In The Picture: The Press Association

press association building

What sort of technology might you discover on the premises of a media organisation? The answer is not entirely as obvious as you might think…

This week, the pictures are from a visit to the Press Association in London. The PA supplies news, photos, videos, TV listings and the scrolling text you see at the bottom of the screen while you’re watching the news. It will even supply newspapers and websites with news stories formatted in their own style. What that means, in practice, is that the newspaper doesn’t only receive the news story, but can slot it straight into the paper without anyone having to reformat it.

So, as you can imagine,the PA is a very technology-rich environment, as I and a group of teachers discovered when we spent a day there in March 2009. Furthermore, it’s very innovative. For example, it developed a means whereby a PA reporter could send photos (eg from sports events) straight to the news desk over the internet. This was before it became an option for the consumer wanting to upload her holiday snaps.

The bigger the story, the bigger the text

This display is another innovation. In a similar way to Wordle and other tag cloud applications, the larger the text the more important the story in terms of the amount of coverage it is receiving, except that this is a scrolling display showing news feeds.

So what tech can you see in the picture?

The PA has also developed its own text-processing and markup software, and here you can see the raw text (right) alongside its formatted self.

So a question which may arise is: why has the PA gone to such lengths to develop its own solutions rather than use off-the shelf ones? That’s a point you may like to discuss with your students. Incidentally, in the background you can see a young lady wearing headphones: she wasn’t “chilling out”, but editing a video.

There’s a lot you can pick up on a visit to a technology-rich environment. For example, if the PA had to vacate its premises in a hurry it could be up and running again within 20 minutes. Furthermore, remote access over the internet meant that when Britain’s transport systems virtually ground to a halt in February 2009 (I was due to give a talk in Nottingham (central England), and couldn’t even get to the station to begin my journey!), the PA was able to keep churning out the news, with some suitably dramatic photos to illustrate the weather crisis.

Something you may like to do with your students is look at the photo with two monitors and identify what technology (both old and new) can be seen. The photograph below is also quite interesting in what it shows, and not necessarily only from a technology standpoint. One thing you cannot glean from looking at the photo, and which we all found quite astonishing, is that despite its obvious busy-ness, this room was so quiet you could almost hear the proverbial pin drop.

What else can you see here besides technology?

These photos, which I took on my visits, were reproduced with kind permission of Tony Johnston, Head of the PA’s Training department. The PA works with schools and runs some great programmes with schools. Look at the Education Experiences page on the PA’s website for details.

If you found this this article interesting, have a look at the others in this series, and at the Friday Photo series.