Over the past few years, there has been a rise in the number of mobile journalists telling stories in new and exciting ways. Some use mobile tools and techniques sporadically, by, for example, covering events live on Facebook or making teaser videos for social using the Quik app. Others choose to use mojo for bigger projects, or even as their core method of reporting.
Cian McCormack, reporter at Irish broadcaster RTÉ, recently spent eight days cycling around Ireland by himself on an adventurous mission to capture stories from all over the country for RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland programme, as well as supplementary video content for RTÉ Lifestyle, live material on RTÉ News Now television and social media.
"In the past when I started reporting, this project would have involved an editor, a reporter and a sound operator, but this way was cost effective – it was one man, his bike and a lot of patience," he said.
This was the third annual series of 'Ireland by bike', in which he cycles with his mojo kit from the North West to the South West of Ireland, stopping off in various towns and villages to find locals willing to talk about the issues that matter to them, and, in particular, finding out how people are unlocking the potential of the areas they are living in.
Train journey ends in 10 mins then I start cycling ... my bike is so heavy I'm calling it 'the Beast'! Bags are 26kg ... bike weight unknown pic.twitter.com/Sy9EnGjk3s— cian mccormack (@cian_mccormack) June 13, 2017
Morning Ireland is broadcast between 7am and 9am, so McCormack woke up at 5:30am, setting up and testing equipment before working on his material for online audiences, shooting pieces to camera and editing video footage from the previous day.
"I was live on Morning Ireland at 7:40am for five to six minutes, then would edit more online content before being back on air at 8:45 for eight minutes," he said, explaining he always had a guest with him for a live Q&A, and integrated audio clips from the previous day into the stream.
"After every broadcast finished, I would then do a video blog for RTÉ Lifestyle, who were chronicling my story as I travelled. It was simple, basic material for them to use online, of me giving that personal side to it that might have been lost on a radio news programme."
He was also streaming live pictures via LiveU on his iPhone, bonding two mobile 4G signals to go live on RTÉ News Now television.
By 10:30am he was back on his bike cycling to the next destination on his trip. His itinerary was structured in advance to some extent, but ensured he had the flexibility to change plans as needed.
"I sent out information to local newspapers for people to get in touch during the series. If somebody contacted us with a better story, I had the ability to change," he said, explaining that people would come out to meet him as he travelled along his journey.
"It isn't something I would encounter on my usual reporting, but you could see the energy and the excitement that a series like this generates."
The series had a special email address set up for people to send their stories to, and listeners also got in touch with McCormack via social media.
Stories ranged from people celebrating the Summer Solstice through old Celtic traditions, to a man who claimed his horse could speak 16 languages – including Cantonese.
"I picked the small stories to show there is a lot going on in places outside of the big cities, where people are unlocking the rural potential of Ireland," he said.
"Every story that I picked was one that could be replicated in countless numbers of villages, towns and communities all over the country, so it resonated with people."
If McCormack wasn't cycling, he was interviewing or filming. When he was giving his body a rest, he spent his down-time eating, while simultaneous scripting and editing radio packages from the day on his iPad using the Ferrite app.
"It is a structured, high-paced project, but very rewarding at the end of it," he said, explaining he received positive feedback from audiences who were also following along with the project on social media.
"It is a really high turn-around situation, so you benefit using the phone because when you are shooting it means everything is there ready to edit – you are not transferring files to a laptop, you have it in your camera roll ready to edit and put out."
Challenges he faced out in the field included mics that dropped out, poor bandwidth and connection in rural areas which made it impossible to rely on mobile broadband, and the weather conditions which had to constantly be monitored and adhered to.
"This is a problem that any reporter faces, but it was certainly a difficulty for me in relation to streaming the pictures from the iPhone – I had a lot of gaffer tape and plastic bags, but I had no real solution to keeping my equipment dry.
"You have to be able to work around these things when you are out, alone with no back-up – you really have to think about solutions in the field."
McCormack explained that although he had minimal equipment compared to more traditional camera crews, he had to use his creativity and initiative to ensure the content he created was appropriate for each of the different platforms and their audiences.
"The person who does a project like this needs to have confidence to explore the possibilities that mobile journalism presents to any reporter, and the hunger to be constantly picking away at this on smaller projects before they go for a bigger one like this," he said.
"In terms of the news organisations looking to do a similar project, they need to shift their views in terms of what represents news, that it's not always the big stories that count, sometimes it is the smaller stories that resonate with more people – it is the confidence to shift that way of thinking."
To hear more from Cian McCormack's experiences producing "Ireland by bike", listen to our podcast with him here.
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