What’s the true definition of a mobile journalist?
Westlund (2013) describes them as “journalists who use mobile devices extensively in their news reporting”. Blankenship (2015) in his research into mobile journalism in TV networks, says mobile journalism is “whereby a single reporter must write, shoot and edit their own news stories.” Christian Payne, in my chat with him a few weeks back, described it as the ability to report out in the field. And Wikipedia describes it as…
This may sound like a bit of a cop out, but I think all the above statements are true and that mobile journalism, in my experience, is a little bit of all of them. The one that jars with me just a bit is Blankenship’s reference to a single reporter. While his research examines reporters working for TV networks specifically, I don’t think mobile reporting for any organisation needs to be done alone.
Yes, in theory a mobile journalist can go out and get the story, shoot it, edit it and publish it. Alone. But working in pairs, or teams, can be more effective when gathering news. Take, for example, Shadi Rahimi who refers to a two-person mobile reporting team as a mobile army, sent out into the streets of Baltimore during violent protests to cover the story from the ground. And, he says, to do what mobile reporting has an ability to do like no other kind of journalism: “the opportunity to engage directly with the social media audience”.
Two’s company (and a great way to learn)
I certainly think when starting out with mobile or multimedia reporting, working in pairs is an excellent way to learn. Deuze (2007) says to remain competitive journalists must be multi-skilled – but going from print to multimedia reporter, for example, (as I did) is a big learning curve. You are catapulted from an intimate setting with an interviewee, armed with just a pen, paper and maybe a dictaphone, to a world where you are suddenly in charge of visual appeal, technology, audio quality and background action, all while attempting to make your interviewee comfortable in front of the camera and actually listen to what they’re saying so you’ll have a clue how you’ll edit it together later. It’s a lot.
The best way to learn, however, is to make mistakes. And I’ve made plenty over the years. It’s also a confidence thing, to be able to say mid way through an interview: “hey, sorry, can we start that one again” for whatever reason. Just like I did when shooting this video… a group of guys taking a seemingly harmless cigarette break in the background clocked us and thought it would be fun to blow all manner of smoke rings in the direction of the camera, which was somewhat distracting. I spotted it, we moved a couple of metres so they were out of shot, and started again. But it does take confidence and experience to spot all these things – there’s nothing like pressing record on an interview to find you’re standing below a flightpath to Heathrow, or a lawnmower suddenly starts up. You won’t notice these until you review the footage (often after the interviewee has gone) and find they’ve obliterated your audio. Over time, you’ll spot them quicker and have the right tools in your kit bag to deal with them. And they make for a great blooper real!
So, the learning curve is less steep if you tackle it in pairs, helping each other, divvying up tasks and splitting the mammoth responsibilities that come with mobile journalism in half. I.e when one of you is fannying around with a tripod, the other one can be warming up the interviewee. However, Blankenship has got a point – an established mobile journalist will indeed be going it alone, for the most part, and should have all the necessary skills in order to do so. Otherwise they’re less mobile, so to speak. I kind of did a u-turn on myself there but what I’m trying to say is learn with others to enable yourself to go it alone with skill and confidence.
We transfer, we download (but you have to connect the dots)
Mobile journalism, by definition, has to include the use of a smartphone (Neal Augenstein actually refers to it as iPhone reporting). But there’s nothing to say the whole story has to be compiled on the mobile. Mobile journalists might have other equipment too, for example, networked digital cameras for shooting top notch photos and publishing straight to social media or ‘sending’ them to a mobile phone. Clever. I actually do pretty much everything on my iPhone 6S but I’m not afraid to jump onto a desktop – if I’m near the office – to make life easier. I find it less of a faff to transfer files, source images, convert files etc on a desktop and I sometimes flit between phone and desktop to get the job done.
For example, an issue I had when editing a video from a team away day is that colleagues had sent me some of their clips to include with my own, via WeTransfer. The trouble with this, I found, is while you can send files via WeTransfer on a mobile, you can’t download them. This requires the installation of a second app called WeDownload (which you have to pay a couple of quid for if you want more than five files). I sussed this out after a spot of internet research it but it took me a lot longer than just pressing ‘download’ and this kind of thing can slow you down in the field.
In the field… literally
Speaking of fields, Christian Payne is right when he says the power of a mobile phone (with wifi or GPS, of course) is invaluable for reporting, polishing and posting on location. This is a great -and recent – little experiment by a team of journalists from BBC Surrey and Sussex who ‘went mobile’ for 24 hours to see what they came up with. There were pros and cons but it was an interesting test and a great way to connect journalists with their audiences directly via social media. In a similar vein, this US lecturer did a mobile-only experiment with students but for a period of six weeks.
And here’s a great example of capturing content in the field… literally. I was after some close-up shots of colleagues on Segways during a team-building day when one of them did something amusing. I’ve added a soundtrack to this so you can’t hear another colleague in the background shouting “Robyn!! Did you get that on video!!??” Oh yes, I did.
But I should end this blog post on a more serious note, and, at least answering the question I posed in the opening sentence.
Based on my own experience (I’ve been dabbling with multimedia for nine or so years now), research as part of my production labs module for my MA and interviews with practitioners like Christian Payne (mentioned above) and Robb Montgomery (interview to come soon), my interpretation of ‘mobile journalism’ (#mojo) is made up of three elements:
a) a single person
b) out in the field
c) using a smartphone
Of course I haven’t touched on citizen journalism (who is a mobile journalist, rather than what is a mobile journalist) but that’s for another time…