Making the Case for Mobile

Posted by MelissaUlbricht on May 9, 2012

A champion for mobile journalism, Glen Mulcahy attests to a business case and offers tricks of the trade to help reporters and newsrooms use mobile tech for better journalism. Often, when we think of mobile journalism, is it the citizen we think of first — either the individual who happens to be in the right place at the right time with a mobile phone, or the seasoned, strategic citizen reporter who uses the ubiquitous device to fill a media void where other journalists can not (or chose not to) get the story.

But Glen Mulcahy thinks about mobile journalism from the perspective of a newsroom. In fact, this is his job.

A veteran video journalist trainer himself, Mulcahy works with Irish Public Service Broadcaster RTE. When his colleague recently retired, Mulcahy took on “what was generally perceived to be the worst job in the newsroom.” The job? Managing all of the mobile phones (over 100) in the RTE newsroom.

In this role, Mulcahy, together with colleagues Blathnaid Healy and Gareth O’Connor, initiated a project and secured funding to purchase 40 iphones ahead of the Irish general election and sent reporters into the field armed with the mobile devices. Mulcahy had free reign to investigate and return with a report and recommendation for a future of mobile journalism. Reporters used the handsets to send in social media updates via Twitter and to capture the atmosphere of the polling places via mobile photo and video. Feedback amongst the newsroom, news executives, and the RTE audience was generally positive, Mulcahy said. “It clearly showed the potential for using mobile technology in the newsroom.”

MoJo training in Zagreb, Croatia

In March 2012, Mulcahy joined Karol Cioma, training project manager with Circom and Darko Flajpan, a media trainer with HRT, to conduct a 2-day mobile journalism training in Zagreb, Croatia. It was the first official MoJo course run indirectly through Circom, the European Association of Regional Television.

Mulcahy had high hopes for these training sessions. He is trying to sow the seeds for a MoJo future and, in Zagreb, he appealed to HRT news executives to show the potential of mobile journalism. His focus was a dual approach, of using a mobile phone to not only shoot, edit, and upload content, but also to aggregate and curate social media content to form a larger story narrative. This approach seemed quite radical and provocative for conventional newsrooms in attendance, Mulcahy said.

The other goal, of course, was to teach the skills involved with successful mobile journalism. In Zagreb, 16 second-year journalism students attended the workshop. With the limited time available, Mulcahy said having clean, end-of-day deliverables is key. The key objective was to shoot a story on the iPhone4/4s with accessories and edit on the iPad2. (You can view the syllabus here.)  Below is a video story on the training, shot and edited on an iPhone. (For more, here is part 1 and part 2 of the MoJo videos produced at the end of the course.)

MoJo 2012. part 3 from TV Student FPZG on Vimeo.

Later this month, Mulcahy will present a MoJo workshop at the Circom conference in Malmo, Sweden. The workshop will focus on mobile journalism business cases and workflows for broadcast, radio, and web (check the iMobileJournalist site for a live stream). In preparation for the workshop, Mulcahy set himself the task of shooting a short feature on iPhone and editing it solely on the iPad, all in one day — a proof of concept, so to speak.  The finished product is here.

Design inspiration from Glen Mulcahy on Vimeo.

Does a mobile phone replace the camera crew?

As he travels to speak on mobile journalism and train reporters, Mulcahy has an ulterior motive: to provoke a discussion on the whyhow, and when of mobile journalism.

An experienced shooter himself, Mulcahy understands a recurring concern amongst newsroom staff that a mobile phone will replace established camera crews. But this isn’t the case, nor should it be, he argues. Trained newsroom camera crews focus on quality, key storytelling and documentary-esque, high production value content. This is still an important part of journalism within a newsroom, and not something that can be directly replaced by a mobile phone, no matter the available hardware and apps.

“There is a polarisation happening in production. At one end is the HD, high value aesthetic work of a craft cameraman or lighting cameraman which is a form of art at its best. At the other is the fast, run-and-gun, quick turn-around storytelling required to feed the voracious appetite of the modern online and mobile news consumer. Mojo is a cost-efficient method of expanding news-gathering potential at the latter end of this model.

The video or mobile journalist can integrate a mobile phone into their storytelling workflow to more seamlessly edit and put together video sequences during down time in the field. Instead of rushing to get a single piece filed in time for an evening news deadline, the reporter can tinker around on the phone, and submit sequences or interviews via FTP to be published on the news website, throughout the day and as a story develops.

