Back in the 20th century, when print media was still enjoying a long, rich golden age, war correspondents were rock stars. Legendary figures such as Martha Gelhorn, who reported on the Second World War and Vietnam, and George Polk, who was murdered while covering the Greek civil war in the 1940s, brought news of faraway, conflict-torn places to an eager reading public – and became heroes in the process.
Today, it’s unlikely you know the name of many, or any, war correspondents working in print. Instead, today’s rock star print journalists – if there can be said to be any – tend to be the “talking head” columnists, who deliver readers a weekly slice of their lives and rarely venture anywhere more dangerous than the local organic juice store.
That’s in large part because of fundamental shifts in the way we learn about what’s happening in the world. Newspapers, of course, were superseded by television – and so became less about news and more about comment and entertainment. And now, TV is being superseded by the net. The way we learn about what’s happening in the world is, again, undergoing fundamental change.
Want a glimpse of how this new world may look in 10 years time? Take a look at the work of Vice Media’s Tim Pool, who made headlines in June when he used Google Glass – the internet-enabled glasses that Google will soon release to the public – to live-stream footage from the Istanbul protests. Tens of thousands logged on to see what Pool could see as he made his way through the thick of the crowd: the result was a thrilling, immersive take on the protest unlike anything else out there: “Some people have told me that it’s like journalism video-gaming: an open window into what’s going on,” said Pool.
Before Pool started working for Vice he was a freelancer and had already racked up great success with live streams from other headline news events. Pool says that at its peak, his live stream of the Occupy Wall Street protests in NYC had 750,000 viewers. He also broadcast from Cairo in 2011.
So what? Well, Pool’s success as an independent is noteworthy because it points the way to a future for the way we consume – and gather – our news.
The key question is this: what happens when connected, wearable devices such as Google Glass are so cheap that almost everyone has one? Then, any one of us will be able to become live-stream journalists whenever we want. G8 visiting your hometown? Stuck in a traffic jam filing past a road accident? Protest erupted in your city? Live-stream it.
It’s already commonplace to talk about citizen journalism: the new era we inhabit, in which anyone with an internet connection can be a reporter. But the real golden age of citizen journalism will arrive, surely, when millions of ordinary people are fitted out with wearable devices such as Google Glass. How much richer would be our view of, say, the war in Syria if we had access to a vast number of live streams, direct from the conflict?
Soon enough, much of our news really will be peer-to-peer: a conversation between ordinary people. And when that day comes, the world will have even less use for the old-fashioned news reporter than it does now. But we shouldn’t ever forget: seeing doesn’t always mean understanding.
David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com
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