The future of TV news will be decided on Sunday

On Sunday, July 11, 2010, the future of
television news will be decided in South Africa.


As billions watch the Netherlands and
Spain play for the FIFA World Cup, a few tens of thousands will be
watching that all important match in 3D actually “stereoscopic
3D” (the official term, you’ll hear a lot from now on, as well as

The experts are already saying that the
main electronic item this Christmas will be the dual capacity 2D and
3D HDTV set, so the consumer can watch 3D broadcasts (with glasses
for now) from cable, satellite or off air, and switch to standard 2D
for the rest of the program schedule.


Three-D is coming
faster than anyone expected. The experts, those who are already
shooting 3D, say technical requirements of 3D will demand a highly
professional approach that, done properly and skillfully, will
return the photographic profession to the standards of the film era.

In May, I attended
the HotDocs conference in Toronto.

There were two
sessions on emerging 3D, one focused on production, the second on
technical issues.

I walked into the
first session, “Crafting 3D,” expecting to hear about megabuck
high tech equipment and a future years away, only to find out that
the future is now.

It began with the
release of James Cameron’s Avatar in London on Dec. 10, 2009. The
next phase of evolution began on June 11, 2010 when the first games
of the FIFA World Cup opened in South Africa. Twenty-five of the
games were to be broadcast in “stereoscopic 3D” using Sony
cameras, the $100,000 HDC-1500 and the new $30,000 P1, plus the
backend software required to put it all together. The 3D games will
be broadcast by EPSN’s, Sky’s new 3D networks and Al Jazeera.
(There’s a summary in this report from Broadcasting and Cable )

The final game will
also be broadcast in Canada in 3D by the CBC which has the Canadian
rights for the World Cup. Unfortunately the CBC (once long ago a
leader in technology) was, under its current management, late to
announce they would broadcast the 3D game -and my usually reliable
sources in the Toronto Broadcast Centre that it was pressure from the
Rogers cable company which is also one of the sponsors of the
broadcasts that forced CBC Sports into the 21st century,

The buzz was out
there for 3D coverage long before the first whistle of the World Cup.
Three-D sets were already in sports bars and sports pubs (the
Masters was broadcast in 3D) and according to the members of the
second, tech panel, “Stereoscopic 3D from script to screen” what
fans were seeing in UK sports pubs in May was already driving
consumer demand for the sets far beyond anything Avatar could have
done. It was that panel that predicted that the biggest electronic
item this Christmas will be a dual capacity 3D/2D HDTV monitor. The
standard HDTV set is already obsolete.

This week,
newspapers around the world are full of ads for 3D sets. (But one
has to wonder if the bean counting corporate publishers are paying
any attention beyond the revenue from those ads.)

The networks around
the world are keeping a close eye on the World Cup and there are
already demands for 3D content as the world telecoms put together 3D
offerings on satellite and cable. (This is also going to be a huge
headache for network bean counters who, just a couple of years ago,
spent hundreds of millions implementing HDTV, only to find that
investment has be made all over again with 3D).

There are already
shoulder mounted 3D cameras, about the size of the first heavy video
cameras or a large, professional 16mm film rig.

At “Script to
Screen” I asked the panel when there would be news crews using 3D
cameras. The consensus answer was “‘within two years.” Discovery
already plans a 3D channel
for nature and science programming,
which was also the first first attractive market for HDTV. 

The consensus of
the panel was that like HDTV, the first efforts in 3D by news
organizations will be high-end, prestige documentaries, then the
current affairs programs and finally the evening newscasts. The
panel said that there were rumours in the 3D community that 3D
planning by CNN was already well underway.

140-walleesk.jpgPanasonic is
expected to launch a smaller, lighter 3D camera costing $21,000 this
autumn, a camera that reminds one of the movie robot Wall-E.

