There are no fewer than eight videos posted on YouTube showing the meteorite that injured nearly 1,000 people streaking across the Russian sky (the above video being the best at this writing). This is no small event either astronomically, geologically, or sociologically. Not only are we seeing almost immediately a phenomenon that has been virtually unseen in the history of the planet. It’s another sign of the ultimate obsolescence of the business that I made my career for more than 30 years.
Since 1980 or so when microwave technology became affordable and dependable, the television news business has made “breaking news” its bread and butter. Consultants and general managers insisted that stations “win” live stories, resulting in the inane and dangerous races to scenes of developing and usually inconsequential incidents, and the ironically missed-it feeling live reports news departments do from dark courthouses, crime scenes, and other empty venues where the story being reported ended hours previously. This mentality has altered the way newsrooms operate for decades and not positively resulting in higher labor costs, costly equipment purchases and maintenance, and stupid and risky behavior (think the hurricane live shot with the reporter being endlessly buffeted for our amusement). But mercifully, the Russian meteor/YouTube phenomenon shows that those days are numbered. Except maybe on “Jackass”.
When a person driving their car can point their phone camera at the sky, shoot a “story”, and upload it almost instantaneously for the entire world to see, how can TV news compete with that? Answer: they can’t. The technology also exists, though in a primitive state, that will allow cameraphone operators to transmit their images as they are happening. How can TV news compete with that? You know the answer.
So what’s an industry to do? Go back to emphasizing really important stories about things that people can’t or don’t have time to shoot themselves. Investigations of government or other institutional corruption, analysis of important election issues not just poll numbers or election night vote totals (you can get all that on-line faster and more accurately now too). Even more high school sports! Oh, and celebrity interviews? You can bag those too. We’ve got Twitter.