Saturday, July 11, 2009

Of Course No One Was Suprised That A TV Story Was Shot with an IPhone

At the end of June, a producer for a Miami TV station shot an entire story with the new iPhone... and the journalism world went crazy. The TV station wrote a story about it. Tweeters tweeted. And Poynter interviewed the producer in question.

Most telling in the coverage, however, was one assertion, in the TV stations' story about the story. The story itself was about the launch of the new iPhone, and the iPhone-shot story happened by accident. The producer had lined up in the wee hours with hundreds of other Apple fans to get the new phone. A good reporter, it occured to him there was a story there, so he started taking still pics while in line and then started shooting interviews once he got his phone. One thing led to another, and the station said why don't you just do a whole story for us with iPhone footage?

So here's where the telling part comes in. The TV station's story about the story includes the following line: "Oddly enough, not one of these Apple fans found it strange that a television station was shooting video with an iPhone!"

Let's ponder this for a moment. The news world is all abuzz, but the folks on the street think this is perfectly normal. Moreover, the TV station thinks it's odd that the folks on the street don't think it's strange.

You can only draw one conclusion from all this, and it's an important one of the news business: The news industry is behind its audience. And, in being so, most likely holding itself back from finding its way forward.

The reason you don't see more TV news stations shooting with iPhones comes down to quality. A traditional camera obviously delivers much better quality than video-enabled smartphones. But maybe news organizations should ask themselves whether that really matters. Maybe the smartphone video is good enough.

Not that anyone is suggesting TV stations jettision all their professional-grade cameras in all circumstances. Rather, it might be useful if they were to regularly consider for what types of stories and events it might be just fine to use a smartphone or a Flip. And to regularly experiment with how far they can push the boundaries on this question.

What's the point, you might ask. Why bother trying to see how much coverage you can get away with with a smartphone when you have perfectly good professional-grade cameras on hand?

There are a couple reasons:

  • Video-enabled phones are obviously more mobile--and take less expertise to use--than professional cameras. TV stations might discover a range of situations they can access that the couldn't access before, and they might discover they're able to do stories they never could do before. Or simply that they might be able to do more coverage than they were able to do before. In other words, they might discover that, although they sacrifice some degree of quality, they gain more in content. And if viewers don't care about the lower quality or, alternatively, are psyched about the new coverage, that creates growth oppotunities for TV news.

  • Budget. Smartphones are obviously a lot less expensive than professional cameras. Again, no one is suggesting that TV stations completely ditch their professional cameras (and professional shooters), but it might be possible to substituted smartphones for the big equipment in some situations, thereby saving money for cash-strapped news operations or, alternatively, freeing up budget for use elsewhere.

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