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Emerging video camera cell phones could reshuffle the newsgathering deck

Get ready for a potential deluge of video footage from a brand new source that literally could expand newsgathering resources by a thousandfold or more.

For the last year cell phones with built-in video cameras have trickled into the market, but this holiday season and beyond the ranks of cell phone videographers are likely to grow as vendors incorporate new technology that improves the quality and usability of such video.

Last week Panasonic announced the development of a three-megapixel imaging module for mobile phones that supports VGA (640x480) capture of 30fps video. The Maicovicon image sensor includes auto-focus and image stabilization technology that cuts down on blurry video images resulting from unsteady hands.

Samsung is selling one-megapixel cameras with the ability to shoot video and record it on a 1.5GB, 1in hard drive. By the end of 2005, look for such phones to offer features like telescopic lenses, with at least a 2GB hard drive and five-megapixel imagers.

Exactly how these developments will affect television newsgathering is unclear at this point; however, it’s a good bet that they will soon become staples of most television reporters and producers. The BBC took the first step down that path last February when it initially equipped 40 journalists with video camera phones. The phones do not replace traditional ENG and SNG crews and equipment, but augment traditional methods of gathering field footage by giving journalists a tool to begin gathering footage until the cavalry arrives.

Additionally, such phones will dramatically expand a station’s newsgathering presence as viewers on the scene can quickly and easily submit snippets of video.

Undoubtedly, turning viewers into de facto stringers raises a host of questions from managing footage at the station to how best to protect the station from falling prey to scams and hoaxes.

Perhaps the biggest unanswered question about this technology centers on its impact on the growing competition between the traditional broadcast news operations and emerging Internet alternatives, including bloggsters who now have a cheap and easy way to gather their own footage from the field.

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