At the
recent Profusion trade show in Toronto, both Sony and Panasonic had
3D displays. The Sony display was a mind blower, a large 3D HDTV
with a video of fish in an aquarium, quality that came close to
Avatar. Panasonic had a prototype camera that did not impress the
tech savvy crowd, whether it was the technology or the sales tech staff that set it up. The glasses didn’t work well and there were ghost
images on the screen. (But it is likely those bugs will be worked out
by the official launch)

The electronics business wants  a consumer-friendly 3D market ( amateurs and family
shooters are now an estimated at 90 per cent of the photo and video
market) and wants those photographers to shoot 3D, and already have
announced low end 3D equipment. But the experts on that panel said
that shooting 3D so that it creates an environment that draws in the
viewer–and doesn’t make them sick or trigger a headache–will
require high skill levels to shoot.

In others words it
could be a return to the film era. There were millions of amateur
photographers during the film era, but in 95% of cases, the
professional was paid for the professional product.

141-Panasonic_3d_camerask.jpgProfessional photographers and
videographers have been facing the future with
fear and loathing for the past few years as the value of their work
has declined in competition with the prosumer and amateurs whose work
is easily available for a just a dollar or more often for free.

By Christmas, 2010,
that too will begin to change. The best present for those who want
to create visually and earn a decent living, is that a blue alien and
the beautiful game will revive and reinvigorate professional

The professional
will have to master parallax, depth cues, stereoscopic depth
perception and depth resolution, interocular distance, depth
placement, convergence, orthostereoscopy and the audience’s 3D
comfort zone. (All beyond the scope of this blog).

So whether you are
cheering for the Netherlands or Spain, give a couple of cheers for
the 3D crews as well. Because if it works, it’s a whole new ball


Panasonic introduces 3D  videocamera.

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Cassandra contemplates the iPad 1.0

It’s  iPad day in the geek world, April 2, 2010, the day that Apple releases the long-awaited iPad.

Cassandra, is worried, but unfortunately no one listens to her. People should listen.

Millions apparently have already rushed online and pre-bought or pre-ordered an iPad 1.0, just as others lined up for Iphones a while ago. Then from my friends with 3G Iphones, especially those in New York, came the tweeted, blogged and voiced complaints about poor connections to wireless networks and poor battery life if you have too many of those delicious, but power-draining apps.

As for myself,  I’m going to wait and see how the iPad actually works.  Whatever happened to the old adage of never buy Version 1.0 of anything?

Just how good is the iPad battery life?

What about predictions that the iPad will overwhelm bandwidth in some parts of the world?

Just how will the public react to news originally from newspapers, wire service or TV on the iPad?

Will the public pay for news on an iPad? Some media outlets say they will charge for material on the Ipad, others say they won’t charge.   That media question alone will keep economics students writing their Phds long after the current crop of iPads is being torn apart by child labour in some developing world hell hole.

I decided that my own media preview of the iPad was in order.


So through sources on Mt. Olympus (I have family connections in that part of Greece) I asked Hermes, god of both messengers and thieves, to use his skills to obtain an iPad from Cupertino and deliver it to Cassandra, the princess from Troy who had great beauty and the gift of true prophecy but was cursed by Apollo (whom she spurned) so that no one would believe her prophecies.

It was Cassandra who warned the Trojans not to bring that wooden horse inside the city walls.

Her first reaction was, “What do I need this for? Since Apollo’s snakes licked my face, I can see all and know all.”

“I can tell you this,” Cassandra told me in an interview from an undisclosed location. “There will be unintended and surprising consequences from this iPad thingy.

“There was a day like this, not long ago, Oct. 13, 1994, when the beta version of Netscape Navigator was released. I said then that this Netscape would change the entire world within days, and no one listened, and Netscape did, the world, until today, has run on browsers.  Now there are iPads. Of course, I warned Netscape there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, but did they listen? No.

“Take that all seeing eye, the digital camera.  At first, the digital camera was expensive, and only a few professionals used one. Now millions have digital cameras and it is destroying the world of professional photography– although that world can be rebuilt in time.”

“Some expert last year welcomed the world inside what he called the castle walls of journalism in encouraging ‘user generated content.’     Well the Trojans welcomed that horse, despite my warnings, and we know what happened….

“The city was destroyed?” I asked.

“Oh that too,” Cassandra snorted.  “But can you count just how many bards, poets, writers, artists,  potters,  painters,  historians, archaeologists,  actors, movie makers, TV producers, game designers have been living off that story for the past three thousand years? Not to mention what’s coming up in 2025…..”

