Ahead of last week’s launch of Apple’s iPad tablet computer, some commentators had suggested that the device could save journalism. It won’t do anything of the sort, but the way the event was covered provides insights into the future of journalism.
Last Wednesday evening, a friend and I were glued to a computer screen for two hours, watching a live video feed from the Apple presentation in San Francisco.
I already know I want an iPad and will be one of the first people lining up to buy one when they eventually go on sale in SA — in all likelihood in the second half of this year.
Don’t get me wrong, though. This device is far from perfect. It doesn’t support Adobe Flash, a popular way of displaying animated content on the Web. Then there’s the lack of ports, so you can’t easily hook the iPad up to an external hard drive or plug in extra memory. And there’s no camera.
Then again, Apple plans to sell the iPad relatively cheaply, starting at just US$499 for the 16GB version, and adding these components would have added to the price.
Whether it’s the miracle tablet described in the hype is another matter altogether.
Some columnists have suggested that the iPad could save journalism by enticing people to pay for digital newspaper and magazine subscriptions in a world where most online news content is given away free of charge.
I think that’s expecting too much. After all, the iPad offers a great way to browse the Web and access all that free news content.
It’s not going to save the news business. But the way the launch was covered by the mainstream media and by bloggers provides big clues about the future of journalism.
A legion of bloggers and journalists were providing near-live updates and commentary to websites such as Gizmodo and Engadget. Even The Wall Street Journal was live-blogging the event.
The immediacy of the information flow was incredible. Every word uttered on stage by Apple CEO Steve Jobs was immediately reported on, analysed, tweeted about and blogged. The “news” published the next day in newspapers was already old hat. The event had been comprehensively dissected within hours of its conclusion. Even broadcast networks like CNN couldn’t keep up with the speed with which the news was reported and analysed online.
Leo Laporte, founder of the technology podcast network This Week in Tech, offered arguably the best live video coverage of the event. Within minutes of Jobs concluding his address, Laporte had set up a rudimentary “studio” on the pavement outside the auditorium, and, with a panel of experts in his real studio an hour’s drive from San Francisco, he began dissecting and interpreting the event.
At one point, Laporte had more than 1,2m simultaneous online viewers — the sort of number usually associated with hit television shows.
In many respects Laporte, who makes good money from his podcast network, is pioneering modern multimedia journalism. If you have a decent connection, check out his live video stream at live.twit.tv and his network of podcasts at twit.tv. Watching this live stream, which is best done at night in SA — San Francisco is 10 hours behind SA — is compelling if you’re into tech and gadgets.
There’s no reason journalists who specialise in other fields — entertainment, politics, sport — can’t adopt Laporte’s model, creating online, interactive, multimedia-based news and infotainment.
Rather than saving journalism, the iPad simply offers another way to access digital content. It’s people like Laporte who could change the way the craft of journalism is practised — and keep it relevant for people who demand information in real-time.
- McLeod is editor of TechCentral