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Harnessing 'masses' of information

Online editor speaks of the rise of citizen journalists

Editor of Richard Burton says new technology has given the consumer access to a lot more information.



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Technology (general)

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Richard Burton, editor of the online edition of UK paper The Daily Telegraph,, spoke to Spark recently about the future of news and the part technology will play in shaping the industry

Here is an edited version of the full interview.

CNN: What impact does technology have on your business?

Burton: Technology is the driver of our business. It's what defines us. The trick of being an editor in this medium is never to be surprised at the new innovation that's coming out and being able to harness it. One of the things that impresses me all the time is that I can be at home and I can do something on a laptop, I can bounce it off a server somewhere, and it can be read in Moscow or New York within minutes. And I think the day that I start getting unimpressed with that is the day that I fall behind.

CNN: Do you think the way you operate will change radically?

Burton: The changes in technology dictate the ways in which we present the news. A few years ago when I was editing in print, I would send a reporter out on a story and I would send a photographer, then came the photojournalist, so I had two in one.

Nowadays, it is not unusual for someone to find themselves at a newsworthy event -- the recent London bombings, for example, are a good case in point -- and by using their mobile phone they can capture the moment. With digital technology, they can send them directly to us. And if we so wish, we can publish them within minutes. That is something we refer to in the business as the rise of the "citizen reporter." Technology is now in everyone's hands. They can use it and they are dictating more and more of the news agenda themselves, rather than waiting to be fed in the way the traditional medium works.

CNN: Will conventional media outlets become obsolete?

Burton: I don't see print media necessarily becoming obsolete. I think there's something very sexy about being able to take a laptop on a train and download a newspaper and read it or stand in a queue somewhere and look at the news on your PDA. But there's nothing really that will match taking the Sunday supplement back to bed with a pot of coffee on a Sunday morning.

I did wonder a few years ago when I saw the Libyan Embassy siege, for example. They interrupted the news programs at that time to bring pictures of the SAS scaling down the outside of the building. I remember thinking to myself, what on earth are the newspapers are going to carry tomorrow because it's all been done on the television. Of course the answer to that was simple: they had all the analysis, they told us who these people were, why they did it, even told us who the SAS were.

These days of course, all of that information is available on the Web. So for a Web publisher, at the same time as you're covering that story, you're garnering that sort of information. You're going into your archives, into other archives and you're building up a picture, which will just grow and grow and grow. So technology enables us to harness just masses of information that we never ever would have been able to do few years ago.

CNN: What is the future of traditional conventional media outlets, such as TV, advertising and film?

Burton: Online media has got such a massive share of the advertising market these days; we are now responsible for 4.3 percent of the advertising cake, which is ahead of radio. And we're just slightly behind the outdoor medium such as posters.

There are media buyers these days who have got entire sections dedicated just to selling online space. I think from the point of view of the future of the Internet as a user experience, I can really see the idea of television and Internet dial-up, Internet connection being all this while rather than the way we took tape recorders and record players and turned them into you know media centers a few years ago. I can see that kind of thing. I just think that there are far too many boxes in the house really for that not to happen.

CNN: Who will benefit from advances in technology?

Burton: It has to be the user. There's never been a better time to be a consumer of news than at the moment. The wealth of knowledge that is available, the new platforms that are emerging, and also the interaction. At the moment we are finding more and more that readers want to set their own agenda, the rise of the Web log, for example.

Technology is there, it's downloadable, it's free, you can get it with any computer package and you suddenly become a publisher. The knock-on for publishers is that we have to take notice of that and it's not unusual for us to tap into those logs -- Blogs as we call them -- to use information from them. So the flow of information will become greater.

I can also imagine other platforms as well. At the moment there's something called electronic ink which is being developed. You have a split between the printed media which you buy and you sit down to read or the other in which you're looking at a screen. I imagine in years to come, we're going to have some kind of a tablet form which will allow the reader to have a hybrid of the two. I can't exactly say what that is at the moment but I think there has to be something there which is more portable but slightly more reader friendly than what we have at the moment. That's where I see technology going.

CNN: Is there anything you can think of which might help your online paper?

Burton: One of the dangers we find as publishers is that technology helps us move so fast, that it is actually possible to break a story within seconds and send that story out to someone's computer. If you get that wrong, it's very difficult to correct it. It's very easy for a newscaster to say, "We're just picking up news now, hang on, I think there has been a bomb that's exploded. Oh no, it's not, it's a car that's backfired." If you're doing that through the computer technology that exists at the moment, once you send that message out, it sits on someone's computer and it's in the cache. You can correct that in your edition, but unless people refresh their screens, unless they clear that cache, that news stays there. So we have to be very careful in the way we disseminate that news and our checking procedures, although a lot faster than on a print newspaper, have to be quite rigorous. That's the kind of area of caution that I'm constantly aware of.

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