Monday, May 21, 2007

Is "text" a verb?

My wife and I use text messages all the time. She’s a lawyer. I cover courts. One of us is usually in a courtroom. We coordinate schedules, pick up kids, make plans. Did I mention we use them all the time? Then we got our monthly bill. I had 500 text messages. Gaye had 500. Garrett, the high school senior, had 3,500 - more than 100 a day. Thankfully, we have unlimited use of text messages.

Despite the allure of video, audio, slide shows and Flash animations in this exciting new era of story telling, we still live in a text world. There’s email, IM, blogs. The kids, as they say, “text” each other. They say that if only hear me yell; “Text isn’t a verb.” Then they laugh and text some more.

In the on-line world, we are the instant messengers of what is happening in the world around us. Yet I still see so many reporters who don’t think of the immediacy of the web. They act like we still have day to file a story. But look at the numbers, and breaking news is the heart of our web sites.

We have to stop thinking like newspaper reporters and start thinking like a wire service correspondents. File a bulletin: a nut graph. Follow with a first lede write-thru – a brief. Update as we gain information. Write an alternate lede, an anecdotal, or even a narrative story, to go in the print edition. Use our video and audio to supplement our stories with layers of additional information. Narrative journalism is romantic and great to wake up to. But the web has kept the inverted pyramid the workhorse of our daily lives.

When we start looking then for the tools we need to progress on-line, there’s many opinions on “what kind of gear do I need?” If you look to my favorite blogs you’ll find a wealth of information about all price ranges of cameras, microphones, recorders. I’ve found some cool stuff, too, that I’ll pass along in future posts.

But the first really useful tool I purchased as a web reporter was a "Smartphone." Personally, I have a Treo. At the time, it was the only one that had a full-size foldable keyboard. Don’t try typing a story with all thumbs. Now, there are similar keyboards for a BlackBerry. It all fits into your pocket, less bulky than a laptop.

I still get asked how we had so much detail from the courtroom in our live blog two yeas ago during Dennis Rader’s hearings as the BTK serial killer. I was doing that from the courtroom, emailing to our blogger back in the newsroom (note: before doing this, get permission from the judge and don’t forget to keep the ringer silenced).

I’ve used it at election night watch parties and from crime scenes. With newer versions, you can take that quick video clip of a fire or snap a photo to email back if you have to get a shot before a photographer gets there. Your visuals won’t make 1A or win any video awards, but our job is to first get the news posted.

Yes, the phones can be pricey, but you can get good deals on used ones on E-Bay. Think of it as an investment that will let you break news all day long, from your pocket without hauling a laptop. Buy one. Then text away.

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