Where Do We Go When We Die?

The Wall Street Journal ran a story last weekend that raises a question of what happens to our electronic soul when we’re gone.   It pinpoints an issue numerous people have probably wondered about briefly but then dismissed as they’ve gone on with our temporal existence.

It has never been easier to preserve a person’s day-to-day existence than it is now.  Until that person dies.  All of the Facebooking, twittering, e-mailing, Flickring, and so forth that is so much a part of contemporary life-sharing—-all of the things that we use every day that capture and express what is meaningful to each of us—will not necessarily remain a legacy to be discovered by descendants wanting to learn about us on ancestry.com or its successors.

The Journal’s Geoffrey A. Fowler recounts the story of a family grieving for the loss of their 16-year old daughter who had various internet accounts “that were her lifeline when illness isolated her at home.”  But none of the internet sites she used would give her family her passwords so they could retrieve her thoughts, photos, and messages.  Violation of her privacy, they said, although one has to wonder how much privacy extends beyond life. People do say things on the internet to themselves or to others that they don’t want a wider audience such as parents, spouses, children, or others to know.  Shouldn’t those things remain the secrets the person wanted them to be?

But on the other side is the idea that every life is significant, a philosophy that is behind year after year of conflicts in the political world.  And if every life is significant, shouldn’t the record of that significance be complete? Shouldn’t our humanity be our story?  Shouldn’t there be more to us than a sanitized recounting?  We are who we are and each of us IS significant in some way or another, on some scale or another.  If life is significant and if the means exist to record and preserve our own record of it, warts and all, shouldn’t that record be electronically eternal because our significance is not ours alone to measure–as our lawmakers keep finding new ways to state every year?

Look at a picture of your great grandparents.  What do you really know about them other than the basic, sterile genealogical records?   Too bad they can’t speak to you of their lives and their experiences.  But we can speak to our great-grandchildren because of all of the electronic systems into which we record those things today. You don’t have to be a journalist to be a journal-ist.


Present law protects your privacy and leaves your great grandchildren with nothing more than a picture. And maybe not even that because so much of our photographic record is now stored in the cloud or something.

Fowler’s article notes Yahoo has a provision in its agreement saying, “Upon receipt of a copy of a death certificate, your account may be terminated and all contents therein permanently deleted.”  Your electronic soul that you put into Yahoo entry by entry disappears.

It is not just those of us who make our livings with intellectual efforts that preserve history through our thoughts and interpretations who must realize our tracks will be electronically washed away after our fingers are no longer on our keyboards. It’s all of us who love our families and don’t want their recorded spirits to be wiped out by current laws that care not for the significance of their lives.

Life remains significant even when we are done living it.  Technology provides the means to preserve that significance.  Maybe it’s time the privacy laws recognize the humanity we are writing into the internet every day.  Perhaps our law-givers who are so consumed with numbers and dogma should be reminded of their, and our, humanity and that there can be a sanctity of life after death as much as there is a sanctity of life before birth.

Droning On

Word is getting around in journalism circles that a fellow at the University of Missouri is developing journalistic uses for drones.  Scott Pham has gotten a $25,000 technology grant from the university to do this exploration.  He thinks he can build one for about $4,000.

Technology has a tendency top move faster than the ethics that define its use move.  So it is with the drone.  The University of Missouri will have a graduate class next semester looking at the possible journalistic uses of the drone in news-gathering (i.e. shooting video) and the ethical issues facing journalists who use one.

We can think of a lot of ways drones can improve gathering and disseminating information, especially in these days when radio and television stations and newspaper web pages can provide instant information.

The drone could be the end of the Traffic Copter in the cities.  It could be the end of the Met Life and the Goodyear Blimps or at leat provide local web pages and local access cable channels with a blimp-like tool for high school football games.

But we also should think of drones in the hands of the supermarket tabloids or Entertainment Tonight or similar–uh–news organizations. The Paparazzi Air Force would be born.  Exclusive pictures of the weddings of the entertainment stars could dry up.  And topless sunbathing?   Ooooohhh.

We would expect to see Popular Mechanics do an article on building your own drone for $50 or something.  We won’t be surprised to see a Bass Pro Drone offered for sale so deer hunters could find deer before going to the woods.  The affordable drone is not just something to consider by journalists.  At $4,000 — or less as economies of scale lower prices — anybody can have one.  Airports will be offering drone lessons the way they offer lessons in a Cessna 150.  There will come a time when somebody solos their drone.

The possibilities are endless as we enter the Drone Age.  But so are the problems.

Privacy issues already have been raised.  But police investigations issues are raised, too?   Can police use a drone to justify a search warrant or will they have to get a search warrant before they can fly a drone over somebody’s property to see if they need a search warrant?

U. S. News & World Report news editor Greg Otto has reported the FAA already has licensed 63 drone launch sites in 20 states  and authorization has geen granted to 25 universities.  There are about 300 active drone operating licenses.

But let’s be honest with ourselves.  Despite the concerns and conspiracy theories about  the possible coming proliferation of drones, don’t you think a lot of people will want one if for no other reason than to satisfy their inner voyeur?

Ethical standards for mainline journalistic use of drones is one thing.   But ethical and legal standards for the day when there’s a drone in every garage will be a work in progress for a long, long time.

A lot of the future news about drones will be created by journalists firmly rooted on the ground who will be in courtrooms watching the legal and political issues that drones will create — while their company drone circles overhead transmitting video images back to the webpage of the building where the arguments are being held.

