NBC News has acquired a new user-generated, live video service called Stringwire which they’ll use to help gather on-the-scene coverage of breaking stories.
The company’s name is probably a combination of two terms commonly used in news journalism – stringer and wire. A stringer is a freelance journalist or photographer who sells his content to a news “wire” for distribution to a variety of news outlets. It’s a grand old system that has been around since newspapers began and it works because you can’t have a reporter standing by in every city waiting for news.
Stringwire takes that concept a step further with a system that turns every person with smartphone into a news producer.
The service works by tapping into the multitudes of people who send Twitter messages when they witness a news event. Those people will receive a Twitter post that asks them to click a link and point their camera at what they are seeing. Without any special app, the service will start streaming live video to NBC. The video submissions will be vetted just like any other material the network uses.
What makes this different from any other, user-generated material is the fact that it can be streamed live and that it can be directed. By combining the actions of several people in the thick of it, NBC news can get the full story from different angles, as it happens.
The idea is perfect for a world where news agencies get their leads from social media. Do you watch the HBO series The Newsroom? On the show, the news producers are trying to verify a story about a gas attack by US troops so where do they look? On Twitter. And that’s where they find their smoking gun.
Sure, the show is fictional, but you know this is going on in newsrooms all over the world.
Which brings us back to Stringwire. If the app catches on, there’s an increased chance for misuse. NBC says they’ll be vetting every bit of footage before use but given that the whole point of the app is that it’s live, that doesn’t make sense. In the middle of a crisis, a producer is going to feel the pressure to get the story on the air before the competitors have it. That’s going to lead to mistakes.
I think that anything that brings the world closer together is a good thing. I’m just concerned about the trend away from professional journalists in favor of average Joe’s with a cell phone.
What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Or still a little ways to go before we work out the bugs?