There is an old expression that says ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not necessities that precipitate invention; rather inventions come along unbidden and most people run away from them as fast as they can. Barring that, they accept them grudgingly, trying to shoehorn them into ways of working that were designed around earlier technologies.
This is surely the case in trying to ‘re-engineer’ some existing local tv newsrooms in the US into a faster, more online oriented, digital newsroom for the 21st Century. One might as well try to make the Motor Vehicles Bureau into Dreamworks. It is not that they don’t recognize that they have to change, or even that they don’t want to change, it is just that they can’t. They cannot bring themselves to do what is necessary to reinvent themselves. They prefer a more ‘incremental’ approach. This does not work.
I was reminded of this lasts night when I was reading The History Of The English Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill. Churchill is a great writer, and in four volumes he pretty well lays out the breadth and scope of English history. Last night’s chapter was on Edward III and the Battle of Crecy. But in reading it, it reminded me nothing so much as trying to deal with local TV news stations in the US.
Edward was a real revolutionary and a seminal figure in British history. Crecy, as Churchill says, was among the 4 great moments that shaped both British and Western history. Until I read about Crecy, I did not imagine that it would have any relationship to local TV stations 600 years later… but it does.
Before Crecy, medieval battles were fought by heavily armored knights. Dressed in their suits of armor, they were expensive to field, expensive to maintain and they weighed a ton. Their skills were learned in long and hard lifetimes of training and practice. They were the ultimate killing machines, and invincible.
Edward landed in France with a mere 12,000 soldiers to face Philip’s army of 30,000 to 40,000 knights. But Edward didn’t bring English knights. He brought long bowmen. The long bow was an entirely new piece of military technology. Lightweight, cheap and easy to use. It was also deadly efficient. Edward’s long bowmen were not knights, they did not wear suits of armor, they didn’t even have horses. This was all unthinkable in 1346. Who would field an army like this? And it was not even an army! These were not the highly trained knights of nobility! These were commoners! The rabble! It was an outrage.
The French, in vastly superior numbers marched north to Crecy filled with over confidence. They looked out on the English forces and laughed. They would cut them to ribbons by lunchtime.
So the French army marched into battle with the English bowmen, on foot. The bowmen let loose their arrows – like rain.. and the French knights began to go down. The English were shooting the horses out from under the knights. This was against the rules! On the muddy ground, immobilized in their suits of armor, the knights were helpless as the English bowman set upon them and killed them on the spot. This was also considered unsporting behaviour. One was supposed, at worst, to ransome the nobleman.
The French army was decimated at Crecy, and later Edward repeated the trick at Poitiers. It was, in a moment, the end of knights, armor, chivalry and medieval warfare. A thousand years of history vanished in an afternoon.
What brought down the French army was first and formemost the technology of the long bow. But more than that, it was the pure foresight and courage of Edward to completely embrace the new technology and understand how to implement it. He could have just added a few bowmen to his army of knights (just as newsrooms could add a few VJs to their conventional reporters and cameramen). Neither does the trick. Edward reinvented warfare from the ground up based on the light, simple and portable technology of the long bow. It was an incredibly brave thing to do.
One can imagine the feeling amongst the English Yeoman as they stood in the field at Crecy, facing the vastly superior, clanking and mounted armies of France. Standing on their own, horseless, armorless, they must have wondered, ‘what the hell have I gotten myself into’. But Edward saw the future and embraced it.
Sending out an army of VJs, equipped with small, lightweight cameras, without cameramen, soundment, livetrucks can also be scary. But it is the same. You cannot embrace this revolution in a halfhearted manner. You have to completely rethink how a newsroom is made based on what the new technology can do; just as Edward completely rethought how a battle should be fought… and won.
We can all agree that new technologies have the potential to change the world, but only if they are recognized and implemented by someone who has the courage to make the changes. All too often, new technologies come along and people are fearful of them.