Phoning in blog updates from the field: More power to investigative journalists?

WordPress.com, my blogging platform of choice (if only because it fully supports Sinhala and Tamil) has come out with a feature that is quite interesting, posting via voice. As noted on WordPress,

Post by Voice is a way to publish audio posts to your blog from your phone. You call a phone number, enter a secret code, record a message, and we handle the rest.

In lectures at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and other instances, I’ve often flagged how drop.io’s voice mail feature can be used for investigative reporting from the field, especially when capturing narratives that put the journalist at risk if discovered on any kind of digital media on their person. drop.io’s voice mail leaves no traceback of content on the phone, and allows for even the most basic of mobile phones to be used as a powerful tool for bearing witness.

WordPress.com’s post via voice feature is very similar. You call a US based number, enter a unique pin code, and then just talk. Once you hang up, the recording appears on the registered blog within a very short time (in my case, it was seconds after I hung up).

Cons

  • The system is geared to an American audience. For example, voice confirmation of the secret code by saying ‘sweet’ may create confusion in certain contexts and cultures unused to such an idiom.
  • There is no option to save an audio recording to post later. What is recorded is posted immediately, even if it is an imperfect or partial recording.
  • Call quality is ok, but inferior to drop.io. Further, drop.io has much more features and functionality as to how one can display and distribute MP3’s (one cogent use case example from election monitoring is this, from the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence).
  • It isn’t clear whether the resulting MP3 can be downloaded, or linked to directly.
  • Remembering the 7 digit secret code can be difficult.

Pros

  • Obviously works with the millions of all hosted WordPress blogs.
  • Completely free, and currently with an hour’s worth of recording.
  • Very easy to set up, with seamless integration on the blog.
  • No more expensive than drop.io to use (i.e. a call to the US).

The are of course many possible use cases for this new feature on wordpress.com. Investigative journalism is one, but it is not difficult to think of how wordpress.com, or even drop.io, can be used to produce stories that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to capture, disseminate and archive for posterity.

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