Digital Ink's Multi-tasking Reporters Hit the Convention Floor

By: Steve Outing

The skills required of journalists are being expanded by new technologies. The reporter of the future, working for an online news service, will have more required of him or her than effective interviewing technique and good writing skills -- like operating a digital still or video camera, recording interviews for sound clips, interacting online with the audience, sending in text, photos, video and sound to the home office via the Internet, etc.

Dan Pacheco, an online producer for the Washington Post's Digital Ink service, is going to try out that new role next week at ComNet, a large trade show in Washington, D.C., covering the Internet, telecommunications and computer networking industries. (The show runs Monday through Thursday.) Digital Ink is sending Pacheco, a technical support staffer, an editorial assistant, and (part of the time) a supervisor to provide live coverage of the conference to subscribers of the Digital Ink service on AT&T Interchange.

Pacheco and crew will be armed with laptop computers, a digital still camera, a cellular modem, cellular phone, 2 phone lines as backup if the cellular units fails to work, and good old-fashioned reporting skills. Pacheco has an ambitious plan for what the team will provide as coverage of the conference:

* He will write at least one daily story covering the day's events, keynote speeches and seminars, to be uploaded only to Digital Ink; his stories will not appear in the print edition of the Washington Post.

* On Tuesday, Pacheco will file live reports from the exhibit hall (450 exhibitors are at this show), carrying the digital camera with him to take photos of the various products offered. Digital Ink users are being invited to submit questions to any of the exhibitors and Pacheco will present the questions to the vendors as he visits their booths, transcribing and sending in their answers to the Digital Ink newsroom. These show floor reports will go directly online as "live" coverage of the show, without going through the newsroom editing process, Pacheco says. It's more akin to live TV coverage of an event than traditional newspaper reporting. Pacheco's role will be that of "reporter on a joystick," he says, since users will guide who he speaks to and what questions he asks.

* Three celebrity conference attendess -- MIT Media Lab director Nicholas Negroponte, Netscape CEO James Barksdale and Sun Microsystems chief technology officer Eric Schmidt -- have agreed to answer Digital Ink user's questions during the show. They'll participate in discussion forums on Digital Ink about the conference, answering questions posed to them online. (This is not a live chat performance, however.)

Text and photos are to be sent in from the conference to an ftp site via an Internet connection and 28800 baud cellular modem, where the Digital Ink newsroom will take over. Photos are being taken with an Apple QuickTake camera. Pacheco plans to send 32 low-res photos (the QuickTake's capacity) at a time and let the graphics staff back at Digital Ink decide which ones get posted online.

This exercise is very much an experiment and learning experience, Pacheco says, though Digital Ink intends to do more such online reporting. He would like to offer audio interviews, and possibly even video, on future online reporting assignments. He'll need to get through next week's assignment in one piece, however. Pacheco has a heavy work load as he tries out being a reporter of the future.

If Pacheco is not too burned out after next week's experience, he's agreed to write up a few comments about what it's like trying to "multi-task" all those skills in a reporting assignment.

Nitpicking: User passwords

A word of advice to Web site developers: Please don't require long passwords when you set up registration schemes for your sites. Since I have signed up for many Web sites that require registration, I typically use the same log-on and password so that I don't have to remember more than 1 set. My preferred password happens to be 3 letters. This works fine on 95% of the sites I visit, but occasionally I run into a site that rejects my brief password and demands more letters, which is annoying, to say the least.

This obstacle to using a Web site is not only inconvenient to those of us who use short passwords normally, but it can result in single users registering to your site multiple times because they don't remember -- and didn't write down -- the password to your site.

I ran into this problem this week when registering for the New York Times On the Web. Fortunately, for this site I can bookmark the Times home page in my Web browser software and always be able to get in without retyping my name and password. (To tell you the truth, I've already forgotten what password I used.) But many other sites are configured such that the home page that you would bookmark is freely accessible, while pages lower down in the site require a password for access. Requiring long passwords can cut down on your traffic when visitors forget their passwords and give up rather than look it up or re-register, and cause single users to register multiple times, falsely inflating your user count.

'Net humor

If your Web site hasn't made the "Top 5% of Web Sites" ranking by Point Communications (or those of Magellan or Riddler), you can still receive recognition by participating in the "Pointless Communications Bottom 95% of the WWW" awards program. For a good laugh, visit

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