I've been experimenting recently with CNN's site for "citizen journalism" (named iReport). I created a few video posts of myself in response to requests for questions targeted at future visitors to Wolf Blitzer's "The Situation Room" (you can see my iReport site here - http://www.ireport.com/people/JohnCarroll). There are a few kinks in the site to work out, some of which I've submitted as feedback to the folks at CNN, but its actually a fun thing to do, and the "prize," if you will, is that you might see yourself on TV. I managed that on my first try, which is a bit unfortunate, as it was my first attempt at doing something like this, and I sat too close to the damn camera (my, grandma, what a big nose you have).
Video is clearly different than writing, a fact I am learning somewhat slowly. I have started - and abandoned - several comments for iReport simply because the result looked like I was reading an article out of an encyclopaedia. Perhaps, with practice, people grow really skilled at reading something and making it sound extemporaneous. Stand-up comics must deliver the exact same joke hundreds of times while making it seem like some witty observation just popped into their head on the spot. I, clearly, haven't acquired that skill, though I'm settling on making really pithy bulletpoints as guide to what I'm going to say. The result looks more natural than trying to speak on camera the tortured prose I'm prone to include in ZDNet blog posts.
The fact that more people can contribute to news, however, shows just how much digital technology has changed things. The shift is driven by two key events, a) digital recording hardware and software priced at "commodity" levels (my PC video camera cost maybe 50 bucks), and b) the existence of a global Internet, making it easy to distribute and view our creations. That might not seem very suprising to the tech-savvy types who read ZDNet and now get most of their news from the Internet, but I'm old enough to remember when you only got your news from newspapers, magazines and TV.
I visited Santa Monica this past Saturday to view the art exhibits of "Nuit Blanche," a clone of a festival they've been doing in Paris for quite awhile. It's an "art show" of sorts where the exhibits run from 7pm to 7am, many of which do interesting things with lights (which is logical, as it is mostly at night). That was interesting, but the geek inside me couldn't ignore the sea of hands holding up cell phones and video cameras in front of some of the displays (I didn't have my video camera, as my wife had absconded with it to a foreign country).
Nothing is private, and everyone is, potentially, a journalist. Journalists are still essential, as they represent specialists who are good at speaking to a camera and have an eye for interesting stories. Specialists always have advantages over hobbyists because, usually, they spend more time honing their craft. The digital revolution, however, has widened the net of potential news sources. That's something from which traditional news venues can benefit, provided they are smart about how they harness it.