Mobile Journalism: Professional Tips and Gear
Three globetrotting professional mobile journalists offer their perspectives on covering and creating stories with a rig that can fit in a backpack.
While many who use portable gear to create stories for media outlets may call themselves simply journalists rather than mobile journalists, companies who make products for the iPhone-based rigs of these on-the-go content creators see a different kind of customer in the marketplace.
Mobile journalism, or mojo, is a 21st-century phenomenon. While reporters have always gone to the story, wherever it is, no matter the conditions, they haven't always had the luxury of today's portable gear. Nowadays it's possible to get professional-quality audio and video using mobile devices. Even major news organizations have set up UGC (User-Generated Content) hubs to encourage submissions from citizen journalists. Some, like The Wall Street Journal, have trained an army of over 400 reporters in smartphone video production.
The Rise of Mobile Journalism
Along with advances in mobile gear and technology, the intense demand for online content has created opportunities for professional and amateur journalists everywhere. Here's why:
Large crews and heavy equipment aren't required. Gear small enough to fit into a backpack lets journalists get into tight spaces without attracting a lot of attention, whether it's a fracas at a local school board meeting or a war zone.
A tricked-out mobile journalism rig—including an iPhone—can be assembled for less than $1,000. Compare that to the cost of the gear, the satellite truck and the staff required for a typical person-on-the-street television news story.
Almost all smartphones offer 4K or ultra-high definition video, the new benchmark for recording and watching video. A broad spectrum of recording, camera control and editing apps specifically designed for iOS devices allows mobile videos to achieve a pro-quality level. Add the Shure MV88 iOS mic, and you'll get professional digital stereo sound for your videos. Edit on your iOS device with the ShurePlus MOTIV™ app, and voila—smartphone video that looks and sounds great.
One of the benefits of mobile technology is the ability to shoot, record, edit, share and transmit broadcast-ready stories directly to the newsroom. An experienced mobile reporter can do it all.
Mobile phone technology was built for live streaming. That's a bonus for a newsroom's live broadcasts, website and social media presence.
Four Questions for Three Mobile Journalism Experts
Recently, an industry has emerged around mobile journalism. It includes not only the legion of manufacturers that offer gear for mobile journalists (Shure among them), but also an international conference in its third year. Sponsored by Ireland's television channel RTÉ, the event attracts hundreds of delegates celebrating and advancing all things mojo.
The industry also has spawned a network of trainers and consultants, many of them journalists who did it the hard way before becoming mobile journalism pioneers. We corralled Mark Egan and Geoffrey Roth two weeks before their departure for Mojocon 2017 in Galway. Mobile journalist Nick Garnett was somewhere in the South Sudan filing stories for the BBC.
Soren Pedersen: How do you define mobile journalism?
Mark Egan: Mobile journalism is making use of mobile devices, apps and connectivity to tell stories in a fast, versatile way wherever you are.
Nick Garnett: Mobile journalism is a state of mind rather than the use of technology. You have to imagine yourself and your kit as a Swiss Army knife. It's about using whatever you have to hand to get the story on air as quickly as possible. It might be that you have a mobile phone, or it might be that you're editing on an iPad the material you shot on a pro camera. It's the ability to work under pressure in the field with the bare minimum.
Geoffrey Roth: Mobile journalism is the ability for one person to shoot/edit/produce/transmit news stories in the field with a minimal amount of physical gear. While mobile journalism can involve a variety of equipment, the quintessential mobile journalist is someone producing content on a smartphone with accessories and apps designed for video production.
SP: What gear is essential in a MoJo rig?
ME: The gear you need will help you overcome a smartphone's weaknesses. You want to reduce any shakiness, give the camera as much light as possible, and gather quality audio with a good microphone. To do this, you need a stability device such as a tripod, monopod or gimbal. You'll also need a mount (such as the Padcaster or Shoulderpod) to attach the device to the tripod. With the correct mount you also can add a small LED light to help the camera in dark locations. Get a good phone-mounted, lavalier, or handheld microphone. Try to get the smallest and lightest kit you can so you can stay nimble and mobile.
