For New Jersey to achieve worldwide domination in hyperlocal journalism

It must create a platform for the exchange of news sources and information.

We talk about a marketplace of ideas – here’s one way we can build one. What if the broadcasting infrastructure could be used in new ways. The FCC’s continuing attempt to reallocate broadcaster’s spectrum for the use of wireless broadband is misguided and wrong. The free flow of news and information in the form of broadcast television and radio would be replaced by a fee based system. Premium priced or tiered information will be available for the haves, while the have-nots can read yesterday’s discarded newspapers.

For a mere $50 per month you could get your news on a small screen held in the palm of your hand or lap of your seat? If you prefer to see it on you television, that would be another $50 per month to the cable company. Professional journalists would also use this brave new conduit, for a fee, to move ideas around and somehow eek out revenues by charging for a peak of what’s going on.

Consumers would pay an entrance fee to enter the marketplace of ideas. Information merchants must also pay a fee to set up there and oh yeah, this would all take place in the public park known as “the people’s air waves”, leased to the highest bidder. The “bonanza” to be shared between the federal government and broadcast license holders is comparatively little and only ensures the eventual demise of the television industry.

The question is, what is a broadcaster? A distributor of content or a content creator? If the answer is just a creator, then sure, sell off the ability to distribute. But the radio infrastructure is used to gather content AS WELL as send it. This fact is unique to broadcast journalism and must be considered. As print journalism turns electric, the infrastructure needed to publish to the people and mine the data from the web must also ride the net.

In New Jersey, there is a unique opportunity to help  journalism to the next level. The legacy infrastructure that makes up the only public broadcasting entity in the state is up for grabs. The transmitters, receivers and myriad pieces of equipment, along with the skilled professionals who make it all work, gather and disseminate information to the most influential people on this planet.

This is done in a very unique way. Regardless of people’s reading ability or native language, information is shared by showing it. Is an informed public necessarily a literate one? The visual medium is the most direct way of communicating. Children say that they “have to show you” because they haven’t developed the communication skills to tell you, let alone write it down to be read.  Showing”  works.  Certainly not for everything. Complex concepts must be explained and defended, but not just in blogs or OpEds. Conversations take place by listening or watching, thinking and responding.

One of the biggest challenges of newsgathering is getting somebody to show up. This is even more difficult in broadcast journalism because equipment, a crew and a reporter must be sent to the scene.  Print journalists still have to physically be there, some print journalists carry digital audio recorders to supplement their note taking. But an eye roll or other nuance can tell a seasoned reporter far more than the direct answer. What if the experienced reporter didn’t have to be at the scene and their questions could be asked remotely?

Wireless broadband or WiFi/WiMax signals are able to carry multiple audio and video streams along with other data. A very high-speed WiMAX backbone can be build across the state on the transmission towers. These towers can then feed participating libraries, colleges and schools to create a bi-directional public high-speed network that covers most of the state. Each tower site would serve as a regional communication hub and clearing house of information. Sub-hubs would form at libraries, schools and eventually to individuals.  So, an individual blogger might do a daily, hourly or constantly updated transmission. The product would be made of personal reporting and aggregated information. The content would be fed up to the library where it would be appended and aggregated  and pushed up again until eventually there was a living, state-wide, stream of information for everyone to discuss and write about.

Most cell phones can stream video and audio. The quality is acceptable, but not like television. Cell phones use lower bandwidth intended to carry voice and text. WiFi has more bandwidth and can carry video at an acceptable quality level. The cell phone uses the optics and sensor acceptable for a multifunction device.  Several “black box” solutions are now available that allow broadcast cameras and other higher quality less expensive cameras to be transmitted over WiFi and cellular signals.  Imagine the possibilities of an ad hoc network that can easily send live sounds and images of events across the state.

While this technical infrastructure is built, a community infrastructure or human network is also built. Libraries, schools and community groups along with broadcast and newspaper journalists, offer classes in video production and electronic journalism. From these classes an army of stringers grow. Local news productions run locally via web sites. Some stories get pushed up to broadcast and traditional outlets while others become source materials for in-depth coverage. All this local and statewide content is kept via Production Asset Management and Content Asset Management software. All the presentations of information get authored in a multi-leveled multi-media statewide news and information network. The “owner” of each story automatically broadcasts to their local web and local air. Collaboration becomes possible and some stories may grow to worldwide distribution.

A statewide wireless computer network should be built in New Jersey. A federated, ad-hoc, peer-to-peer information sharing infrastructure will ride a top it. This system will serve as a platform for professional, semi-professional and citizen journalists. Once the informational stream (infostream) is created, aggregators, curators,  critics,  analysts,  pundits, reporters and even citizens can sip locally or from the larger pool

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