Things have really changed over the course of my career as a journalist. Actually, to call it a "career" is really a bit of a joke – I've only been here for two years. The point is that even in that short time, we've seen some exciting changes in the way news is transmitted to readers/viewers.
For hard-core newshounds, Twitter really was a game-changer. The service, at least to my knowledge, wasn't widely used even two years ago, but that's changed. Every news outlet and most local reporters have informative and oft-updated feeds. Can't attend a meeting or an event? Don't worry about it. Someone else is, and they're live-Tweeting 140-character updates, keeping you posted on what's going on. Like anything, you have to consider the source, but with a good mix of feeds you can usually come away with a pretty good understanding of what happened.
But Twitter is so last year. Don't get me wrong, I'm still an obsessive Twitter user, but now there are ways to get the news to an audience more quickly and without a filter. I'm talking about live streaming video. You no longer need a $200,000 satellite truck, high-quality cameras, professional photographers, well-placed microphones or high-dollar light sets to do it. All you really need is an Android phone.
Justin.tv, a live-streaming smartphone app, allows users to broadcast instantly from anywhere. You can download the app to your Android phone or iPhone, although the iPhone doesn't have a broadcast option just yet. That's coming, developers say.
What's great about the service is you no longer have to rely on anyone else for instant analysis, or keep up with multiple Twitter feeds. You can watch a news event as it unfolds.
Two weeks ago the Times broadcast a press conference held by Republican candidate for governor Jim Keet. I sat in the front row, phone in hand, and broadcast the entire presser from my Justin.tv channel. The video, which can be embedded directly into a blog post, was then placed on the front page of our website on the Arkansas Blog. Live video. On a blog. We couldn't believe how great it turned out.
If you miss the live broadcast, you can tune in later and watch a saved version of the video, as nearly 3,000 people have done with the Keet video (that's a lot of viewers for a boring, run-of-the-mill press conference).
And the quality's not that bad. The video was a little pixilated, but that's to be expected. The stream was steady and reliable, unlike a couple of other services we've tried like Qik and Ustream, and the audio was clear.
The best thing about Justin.tv's app is its simplicity. It's easier to use than other services, the interface is very similar to a Flip camera (that is, it's idiot-proof) and letting people know you're going live is a snap. Once you press record, the service sends a message to all of your Twitter followers and Facebook friends and provides a link to the broadcast. According to Mashable, a popular tech blog, "Justin.tv may not have been the first player in the live-video-from-mobile game, in our opinion and experience, its product is still the best available to consumers right now."
Jason Tolbert, author of the Tolbert Report blog, broadcast the recent Lincoln/Boozman debate live from Justin.tv (my battery was dead). The event also got the streaming treatment from Fox 16, which did a great job and offered a slick, well-produced broadcast on its website. The content was the same; the only difference was production value, quality and the price tag. I doubt any local news outlet can broadcast an event at literally no cost. One thing that YouTube and the Internet have shown us is that people are willing to watch a low-quality video as long as they are interested in the content.
Of course, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it all the time, or rely on the technology too heavily. Journalists should not abdicate their responsibility – giving a careful and thoughtful account of a news event, complete with enough information and analysis to place that event in its appropriate context – to a smartphone app. But it will be interesting to see how these tools are used in the future and how audiences and news organizations continue to interact with them. As with any new technology, it will be a wonder to see what new gadget will render it completely obsolete.