The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

The virtual reporter

Jeremy editor James Macpherson caused quite a stir last week when it was reporting he was outsourcing coverage of the Pasadena (Calif.) city council. Hiring freelancers? Citizen journalists?

Sorta, but think more globally.

Macpherson outsourced coverage of the Council to two reporters working India (see L.A. Times story). According to the story the feeling was that, since the Council meetings were already broadcast on video via the Web, what’s the difference between having someone watch it on the Web and having someone watch it in person?

The old guard’s response was fairly predictable, and the story has the stunningly vague “It just seems so fundamental to journalism to be there” comment from Rob Gunnison of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Pretty on par with the I-know-it-when-I-see-it test of obscenity and There-are-known-knowns test for figuring out what’s going on in Iraq.

Don’t get me wrong, there is something unique about being the on-the-spot witness of events we cover, I’m just not sure it qualifies as “better” all of the time. How many dull city council stories have been filed by people who were actually there? They litter the birdcages of American households. More to the point, how many times has a reporter covered a meeting and been up against a filing deadline that left them to do little more than cover the comments said during the proceedings. It happens all the time. I know it happened to me a few times.

But what about the flavor of being there, observing the audience? Here’s another scenario, something highlighted with some hilarity in a recent Daily show bit on the Republican debate last week. At big events, reporters often are shuttled to an adjoining room, forced to watch it on television, and then subjected to the spin in personal interviews afterward (if they can get one at all). On a much less serious topic, sports reporters have been forced to do this for years at major sporting events where press credential demand exceeds the space available in the press box. And so reporters depend on the television and quote runners to get what they need to construct a story. So what good is it to be there at that point?

Like I said, this is not to knock journalism based on empirical observation. Covering it from a far, with India being an extreme example, is just a different way of doing it. At the very least, though, we need to get over ourselves if we think that even in the bastions of journalism the “I was there” standard of reporting is practiced all the time.

May 14, 2007 - Posted by | Jeremy Littau

1 Comment »

  1. […] cyberbrains: The virtual reporter […]

    Pingback by Links for following the Pasadena Now discussion online « Eye Level Pasadena | May 15, 2007 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: