There is no doubt that 5G is beginning to touch every area of our lives – from online classrooms to 5G-powered bots delivering medicines to distant citizens. No wonder, then, that 5G is also changing the way our editorial offices work.
Once widely available, 5G tools and the faster speeds they deliver will help journalists in at least three ways, says Rutgers University professor John Pavlik. First, he says, “5G may enable journalists working in this field to report more effectively from their digital devices, particularly in terms of high-bandwidth news gathering, such as photogrammetry, and other immersive applications for augmented reality and Virtual reality (e.g. volumetric video recording) as well as high-resolution videos from mobile devices.”
Second, 5G may enable news organizations to operate effectively without having to rely on a centralized, physical newsroom by supporting high-speed Internet file sharing. Finally, 5G can help improve newsrooms by supporting better public engagement.
The best example of how 5G has made journalism more effective is the recent collaboration between The New York Times and Verizon. In 2019, the two companies joined forces to build a 5G journalism lab. Tools resulting from this collaboration include environmental photogrammetry, Beam and Eclipse.
“Ambient photogrammetry takes thousands of still images and stitches them together into a large 3D model, allowing readers to immersively navigate the space as if they were actually there,” said Sebastian Tomich, senior vice president and global head of advertising and marketing Solutions for the New York Times.
This technology was first used in a 2020 story that toured the Los Angeles mansion where gamer conglomerate FaZe Clan lived and worked. “An article using environmental photogrammetry uses as much data as streaming an hour-long TV show,” Marc Lavallee, director of research and development at The Times, said in a press release. “In order to provide our readers with a seamless reading experience, cutting-edge networks such as 5G are required.”
Ray and Eclipse
Referring to their first proprietary photography app, Beam, Tomich said they allow Times journalists working on location to take high-resolution images with nothing more than their smartphone and camera and upload them automatically to the newsroom.
Building on Beam advances, the Eclipse app leverages Verizon 5G to expand video journalism. Eclipse can use 5G to transfer professional video files that meet The Times quality standards at speeds that rival cellphone video uploads, which are about 14 times smaller in file size, Tomich said. It enables video journalists to get footage into the hands of their editors in near real-time, rather than hours later.
“This always-on connection, enabled by Beam and Eclipse, allows for deeper coordination between the editorial team and the photo and video journalists on the ground,” he said. “With the ability to review footage in near real time, editors can now request additional photos or video while the journalist is still on site.”
Real life applications
These tools developed by the 5G laboratory are not just ideas in four walls. The team has already started implementation to improve the speed and quality of journalism.
For example, when the team covered the 2020 Oscars red carpet arrivals, Verizon deployed a 5G network at the event. With Beam, a Times photographer roamed the red carpet freely, without interruption or concern for file transfer restrictions. “He ended up sending eight times more photos than last year’s photographer, with an average upload time of 2.1 seconds,” said Tomich. “With Beam, photography is archiving.”
However, building powerful tools is not always enough to achieve effective practices in the real world. Factors such as awareness, availability and access to resources play a large role in shaping journalism. As newsrooms and 5G providers become aware of the transformative power of 5G power delivery, Pavlik proposes three ideas to better leverage the 5G tools available in the market.
He advises editors:
- Provide the financial support for reporters to buy state-of-the-art smartphones and other mobile devices that support 5G technology and 5G connectivity.
- Train reporters to use the new tools available in a 5G environment (e.g. augmented reality, virtual reality).
- Evolve newsroom culture to support more remote work, which can benefit from 5G mobile broadband technology.
Disadvantages of 5G journalism
Jakub Pabis / Unsplash
While 5G certainly helps improve the effectiveness of newsrooms, it brings its own problems. Not every editorial office has the financial means to invest heavily in the three ideas proposed by Pavlik. In addition to money, time also plays a role. Newsrooms can’t always spend long hours training journalists to use these fancy new tools.
The widespread availability of 5G is still a major concern in the US as well. “5G is not a ‘light switch’ that can be turned on across the country in one day,” said Tomich.
Finally, some pundits, like Victoria Mendoza, CEO of MediaPeanut (a digital tech lifestyle community), also cite security issues with the increasing use of 5G. “5G has significantly more traffic routing points, while 4G networks had fewer touch points in terms of hardware traffic,” she said. “All these ‘points’ have to be monitored for security reasons. Without them, cybersecurity will be compromised at some level.”
Ultimately, it’s still too early to say which direction the world of 5G journalism will take. There is definitely a lot of potential to explore tools and technologies to improve newsrooms, as long as the increasing security issues are also managed effectively. As Rachel Chan, Verizon’s director of media strategy and engagement, said, “This is just the beginning of what 5G can unlock.”