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Abu Dhabi Media Summit: Real time news challenges

Experts talk about how news gathering has been transformed in the digital age.

 

These days, news correspondents don’t travel so light. At the start of yesterday’s “News Goes Real Time” Round Table, Bill Spindle, Middle East Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, brought out the “standard issue kit” every one of his paper’s journalist is expected to carry in the field – and, yes, he had more than just a pen and a notebook. There were tripods, mic set-ups and all the equipment required to produce video reportage.

In the social media and interactive age, even staid old newspapers are producing their own in-house TV shows each as well as “hundreds of pieces of video.” Their journalists are tweeting from the field, gathering stories from YouTube and communicating instantly. In short, the process of news gathering has been utterly transformed.

“It has really become a fact of life,” Nart Bouran [pictured], Head of Sky News Arabia, observed of the use of social media in news organisations. “Anyone who thinks that this is not part of day to day life any more is delusional.”

Other panelists agreed that the time for mulling how new technology might affect news reporting is long since over. That technology is already a key part of their working existences. The debate now is more about how to maintain editorial integrity and coherence when there is so much information from so many sources to sift through.

Reporters, meanwhile, have had to learn to perform new tricks.

“It’s quite a more difficult thing for us reporters because you have so many fronts you have to monitor,” stated Gamal El Din, Middle East Correspondent for CNBC. “I do a report on the phone or on camera but I also have to make sure that I am tweeting on a regular basis and updating my Facebook status…you’re quite all over the place and juggling at the same time is very challenging.”

Given the torrent of data that news organisations are now obliged to interpret almost instantly, panelists acknowledged that errors are inevitable. It’s not always possible to verify reports submitted by “citizen journalists” or footage shot on cell phones.

“It comes back down to us to make a judgment call,” Gamal El Din said.

The paradox is self-evident: social media enables news organisations to report instantly on events as they happen…but that doesn’t mean it is any easier to make any sense of those events. As the panelists acknowledged, the digital age has “opened up a whole minefield of problems, challenges and difficulties.”

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