Years ago when I was a online political community admin, a member of our community invented a form of blog post to spawn discussion that was less about capturing fully formed thoughts and more about opening questions. He called it nine comments, and it was (I think) one of the best innovations of Blue Hampshire front-paging. (Actually, second-best. The best innovation was the Citizen Whip Count we ran for marriage equality legislation which so stressed the state party apparatus out they back-channeled numerous time to tell us to cut it out. But I digress.)
Anyway, 9 comments for the week on Ring video and news coverage, in no particular order.
One: News Is Not Prepared for Doorbell Video
This person’s doorbell caught the moment their house was destroyed by a tornado. There’s a way in which this is educational, and could save lives — showing people how quickly a weather event like this can sneak up on you. But it’s also a reminder that news is not prepared for a doorbell video world. I know that there are codes in place for the use of citizen video, and surveillance cam video. But scale makes a difference. And the scale of this is going to be huge.
Two: Push vs. Pull Video
In network design we often talk about push and pull architectures. In a pull architecture, you go out and request something. A push architecture finds things relevant to you and pushes them to you without a request.
The technical meanings of these terms are narrow, but I often think of these as information-seeking modes. So when a robbery happens and people check to see if there is video that’s pull. You go looking for the vid you need. A video like the Philando Castile video was push — pushed out to people even before they know there’s an event. In that case, the push event was also newsworthy, so it’s not entirely about newsworthiness. But these are different modes. (Network terminology purists go ahead and hate, I’m over it).
Three: Push video and SHAREABLE RING CONTENT
Some Ring content is pull: something happens and we review the tape, or send it to reporters. Some is push: the event itself is important because it was captured on camera. The doorbell video creates the event.
Four: It’s the Push Video that concerns me
This particular news event would be noteworthy no matter what. It’s a tornado hitting a house, and that’s news. My worry though is the number of things that become news stories simply because video captures them.
Five: Easy availability of content shapes coverage, coverage warps reality
Yeah, yeah, yeah, McLuhan etc. But this basic principle isn’t really in doubt. The cost of acquiring Ring video is going to be trivial compared to putting people on the ground. But what is this video best set up to capture? What does engaging content look like on this platform? Because that’s where news might be going.
Six: The genres of Ring video are being constructed as we speak and we have little idea of what they will be
Weather videos. Hassle daughter’s date videos. Hassle garbage picker videos. Package thief videos. Cryptic event videos. Suspicious person videos. And news organizations are looking for new angles on SHAREABLE RING CONTENT, different places they can slot it into their existing coverage. Lifestyle, Crime, Weather.
Seven: Again, it’s push that’s the shift
It’s not even just that it’s push in terms of spread, but even filming. No one is seeing something and deciding to pull out a camera. The decision is after its captured.
It’s worth thinking about how the easy availability of Ring videos to newsrooms is going to shape coverage (especially local coverage, but also national). Is this where we want to go?
Eight: You don’t need an Amazon editor for a Ring News Dystopia
There is rightly a lot of focus on the sort of “communities” Amazon is looking to build around doorbell video. They could do a lot of harm. But news can be shaped dramatically by Ring video availability without the platforms becoming involved. Ring video is showing up on local broadcasts and news sites already. Some of that video is probably useful, but much of it creates a world that is even more paranoid and divorced from reality than your average local broadcast, and that’s saying something.
Nine: Viscerality of Doorbell Video Crime
The vaguest thought, but I’m stuck by the viscerality of these Ring crime videos. How they feel when you are watching vs. even traditional sensationalist coverage. I don’t think we’re psychologically prepared for this, individually or as a country.