“What in 2025?”

“You wouldn’t believe me,  even if I told you.”  .

“So what changes will the iPad bring?”

“Well these ones you will believe because all have happened so many times before.  

“One. The war between the creators of content and the  computer engineers goes on and on just like the wars with the centaurs.  I see no end there. 

“About ten years ago, I appeared in human form at a conference of media executives. I warned them that while they had to spend money on computers, their bards and chroniclers were their most important asset.  Did they believe me? No, they didn’t. Now for every journalist they can out on to the street they have to hire three IT people.   The iPad doesn’t run Flash. That means hiring more IT people to do the same work over and over, while throwing away the people who actually create the content.  But did anyone listen? No.

“Two.  Not all centaurs were bad guys of course, look at Chiron. Some years from now, some kid will find a new and amazing way to use not just the iPad but all the tablets out there.”

“Who, what, where?”

“You wouldn’t believe me. But believe me, that kid will be fabulously rich before he’s 28.”

“Three. A lost or misplaced iPad will be the centre of a major world crisis before the year 2020.”

“What will happen?”

“You won’t believe me, even if I told you.”

“How will the iPad change journalism?”

“There will be a new device, after the iPad. It too will come from a geeky kid, in a workshop, somewhere in the developing world. Even my vision cannot see where or when this will happen.

“The browser, the smart phone, the tablet/ipad, no these will remain but this new, new thing, that will be the most profound change of all. The creators will once again be able to earn their coins. But there will be many more creators.

“Can you tell me some details?”

“You wouldn’t believe me…..”

“What do you think of the iPad?”

“The battery run out too soon.  I asked Hermes to return it.”

“Thank you Cassandra.”

“Thank you. There’s one prophecy you can believe. Copy desks around the world are going to hate the spelling i-P-a-d”

“You’re right. Thank you again.”

ALERT: Journalism students are an indicator species.

Journalism is in crisis.

So it’s now time to realize that journalism students are an “indicator species.”

Wikipedia defines an indicator species in biology  this way:

An indicator species is any biological species that defines a trait or characteristic of the environment… Indicator species can be among the most sensitive species in a region, and sometimes act as an early warning to monitoring biologists.

Wikipedia goes on to give seven sub definitions  for indicator species.  In my view, in the current media environment journalism students fit sub definitions 6 and 7.

  • a species thought to be sensitive to and therefore to serve as an early warning indicator of environmental changes such as global warming or modified fire regimes (sometimes called a bioindicator species)
  • a management indicator species, which is a species that reflects the effects of a disturbance regime or the efficacy of efforts to mitigate disturbance effects.

(my emphasis)

For the past twenty years, journalism students have been serving as an early warning indicator of the changes coming in the media.  Those warnings have, for the most part,  been ignored by the faculty of most journalism schools, and more important, by the executives and managers of most media organizations.

 How journalism students have regarded the media, the newspapers, television, the web,  reflect in the effects of a disturbance regime in the media ecosystem– the rise of the World Wide Web and  the failure of the majority of media executives and managers to adapt realistically to a rapidly changing world.

Earlier today, a posting by a journalism professor at Carleton University in Ottawa  called  “My students don’t have TVs” triggered a lot of Tweets and interest

Marilyn Mercer, as is common among j-profs, assigned her broadcast news students to watch the major Canadian national network newscasts.

She says:

I began this course assigning weekly analysis of the flagship nightly newscasts at CTV and CBC.  At first, some students panicked. “I don’t have cable,” said one. “Nor TV,” said another. Knowing this was about marks, they went online to or and started watching stories that often begin with [CBC Anchor} Peter [Mansbridge] or [CTV anchor]  Lloyd [Robertson].

(Note I currently work for CBC News as a photo editor and in my career at both CBC and at CTV  I have worked with both Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd Robertson)

Mercer asked her students to take a look at the controversial relaunch of CBC news on October 26, including the change from CBC Newsworld to the new CBC News Network.
Mercer says:

None of them had yet watched CBC NN, but said they’d heard about “how people don’t like it.”

