Gerd Leonhard / Youtube

Most Journalists Don't Get It...Yet

Posted May 01, 2016
Share To

I am busy reading "The Printing Press As An Agent of Change" by Elizabeth Eisenstein.

It's a bit dense, but she makes an interesting point.  The arrival of the printing press, a piece of technology, changed everything.  Everything.  The economy, the nature of society, power, religion, the role of Kings, the role of peasants.. you name it.

It turned out to be a whole lot more than just a way to make cheaper bibles.

"We should note the force, effects and consequences of inventions which are nowhere more conspicuous than in those three which were unknown to the ancients, namely, printing, gunpowder and the compass. For these three have changed the nature and apperance of the whole world" - Francis Bacon, Novum Ordinum

I am reminded of this aphorism when I read the reports on the most recent MoJoCon, which ended yesterday in Dublin. (I did not attend).

A recent piece in pretty much summed it up:  

How mobile journalism is rising in popularity with journalists around the world

Yes, well, obviously.

Obviously, journalists are starting to use smart phones to shoot and share video.  

But, as with any other disruptive technology, the implications of that technology go far beyond trade workers merely using new tools.  The advent of video married to 6 bilion smart phones is such a disruptive technology, a point which the journalists attending MoJoCon seemed not to have 'gotten'.

This is no surprise.

Many years ago (many), I was attending a political event with an old and dear friend of mine (and one of the very first VJs,) the Time Magazine photojournalist PF Bentley.

PF had one of the very first 'new' digital cameras - an experimental test from Canon. 

Up until this point, every photographer in the world, even the pros, were using film cameras, limited to 36 exposures to a roll.

But PF had one of the cool new digital cameras.

As we sat in the audience, watching the political event, PF simply held the camera up over his head and hit the 'shutter' button, pointing it in the general direction of the event. 

He turned to me and said, "watch this!" and he proceeded to squeeze off maybe 100 exposures in a few seconds.

He then sat down and we reviewed all the shots.

Today, this is old stuff, but at that moment it was astonishing.

"Did you get a good shot?" I asked.

"There's sure to be one in there somewhere." he said

And there was.

"This is the future of photo journalism," PF told me.

And he was right.

"But," I said, "If you can do that, no focus (it was all automatic), just point and hit the button....well, so can anyone else."

And indeed they could

And in not too much time, there were no more professional photo journalists at Time or Newsweek or anywhere else for that matter.

Technology had obviated (or democratized) their jobs.

This is how I feel about the journalists at MoJoCon.

The fact that they can shoot and edit and share video stories from anywhere in the world with their phones is certainly an astonishing achievement. But if they can do it, well, so can anyone else.

And in a world in which there are 6 billion or so smart phones in 6 bilion hands, all of which can create video news at the touch of a button... well, you get the idea.

It kind of makes it crazy to pay a video journalist a lot of money to do what pretty much anyone else can do.

It doesn't mean that everyone can do it.  Maybe only 1% of the people who have smart phone, so maybe only 60 million people.

So the idea of being a Mobile Journalist is now not so.. what shall we call it.. special.

Last year, when I was invited to speak at MoJoCon, I started my talk by saying that they were all f***ed.  (Lisa does not like me using these words, but you get the concept).

And they are.

But you can't tell them that.

But, as Walter Cronkite used to say, that's the way it is.

The great impact of the printing press was that it democratized the writing and publishing of books and opened the world to a revolution in ideas.

Video on smart phones will do the same.

But the other side of the printing press revolution was that the Monks who had spent their lives hand writing the bibles were suddenly unemployed.

Likewise the 'professional journalists'.


That is often the price of progress.

But it is something that the Monks probably did not want to hear, and even if they did, they would not have believed it.




Recent Posts

For most of human history, people lived in a world without news. The concept simply did not exist. The idea of news is really a 19th-century phenomenon, driven first by newspapers, and then by electronic media which brought us radio, then TV and now the web. Now, it seems, we are headed back to a world without news. Not because the technology is not there, but rather because, increasingly, people are no longer interested in news, at least in the way it is packaged now.

What TV News Could Be
February 26, 2024

When television was invented in the 1930s, no one knew what TV news was supposed to look like. The medium had never existed before, and so, like Gutenberg half a millennium, prior, the first creators of TV news had to fall back on a medium with which they were familiar, and that was radio.

Maybe scary stories drive ratings… or maybe they don’t.

Share Page on: