Friday, September 3, 2010

How mobile journalism is progressing

Update: Thoughts on the experience added from reporters Dave Canfield and Cecelia Martinez below.

Time for an update on how the first of the mobile journalism experiments went this week.

On Wednesday, cops and courts reporter Dave Canfield took the netbook over to Rensselaer County Court in order to transmit his articles from out of the office. He sent back an article on a robbery, as well as one on opening arguments in the murder trial.

However, the court doesn't allow use of computers, cell phones, or cameras in the courtroom without permission from the judge. When the court broke for lunch, Canfield opted to go to walk to his nearby apartment rather than use the netbook to file the stories, which was fine because there wasn't really a delay in his getting information back to the office.

Canfield's experience:

It was much, much easier filing from the field.
If I hadn't needed to eat, I would've just stayed at the courthouse and done it from the netbook. Past trials have proven it nearly impossible during a lunch break to get back to the newsroom, write a web story about the trial, write any cop briefs from the morning's arrest reports, maybe eat something and get back to the courthouse on time. It was very easy to do all of that the other day.

It will be even easier when the jury is deliberating their verdict, which is when i typically sit around the courthouse all day long into the late night and, if there's no verdict, rush back to the newsroom at 10:30 p.m. to write a lengthy story. This way, I'll be able to have that already written once the jury heads home as a pre-written no-verdict story, and I'll also be able to write a shell story for if there is a verdict that day. I might not even need to head back to the newsroom.

Thursday, Cecelia Martinez took the netbook to a Troy City Council meeting, as well as a committee meeting before hand and e-mailed her articles back to the office.

Here's her take on the experience:
Things moved pretty quickly between the finance committee meeting and the regular meeting so I didn't actually have time in between to write what happened at the finance meeting, but I did take advantage of some of the more off-topic speakers during the public comment period and fire off a story back to [night editor] Rebecca about some comments on the pavilion legislation. I was able to get a lot of writing done, so that my story was about 90 percent complete when I got back (just had to change the lede and address the vote). Since I was writing two stories and had to finish up a third, I was able to get out of the office a lot quicker (and get copy to rebecca working on deadline) quicker as well. Because the second story centered on the votes of some other legislation, I didn't write it until I got back to the office, but I was able to take advantage of some typed "note-taking" (interesting quotes, descriptions) to compile the story much faster than if I was flipping through 10 pages of notes in my notebook.

There was some confusion about what to do with the updates. The story I sent back to Rebecca was mid-meeting, but she thought it was a final story and had already laid it out on the page when I got back. I was thinking more along the lines of her putting it up on the web and then I would make some alterations to make it suitable for the next day's print edition. Because the meetings are so close to deadline, I think in the future I will have to be more clear on whether the story is a final, print-ready version or a post-this-to-the-web version.

I also was sent a statement from Peter Grimm, who could not attend the meeting, via e-mail, and the netbook came in handy to open the attachment. I can open attachments on my smartphone to read them, but the netbook allowed me to actually copy and paste quotes into the story.

The netbook also fit easily into my purse, and didn't feel nearly as obtrusive as I had feared it might be. I've taken laptops to cover stories before and they felt clunky or awkward. I did take some handwritten notes when talking to people after the meeting, but I was able to handle my notebook and the netbook without feeling like I was juggling.

As expected, there were a few hiccups with the first run, but I still see it as moving in the right direction. When I get Canfield's thoughts I'll update this post again.



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