Wow, am I late coming to the game or what? I had an epiphany when I was in Florida covering the BCS Championship game this year. All week long I was continually checking social media and getting my news from Facebook. I might chase a link from Facebook to a news site but the news site itself was not my primary source of information. I suddenly realized, late though I came to the realization, this is the way most of America is now getting news. Whether it is Facebook or Twitter or the next undiscovered social media country, the process of disseminating information to the public has forever changed. The first source for information is not the primary source, rather it is the social media networks that lead people to the news.
Picture it this way, when news breaks somewhere in your area, where are you going to find out about it first? Will it be the morning newspaper lying in your driveway the next day? Will it be television? Will it be social media? The most likely avenue is fast becoming, if it has not already become, social media. Television is probably second but it is falling back in the pack. The newspaper is now so old by the time it arrives at your house, breaking news is already stale and in some cases, has already fallen from the daily news cycles in more immediate forms of media.
This morning, I got a call from my boss sending me to an auto accident. I had a nice, hot breakfast in front of me with that second cup of steaming coffee waiting to be enjoyed. I gulped down the breakfast, got dressed in yesterday’s clothes and ran off to the scene. A school bus had been hit by a car causing multiple, but fortunately minor, injuries. I shot a photo with my iPhone, emailed it to an editor who was still at home, updated him with basic information about the wreck and he posted it online while I was still at the scene. I shot stills of the scene with a Nikon D3 and video using the iPhone and then recorded an interview with the bus driver and with a State Trooper using the iPhone before leaving the scene.
That will probably be front page news in the printed paper but it will be nearly 24 hours old by the time people pick it up and read it. I had a photo gallery up by about ten a.m., a video posted and had Tweeted and Facebooked links to the gallery before the reporter could even write the story. We posted continual updates as the injury list grew throughout the morning and I was all done with the story, literally and metaphorically, long before it hit the printing press. That is the essence of modern photojournalism. The fact we still print a newspaper is almost irrelevant as far as it regards the process of reporting breaking news.
What roll then does the printed newspaper play? That, my friends, is the million dollar question. Some places have significantly downplayed the roll of the printed paper with major publications ceasing publication or rolling back publication to three times a week. I was an early critic of such practices. I am now changing my mind in so far as the actual news reporting goes and the immediacy the consuming public demands. The down side is, of course, the loss of revenue and the corresponding loss of jobs. Taken purely as an analytical exercise, I can completely understand how the bean counters would look at the revenue picture and say we have to do with fewer people. Those bean counters have likely never written a story or done any visual journalism.
I believe the role of the printed newspaper in the future will be one of dramatically less importance and will have virtually no breaking news at all. I think the printed newspaper will be relegated to the role the news magazine now maintains. The stories will be more analysis and feature style pieces and less hard news. If you are a photojournalist, this is actually very good news. I think the printed newspaper of the future could really become a showcase for good photo essays and in-depth visual reporting. But that is the future, perhaps.
Back to Florida, rather, when I got back from Florida, I told my boss and colleagues about my epiphany. We all nodded in agreement. The obvious had escaped us. We were all gathering our news in much the same way. We immediately began putting extra effort into our social media on Facebook and Twitter. In the past, we had done very little with social media. Once I saw how social media was feeding me into news sites I immediately saw the crucial need to do the same to get people into our site. We are now trying to Tweet links to every photo gallery and video and do the same on Facebook. It is a matter of visual life and death. If you are not driving traffic to your site you are losing the battle to remain employed.
Below is a link to a very quick hit type video from the wreck this morning. It is not the kind of video work I like to do but it is largely what our bosses are asking for, quick hits from breaking news situations.