Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Letter From The Editor: “Backpack Journalism”

They’ve turned the Rocky Mountain snow machine back on. Someone told me the Old Farmers Almanac says the date of the first snowfall will determine how many times it will snow this season.

Denver’s first snowfall was Oct. 25, which according to Old Farmers means we will see 25 snowstorms this season. We’ve already seen two, and we can only hope that 23 more will be enough.

Since there are only about 100 days a year when you cannot ski in Colorado, you would not think that reporting on the first snowfall of the season would require such drama. But every media outlet saw the need to deploy a platoon of reporters to the interstates, airports, mountain passes and downtown plazas.

All the reports were done standing the snow with traffic or airplanes or whatever in the background. The more snow and wind the better. You get the picture.

I learned via a discussion on the local media this week that the reason for all these multiple reports is “backpack journalism.” It used to be that a remote broadcast required: one on-air reporter, one cameraman, one sound engineer, one producer and a big van equipped with up-links and down-links to satellites over head.

A single journalist carrying everything needed in that backpack now plays all of these roles out alone. They do their own camera and sound work, and use the Internet instead of expensive satellite time to “go live.”

Journalism schools – the ones that survive – are teaching the “backpack” methods as seriously as they use to introduce us to lead type. The print versus broadcast decision we had to make 30 years ago no longer exists.

News21 is one such cutting edge J-school program involving Arizona State University, University of Maryland, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, and Harvard University in which graduate students produce in-depth stories, photos, video graphics and interactive graphic databases.  

Last month News 21 turned out some excellent work on food safety that was originally distributed by the Washington Post and msnbc.com.  Our plan is to republish some of it in Food Safety News to give our readers exposure to this rare national investigation into food safety in America.

It’s great to see the quality that “backpack journalism” can produce. So much of it is just about speed. Consider for example that:

— YouTube users upload two days of video every minute, and YouTube receives up to 3 billion views per day.

— Twitter users generate over two million daily “Tweets,” 2,200 new Tweets every second.

— Facebook’s typical user creates 90 pieces of content each month.  More than 30 billion pieces are shared monthly, an average of over 7 billion a week.

— Google takes in 8.5 billion search queries each month for those trying “to find relevance in it all.”

The YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Google numbers came from Chris Perry at the public relations firm of Weber Shandwick. They are included here to demonstrate the vastness of the universe in which Food Safety News exists.

Remember what I said before. We are trying to use these tools to gather readers who want to remain informed about food safety. We’ve been pretty certain that audience exists and its major elements can be identified:  state and federal regulators, health officials, academics, the food industry, consumers and others.

We keep track of all this of course. I tend to like quarterly or annual figures. It helps, I think, if numbers are seen with the spikes and dips ironed out a bit. For the 12 months ending in October, our traffic was just a hair short of 1.6 million. Our trend continues upward.

We fully realize these are not “Drudge” numbers. These are niche numbers, but oh what a niche it is. Food Safety News is not only producing numbers, but it is also gathering an audience of food safety decision makers.   

One of the ramifications of getting numbers is that Food Safety News is now a commercially viable entity. That means we’ve begun to accept paid advertising.  Since our startup more than two years ago, our founding sponsor has been Marler Clark, the food safety law firm in Seattle.

As we move to a multiple sponsored entity, we will continue to keep a solid wall separating our news-editorial and advertising functions. On that, have no doubt.

© Food Safety News