A lot of the roles that used to be filled by a van full of cameramen, sound technicians, producers and video editors – not to mentioned journalists – can now be filled by a well-trained reporter with a smartphone and the right kit.
Journalism.co.uk recently hosted a Q&A on mobile journalism, where three experts shared their favourite apps plus advice on encryption, preserving battery life, and what first timers should learn before heading out in the field.
The journalists who joined us for the Q&A were:
- Glen Mulcahy, innovation lead at RTE
- Robb Montgomery, author of A Field Guide for Mobile Journalism and professor of journalism at the International Academy of Journalism
- Nick Martin, correspondent, Sky News
What is the concept of mobile journalism? Josiane Kouagheu
Mobile journalism is cheap, accessible, relatively simple and it EMPOWERS every journalist as a multimedia storyteller. Glen Mulcahy
Mobile journalism is about agility, accessibility and about learning new ways to tell stories. I don't use it everyday, but I know wherever I am I can tell a story right there and then. And that's pretty cool. Nick Martin
The MoJo (mobile journalism) pyramid offers three levels of mobile reporting:
VJs (video journalists) - Highly skilled, specialised gear, the most demanding assignments.
Specialists - Teams or solo reporter expert in producing a specialized story form at professional level with dedicated gear.
Generalists - Field reporters producing a range of multimedia assets using common mobile devices.
Three things to consider:
- If the stories and the subjects for your stories are out in the field and not in your newsroom...
- If the gear is powerful and low-cost...
- If training and consulting expertise are readily available...
I'm interested in developing a MoJo course (from scratch) here at the University of Miami. What are some of the things you think I should include in terms of assignments, topics to cover, etc.? Edward Julbe
I start with three basics. Stability, sound and sending. To make your pictures look good, keep the camera steady, rest it on a fence, post box, or wall – that way your shot will be stable. Of course, if you're in a rally or a march or in the thick of it, then a more mobile style will add to the atmosphere of your material. If you're shooting video, make sure you understand what sound is all about.If you've filmed the story of the century, it is no good stuck in your phone.Nick Martin, Sky News
The iPhone mic is good, for example, but if you're doing an interview with someone you may want to add a mic to the phone and the net is full of tips on how best to do that. If you've filmed the story of the century, it is no good stuck in your phone. So understand how best to send your video, words or pictures. I've been in breaking news situations where I desperately need to get pictures back – and I am glad every time that I got the three S's sorted. Nick Martin
Visual storytelling literacy is the foundation. I don't teach students tech, I teach them "story forms". Master photo reporting methods, then master audio reporting methods. Mastering these lay the foundation for video and film. Robb Montgomery
Assuming journalism skills are covered, I recommend photography to begin with, then grammar of the shot, sequences, editing. I agree with Nick – learn to make a radio doc, understand great sound. All this feeds into the core skills for visual stories. Final tip. Get basic gear and practice, Practice, PRACTICE! Make home movies, Visual multimedia stories, radio stories – experiment! Here's a great Journalism.co.uk article on some of what BBC want. Glen Mulcahy
Practice is so important. I started looking at the iPhone as a serious tool for my work about four years ago. I remember fiddling around with cables, microphones, tripods, lens adaptors. Sometimes it was a bit confused and cluttered. So I would practice as if the story was unfolding before me and I had minutes to get the kit set up. And the practice works. I've turned up to breaking news stories since and have calmly and smoothly assembled the kit and started broadcasting. Practice. Nick Martin
What five apps should any journalist have on his cell? List more if needed. Peter M
I'm a fan of FiLMiC Pro, iMovie, Luma Touch, Pinnacle Studio, VideoGrade, Voice Record Pro, iLapse, Camera+. They are my essentials. For multimedia Storytelling I love Storehouse (iPad), Steller (iPhone) too :) On the topic of great resources ([including] Robb's book) is Taz Goldstein's guide Hand Held Hollywood and Mobile Reporting Field Guide. Also check out Vyclone and TouchCast. Glen Mulcahy
