Mobile Journalism in 2013: A brief overview

Ubiqua / Creative Commons / Flickr

Ubiqua / Creative Commons / Flickr

Mobile smartphones and tablets are said to be convergence devices in so far as they bring together a lot of media functionality. They are mini-computers in our pockets which allow us to  create, edit and view text reports, still digital images, audio and video on the go and upload this content directly to websites. We can even call people using a phone, which some trainee journalists seem to forget! (yes, you can phone real people).

Mobile journalism can be looked at from both consumption and content creation perspectives. In many cases, as with the read-write web, mobile users don’t just passively consume they also create UGC.

As journalists we are interested in:

  • How our users interact with our content on mobile devices. We really must aim to set up interaction possibilities when we create apps etc. However,  many newspaper apps remind us of the passive reading experience of a broadsheet newspaper rather than anything interactive.
  • We also wish to use these devices for generating content of a professional standard at the scene of a story.
  • Public created UGC – as journalists we need to sort the material with news value from the vast amount of gunk.

The rise of mobile journalism in the last few year has been  brought about by a range of forces:

  • Cheaper and better devices – The Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy S and Note ranges and HTC One are considered some of the most advanced tools.  As a trainee, you may wish to invest in one of these devices. These can produce HD video of broadcast quality. Smartphones are getting cheaper, indeed down the bottom end of the market they are replacing more basic feature phones. Now everyone can afford a smartphone.
  • Better connectivity – wider availability of public WiFi Hotspots (these are increasingly free) and faster mobile connections with the roll out of 4G from EE and others.  However, the UK has a poor reputation for connectivity. Public WiFi is not universally accessible in the UK. There is only limited availability on trains for example (overground and underground). Connectivity outside major cities is patchy at best.
  • A public interest in sharing – The sharing of photos and video on social media sites, such as Twitter, is embedded in our culture. It’s not just about being at an event, you need to make sure all your mates know you are there.

Not all journalists will be mobile journalists. Indeed, as with backpack and video journalists that went before, critics may point out how the term gives prominence to the technology rather than usage in a story. The technology for technologies sake argument (sometimes regarded as determinism). But a mobile is one of many tools journalists have to master.

The best camera is the one you have on you, to paraphrase a cliche. The best computer for filing a story may be the tiny one in your pocket. It is rare for any journalist to be without their phone and so we should understand how our phones work and get plenty of practice taking video, audio, and still images. Apps may need to be downloaded to edit content. Your camera won’t be as great as dedicated kit (such as a DSLR camera), but come the big story it may be all you have. Sat trucks are expensive to hire and have a habit of getting stuck in traffic on the way to stories. One overlooked aspect of shooting using a mobile is that it rarely provokes attention, which can be an advantage in some news scenarios.

The images produced by smartphones cams can be very good. Just hold the camera still or use a tripod like a cool one from Jobby. Sound tends to be more of an issue, as internal mics are often not great.

Mobile stories

There is now a long list of stories that have benefited from mobile content.

ITV News – Woolwich Attack (mobile phone UGC) 2013

One of the most extraordinary bits of UGC caught on mobile phone in 2013. I still can’t get over the passerby with the shopping bag looks totally oblivious to what is happening.

Sky News – Alex Crawford reports from in court in S. Africa 2013

Alex Crawford did a lot of live reporting of the Oscar Pistorius case from within court. You can’t possibly imagine a judge in the UK allowing this type of shenanigans. This court trial tinkered on the brink of farce on numerous occasions.

Sky News – Mark Stone London Riots 2011

This is now viewed in media circles as a bit of a classic example of mobile journalism using an iPhone, so I can’t miss this one. On a night where things were kicking off in numerous locations across London, news crews were over stretched, as were the police.  A phone can provide a cheap and mobile solution compared with the cost of hiring a sat truck.

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