Seeing Ourselves

We need to get something on the record and it’s more for us than it is for any general readership these entries have.  It’s inside baseball stuff for the Missourinet but it’s important for us to write it down.

More than a week has pased since the Missourinet did something completely new for us on election coverage. We dabbled with it in the August primary but technical problems at the Secretary of State’s office that night and our own difficulties in managing the mechanics of the process  rendered the exercise mostly unworkable.  But we did learn a lot of lessons and last Tuesday, November 6th, we did a lot more planning and a lot more testing and the system worked very well.

We like to think here at the Missourinet that we have done some stretching of our capabilities in bringing election results to our listeners.  We won’t go back through the last 40 years or the last 25 to recount all of that (although if you twist our arms we will, assuming you can grab hold of our arm while we are patting ourselves on the back).

Four years ago we did radio on the internet.  About five hours of continuous talk and updates of numbers with reports from our reporters in the field.  But the technology wasn’t available to us to do what we did last week.\

We’ve wanted for some time to be able to take our consumers to the post-election parties so they could see what was going on in those places and so we could show them the victory/concession speeches.  The advent of Google Plus hangouts let us do it this year.

We went on the net with a webcam in our studio and we had reporters in various post-election events using the cameras in their computers so we could do interviews on the scene or talk back and forth from our studio to their venues to add additional information or texture to the reporting of numbers.

In the studio we tapped into the Secretary of State’s webpage and various pages within that system that we could use to illustrate the places where votes were in and where votes were incomplete or still out. We went to the map page early in the evening and then it disappeared–the internet giveth and the internet taketh away–so we couldn’t access it later.  But we went on with various other elements of our coverage that we’ve never been able to use before.

We had Mike Lear at the Akin party. Jessica Machetta was at the Mccaskill event.  Mary Farucci was with the Nixon get-together.  Matt Evans, one of our weekend people, was covering Dave Spence, and Karl Michael was with Chris Koster’s event.  Karl is one of our affiliate relations people who works on “Living the Country Life,” a show we syndicate on hundreds of stations in numerous states.  He covered a state auditor candidate several years ago and enjoyed it so much that we involved him in our coverage again this year.  Jessica had worked for several days getting contact information for other candidates and spokespeople for ballot issues so that we could do non-visual telephone interviews with them as the opportunity allowed.

Our Missourinet General Manager, Scott Brandon, was our executive producer.  He was in the other room pushing this or that button, recording this or that piece of audio, and making sure that the various remote participants got on the air (to use an old phrase) during the evening.  Jonathan Shelby, who does a lot of affiliate relations work for us and for some of our other state networks, worked with Scott on some technical issues and the two of them worked out some bugs as we went along.

In the newsroom we had Mary Furness, our other weekend person, who handled the reports we fed to our sixty-or-so affiliated stations for their broadcast coverage.  We pressed Sports Director Bill Pollock into duty as a producer and coordinator for things we put on our webcast and things that Mary put into her broadcast reports.  Amy Winder and Chantelle Smith did a lot of twittering and facebooking and other stuff that was impossible for the rest of us to do while we were focusing on the webcast or the broadcasts.

We also called our engineering and IT departments for help getting things set up and getting us through the multi-faceted night. And Learfield’s web godfather, Steve Mays, was here to solve any problems that only he knows how to solve.

Sure, we could have done some things better.  We can always do things better.  But last election night was a big leap into new possibilities for us and it was exciting to sit down this afternoon and look at how it looked.

Some of our coverage has been posted on YouTube and this correspondent just took a look at it for the first time.  And it was good.  If you want to see it, just go there and type in “Missourinet” and there we’ll be.  The first segment has several minutes of pre-show preparations before we started our on-web coverage at 7:30 that night.   But it’s pretty exciting to see how we used this new technology that opened up a lot of opportunities for us.  Well, exciting to us because we can remember days when election coverage on nights like that consisted of ripping something off the wire machine and reading it on the air without a lot of context.

We’ve covered a lot of elections.  We love elections.  Hate campaigns. Love elections.  In the last 25 years, with a lot of help from various Secretaries of State and their staffs, and various people who have worked for us at the Missourinet, and changing technology, we’re able to do things with elections we could not have imagined at one time.  It’s not fancy stuff like the national networks do or sophisticated visual stuff that our local TV stations do.  But we keep adding dimensions to the Missourinet’s capabilities for covering the decisions voters make.  It’s important that we keep doing that as technology changes the way people get their information and as technology gives us more effective ways to deliver it.

One other major change in our coverage happened last week.  We went out earlier that day and bought a cot.  For all these years and in all of these elections, we have never had a couch or a cot where we could stretch out for a couple of hours, roughly between 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. the morning after election day and get enough rest to keep us going during the regular newscast day until our reporters get back from wherever they had gone to cover post-election parties. Trying to snatch a nap in our chair at our desk or trying to get comfortable on the owner’s couch that was long enough for everything but our legs didn’t do much to recharge the batteries.  We got home about noon on Wednesday feeling better than we’ve felt after most elections—didn’t come close to dozing off at a traffic light for a change.

Google Plus hangouts and a nice long, sturdy camping cot.  Two major technological advances that will make the 2012 Missourinet election coverage memorable for the news director.

We’re kind of excited about the 2014 elections (but God spare us from campaigns!) because we want to see what new things will help us better serve the people who come to us for information on election night.

Okay.  That’s enough self-administered back-patting.  We just had to get this all on the record, especially the parts about all of the people who helped make our election coverage better than it has ever been before.  It was a good night.