FiLMiC Pro is good – but takes practice to get it right. And yes, shoot in short bursts. There are an awful lot of apps – but you know, if you're shooting video, sending voice tracks, posting to social media etc. you shouldn't need to clutter your phone with lots of apps. Keep your job simple and think about your personal needs. When Bambuser first launched I used it to broadcast live – it's a great tool to connect immediately with your audience. At Sky News we use similar technology to file live reports [like] Dejero Labs, Aviwest. Nick MartinYou shouldn't need to clutter your phone with lots of apps. Keep your job simple and think about your personal needs.Nick Martin, Sky News
In my book, I list the top apps for field reporters to have on their phone with each media type separated to its own screen. The short list is this:
- PHOTO: Instagram, Camera+, ThingLink
- VIDEO: FiLMiC Pro, Bambuser, Flipagram
- AUDIO: SoundCloud, JamSnap
When I download mobile reporting apps, my battery doesn't allow me to use them. What tips can you give to have my apps and save my battery at the same time? Gaius Kowene
I've never seen the iPhone "not allow" an app to be used but there is no question HD video really drains battery life. I think it's really important to have spare power. The new battery feature in iOS 8 may help managing apps also. Glen Mulcahy
Some MoJo [mobile journalism] apps drain battery faster than others. Video apps, in particular. Also Samsung devices lose battery power much faster than iPhones, in my experience. Field reporters need to carry USB battery sticks to keep their devices charged up. I currently am testing a Maxell MPC B5200. Lots of juice, low price. Robb Montgomery
I carry two spare batteries. One is a Voltaic V72 battery which will charge my iPhone for a few days. The other is a smaller battery pack – but this is a serious issue and many back up batteries will be a short term fix. Switching to Airplane mode is a very good idea if you don't require a connection. Try turning the screen brightness down. Nick Martin
Q/2 I'd also suggest being disciplined about what you shoot - do it simply and well, don't shoot aimlessly #askajourno— Philip Bromwell (@philipbromwell) June 6, 2014
I am interested in mobile techniques and workflows for post-processing, batch captioning and submitting stills, photographs via FTP [file transfer protocol] using iPad and iPhone. Thanks! Nir Alon
First to say is that there are three levels to the MoJo pyramid. VJs at the top. Specialists in the middle and generalists form the base. Mostly what we see are VJs (the James Bond of MoJos) using tools like Storehouse to create Snowfall type multimedia reports all by themselves. Like this: A MoJo multimedia piece for RTE News from Azraq refugee camp in Jordan by Philip Bromwell.We have reached a point where fully-trained field reporters don't need to return to the newsroom and sit with a developer and a designer to develop engaging multimedia longform Snowfall type pieces.Robb Montgomery, International Academy of Journalism
And at Bilde.de Claas Weinmann filed daily original films (for paywall customers) and then summarized the week at Turkey’s SOMA mine disaster with a storehouse. All of these involved shooting with a range of MoJo gear, processing some videos and photos on laptop and then porting them into iPad where the Storehouse app lives.
We have reached a point where fully-trained field reporters don't need to return to the newsroom and sit with a developer and a designer to develop engaging multimedia longform Snowfall type pieces. That's a turning point. Robb Montgomery
Taggly is a great app for batch captioning and watermarking as well, more on that here. Alastair Reid, Journalism.co.uk
I agree with Robb – there's lots of gear available but match the kit to the purpose. The STORY is everything! Glen Mulcahy
What is the safest app or best way to hide or encrypt a video interview using a smartphone and an iPhone? Bill J Shepherd
Great question Bill. If you want to HIDE a photo or video on your iPhone there are lots of apps, [like] Stash. For pro file FTP you can use secure FTP (SFTP) which cuts out "middle men" or use something like Wickr. See this article for more info on SFTP. Whether you have been using one of the audio/video production apps I have been covering (including Bossjock Studio, FiLMiC Pro, and RØDE Rec) or some others I have yet to cover, you’ll likely have encountered software limitations. VPN (virtual private network) services like Hide My Ass are pretty effective too. Glen Mulcahy
For RFE/RL journalists working in countries without much press freedom, we had to develop custom apps to obfuscate a reporter’s location, use VPN, encrypt signal, and stream video directly to the CMS [content management system]. None of this was possible on iPhone, so custom-rooted Android was part of the solution. The simplest thing to do for iPhone is use a VPN for making your transmissions. I suggest www.privateinternetaccess.com. Robb Montgomery
Glen Mulcahy is running a training course with Journalism.co.uk on 24 July in London. The course is also available as a part of a news:rewired+ package, which includes a ticket to our next news:rewired digital journalism conference on 23 July.