TV Satellite truck in a 65-pound backpack

BGAN systemThe next time you see one of those big TV remote trucks with the dishes on top, think about this: CNN does much the same that the truck does with a 65-pound backpack of electronics.

That was one of the things I learned about at the “Journalism 3G: A Symposium on Computation & Journalism” conference that vividly illustrated how technology is changing newsgathering.

CNN has begun using these backpacks throughout the war-torn areas of the Middle East, in part, because they believes it better protects the people in the field (a reporter wearing a backpack is a smaller target than a reporter with a truck load of equipment). But it also allows them to leapfrog competitors in getting video of the news from nearly anywhere.

A journalist can set up and get live video on its way to CNN headquarters in less than 10 minutes, said Paul Ferguson, supervising editor, International News at CNN. Ferguson was on a Saturday morning panel on “Advances in News Gathering” at the computation+journalism symposium at Georgia Tech.

The backpack is a camera, a G4 Apple laptop and a satellite modem. Firewire the camera to the laptop, connect the laptop to the modem, fire up the software and, BAM, you’re on the “internet in the sky,” Ferguson said.

Prices for this technology vary, but Ferguson said the equipment to do broadcast quality TV costs under $20,000. That doesn’t include the satellite time usage.

CNN was honored last month with the Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for its IP-based newsgathering system. It’s groundbreaking stuff.

What Ferguson called the “Internet in the sky” is a satellite Internet system called BGAN, or Broadband Global Area Network. CNN uses the Inmarsat BGAN, but that company isn’t the only provider..

Incredible. Bill Densmore posted audio of the Advances in News Gathering session. And there’s more conference of the symposium here.