The chief scientist at Reuters’ experimental development centre believes the day when all Reuters journalists file their stories from hand-held camera phones will be ‘sooner rather than later”.
Dr Nic Fulton, who is the head of a four-man team at Reuters Labs, based at the agency’s New York office, is in charge of devising new ways for the agency’s journalists to gather news and for customers and readers to read and watch it.
Fulton’s team works on 10 to 12 projects each year, though Reuters bosses understand that some will fail.
He said: ‘We generally have an objective to make four at least succeed – success is that hand them on to the divisions.
‘We are the experimental, leading edge of Reuters Media Group.”
Past projects include a search engine that finds video of specific people by searching their faces; an interactive world news map and an unusual attempt to put news bulletins to music.
Fulton, who has a Phd in physics and worked on the internet in its earliest days in the Eighties, was behind a recent trial project using Nokia’s N95 camera phone to get journalists filing text, video and audio simultaneously to Reuters’ bureaux around the world.
It used the phone’s existing capabilities and a new piece of software that combines all the different elements together into one report.
He said: ‘The N95 raises various opportunities to gather different kinds of content – there is a lot of demand for short-form video, it might even be raw footage. With the N95, a text journalist might do a one minute interview on camera to put online with the text report.”
As well as Reuters’ text and picture wire service, it has an online TV division and a large collection of blogs, written by correspondents from around the world.
The Labs team are looking at ways of combining these elements.
Fulton says that in future the N95 and similar gadgets will keep Reuters’ journalists around the globe in constant touch with news editors and newsrooms and help to liberate reporters, especially financial reporters, from their desks.
‘I think the wonderful thing about it is that it can help journalists to be much more connected,’he said.
Reuters has already begun using press-release reading software that can quickly skim company reports and share information so journalists can get on with the business of analysing it and moving the story on.
Fulton says the report-reading system, Wire Engine, is however only considered ‘one pair of eyes”, leaving a journalist with the laborious task of reading and evaluating every line of text it creates.
The Labs team is now working on a project to get bloggers and internet enthusiasts around the world to collaborate with Reuters and create new ideas and services for customers and online users.
Though Fulton stresses it is not commercial, he says, ‘essentially we are trying to nurture a community of people doing news, text, videos and features.”
Can Fulton see a time when not just broadcasters but newspaper and agency wire journalists will have N95-like technology and not need to sit behind a desk at all – and will he tell them how to do it?
Newspapers should be doing this straightaway and encourage its use. I don’t think there is any reason why we shouldn’t tell people how this works.”