How News Technology Brings The War Home

By Alex Weprin 

While the last combat brigade may have left Iraq, there are still 50,000 troops still in that country. Likewise, There are still plenty of combat brigades in Afghanistan. In other words, the U.S. is still at war, and it is up to the foreign correspondents in those countries to cover it.

Broadcasting & Cable‘s Marisa Guthrie speaks to two of those correspondents this week, NBC’s Richard Engel and CNN’s Nic Robertson.

In the interviews, Guthrie focuses on one of the most under-reported aspects of war coverage: the technology that makes it happen. Tech such as the BGAN, a laptop-sized terminal that can transmit data (video, audio, etc) from anywhere in the world.

Guthrie: Is it even possible to get out a live shot in some of the more remote areas of Afghanistan?

Engel: It’s best to bring it back to [the NBC bureau in] Kabul and broadcast it from there. We were in a place called the Arghandab valley recently. And the Arghandab is a very, very horrible place; rough, hot, a Taliban center, one of the most dangerous places in southern Afghanistan. My cameraman [Bredun Edwards] and I were with U.S. troops and we were in a very seriously firefight. Several soldiers just a few feet away from us were seriously injured, and we captured this entire incident on video. So, we wanted to turn around something quickly for that night’s Nightly News.

But just to feed about five to 10 minutes of video took us about eight hours. We did get the spot on that night, but it drove us crazy. It kept dropping out; it kept freezing. But that’s become my life. A few years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to feed from that remote outpost at all. That video would have had to wait until we got back to Kabul.

And from Robertson, speaking about what the future holds for news technology:

But it’s absolutely going to happen. We’re going to see the transmitter size or the antenna size come down, and we’re going to see that be integrated into the camera so that the camera will always be live. Effectively, if you combine that with all of the millions of mobile phones that there are in the world, it will give a broadcaster the opportunity to use a huge amount of video material. Imagine a YouTube network that doesn’t just play clips that people have [posted], but a CNN/YouTube where you have live video being streamed from around the world. I think we’re on the verge of that.