Digital Journalism with Wearable Technologies

Dr. Pradeep Nair*
Harikrishnan Bhaskaran**
Harsh Mishra***

Wearable technology is gradually permeating into the newsrooms of top media organizations. It is an exciting new technology for the journalists, changing the way news stories are reported and shared with the audiences. CNN became the first media organization to embrace the use of wearable technology when it started to collect news from citizen journalists for its citizen journalist portal – iReport. The technology has the potential to literally change the way we look at news.

A wearable technology is a wearable pair of internet-connected eyeglasses with a built-in computer and video camera. The device can record videos and take photographs without using hands, allowing the journalists to narrate first-person, investigational stories during distressing and traumatic events such as riots, natural calamities and disasters. The technology also offers useful social-media capabilities which could provide the journalists with new ways to connect to their sources and audiences. In wearable device, a small rectangular prism or cube rests in the frame, just above the right eye, and projects a screen that allows people wearing the device to do hands-free computing, record video or to look up information simply by giving voice commands. When the person wearing the glass activates the screen, it looks like a 25 inch colour television floating about eight feet in front of him/her.

When turned on through a tap of finger or a nod of the head, a menu appears on the small floating screen, which can be navigated through oral commands or physical commands through the touch-pad. Wearable technology may be connected to the internet using Wi-Fi or to the user’s cell phone via Bluetooth for making calls, sending text messages and receiving directions.

The possibility to record and to stream real-time videos without becoming oblivious of one’s surroundings is the most important capability that wearable technologies proffers to the journalists. The live-streaming capabilities of this technology allow the journalists to broadcast instantly the events that they view through their viewfinder. Thus, they help the reporters to record and stream live amid harsh reporting conditions. The reporters have full mobility during awkward and threatening situations and may take all preventive measures humanely possible such as running, jumping or using their hands to get out of those situations. The technology has the potential to substantially reduce spatial constraints faced by the journalists as well as their audiences.

According to Dan Pacheco, a wearable technology expert, who teaches journalism and innovation at the Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University, this kind of technology is adding a lot of value to video and photo stories as one can capture point-of-view-shots, which can provide a direct perspective that makes viewers feel like they are in the middle of an event and experiencing it, rather than watching it through a screen.

At present, there are certain technological limitations posed by wearable technologies that need to be surmounted before its full potential may be realized by the journalists. First and foremost is the comparatively short battery life of the equipment used in this technology. Imagine a journalist going all the way to war-torn Iraq and in the middle of covering an exclusive story, the battery runs out. Although the manufacturer of the wearable technologies are working ceaselessly towards updating the device’s software to improve its web browsing battery life and other capabilities, one cannot predict how long it will take to get an improved version out.

The manufacturers have already included some unique features in the technology like ‘taking picture with a wink’ which is a faster process than using a voice command or the touchpad. However, it needs to take major technological leaps in terms of high definition recording and enhanced editing capabilities because journalists have to work in demanding field conditions such as bad weather, insufficient light, etc. The quality of microphone attached with wearable technology is also an impediment for the journalists using it. It captures surrounding sounds quiet well but does give below par performance when comes to interviews.

The news industry experts like Jeff Jarvis, a journalist working with CNN who teaches at the City University of New York believes that the advances taking place with the technology will soon use an intelligence system with facial recognition to identify with whom the user is interacting. It could also use GPS or image recognition to develop a ‘what happened here?’ application which will inform the user about the significant events happening in a particular area where the user is roaming. All these advances are opening up new opportunities for journalists and storytellers for collaborative reporting.

If wearable technology is practiced widely, news gathering and news reporting practices can be advanced and this can modernize journalism practices that have often been criticized for lagging behind times by failing to adapt in areas from education to professional conduct. With this exciting technology, certain recording etiquette and common practice will develop to accommodate privacy concerns and legal consequences.

The technology is also revolutionizing citizen journalism, as now anyone can break news by sharing the images and video in a fraction of second with the help of wearables. The iReport experiment of CNN is really doing well with the wearable technology as a large number of people are sharing amazing images and stories everyday on this platform. News agencies like BBC, CBS and CNET have also started allowing citizens to upload breaking news through wearable technologies.

However, just as the device is getting popular, a scare is also spreading. Journalists who were part of the Wearable Technology Explorer programme experienced that people who knew about wearable technologies are feeling uncomfortable since they were not sure if the moments are being recorded. Thus, it may be possible that as the wearables gets common, its non-intrusiveness nature may come down with people becoming ‘wearable-conscious’. Moreover, serious concerns have been raised about the chances of privacy violations with the use of wearable technologies. Wearable technologies like Google Glass are already banned in some public places like bars and pet stores in San Francisco in US, for the fear of privacy violations.

Despite all these concerns, wearable technology especially Google Glass is going to bring changes to journalistic practices. However, some important journalistic issues relating to Glass Journalism need a serious contemplation. How the story created by wearable technology will look like on various delivery platforms, what kind of narrative experiences can be created by this technology, what are the limitations, how journalism schools are going to respond to this technology, how much these schools are interested in including this in their curriculum, what kind of maturity is required to handle this technology in real journalism practice, are all very pertinent questions in this regard. A lot debate and orientation is taking place across the globe to discuss these issues. The pilot experiments have given an indication that the wearable technologies have a bright future but it will take at least two-three years to bring this technology to mainstream journalistic practice.

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