Friday, December 31, 2004

Spreading the News

By now we've all heard and seen much information on the terrible tsunami that took place in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas. At times the news coverage seems to overwhelm us, coming in waves as huge as those that roared over beautiful beaches, expensive resorts and small, poor, fishing villages alike. Currently the death toll stands at approximately 150,000 people with thousands more injured and homeless. The death toll is bound to go higher and, although all tourists will likely be accounted for, an accurate toll among residents may never be known since some villages in remote areas of the region were completely destroyed.

How does this sad news relate to telecommunications? Well, even before the first reports began to filter into the major news reports, survivors with cell phones were calling loved ones around the world to assure them that they were safe. These were the first reports of the tragedy. Network news was talking and showing maps of the area with some interviews by phone. Soon after, bloggers were sharing the news, even posting amateur video of the tsunami striking the coasts and wreaking havoc on paradise. Many of the videos of the destruction you see on the national news and the cable channels came from the Internet, provided by tourists via the bloggers. It took days for network correspondents to reach the area.

Compare this to past news coverage. In the first Gulf War, three reporters from CNN had a videophone with them that sent grainy, jerky pictures. Most coverage though still came on videotape that had to be taken to a news office, uploaded and then sent by satellite to the news networks. Much of this footage had to be smuggled across the border. The taped reports were hours old when they were broadcast.

During the Vietnam war in the 1960s, news stories were shot on film which then had to be sent to an airport, flown to the network, developed and then finally edited and broadcast. The entire process took days, and coverage of breaking news was just not practical.

Past coverage of wars, earthquakes, floods and other disasters was limited by time, money and accessibility to send reporters to the scene.

Now embedded reporters broadcast live from the battlefront, using satellite uplink equipment that fits into a suitcase. Survivors of disasters can reassure their families of their safety before the families have heard of the danger. Many local news outlets ask viewers to use their cellphones to report news as it happens. These are all examples of the progress made in the telecommunications industry. As this blog progresses, I'll be commenting more on the services that each of us uses everyday.

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