Journalism's High-Tech Revolution

By Compton, Ann | USA TODAY, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Journalism's High-Tech Revolution


Compton, Ann, USA TODAY


LOOKING DOWN FROM the window of Air Force One, the U.S. often looks small and vulnerable to me, just as it did that morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Was it really more than three years ago? Sometimes, it feels like only yesterday.

For reporters covering the American presidency, not a day goes by without feeling the impact of the terrorist attacks. It is the subtext of every story we write. I was the only broadcast correspondent allowed to remain onboard the plane that day when Pres. George W. Bush was unable to return to Washington, as he declared for the first of a thousand times that the terrorists would face justice ... as the nation's economy took a blow ... as the "new normal" became a daily ritual of security precautions in every community in the country.

Sweeping change has transformed news reporting at the White House as well. Since the day I first walked up the northwest driveway as a novice ABC News correspondent in December, 1974, a technological boom has made news faster and more accessible than ever before. The way we cover the 2004 campaign would have been science fiction to us back then.

Waukesha, Wise. July 14, 2004. An eager crowd has gathered early in the barnyard of a dusty state fairgrounds, aging farmers and young families restlessly waiting in the July sun for the arrival of the President. We White House reporters arrived about an hour early to be in place for what would be a 15-hour campaign bus tour through largely rural communities. We were led to a broad platform near the center of the crowd on which lunch tables were arranged in rows, and at each chair was a telephone line and an electrical extension cord. Behold!--a White House pressroom, al fresco, computer hook-ups and power supplies right smack dab in the middle of the news event we had arrived to cover.

Years ago, an angry presidential press secretary named Marlin Fitzwater stormed into our traveling workspace where newspaper and television correspondents were at telephones rushing to file stories, demanding we get off our butts and go out to watch the president's speech firsthand. Now, it is technically easy for us to watch and report at the same time. And the reporting never rests.

Never before has it been so necessary for journalists to hit deadlines every minute in what Americans have come to expect in a 24/7 news cycle. Even newspaper reporters have websites where perishable exclusives can be published, without losing the scoop to a competitor. Never have political organizers been so eager to use much of the same new-age technology to get around the press, and take their messages directly to the American people. They employ e-mail, websites, even campaign commercials designed to ran nowhere except on the Internet, free of the kinds of regulations that govern politics on the nation's public airwaves.

News consumers can get the headlines everywhere--car radio, office fax, Internet, laptop, pager, video streaming, or the billboards in Times Square. I have more toys than ever before to make my life easy, as do news consumers. Perhaps my grandmother's generation was just as thrilled with their automatic washers and dryers as we are with the Internet revolution. The gizmos that can turn that Wisconsin barnyard into a high-speed computerized workstation are not mysterious. but their widespread use has made this an exciting new ballgame, especially for some of us broadcasters who remember the old days of carbon paper packed with our portable typewriters. Once, I actually encountered a pay phone in a tiny Wisconsin airport during a Robert Dole campaign--rotary dial, and it took only nickels.

These days, I carry a lightweight, streamlined laptop with no peripherals: an aircard wireless modem from which I can log on from planes, trains, and automobiles: and a WiFi modem which works in more than Starbucks. A growing number of hotels, office buildings. and convention balls use it, and, at home, I compete with my four kids for access to our DSL connection. …

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