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Large and Small Change

At least up until they had to assume the position for an emergency
landing, those Jet Blue passengers circling Los Angeles last week were able to
follow their nail- biting descent on the TV screens in front of their seats,
where, suddenly their predicament was the breaking story.

It's interesting to note as a punctuation point that the harrowing
adventure of Flight 292 happened on the last day of a summer season in which,
from London to New Orleans, tragedies were often documented by the victims. In
the subway bombings in Great Britain, commuters with cell cameras provided grim
scenes of the carnage and confusion. In New Orleans, television networks and
residents used cell cameras to get the story out.

Fortified by traditional media, the summer of tragedy seemed to affect
the national mood. It was shocking for Americans to hear the clueless former
FEMA chief, Michael Brown, admit to CNN's Paula Zahn that, although viewers
had seen lingering shots of refugees at the New Orleans Convention Center, the
federal government didn't know about it until that day. Weren't they
watching TV? Conversely, the absence of television contributed to the chaos of
the Superdome. Its sad occupants had no idea of what was going on outside.

Television may be going high-definition, but the definition of what
television is becoming is increasingly blurred. As B&C's cover story of video cellphones notes, we
are rapidly turning into a nation that will get news and entertainment
everywhere and anywhere and anytime we want. And with cellphone cameras,
viewers are now often the stars of their own reality shows.

We believe the more information sources there are, the better off
society is. We know there will be horrible excesses, just as there are now in
the traditional media. Still, the benefits of truly mass media far exceed the

Video cellphones and other exciting technologies proliferate. Last week,
the FCC allowed a station to pull the plug on its analog signal to make the
spectrum available for Qualcomm, a new wireless video service that promises to
provide entertainment and “core public-interest” programs to cellular
customers, including news and weather.

Meanwhile, Congress and the FCC began pushing for ways to tap new,
mobile means of communications in times of crisis. On the business side, at a
New York ad conference last week, buyers unanimously agreed their clients were
abandoning traditional media for new modes, including, eventually, the video

Does that mean all television will morph into “short attention-span
theater” on 2-inch screens? Doubtful. There will be missteps, but certainly,
more information and more ways to access it is the Holy Grail of effective
communications in a democracy.