Friday, 24 August 2007

Mobile tools for reporting

THE pen may be mightier than the sword but Fairfax is betting the multimedia-enabled mobile phone is the mightiest implement of all.

The company has launched an ambitious plan to put an iMate Jasjam mobile device in the hands of every reporter and photographer at its Herald and Age publications, as well as Fairfax Digital, to enable them to file video, audio, still images and copy on the fly.

The plan is largely aimed at generating video and other rich media material to populate the company's and websites as Fairfax reinvents itself as a digital media company and audiences and advertisers migrate to the internet.

It could eventually be used to generate material for the former Rural Press publications following the two companies' merger, and Southern Cross' metropolitan radio stations including 2UE, 3AW and 4BC, which Fairfax hopes to acquire.

Fairfax online editor-in-chief Mike van Niekerk said 12 reporters and photographers were using the devices at present, but the plan was to give all staff training and access to them.

"We are still trying to understand how best these kinds of tools can be used in the newsroom," he said. "We tested an earlier model a year ago and we've been using it purely within the online editorial breaking news team. Now we're buying a lot more of these ones and making them available through the newsroom."
Fairfax would not say how many staff could be affected, but a source from the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance estimated the plan could involve 400 reporters and photographers.

At the recommended retail price of $1300 per device, the move could cost the company more than $500,000 before data charges and training costs are taken into account.

Mr van Niekerk said a Fairfax Digital reporter used a mobile device to conduct a video interview with a witness to an accident in the Sydney suburb of Kogarah earlier this year, in which a woman was killed when a car ran into a crowded bus stop.

"The reporter was on the scene within 20 minutes," Mr van Kiekerk said. "That video, which was actually quite dramatic and newsworthy, was on the site within 15 minutes of the reporter arriving at the scene of the accident."

Web-quality video, stills and audio of live incidents, press conferences and sit-down interviews can be captured on the devices, but photographers are also using them to file print-quality images taken with high-resolution digital cameras.

"You'd probably find two years down the road that everyone would have something like this," Mr van Niekerk said. "They're an all-in-one reporting tool."
It's unclear if staff can be forced to use the technology.

According to the MEAA, once staff have been given training on how to use the devices, they can be asked to file multimedia material but the company may not use the technology to reduce staff numbers, or as leverage to deny promotions.
Mr van Niekerk said: "We'd like for reporters to have the training and the skills to be able to (file in as many media as possible)."

News Limited is running limited tests of similar technology in its Sydney metropolitan dailies.

Nationwide News photographic manager Steve Grove said staff in the Canberra bureau of The Australian were using the pocket-sized Canon TX1 camera to file video and stills for the web.

He said high-speed mobile networks were crucial to moving the amount of data required: "It's also about the uniqueness of the video."

Dallas Morning News new media producer David Leeson told newspaper publishers at the recent PANPA conference that new content formats were still developing to meet online demands.

Mr Grove said edited first-person interviews, in the vein of ABC television's Australian Story, were one possible format.
source: The Australian

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