She is concerned in her post about the content of the news, which I won’t go into for the purpose of this post.

But on the medium itself, Mercer also says:

CBC’s The National can probably forget about getting my class demographic, even if they are j-school students. This generation wears the news in their clothing and won’t make an appointment to view it late in the evening. They monitor their hand-held devices throughout the day often after texts from friends to check out something, on YouTube, or like the boy in the balloon.

The first  reaction in online comments to Mercer’s post  is typical

So… these kids want to be broadcast journalists but don’t even own/watch TV?
This is a joke, right?

Claude Adams, another former CBC journalist, now a freelancer and teacher responded in the comments:

Alas, not a joke at all. I got the same general response a few years ago from a class of graduate-level broadcast journalism students here on the west coast. Many didn’t watch TV news unless it  was assigned.

A number of them said “it isn’t relevant” although they thought that [Comedy Central’s] Jon Stewart and  [CBC’s] George Stroumboulopoulos were cool.
Two weeks ago, I asked a class of 4th year communications students at the U of Windsor what they thought of The National’s new look. Not a single one had watched. “You are exactly the demographic that the CBC is courting,” I told them. They shrugged.

Here is proof that J-students are an indicator species.

That attitude is not limited to the journalism schools. Another study, also tweeted today, of American students, Alloy Media + Marketing’s 9th annual College Explorer Survey, projected annual technology spending among college students (ages 18-30), showed that

Students are spending twice as much time on their computers as compared to television viewing 33% of 18-24 year old students have increased their consumption of webisodes or user-generated videos since last year, and 30% of 18-30 year olds report frequent video viewing on social networking sites

Let’s turn the clock back about 15 years, when I began teaching (as a part -time instructor)  investigative reporting at Ryerson University School of Journalism.
In the winter semester of 1995, when I introduced final year and grad students to Computer-Assisted Reporting, I had to teach half the students a lot about computers.

 Two years later,  that sort of basic teaching was no longer necessary, the students were all computer wizards and so I could get right to the heart of Computer-Assisted Reporting.

That was the same time journalism faculty across the continent began to ring alarm bells.  “They’re not reading newspapers!”  

By that time of course, most major news organizations (but not all)  had created news websites and that was where many students were already getting their news.

The first reaction at most journalism schools was something like this: “So the little monsters aren’t  reading newspapers. Well, we’ll make them read newspapers by giving them news quizzes.”

Then there were the usual remarks about how bad, lazy, the younger generation was.  Of course,  older adults have been saying that at least since students in ancient Athens gathered to listen to Socrates. (It probably goes back at least to the first scribe schools in ancient Sumeria but so far as I know there wasn’t a Sumerian Plato to record the remarks).

When I was a grad student at Carleton (74-75) we did have a couple of  news quizzes,  but they were challenging scavenger hunts.

We devoured newspapers. 

First thing I did each morning was open the door of my old Ottawa apartment (if it was New York or Boston it would be probably be called brownstone)  and grab The Globe and Mail, which had a new investigative story almost every morning.

Assigning a news quiz didn’t make the students of the late 1990s grab a newspapers first thing in the morning.

I stopped working at Ryerson in 2001.  I returned for one semester in 2004, to help teach first year students. By then the news quiz  had changed.  No longer a scavenger hunt for kids who devoured  newspapers (the carrot) nor a way of forcing them to read newspapers (the stick), instead the news quiz was now a time limited exercise in searching Google News.

If those students  from the mid-1990s are still lucky enough to have jobs in newspapers, they may read their own rag in print, but are highly unlikely to read the opposition in print, instead they are going online.

Their contemporaries are not reading newspapers. That’s why the business is in trouble.

Journalism students were and are an indicator species.

This is similar to what Mercer notes her post, “Knowing this was about marks….”  that made the students rush to their computers to watch the online versions of the network newscasts.

Now we see the same trend in broadcast and cable television, as we saw in newspapers a decade ago,  where the younger audience is drifting away.

It is the same argument I had with journalism profs (most weren’t listening)  when I attended conferences in the 90s.  If you can’t get journalism students to read your product, how to expect the rest of the generation to read it?

