Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When technology and I were young

One of the best ... and most frustrating ... days I've had in journalism was 20 years ago this September, when I did some work as a stringer for National Public Radio. President Ronald Reagan was flying into Kansas City to make a campaign speech for Kit Bond, who was running for the U.S. Senate. It wasn't expected to be much of an event, which is why it fell to me, instead of some more established reporter, to cover the arrival of Air Force One at the little airport in downtown Kansas City.
But then, as the plane approached the city, word came that the Soviets would release imprisoned journalist Nicholas Daniloff.

That was huge news. 1986 was a tense time in the Cold War, and the detention of Daniloff had outraged many Americans.
NPR and I slammed together a plan. First, I would record interviews with the crowd, asking them for reactions to Daniloff's release. Then, as the plane landed, I would go live on NPR by phone.
At first, things went smoothly. One of the NPR hosts introduced the story, talked about Reagan's arrival, and then interviewed me. I described the plane as it taxied down the runway. I talked about Daniloff. I talked about the Soviets. I talked about how the crowd was acting. Eventually we switched to the microphone on the podium to hear the President's speech. Later, the host came back on the air to ask me a few more questions. Then he thanked me and I signed off. It was fantastic.

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I felt like a "real" reporter. I was positively giddy from the experience.
But my memory of the event is largely confined to what happened next.
In order to send my interviews to D.C., I had to connect my tape recorder to the pay phone. It was a cumbersome process that involved fitting a strange piece of gray-colored foam rubber over the mouthpiece. But I couldn't get it to work. The sound quality was awful. I'd send it. NPR would say they couldn't hear it. I'd send it again. They still couldn't hear it.
And I struggled and fumbled with this for a long time until -- believe it or not -- a female sergeant based on Air Force One came over with a tool box to help me dismantle the phone and connect the recorder directly with a set of alligator clips.

I thought about the technological struggles of that day -- as primitive as they sound now -- when I read a piece by Folio about a day in the life of an online editor.
Folio followed Kristin Campbell through a hectic workday at B2B publication DSNews as she wrote and edited news for the Web site while also producing and appearing in a video news program. The Folio article tells an interesting story, and Campbell is an endearing source who talks openly about the time and technological challenges of her job.
The Folio story is a worthwhile read for anyone who wonders what life will soon be like for almost everyone in journalism. And what's most heartening about the piece is that Campbell's joy in her job is apparent.
Take a look at the article here.
Then click here to visit DSNews to read and watch the fruits of Campbell's labor.

tags: , , , , ,


  1. Enjoyed the story Paul. Us young whippersnappers can't relate to the payphone stuff, but trying to find a hot-spot can be just as frustrating sometimes!

  2. Thanks Danny.
    I got a kick out of the related story on your blog as well (Note to readers: Danny runs, a "world for online journalists.)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.