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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Day in the life of a Second Life reporter

Eric Krangel is a Reuters reporter covering a technology beat - with a difference. Eric is based in Reuters Headquarters in Second Life, the virtual world. (He also reports about Second Life). You can see Reuters' Second Life news centre here. They also reported from Davos.

Beat Blogger's David Cohn interviewed Eric to find out how he goes about it. It's an interesting read. He makes the point that he's not there to report on werewolves attacking vampires or other such fantastic aspects of life in the virtual world. He focuses instead on more familiar issues for a financial reporter:

"There are SL banks and stock markets, and one company will try to take over a second one or another will have an IPO release. My coverage has not really been about what Second Life stock is doing well, or who is competing with another, but about the fact that this is all happening. I try to see the forest from the trees. So I write about what it means that there is a Second Life stock exchange. Is it safe? Is this a place where you can or should put real money? How does it work? What safeguards are there? That's more the type of journalism I am doing."

He says reporting in a virtual world is not so different from anywhere else:

"The first thing I do any day is probably similar to any other beat. I have any number of blogs or news feeds that I read. There are tons of Second Life blogs. Some are very silly, some are very heavy about the Second Life fashion industry and what designers are hot. Others help bring me up to speed on what is going on.

"I watch Linden Labs [creators of Second Life], they have an official blog and lots of news breaks from there. That's the ground level - it puts my foot in the door and gives me a superficial understanding of whats going on.

"Beyond that, it's real journalism. It's virtual shoe leather. I'm listening to Twitter. I have office hours every week. One hour every week I'm in the Reuters SL office and anybody can come and tell me what they think or what a great story that I'm missing. Or what we should be covering. I try to make myself accessible through SL and email as much as possible."

It makes good sense for Reuters to have people on the ground in Second Life. I don't know how many competitors they have in there but more are sure to follow. Virtual worlds may seem like fringe activities now, but they're growing in popularity and children are growing up with them.

I think that, just as news organisations need to learn how to use social networks and collaborative tools to stay engaged with their increasingly mobile online audiences, they also need to start wrapping their heads around the technology of virtual worlds. Where audiences go, they must follow.

Assigning a technology reporter to do what Eric's doing seems like a simple enough starting point: set up base in Second Life, get comfortable with the technology, start telling stories and establishing a presence. Now that's a beat I'd almost be tempted to go back to reporting for.

Anyone in New Zealand already have a reporter in SL?