Tech Lives: Donal MacIntyre
T3: How old are you?
T3: So you’d be one of the first generations of journalists who have always worked with computers
DM: Well no, interestingly enough, I worked in a paper in Ireland called the Irish Press, and when I joined everyone was working with typewriters. They should have been working with computers but the union were on a work to rule, and there was a building down the road with brand new computers, but the union were demanding £30,000 effectively to be trained on the computers. As a result we were still doing carbon paper and typing, and I felt very privileged to be part of that culture. At the same time I remember being in Beirut and filing a story in 1990 or 91 with Telex – that’s only one step up from Morse code! Again I look back on that very fondly because you’re in a war zone in Beirut.
T3: I’d have thought they would have had faxes?
DM: Well they would have had faxes but the faxes were unreliable then. Back in the mad union days you had to get permission from your editor to use the photocopier, so I’ve followed technology all the way to right now, I’ve got an iPhone and a Blackberry.
T3: A lot of people would romanticise the days of literally wiring your copy and that sort of thing. Do you ever think it will be good to go back to those days?
DM: Well it would never be good, but I’m proud to have been part of it. It was always funny to ring up the copy girl. I remember in 1990, as a young reporter, outside Mountjoy jail in Dublin. What you did is you wrote your copy and then you phoned it through to the copy girl, but one of the great things was that sometimes you’d be there and you wouldn’t have time to write your copy, so you’d have to ad lib it and you’d have to construct it on the location so you’d be constructing these phrases.
Some years after that I was in New York, I saw a journalist from Channel 9 and he was doing a report outside Leonard Bernstein square, and Mayor Dinkins was there at the time and this guy was filming. It was the first time I’d seen one of these video reporters reporting and filming himself – and then undoubtedly going back and editing. And I’m thinking, “Bloody hell, I can’t believe that.” It took 15 years for that to come into British news journalism.
Now, with many of my documentaries, I go out and shoot a lot of it. I occasionally, for some newspaper reports, occasionally for foreign reports, I film myself doing PTCs and things like that. But back then I was thinking, “Are you kidding me?! I can’t believe they’re doing that!” You know, sinking into the low arts where everyone is an expert of nothing, and we’re all doing it now… we’re all multi-skilled. My view of the multi-skilled world is this: a good pro cameraman is great, but I’ll always pick the enthusiastic, amateur cameraman over a lazy professional any day.
T3: What’s the coolest bit of technology you’ve bought or used recently
DM: I think it’s called a Vtec tripod. It’s a remote control for my iPhone so I can do pieces to camera from my iPhone’s camera remotely. I can just put my iPhone up there and from a distance I can remotely turn it on and record either film or footage, take photographs or record sound or pictures. It comes with a tripod stand for the phone, and then you’ve got this little remote control, and you can stand away and remotely turn on your photographs or film yourself, and it’s very good for speaking to camera, for example. Or if you’re doing a video blog or whatever.
Obviously through the years I’ve lived with technology in my pillow case, on my body, from covert cameras. I’ve gone from having the battery that fuels the camera being in your t-shirt, actually leaking battery acid occasionally at the most inopportune moments. Now, of course, with secret cameras, the quality as good as something you used to have in your suitcase,. Now you can have it in your hand with a 16-megabyte pen or whatever.
T3: What’s your favourite gadget ever?
DM: It will always be the radio. It doesn’t matter whatever technological variations of it, the digital radio in my mind has opened up has opened up the whole world for me. Because I was born and bred on BBC World Service and when we were in the States on National Public Radio, and now I can hear them around the world with great clarity. It’s always been a comfort blanket for me. When I grew up in Ireland and listened to it, there was a radio on the landing, crackling on 198 long wave, and everyone in the house, their ears became highly attuned to the fishing forecast through the crackles. And I guarantee you the crackles, a top army decipherer wouldn’t have been able to decipher it. But our ears were so attuned to the crackles, we could work it out. The Enigma Machine couldn’t have cracked it but we did. So the BBC World Service has been a kind of soundtrack to my life, and it remains so, twinned with the very engaging and kind of curious NPR national radio in the States.
T3: What’s the best ever game console?
DM: Well I’m not too sure about that because I’ve steadfastly avoided games because I knew I’d become obsessed and therefore all my spare time would go. But I find it a very interesting area because of the debate on proprietory ownership.
T3: You mean the way you have to register yourself to use it?
DM: Well the fact that initially when the Sony PlayStation came out you were given the freedom to go in, you were encouraged to re-engineer it, and then of course Sony changed the parameters and said if you re-engineer it, you’re breaking the laws and prosecutable. So it represents two different schools of the big corporations. Do we give and release our technology, allow others to some extent to harness it, take it, develop it, play with it? Or do we say “No, in the small print you have signed everything away, and by the way we have access to all your material, private material, your emails and files.” So it’s a very interesting debate. I am a libertarian that believes if you buy a car, you buy a car. You should be able to tinker with it as you will, and develop and enhance it. It’s the difference between Android and the iPhone. The Android has taken the libertarian side, while the iPhone is still very proprietorial. I think that’s where Apple may come into trouble with its market share.
T3: Sony would argue that they try and prevent re-engineering the PlayStation because people would use that as a means to pirate games…
DM: Well it’s a different argument. If I’m buying a car and then I’m taking the car parts and I’m using that to reengineer to sell dodgy car parts or dodgy airplane parts, it’s different. There are already laws against that. But I think for a big corporation to do this, it’s very heavy handed. I think they have suffered badly at the hands of Anonymous because of this. They were one of the reasons for the expansion of Anonymous. Though I recognise their corporate pressure. When I do my movies, it costs me money when people pirate it, so I’m in the same territory. But I do raise an eyebrow when Google are doing their Google Streetview and have all our information. So I take a protected view on people and liberty. At the same time, I take a cautious view of those 120-page online legal agreements that then say “Tick this box here”. And I have to say hang on this second, there’s a legal problem there. You have a 12-year-old buying it, and signing legal agreements that have no bearing, then being prosecuted when they try to reengineer it.