Broadcast executives around the world say they want the younger audience, the 18-34 or 40 demographic demanded by advertisers.  But they want that audience to fit into their metrics. They don’t want to give the audience what they want to see or hear.

Ask anyone of that age  and you quickly learn that broadcasting is not serving that audience.

Last summer, on Vancouver Island, I went to photograph some Canada Day fireworks with a friend who is in his 20s,  more than 30 years younger than me.   That evening I hung out with some of his friends (none of them in journalism).  They told me that they didn’t listen to the three private-sector radio stations in the area.

“They’re all the same,” one guy said.

Of course, they all sound  the same, the days of a individual DJ are decades dead. 

What those stations broadcast is “mix,”  play-list pap that comes out some consultant’s office, likely in Los Angeles. 

My friend who is a part time DJ,  says these days if anyone requests a tune that he doesn’t have in his system, he (honestly paying for it) downloads it from Itunes into his Iphone and then transfers it to his music system. Who needs playlist pap?

What I did find interesting was that these 20-odd year-olds liked and listened to CBC’s information radio at a time when the stereotype, even within the CBC, is that the audience consists of aging boomers.

Those guys also listened to the online CBC Radio 3.  I found the same thing last weekend at a session of a conference of student newspaper journalists at Wilfred Laurier University where I was one of the speakers.  Most of the students listened to Radio 3’s eclectic mix of largely Canadian original music.


Then New Democratic Party leader David Lewis (right) and political columnist Anthony Westell speak to Carleton University grad journalism students in the fall of 1975. (copyright Robin Rowland)

Back to Carleton for a moment.  It’s in Canada’s capital, blocks from Parliament Hill.  The Carleton Journalism program has a well-earned reputation for turning out political reporters.  In 74-75. we had guest speakers,  party leaders and top journalists, come to our class.  I am pretty sure people from the Hill  still show up at Carleton from time to time.

Now in 2009, you can’t get journalism students in the national capital to watch the major national newscasts?   If you can’t get journalism students in a political city to watch the major newscasts, how do you expect the rest of the generation to watch those shows?

There are reasons, of course, not just that the times they are a changing,  that the students don’t have TVs and cable.

Cable is too expensive, my Rogers bill is $71.72 a month. I wonder if it is worth it.
Cable certainly isn’t worth it for a student, likely overburdened by student loan debt, with not that many job prospects in the current economy, who can get specifically online what they want they want to watch.

 I  know more and more  friends actually in broadcasting, from people in their 20s, through boomers to retired folks, who are canceling their cable and relying on over-the-air HD antennas or HD USB antennas plugged into their laptops to watch broadcasts and who watch everything else online.

Enjoying their current multimillion dollar incomes, the cable companies aren’t noticing.  Yet

Just as newspapers didn’t notice a decade ago.

 The networks around the world are likely feeling a bit of a chill wind, but they prefer to continue on a consultant driven path to who knows where.

Journalism students are an indicator species.

I am not saying (yet) that journalism schools give up their mission.

But let’s get real.  The majority of students in journalism school or working on student newspapers these days are entering the profession knowing that the media is  in a big mess and they still want to be journalists.  That really is reason for optimism.

So J-schools, it’s time to stop worrying about the delivery system, the newspapers, the television, the web or whatever appears out of the silicon universe a year or two from now.

Do what you should be doing.   Teach strong story telling. No matter what the medium.

Did I say that journalism students are an indicator species?

Yes. I did.

That mean’s there’s good news for journalism.
From the young folks I know, from the ones I’ve met either in person or online, I have confidence that the new generation of journalism students and young working journalists will be remembered as “a greatest generation” and I will tell you why in my next post in a couple of days.

Journalism students ARE an indicator species.

How to survive as a visual journalist in the 21st century

On Nov. 6, 2009, I was invited to speak to student newspaper journalists at the PULSE conference at Wilfred Laurier University  in Waterloo, Ontario about how to survive the coming years as a visual journalist.

Here, as promised, is a PDF copy of my talk, with the appropriate web links.


(Large file, right click and save as appropriate to your software)