Just-in-Time Journalism

Way back in 1994 I was part of a group of college journalism students who volunteered to cover a National Press Club event in Philadelphia. Our duties as volunteers was to record the events and sessions in realtime on large pads of paper that were propped up on easels in the front of the room. The idea was to help facilitate the speaker’s session by recording what they were saying and writing down the important points, the audience’s questions, and the following discussions.

The following year, we volunteered again to cover a similar event in Denver, only this time we hauled a couple of Macintosh computers along with us and covered the event as typical journalists would. During the day, we’d fan out to the sessions and keynotes, interview speakers and take notes. The evenings we’d spend in front of the Macs assembling an eight-page conference report that we’d get printed overnight at the local Kinko’s. We’d then distribute this conference publication to the attendees at the next day’s events and sessions. The feedback we received was amazing. People were ecstatic that they now had a record of the previous day’s events (and the sessions they had missed), and many said that this kind of thing should be at every conference they attend.

Six years later. Doc Searls reports in near-realtime the debate between Microsoft’s Craig Mundie and Red Hat’s Michael Tiemann at O’Reilly’s Open Source Conference in San Diego. The initial draft is rough and full of typos, but people don’t care. For the thousands of people who could not attend the conference but wanted to know what was being said, this kind of “just-in-time journalism” is like a gold mine.

A few years ago this kind of reporting and journalism would have been nearly impossible, but with the advent of wireless Internet connectivity we’re seeing it more and more often. The geeks and technology reporters (the ones with a clue, at least) are taking it upon themselves to shrink the time between the event and the report of the event to near-zero. With Web-based instant publishing tools like Manila, Blogger and GreyMatter writers and journalists can now publish in realtime the events as they happen.

Technology conferences and events are a natural point of origin for this new kind of “just-in-time journalism”. Conference planners are now making it a point to have wireless Internet access available and those reporters with laptops and a wireless card can sit in the audience and quietly tap away, recording the event in realtime and publishing it on a web site. Delivering the information people crave, when they want it: instantly. In today’s “instant access” society, on-demand information services may be just the thing to revive the current slump in online journalism and news. Think of it as a service. Perhaps even a service that people would pay for.

Let’s think about this. Is there a business model here? Could some clever entrepreneur assemble small groups of journalists, equip them with laptops, and send them to conferences around the country and the world to record the events in a near-realtime manner? Setting up a wireless hub for those journalists to use at each conference is a trivial task. Building a web site with a content management system and Web-based publishing tools is also somewhat trivial.

Here’s another idea. Create a web site that asks conference attendees to report in realtime the conference events. Sign up volunteers to sit in the audience and record the sessions in realtime, much like Doc Searls did earlier this week. This could even be a value-added service that conference planners offer to differentiate their conference from the competition.

The possibilities for expanding journalism the conference reporting are seemingly endless.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at July 28, 2001 11:59 PM