Three things Pokemon Go reminds us about journalism

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  I had some help writing this post.

In case you missed my two posts celebrating feminism in the Star Wars universe, let me issue this disclaimer: I’m a geek, something that predated – by decades – the mainstream coolness of Comic-Con, Peggy Carter and Mr. Spock.

Pokemon, though, was never my scene. Too many rules. Too many obnoxious noises. Too many cartoon creatures teetering between adorable and terrifying.

Still, I joined millions of other people in downloading the app last weekend, motivated not by nostalgia but by curiosity about augmented reality and how it might change the way we tell stories. After several days as a Pokemon trainer, I have a lot to think about in terms of AR. I was also reminded of three truths about journalism:

1.) Look for layers. Augmented reality superimposes information over physical space. (Great explainer here about AR and the origins of Pokemon Go.)  Playing the game requires exploring its digital landscape, a process that can teach us about our surroundings. For instance: I discovered a couple of local historical markers while stocking up on Poke Balls last night. Finding and telling news stories also requires shifting the way you see the world, looking for different lenses through which to view our communities. Practicing journalism and experiencing AR both require embracing new ways of seeing.

2.) You’ll do much better if you leave your office and walk around. Sure, the occasional wild Eevee wanders across my desk, but I’ve caught more – and more diverse – Pokemon while walking my dog or chatting up people downtown. Reporters also find richer, more interesting stories by roving around and talking to people face to face. I know email is a journalistic necessity, but human contact is always better. Besides, my inbox has yet to yield a single Bellsprout, Jynx or Rattata.

3.) Verify everything. In the days after Pokemon Go’s launch, my Facebook feed was awash with headlines reporting the game’s dire consequences: murders, car accidents, exposure to Satanic rituals. Most of that stuff is bogus, something we know thanks to websites like Snopes.com. It’s crucial for journalists to engage in this kind of debunking in a world where falsehoods evolve as quickly as a Jigglypuff hopped up on candy. (For the uninitiated: Sugar makes a wild Pokemon morph into a larger and slightly fiercer version of itself. Or something like that. I’m new here, remember? Here’s more from a far more credible source.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear a Pidgey in my attic.

Meerkat for President!

Here’s where I confess that I first thought Meerkat was somehow related to Mammal March Madness*. It’s not. It’s an app that makes streaming video almost as simple as tapping out a tweet, and yesterday it collided with the world of political journalism. Hard.

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A screen grab from yesterday’s live stream of Trump’s interview with the UL.

The Union Leader has long been a force in Republican politics, something that’s especially apparent during the early months of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Potential candidates stop by the Manchester newsroom for meetings with the UL’s editorial board – the first step towards winning the paper’s coveted endorsement.

Yesterday, that potential candidate was Donald Trump. And the editorial board decided to use Meerkat to live stream the whole thing. I watched for a few minutes, and it looked like at least 50 other people did, too. It wasn’t long before other local news organizations had opened accounts of their own. NECN streamed one of Trump’s campaign stops later in the day, and my iPhone buzzed all night with alerts that other political journalists had opened accounts on the app.

The technology is pretty cool and becoming more common. Meerkat was a huge hit at SxSW, and Twitter recently acquired similar software. There’s also an app called Stre.am that’s gaining traction, although I don’t know much about how it works.

If you want to try it yourself, remember that this is video so all related tips apply: Use an external mic to get the best sound, avoid vertical frames and, as one local reporter suggested to me on Facebook, consider getting a tripod if you’ll be streaming for long periods of time.

I suspect Meerkat and similar tools will become standard fare on the campaign trail – a new window into real-time politicking and a reminder of how fast the practice of journalism is changing.

*If you don’t know about Mammal March Madness, stop reading this blog immediately and click here for deets.