Monday, May 4, 2015

Is the App the New News Breakthrough?

Scribes used to labor for years transferring the knowledge at hand laboriously into huge, beautifully illuminated manuscripts. There mission was simple; make it available for the ages and for the intellectuals who could read. A fine job was completed, especially in Ireland where they took on the task of saving all that could be saved from those who would obliterate and extinguish any ideas that existed in written form. Want to know more? Read "How the Irish Saved Civilization."

A bold invention, the printing press, saved the monks from years of labor and in so doing made literature and various forms of discourse readily available--but still only for those who could afford it. Books were a showy form of one's social standing but were probably read, too. The press also produced, in the United States, the initial broadsides that would quickly alert the colonists to how British rule as affecting their lives. Ultimately, we have to see it as the instrument that helped fire up the American Revolution and make this national rise from a colony to a country.

Cameras, men and women with the fortitude and dedication to reporting the news from the battlefront and from home, were the next technological advance that would bring change. Who can forget those iconic photos of people like Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Robert Capa, and Dorothea Lange. They brought wars and community privation into our homes so that we became more fully informed citizens. It was an awakening thanks to technology, bravery and creativity.

Television and streaming video thanks to Internet connections from far afield made it possible to imbed photojournalists and media mavens in the fields of current conflicts. First the Vietnam war came into our living rooms each night and then the combat zones of the Middle East. It was news, but of course edited to fit the time slot and the slant.

Breaking away from the more traditional, and likely funded forms of journalism, technology has  given a quantum leap to news coverage thanks to cell phones with extraordinary apps. Citizen journalists or just concerned people viewing injustice or crime has given pause to many who acts with impunity before.

Now, in the latest political campaigns that are heating up, politicians will, like never before, be faced with the harsh reality of their poorly thought out statements. This is instantaneous, widespread, unadulterated coverage that will make some cringe and others will welcome the free coverage via the Internet. How will it affect the political climate? Only time will tell.

Even as I write, we are learning that a newer app, Snapchat, may turn things truly upside down for the politicians and the American people. It's not the first internet media to test its new teeth in a political campaign, but it may be the most jarring. Directed at over 100 million users, it is aimed at a younger, more emotionally charged audience that just could be willing to repeat the actions of their parents during the 60s when marchers filled the streets in vocal protest against what they saw as an unjust war in Vietnam.

Snapchat is both bewildering and fascinating in its new push toward content provided and pushed out by people on the street as well as in-studio journos. Sure it may be a bit disjointed at first, but as it gathers steam (and it has billions of dollars with which to work) and expertise, its force will become evident. The scrambling by other social media is apparent as they attempt to respond to this latest incursion into the form.

Forget about Niki Minaj and think about something called a "geofence." It's where an area of coverage is designated and everyone, citizens on the ground as well as experienced reporters, can contribute to an instantly created media push on an issue. The cell phone is the new printing press and Gutenberg would have been floored by its power.

Long live the cell phone.