NG: Absolute minimum is a smartphone. It allows you to record, edit and file your material to a destination. Anything else is a luxury.
GR: A smartphone, of course, is essential, along with a housing to accommodate add-ons such as microphones, LED lights, and tripods. Apps like FilmicPro for shooting and LumaFusion for editing are widely used by the pros. Shotgun and lavalier microphones are also necessary to capture good quality audio.
SP: What advice would you give mobile journalists at the beginning of their careers?
ME: Audio is as important as the pictures. Viewers may forgive an out-of-focus shot, but it's a real problem if they can't hear clearly what is being said. The first piece of gear you should buy is a microphone. Do not rely on the in-built smartphone microphone when filming interviews or stand-ups.
Secondly, you have limited battery life and memory, so plan your story accordingly, and be very disciplined in your recording. Thirdly, the camera phones give us great pictures when they have some light to work with. Use whatever available light you have, or use your own lights. Do not ignore the importance of light to your photos and videos.
NG: First of all, more than high-quality pictures, you mustn't forget to have high-quality sound. People will forgive wobbly shots. They won't forgive dreadful sound. Second, don't move the camera. Shoot things that move but don't move the camera. Third, don't move the camera. Get it?
GR: Put your phone in Airplane mode! While this sounds basic, it is an easy thing to forget. If you do forget, you will often find your audio ruined by cell tower pings. Audio is as important as video. Monitor your audio to make sure it is usable. Stay away from panning. Know the basic wide/medium/close-up composition of shooting video.
SP: Where is mobile journalism headed?
ME: Audiences are increasingly going mobile, so it makes sense to produce content on mobile for mobile. In doing this, you are often working on the same social platforms as those consuming your stories. It is much easier to post content directly from the app on most of these social networks. You also benefit from the app ecosystem, which can help you provide content in all sorts of formats. In addition, mobile phones have connectivity that bigger cameras often do not have. For these reasons, mobile journalism will become more standard in the industry. As a result, there will be a more level playing field, so smaller news sites and start-ups can more easily compete with the established names.
NG: App development will continue to be the key to mobile journalism's future. Journalists have a duty and responsibility to let developers know what we need, and those same developers need to come up with the goods.
GR: I see mobile journalism heading in two directions. The first is a bigger acceptance of it by broadcasting outlets that will see both the journalistic and economic advantages of it. This will open up lots of opportunities for journalists who are well versed in mojo.
The second is a growing number of people who produce independent content that can be either sold to more traditional organizations or monetized independently. A company called Fresco is already aggregating mojo-produced news material and selling it to broadcasters while paying the content creators for their work. The fact that you no longer need hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of equipment to produce professional video opens up a whole new world for content entrepreneurs.
About the Journalists
Mark Egan is an experienced mobile-video consultant, journalist and trainer. He formerly worked for the BBC, where he was one of the Corporation's first self-shooting video journalists. He is one of the leading trainers in mobile journalism, teaching major news organizations, NGOs and businesses. Mark's clients have included the BBC, SKY, European Broadcasting Union, Swedish Television, the UN and Red Cross. Mark has his own training and production company, Purple Bridge Media, and can be contacted @markeganvideo on Twitter and Instagram.
Nick Garnett works for Radio 5 Live, the BBC's news and sports network. He has covered major international events including recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Tunisia, and Berlin; the earthquake in Nepal, and the migrant crisis across Europe. He has worked across the Middle East in Turkey, Jordan and Iraq as well as in Africa. He became one of the first mobile journalists when he started using a smartphone to record and edit audio (and, subsequently, video) in 2009 and doesn't use any other form of recording device. He last used a radio car in the 1990s.
Geoffrey Roth is the owner of MoJo Navigator, a mobile journalism training and production company, and Director of Content Development at KTSF TV, a station serving the San Francisco Bay Area's Chinese community. Most recently, he built the first-ever all IP-based local newsroom for FOX at WJZY in Charlotte, North Carolina, where all reporters shoot their own stories on iPhones and JVC 650 mobile news cameras and edit on iPhones and laptop computers. The station was recently honored for best use of technology in newsgathering by the Radio Television Digital News Association.