The Bay Area, Unplugged

NBC Bay Area's new online editor looks at a local-news scene in technoflux.

By Owen Thomas
|  Thursday, May 28, 2009  |  Updated 8:20 AM PDT
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Skyping Prop. 8 Protest

Skype and a cell phone subbed for a satellite truck to capture a protest march in San Francisco.

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Skyping Prop. 8 Protest

George Kiriyama uses skype to bring TV audience into a Prop. 8 protest.
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The video of yesterday's Prop 8 protest march was raw, jerky -- and unmistakably real. How did a clip with the gritty authenticity of a cameraphone make it onto broadcast television?

I'd just started as NBC Bay Area's new online editor, and yesterday's news placed me in the unfamiliar turf of a TV newsroom in the heart of Silicon Valley. Up in San Francisco, reporter George Kiriyama and videographer Walt Colby had made a spur-of-the-moment decision to walk away from their satellite truck and broadcast the march over Skype and cell phone -- tools a blogger might use.

"Since Walt had Skype, we thought we'd try it out," Kiriyama told me. "There was no way to walk with the marchers with all the cables. We'd be stationary once the marchers started walking. We were the only ones to go live from the actual march."

It struck me as the perfect metaphor for the experiment NBC hired me to undertake on this website. Can we use new tools to cover the Bay Area in a new way? In my previous gig as the editor of Valleywag, some called me the "scourge of Silicon Valley." But it was really my readers who uncovered the secrets of the Valley's tech scene.  That same model -- inviting our readers and viewers into the reporting process -- is what will help us reinvent local journalism.

Kiriyama and Colby aren't the only technophiles in the newsroom; the place is crawling with them. Scott Budman and Rob Mayeda are big Twitterheads, for example. The Valley's tech office parks surround the station. How can we not pick up geekiness by osmosis?

The lesson is clear: We can't get tangled up in cables. We can't stay stationary. We've got to keep marching with the story. Welcome to the Bay Area, unplugged.

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