Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Austin Post “Real-Time Report”

Awkward and Scary

“Austin Post aims to be a newspaper ‘of the people, by the people, for the people," fostering a living conversation about issues of particular relevance to the people of Austin,’ concludes the “Austin Post” (www.austinpost.org) news release about an “app” for real-time reporting. Just go to the app store.

There are problems here.

There are a lot of people who don’t have iPhones or any other so-called “smart phones” for that matter, and there is no app for that. So, the concept isn’t really of all of the people, by the people…”

Cellular telephones are ubiquitous nowadays. Some people even still use the bar phones. You know, the ones that are shaped sort of like a fudge-icicle. They don’t take pictures. Some may access the Internet, but not very well. They may text, but not very well. Older flip-phones aren’t much better. I have a 3G phone, but texting is a pain.

Bottom line: The real time reports touted by Austin Post are only f0r the elite, those who can afford and iPhone and its Austin Post app. If these Post readers and writers are not elite, they aren’t into the Apple nation.

Austin Post seems to be working hard to improve the usefulness of the real-time reporting. When it started, it was used by people updating scores of local high school football games—a rather limited audience, certainly not encompassing all of the people. So, the post with its new app is running contests November 17-December 2 in the next encouraging real-time posts for traffic, city issues, fitness, and Thanksgiving cheer. Hmmmm. I just realized that texting about traffic could constitute texting while driving. That would be illegal in Austin now.

Another problem with the real-time traffic posts is that the people who really need them are in their vehicles parked on MOPAC. Yes, the contests are probably meant to encourage posts, but it is analogous to the old question: “If the tree falls in the forest and there is no on there to hear it, did it make a sound?” If there is useful, real-time information there, we will hear the tree. If there are only posts like, “I just smoked the best turkey ever” nobody will care.

Also, obviously you need to be into texting to be part of this new feature. This goes back to one of the original issues with this feature on Austin Post. There may be a lot of people who want useful content, but they aren’t into punching buttons on their phones repeatedly to create 105 characters of “content”.

To be fair, the concept has value. “We think this a potentially huge way to take what has become a news outlet--Twitter--and streamline it. Anyone who submits a Real Time Report has the intention of sharing news, which makes our widget really valuable for someone looking for quick-hit news updates. You can see immediate traffic updates, sports scores, crime reports, events, and more," says Lyssa Myska Allen, Austin Post editor-in-chief. True. If Austinites discover and use the medium, it has journalism potential.

What I fear is what I have posted about in recent days: These real-time posts could be harmful. If, God forbid, there is a big news story, these posts could be the source of rumors, not truth. They need to be vetted. They must be vetted.

© Jim McNabb, 2009

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