Testing the limits of technology Reply

I started the week by putting my iPhone through the washing machine. I ended it by giving a lecture on “Journalists and new technology” to several hundred IT students. I said journalists had always been early adopters of new communications technologies, but they were tough and testing customers.

I told them about Ed Murrow who pioneered live , international radio broadcasts by taing his microphone lead up on to his London roof so he could give a running commentary of the blitz by German bombers. I referred to the first television war in Vietnam, where film shot by Walter Cronkite’s team was shipped back to Hong Kong to be processed and cut before being air freighted to television stations in the States. I talked about my own experience in Hong Kong in 97, when Britain staged its handover of the embryonic democracy to Beijing, as a live, global television event.

The Internet was starting to have an impact on journalism in 97, distributing Government Information Service information and images. I even established a crude proto blog, Dateline Hong Kong, to experiment with the new medium and record and transmit stories about how journalists saw the changes.

Since then, new technologies have swept through the industry, shaking not only its assumptions about itself but also its very financial foundations. The changes started with small and what now seem simple things. A Scandinavian photographer on the China border found he could send his images home via his lap top and modem. Reporters began to not only access media releases but also archive material by Internet. They could contact their editors from almost everywhere (which meant editors could contact them almost anywhere, bringing an unexpected end to the tradition of the long, boozy lunch!)

It certainly wasn’t all good for industry traditionalists. Advertising for cars, jobs and real estate shifted rapidly to the web, slashing the newspaper classified ad revenue which under pinned much quality journalism. Meanwhile anyone with a computer could call themselves a journalist and publish globally. Some Americans even started talking about the end of journalism, the announcement of whose death is still a little premature.

But this week, I had my chance to get these young IT people thinking about good gear we might use in the future. I asked for durable software which wouldn’t crash at critical moments. I wanted useable programs and web sites which even rum crazed journos could easily navigate. I asked for learnable IT which could lead people to become sophisticated users. I pleaded for cross platform solutions, so that ideas could move freely across the web.

Then I asked them should I dry out my iPhone by putting it in the microwave. They said, “No”.

Alan Knight


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