No static at all…

Some people get a worried look in their eye when I talk about the media needing to practice more "advocacy journalism." I realized today that I’m using the wrong term: What I mean is "community ombudsmanship."

Here’s an example: A perfectly servicable story about the fact that the speaker buzz caused by interference from Dallas City Council Members’ BlackBerries is causing consternation at meetings. And that’s as far as it goes.

But a three-minute Google search produces the solution, or at least a likely one: Tin foil wrapped around the speaker cords.

I’m not saying that the popular press should be advocating a liberal, conservative or any other political agenda. But when we see something broken, as has happened with response to Hurricane Katrina, and even the pre-warnings on the early dangers to New Orleans, we can and should offer a solution rather than just telling stories about the problem. And then we should provide an environment for our community to provide more information and alternative solutions.

UPDATE: James Jones of the city’s communication office is on the ball. He explains why foil alone won’t work, and the avenues he’s pursuing. Fascinating, if technical stuff (and no, I didn’t solicit the dig at newspaper space limitations):

Thanks for the info and
the link.  After reading thru the various comments, it looks like we here at the
City are not alone.  I haven’t read the article in the paper yet, but my guess
is that it contains only about one tenth of what we discussed (due to space
limitations).  In our case, the RF energy from the BlackBerry is being conducted
into the microphone assembly (the pickup and preamp are all one unit and
shielded) thru either the mic cable or the mute switch leads.  In either case,
it ends up encountering some type of non-linear device (like a transistor or
integrated circuit) that demodulates it into a form of raw data stream.  This
data stream is amplified by an internal preamplifier and passed on to the main
mic amplifier and then on into the audio system. I am still looking at ways to
reduce the RF signal getting into the microphone (in this case, wrapping the
mics in aluminum foil isn’t practical, but it gives me an approach to look at.
Presently, the best solution is to move the BlackBerry away from the mic (radio
signal energy decreases as the inverse of the square of the distance change;
hence 2 times as far away yields 1/4th as much energy in the mic). I
have noticed that some cell phones do not cause this interference no matter how
close they are. It seems to be a mix of transmit power, antenna style,
modulation scheme (BlackBerrys use CDMA), data rate and operating frequency
(around 1.8 GigaHertz). 

I have noticed that
BlackBerrys as well as many “flip phones” will interfere with computer speakers,
VOIP and ISDN digital phones and some analog phones, some guitar amps,
inexpensive clock radios and numerous smaller inexpensive consumer audio
devices. However, I haven’t seen them react with CRTs as was noted on the
website.  I have seen more powerful 2-way radios (walkie-talkie type units)
cause image modulation and scan relocations.

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.