Credit: Courtesy of Jamil Khan (left) and Sabbir Ahmed (right)

The Reuters Digital News Report 2021 showed that in the UK, 68 per cent of readers consume news via their smartphones. If you think that is high, in Africa, all three surveyed countries (Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa) scored above 80 per cent. In Asia, smartphone news audiences in Indonesia and Malaysia were among the largest in the report, at 85 per cent.

It is countries like the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Germany and France which are at the lower end and score in the 60s and below. Nevertheless, wherever you look, mobile consumption is rising among news audiences.

That is why journalists need to be creating content suitable for the screens where news is most sought after, according to mobile journalism specialist Abdul Kabil Khan - better known as Jamil Khan - who is also the assistant professor at the department of media studies and journalism at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.

In a podcast with Journalism.co.uk, Khan said: "Newsrooms realise now they need to modify their workflow so content can be customised for mobile phones. This is happening all across the news media in Bangladesh."

But journalists in Bangladesh do not have a wealth of resources to get familiar with the practice. So he co-authored a mobile journalism manual written in Bangla, the Bangladeshi language, together with Sabbir Ahmed, the YouTuber behind 150k-subscriber-strong channel Sabbir Live, and the lead mobile journalist at Bangladesh Times. Although it is aimed at the local journalists, there are lessons to be learned by newsrooms all over the world.

Reporting from the field, not the desk

Bangladesh Times is a mobile-first newsroom - or as Ahmed puts it, a 'studio newsroom'. That means it operates entirely on smartphone equipment and software from beginning to end: mobile tripods, handheld tripods or gimbals, Rode wireless microphones and the KineMaster app for video editing. He even uses a drone for his YouTube channel which features a lot of his work.

"The tools and equipment of old-fashioned journalism are not used here anymore," he says, adding that reporters like himself spend almost all their time in the field, shooting, editing and publishing where they are. When clips need to get double-checked, they get sent to a central team, via Whatsapp normally, to prioritise the speed of publishing.

"I don't delay publishing any video after shooting. This is because footage remains on my phone and I edit and publish from the same device. That speeds up the process because it’s difficult for others to do the same [traditionally]."

For that reason, live video is a powerful tool for the team and Ahmed will often go live on Facebook or YouTube. Since Bangladesh has many mega construction projects happening right now, Bangladesh Times opts for a live format to document those visual events, as well as stories on local crises, politics and crime.

Audience engagement and citizen journalism

Audiences also use their smartphones to be part of the news creation process, and by extension, the news agenda.

When you go live, for example, this is a great opportunity to include questions coming to you from your followers. There are three rules to remember: consistent and authentic interactions, an informal yet professional tone, and openness and responsiveness to audience feedback.

UK journalists have also been using Clubhouse, for example, to find new sources. But social-first media outlets like Hashtag Our Stories were born with a mission of smartphone-powered citizen journalism. The co-founder, Yusuf Omar, who was interviewed for the MoJo book, said that this is a matter of resources.

"Bangladesh now has a wealth of user-generated content. If newsrooms can publish content selected from this huge amount of content, a whole new trend will begin. I don't think many media outlets have reached that point yet. You have not yet created enough manpower to edit videos on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or create a separate team for such work."

Where possible, organisations therefore should think more broadly about the differences between platforms, and having teams geared towards engagement and verification on each. It is not a case of one-size-fits-all.

Develop a mobile-first mindset

But all the gadgets and gizmos in the world will ultimately fail without a dedicated mindset, said Khan. Building a mobile-first newsroom means you are creating social content constantly, not just around specific stories or campaigns, or when the mood strikes you.

In other words, social media content is the priority and creating for the website is secondary. To do this successfully, you need to understand which features are worth investing in, as there are many clone products of the same feature. Find out where your audiences are and which trends are sticking.

"People are moving from click to swipe experiences," Khan adds, adding that the popularity of platforms such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram also means reporters must think more carefully about short-form, vertical content like Stories.

"Content should be snackable and bitesize. People who use social media want to know more in a shorter time, and that should be delivered in a concise format."

But the news is not just read or watched on mobile phones. With the introduction of Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and now Facebook's Live Audio Rooms, plus the good old podcasts, news is also listened to via mobile phones.

With a mobile phone, you are only a few taps away broadcasting, after naming your show and inviting people to join.

"It's all about the storytelling, and the person who is telling, and how he or she is exploring that story through their eyes," concludes Khan.

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