Home > Uncategorized > New Necessities Are the Mother of Invention

New Necessities Are the Mother of Invention

-first posted at RTDNA.org on December 15, 2009

I’m sitting at my desk this week trying to figure out how to Skype back my coverage from the Texas bowl later this month.  Our local team, the Missouri Tigers, plays there New Year’s Eve.  Between now and then I’m trying to come up with the method for my sports people to do live shots via the internet video phone service that I can actually put on the air.  We’ve been FTP’ing for a while now.  But we have yet to Skype live.  I know other stations do it.  I know Oprah does it.  So now it’s time for us to do it and I’m determined to figure out how—all by myself.

Don’t get me wrong.  We have a perfectly good satellite truck.  It’s parked right out back.  In fact, we have two of them (though the old one wouldn’t make it to Houston, Missouri, much less Houston, Texas).  The problem is not that superior technology does not yet exist to deliver a crystal-clear picture from the Texas bayou to the central Missouri plain.  It does.  And we have used that technology for more than 20 years to deliver television coverage from outside the area.  It’s not the machinery we don’t have—it’s the money.

Now don’t worry, the paragraphs below are not about to go into a long-winded retelling of the woeful (I’ve never liked that word, actually) path we all have traveled over the last year or so.  Everyone reading this knows times are tough and we have to make sacrifices to do the things we used to do without even blinking an eye (or closing a wallet).  I guess I’m using my current Skype dilemma as an example that hard times can be a good thing if they move us in the right direction.  And dare I say they’re doing that for us right now.

If you’re old enough, think back to the way we solved our newsroom technology problems 25 or 30 years ago.  If something didn’t exist, the solution was to—wait for Sony to invent it.  That’s what we did.  Sure, there were some modifications we photographers would do in the field or the edit bay to save some time or work (just ask me some time about how masking tape could save me a ton of time when editing video).  But the truth was there were no major breakthroughs in newsgathering technology that didn’t come from the big companies first.  And the engineers liked it that way.  I can recall trying to get an early form of user-generated content on the air back in the mid-1980s.  A man with a full-sized VHS video camera/recorder brought in video of his son making a full-court basketball shot.  I was excited to get it on the air.  But the engineer in charge told me it was not “broadcast quality” and would be an “illegal signal.”

The tyranny of the technology giants is over, as is the egotism of the engineers.  Video democracy is here and with it comes a new chance for those of us with creative sides to solve the empty wallet problem through some late nights and unorthodox approaches.  Who among you hasn’t done it already?  Are you tweeting from trials to get word out quickly?  Do you use Cover It Live to simulate live coverage of events where you can’t put a camera or mic?  Have you ever put cell phone video on the air because it was the only camera pointing a certain direction when news was happening?  Of course you have.  And Sony does NOT approve.

Is the picture cleaner and clearer when I use my satellite truck?  Sure it is.  But aside from the costs holding me back, maybe that truck is, too.  When I stop thinking about the limits of my old technology—the cable runs, the parking space, the overbooking of the satellite space—I stop limiting myself by all those factors.  New technology begins with “new,” and that also represents the new ways of thinking we employ when we invent our own solutions to our current problems.  The old technology is a prison, confining us to thinking about things the same way we did in 1985.  But the cell door is off its hinges now and I, for one, am on a dead run in a new direction.

This surge of invention from the new necessities facing us is more than in the technological realm.  As we rethink everything from the assignment desk to come up with stories to the delivery systems to get stories to the end users, we are finding ways to do it cheaper, more often, and in easier-to-access manners.  And the beauty is anyone out there reading this could be the one who invents the next big thing.  It doesn’t need to be the big boys in Japan anymore.  As we move to innovate in my own shop, dealing with both the added challenges of an all-Millennial workforce and a savvy audience that wants news every which way it can get it, I told my people earlier this year that we have every bit as good a chance to figure out the new, best way to do it as the next guy.   There is a democratization of innovation going on right now that excites me to no end.  The ideas this paragraph has spurred you to think about—that ideas you’re not sure you want to let loose on your newsroom yet—those could be the next group of big ideas.  And there are a million of them out there.

So turn them loose now.  Try them out.  Your assignment desk is your workbench.  Your edit rooms are your laboratories.  In them are working thousands of willing investigators ready to help you invent the tools and practices you need to succeed in this climate of increased necessity.  Use them.

And let me know if you have this Skype live shot thing figured out.

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