On a chilly January evening in Guangzhou, Sky News's Asia correspondent Mark Stone was reporting on a freedom of expression protest outside a newspaper's offices. Speaking live to Dermot Murnaghan in the London studio, Stone slowly attracted a crowd of onlookers, taking photographs on their mobile phones and watching the report.
The general public's magnetic attraction to news reports is nothing new – neither is the appearance of mobile phone cameras at every opportunity – but the difference here is that Stone and his crew are also filming on a smartphone.
Sky News reporters are using Dejero, a smartphone app that lets them broadcast live from a mobile device back to receivers in the newsroom and straight on to viewers' screens. Sky have licensed the app to 100 reporters and the supporting hardware is being rolled out around the country.
"You put it on a tripod, put lights on the iPhone, connect it to a microphone and the quality is good," said Sky News correspondent Nick Martin, speaking to Journalism.co.uk on location at a hospital for a story about Jimmy Saville. "I can stand in front of that camera, that iPhone, on my own and broadcast to my heart's content until the camera crews and satellites arrive."
Image provided by Nick Martin
Martin was one of the first Sky reporters to be given access to the new technology and, along with Sky's Asia correspondent Mark Stone, was instructed by head of technology Steve Bennedik to "push it to its limits".
"If we didn't have a crew, if it was breaking news, you could pull out the phone and beam back to Sky News. You can put it straight onto the channel as live," he said.
This kind of mobile journalism is not ground-breaking: the Associated Press used live video app Bambuser to broadcast scenes of an explosion in Prague in April; the BBC has recently been using iPhones as a second camera for interviews in Iraq; and Irish broadcaster RTE has been equipping journalists with the tools to shoot and edit footage from their phones since last year.If we didn't have a crew, if it was breaking news, you could pull out the phone and beam back to Sky NewsNick Martin, Sky News
Sky is taking a similar approach in readying their reporters for live broadcasting from their smartphones. Throughout 2013 Martin has been testing the equipment "in all weathers" to make sure footage is as broadcast-ready as possible and has come up with a checklist of equipment for Sky reporters.
"There's a tripod, iPhone holder, light, a cable to a traditional broadcast microphone, 4G MiFi to boost signals, lights to boost levels, weights on tripods for windy conditions, waterproof covers for working in floods, you name it," he explained. "There's a separate phone with an earpiece so the reporter can actually hear the studio.
"[The kit] is now condensed into a small bag which is being rolled out gradually to correspondents so that when the need arises, and I stress this is filling the gap before the traditional guys arrive, they can take it out the back of the car and the more rehearsed of us can be live within 90 seconds."
Image provided by Nick Martin
Martin said that, for Sky, the days of waiting for images on a breaking news story are over but the need for traditional equipment and satellite trucks is still just as strong.
"If we had another huge event in London," he said, "a terrorist attack or another 7/7 where the 3G mobile phone system is cut off for security reasons then that technology is rendered useless. So it has its limits."
Reporting from rural areas would be equally problematic and most reporters do not have the same technological skill set of cameramen or technicians.
"We still have to rely on the expertise of the cameramen, the engineers, the satellite uplinks to really provide the traditional foundation of our news gathering," he said. "So the tech we're talking about now fills a little void and a niche in our requirements but it is certainly in no way a replacement of those traditional news-gathering techniques."We still have to rely on the expertise of the cameramen, the engineers, the satellite uplinks to really provide the traditional foundation of our news gatheringNick Martin, Sky News
There are occasions when the roles of the two technologies have been reversed however. In August, Martin was dispatched to Peru to report on the arrest of two British women for cocaine smuggling. Positioned outside the courthouse in Lima, the bandwidth of the satellite connection was so poor it made the footage unusable.
"We set the tripod up, put the iPhone on the tripod, got connection with London, stole a bit of WiFi from a coffee shop, bonded it with a bit of 3G and bang, we're up there with a very good picture, live from Peru, that we broadcast all week," Martin said. "A whole week's worth of broadcasting just using the iPhone."
"That is the first time that it has been used on such a scale, we're not talking about breaking news, running out the car and trying to snatch some shots, we're talking about sustained news gathering of good quality, taking it back to London where they're really happy with it and it really proves to us that this technology has a place."
High-quality software and hardware such as this is not always available to smaller news outlets but Martin believes the idea is just as important and the barriers to entry, and channels for distribution, are dropping for broadcasting.
"In a time when newspapers are facing the biggest crisis they've ever had, they need to find ways to engage with their readership," he said, drawing on his beginnings on local newspapers 18 years ago.
"We went out with a pen and a pad and would write our copy up and file it, now reporters are expected to file video and stills because it's internet-based. That's what gets the clicks on to the website and that's what funds the advertising revenue, so this technology will be important to them.
"If you have a local newspaper in Manchester, for example, and you have a breaking news story then you want your readers to go to your website and watch that live. And they're doing that now, they are already adopting this technology or similar."
In terms of their live-broadcast potential, Sky have selected equipment to suit their "HD standards", Bennedik told Journalism.co.uk, so the same specifics will not necessarily apply to smaller outlets.
Much of the kit in the bag, however, was described by Martin as "readily available, everyday items" that have been "painstakingly researched in the field" to ensure reporters are prepared for any eventuality.
"The day will come – and has come – when a big story will kick off," Martin said, "a Sky news reporter will turn up and be out of the car and be live within 90 seconds. And that's remarkable."
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