, 40% have clicked on the news interactive buttons.

Live reporting is an essential feature of digital channels such as News 24 and the advent of satellite trucks and videophones makes much more live reporting possible.

This brings its own dangers, not least the problem of journalists running out of things to say and, in desperation, resorting to speculation.

Sacrifice of quality?

"With 24 hour networks journalists can be pushed into speculation which is bad journalism," admits Mr Mayne.

John Simpson on videophone
Videophones are latest technical development
The videophone has come to embody the very latest in hi-tech telly bringing pictures and audio immediately from the scene of a news story.

Ironically, the quality of both sound and picture are pretty low but it would seem that consumers are willing to sacrifice quality if they know that they are getting the news as it happens.

The challenge for broadcasters and content producers in the future will be to find a way of bringing immediacy and quality together.

See also:

29 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
'Gizmo' gives digital TV hope
28 Jan 02 | New Media
2002 'crucial' for digital TV
15 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
Digital horror stories
02 Jan 02 | TV and Radio
Digital TV war ups stakes
20 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
40m for BBC children's channels
20 Nov 01 | TV and Radio
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