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On the Road

Somewhat forgotten amidst Katrina's devastation was the fact-finding road trip taken by CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod, who redefined the concept of field reporting while investigating the escalating price of gas in America. An offhand quip by CBS anchor Bob Schieffer turned into a 12-day, 2,500-mile journey for the reporter. “Bob joked that we've done so many stories on the rising gas prices that we should just stick someone in a car and send them across the country,” says Jim Murphy, CBS Evening News executive producer. “I thought about it, and it gelled into this.”

While reports from the road are nothing new, Axelrod's commentary from New York to San Francisco was a multimedia extravaganza that relied on the latest video, wireless, cellular and even text-messaging technologies. Axelrod, who reported on how mounting gas prices affect various parts of the country, hit the highways in a Dodge Caravan outfitted with mounted point-of-view Sony DV cameras that shot video of him driving down the road and captured audio as well. Using a laptop with a wireless transmission card, he filed stories on the fly for the network's Web site.

“It was like mainlining journalism,” says Axelrod. “We really stretched the boundaries of the art of the possible.”

Dialogue, Not Soliloquy

He posted Web text and video blogs, called local and national radio stations, and filed reports for the broadcast network's CBS Evening News. Axelrod says the new technologies made his reports a conversation, not a soliloquy: “This enables two-way conversations where I can answer questions to the blog and find new story ideas.”

Although Axelrod says his own technological limitations prevent him from programming his VCR, he was nonetheless able to compress video files and send them to Mike Sims, director of news and operations for the Web site, says Axelrod's ability to file on the fly is vital to CBS' new Web initiative, which defines prime time as between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., when people in the workplace tune in to the Web site. “The van is driving ahead of the satellite news truck, and they might not link up together until 3 p.m.,” says Sims, “which is too late for the Web site.”

Flexible Format

Axelrod appreciates the flexibility of reporting through so many media forms: “I don't have to file a report that has to be [exactly] 1 minute and 42 seconds long.”

Murphy notes that the technology allowed each medium—Web, TV, radio—to be served with unique and distinct content. “Plus, it isn't a burden to people in the field. We can do more, stay out longer, and do it all for less money.”

It also makes for better storytelling. “You can take viewers along for the ride and give them the telling details that usually get lost,” he says. “And the Web site can drive Web readers into becoming TV viewers.”

All involved with the project said the experience made them realize the need for reporters and news professionals to understand and embrace new technologies. Says Murphy, “A television reporter coming out of college definitely needs to be able to write for print and the Internet.”