Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 13, 2014

Darkroom to Drop Box: Technology aids in getting news out quickly


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — Gravel and rock are no friends to high heels. They eat at the soles, grind away at the leather and pull the shoe into their depths, twisting unsuspecting ankles.

I was reminded of this reality last Thursday when I found myself walking to the scene of a car accident like a cub reporter. I travel Route 20 frequently, but never before realized what material and debris speckle the road’s shoulder.

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It should have been a calm and easy afternoon. But those are famous last words in a newsroom. Around 3 p.m. the police scanner erupted. First, it was a call to an accident on Route 52 near Pinnacle Rock. Car versus 18-wheeler. We knew it couldn’t be good.

Photographer Jon Bolt was on a magazine assignment with reporter Anne Elgin. Bill Archer and I listened to the scanner with unease. Then, within minutes, another accident on Route 20.

“I’ve got Route 52,” Bill said, grabbing his camera and legal pad.

“I’ll take 20,” I said, heading into my office to snatch similar supplies.

Meanwhile, Charles Owens was busy taking notes from scanner traffic to compile a website update.

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Years ago, my trusty 35 mm camera would have been hanging from a strap around my neck. On this day, I needed only my iPhone and steno pad.

When I first began my career at the Daily Telegraph some 20-plus years ago, technology was much different. There were no cell phones. No Internet. No social media.

Black-and-white film was rolled in the darkroom; color film purchased by the case.

When a photographer or reporter returned from an accident, film was processed in trays of chemicals. Copy editors selected black-and-white photos for the next day’s edition by scanning damp prints hanging from a string.

At the scene of an accident, one snapped frames judiciously. No need to waste shots — film was expensive.

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Digital is cheap. One can snap away with no thought to cost. And technology has evolved to make getting the news to readers much more quick and efficient.

A few years ago we armed our photographers with Eye-Fi cards connected to Drop Box on their cell phones.

What does that mean? Eye-Fi cards are basically wi-fi camera cards. When our photogs take a picture, they can hit a button and drop the image into a Drop Box folder, which we can access on our computers at the Daily Telegraph office.

In layman’s terms, they can take a photo at an accident or crime scene, and we can have the image on our website within minutes. A few years ago we actually had a photograph of a fire on our website before firefighters arrived on the scene.

But Eye-Fi isn’t the only way to get news to readers quickly.

Last Thursday, I took a photo of the accident scene with my camera and immediately tweeted the image. Back at the office, Charles accessed my Twitter account, grabbed the picture and uploaded it with an update generated from scanner traffic and cell phone conversations with me and Bill.

No need to wait for a news broadcast or print edition of the newspaper. Access bdtonline.com and get information on a breaking event within minutes of its occurrence.

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As I write this column I am also mulling thoughts on an upcoming speaking engagement at a Bluefield book club. I find it nice that in this day and age members of our community still gather together to celebrate a love of the written word.

I wonder if they read their novels on old-school paper or via tablet. I am hoping for parchment and ink. There’s something special about the feel of a book in one’s hands.

While I appreciate the ease of reading the Daily Telegraph’s e-edition on my iPad each morning, I also relish opening the print edition — flipping the pages, and seeing the news in black and white.

A coffee mug on my desk proclaims it best: “I love the smell of newsprint in the morning.”

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Walking back to my car from the accident scene, I call the newsroom to make sure Charles has the information he needs to update our website. I learn that the story and photo have already been posted, and that it is trending well.

Scanning the faces in the cars waiting to bypass the crash, I see several motorists staring intently at their phones, and occasionally scrolling with their fingers. I wonder if they are getting the latest news on the accident via our mobile site.

Scuffed-up high heels at accident scenes will never change, but technology to bring the news to readers is always evolving.

It is an exciting time for journalism, and our culture. Who knows what’s coming next.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.