Canadian journalists pay tribute to BlackBerry creators
TORONTO - The ubiquitous BlackBerry, the device so often clutched in the hands of world leaders, business tycoons, and reportedly soon, Queen Elizabeth, was revered on Thursday night for its role in shaping journalism.
Not since the printing press, cable, and maybe even the Internet has such an invention changed the media landscape. Its significance was recognized by the Canadian Journalism Foundation Thursday night in a tribute to Research in Motion co-founders (TSX:RIM) Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis.
"Being recognized by journalists...that's kind of unique," said Mike Lazaridis, President and CEO of Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM, the maker of the BlackBerry.
The addictive handheld device is often lauded for its scientific and technological achievements, said Lazaridis, as he spoke to The Canadian Press before Thursday's tribute.
But the recognition by journalists isn't so surprising, according to some. In fact, reporters were among the early adopters of the device, said Lazaridis, as he acknowledged the role it has played in the news business.
"The instantaneous access to information, the instantaneous filing of information, the instant connectivity and dissemination of information ... that has changed journalism, absolutely changed it," said Lazaridis.
Although RIM emerged in 1984, the modern-day BlackBerry was introduced to the world in 1998.
In its first inception, the handheld computer offered a six-line display and allowed basic email and two-way paging.
Today, users of BlackBerry smartphones can surf the Internet, and install applications that let them do everything from find a restaurant to get airline boarding information. In April, it cracked the top five mobile phone makers worldwide.
U.S. president Barack Obama has acknowledged he was glued to his BlackBerry during the election campaign. There are even reports that Queen Elizabeth will receive a BlackBerry when she visits the Waterloo region in the summer.
But since the beginning, the BlackBerry has been a staple for journalists in the field, feverishly thumbing out information to editors and producers in the office.
Lazaridis said he remembers Toronto media gravitating to the very first BlackBerrys. At the time, they were small and looked like pagers, but traffic reporters in helicopters used the devices to communicate information back to the studio.
The handy device soon began creeping into local Toronto newscasts.
"Of course, we're all getting excited watching this on television, saying 'look he's using a BlackBerry,"' said Lazaridis with a grin on his face, as if reliving the first moment when he saw a television anchor use his product on the air.
Ask any journalist, and they will attest to their reliance, even addiction, to the BlackBerry.
CTV's national reporter Lisa LaFlamme, said she was handed her first BlackBerry six years ago during a federal election campaign.
"I remember when the election ended thinking, 'they must be nuts if they think I'm giving this back,"' she said laughing.
For LaFlamme, it's the "greatest invention," the one that she can't live without. She has used it in Kabul, in Baghdad. She breathed a sigh of relief recently as she landed in Johannesburg to cover the World Cup, and could feel the buzz of the BlackBerry in her hand.
"it works," she said.
Even travelling in remote areas in South Africa on Thursday, LaFlamme found herself dependent on the device.
"I Google stats in my BlackBerry, right in the middle of a slum," she said, in disbelief, during a phone interview. "I'm constantly reminded how it changed my life, and the industry," she added.
But the device has created some challenges for the churning news machine.
Even Lazaridis admits, the advent of the BlackBerry has made it such that news is almost in real time.
And some journalists have said, while helpful, the 'berry' has also proved problematic.
"Unfortunately, the media has too much allowed the political parties to capture them by using the BlackBerry as a tool to distribute their messages," said Christopher Waddell, director of Carleton University's journalism program.
Waddell was handed a BlackBerry for the first time during an election campaign in 2000, when he was an executive producer at CBC.
While the BlackBerry was a huge step up from his days as a reporter carrying around a cell phone the size of a car battery, Waddell said the device has since become just another tool for journalists to use.
LaFlamme was a little more lighthearted about the BlackBerry's limitations.
"The BlackBerry still doesn't make me a cup of coffee, and it can't get me a satellite link from Johannesburg," she cracked.
But you can watch as Lazaridis' wheels turn, as he gestures, explaining how the new multimedia reporter can use the BlackBerry.
Journalists can now shoot video, record audio, and write a story all with the same device.
"As more and more reporters realize what they can do that with their BlackBerrys, it's going to change what they do," said Lazaridis.