Interesting, short New York Times piece on a new-ish police practice of taking 360-degree panoramic views of crime scenes (warning: graphic photos) so that investigators can virtually explore the area long after the place has been cleaned up.
It conjures up all sorts of images of science-fiction spy thrillers, where blueprints of buildings and photos of every street corner always seem to be available to secretive government agencies with a couple of keystrokes. In this case, the actual technology doesn’t seem all that new – we’ve seen lots of panoramic camera shots before – but the application of it is a smart one. When you first arrive at a crime scene, do you know what to focus on? I’m sure seasoned detectives have very good instincts, but it never hurts to be able to go back and look over all the evidence again.
And so now that it’s so much easier – and cheaper – to store tons of information, why not do it regularly? That’s not entirely analogous to the ideas behind structured journalism – but it’s close. Reporters – like detectives at a crime scene – sift tons of information in their head and then come to (hopefully smart) conclusions. But there’s a lot left in their notebooks and heads that effectively gets thrown away. Finding ways to access and tap all that information later on should unlock a lot of value.
Some methods to access that information will require some painful cultural change on the part of journalists, and involve upturning the way they’re used to working. But other methods are more purely technological. The revolutionary Lytro camera, which captures so much more data in any single image that viewers can focus on any point in it, is one example – it’s a way of bringing back much more from the field than just what the photographer was focusing on at the time.
I doubt reporters will ever be going around taking 360-degree photographs of where they’ve been, but the general idea is the same. How can we make sure that all that effort expended in reporting any particular story isn’t thrown away after the 400-word piece on it has been filed? How can we keep all that information gathered in searchable, useable formats to power future stories and news products? (Or solve crimes…)