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The Shining

When lawmakers tackle Web cams, it’s time to watch out!

February 11, 2009, 12:00 am

Corey: “Marriage is not necessarily a good thing,” Norma says. DANGER! PELIGRO! TRUTH SPOKEN AT GOVERNMENT HEARING.
barbwire: Don’t eat the shrimp!
—snippet from Jan. 29 live-blog coverage of the joint Senate committee debate on domestic partnerships

It’s the second meeting of the subcommittee on Web cams, and Haussamen can only make out Martinez and two representatives from the Legislative Council Service. They’re sitting at a glass table in a very cramped conference room and, from time to time, two or three of the other five members lean into the frame. In the background, an Ansel Adams print hangs on the wall.

What Haussamen can’t see is there are at least seven members of the media squished into the room, not including a hand holding a shotgun microphone through the open door and two photographers taking turns squeezing in to snap a few shots. One television anchor sits in a chair playing with her hair, another reporter perches on a cabinet, trying not to knock over a Web camera, which in turn trails a cord to the floor where a blogger from the New Mexico Independent (former SFR food writer Gwyneth Doland) sits splay-legged on the floor covering the hearing live.

“Well, it was amateur video and audio,” Haussamen tells SFR via Facebook chat. “I will admit it was cool to be able to get my question answered in a government meeting 300 miles away, courtesy of my colleague and her Web cam.”

The media immediately became obsessed with the Web cam issue, in part because of the personalities involved, but also because implementing live Web cams would mark a significant step forward in the battle for open government.

“I asked myself: Am I interested in this just because it would help me?” Haussamen says. “And I realized that, if it would help me more easily access my government as a journalist and taxpaying citizen of the state of New Mexico, it would help pretty much everyone in the state.”

But the story didn’t just attract the media to cover it; it spurred the media to expand their own techniques: Suddenly it became clear there was a market for this Web stuff.

From the House press gallery, SFR covered the opening ceremonies of the Legislature using instant blogging software (CoveritLive) and used the software again to cover a hearing on the death penalty that had reached capacity more than a half hour before the committee convened. Later, the New Mexico Independent followed suit with live-blogging software to cover the Senate’s joint committee hearing on domestic partnerships and finally the Web cam subcommittee itself.

In the meantime, KUNM, the University of New Mexico’s radio station, began offering live streaming audio of the Senate floor. New Mexico Legislative Reports, a private newspaper service that has offered live and archived audio recordings of the floor for six years, launched a free version of its service,

“The handwriting was pretty much on the wall,” New Mexico Legislative Reports Publisher Beverly Garcia says. “If you’re a private business and you’ve expended all this money to provide this service and the state itself is about to say it’s going to open it up, do you sit back on your hands? No, you move and you take action.”

The first day, the stream received more than 500 listeners, Garcia says. Her company is looking at offering video next—though she wouldn’t mind securing a contract from the state to offer the service to the public.
That all these developments happened within two weeks is incredible, Haussamen says.

“I went from having no options to having several,” he says. “I had to set up my laptop on my desk as a second computer for the session. I use that one to keep all the audio and video feeds open, so they don’t take up space and memory on my other computer, where I do my work.”

With all these new streams going at once, a state-run feed sure sounds redundant, Garcia says.

“After seeing KUNM and us, they’re still going to go out and spend thousands recreating the same thing that’s already been in place for a number of years?” Garcia says. “As far as I know, we’re in a tight budget crunch.”

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