“This, contrary to the misconception of killing the exclusive, in fact allows the journalist greater control over the story as it develops and allows them the potential to effectively create a promo or teaser for their main TV package later in the day,” Mulcahy said.

If anything, mobile can make a better journalist. In Zagreb, several students asked why they would use the iPhone kit, when laptops and other equipment could produce the same results for a video story. And while not everyone is committed to learning these skills, Mulcahy tries to convince participants of thepotential of mobile phones to be used for editing, sequencing, and uploading via FTP to the news site, and to promote a “melting pot of curation” from social media sites.

A mobile phone contributes to better journalism in other ways, too. Mulcahy explains how journos can stream live video and audio, script packages in text edit apps, use the device as a teleprompter, access the web for research, check email, and update social media sites. “Oh, and did I mention it makes and receives calls and SMS?”

In countries with reliable network coverage, such as 3G or LTE, there is a business case when it comes to newsroom costs and expenditure. A full camera crew equipment kit can cost upwards of 45,000 Euros. If you can replace one crew (or rather the equipment of one crew), you can train and supply up to 18 mobile journalists, Mulcahy said.

A trained journalist helps spot a good story. But once they do, they can get closer with a mobile phone, and deliver a compelling, high-quality story. From his experience, Mulcahy says that approximately 40% of evening news packages could be shot, edited, and delivered using a basic mobile journalism kit.

Mobile may allow for more stories to be covered, too. “How many potentially great stories are binned in newsrooms everywhere each day because there are no resources available to cover them — here is MoJo’s real potential,” Mulcahy said.

Making mobile journalism accessible

When he was testing iPhones with RTE, Mulcahy discovered that it was easier to craft a blog and curate content, tools, and tips — and let those interested peruse it — rather than to send constant email updates to video journalists and reporters.

Mulcahy’s VJ Technology Blog is a trove of helpful and accessible posts on all things MoJo. Looking back at past threads, it’s interesting to see the development of his now-seasoned and much-loved iPhone Mojo kit. When he first stumbled on and tested the Fostex AR-4i, for example, he wrote of it, “it’s as ugly as hell and looks about as ergonomically friendly as a mechano mock-up.” He now uses it in all his MoJo trainings.

Trying to get people in one room to conduct a hands-on training is quite tedious, he says, so the blog focuses on short Vimeo video tutorials. Despite this, it has been a challenge to foster dialogue and feedback on the blog, something he continues to focus on.

Looking forward, Mulcahy sees a lot of change. “I believe fundamentally that smartphones, particularly the iPhone, will be ubiquitous in the very near future. When that happens, the news-gathering potential of UGC will be unbelievable,” he said. “I want to expand my MoJo model to an online space where anyone who wants to learn to shoot for broadcast can do so inexpensively and using tools that are cheap and accessible.”

Mobile journalism skills are valuable for a newsroom

For now, not everything Mulcahy discovers and tests goes on the blog. In his role with RTE, there is reason to be a little protective of this content and research. “By putting it out there, every radio station or TV news station can mimic our workflow,” he said. These skills and established MoJo workflows can help set a news station apart in a competitive media landscape.

Because of this value, some entries are password protected on the blog. But this also allows Mulcahy to gauge interest. “It’s a litmus test to see who is interested, to curate a list of people who are genuinely interested in mobile journalism, rather than those who happen across it.”

Activist Media from the Frontlines: Mobile, Strategic, and Much More Than Just “Being in the Right Place at the Right Time”

This article was co-written by Melissa Ulbricht and Katrin Verclas.

In Syria, activists and citizen journalists fill a media void and strategically inform the global conversation on the uprising by capturing and sharing their own footage. They are organized, trained, smart, strategic, and promote media – much of it produced on mobile phones – with a purpose.

Mass demonstrations and continued state violence continue in Syria.

In Syria, activists and citizen journalists fill a media void and strategically inform the global conversation on the uprising by capturing and sharing their own footage. They are organized, trained, smart, strategic, and promote media – much of it produced on mobile phones – with a purpose.

Mass demonstrations and continued state violence continue in Syria. Authorities have banned and killed foreign reporters and havearrested Syrian journalists and bloggers. Outside of the country, news outlets report on the major events, often citing “Syrian activists” as the source of information.  Day-to-day events in cities around the country come to our attention largely because of these activists and citizen journalists who are systematically providing information to news outlets worldwide.

Perhaps the way the term citizen journalism is a misnomer in the context of recent events in Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Bahrain. Activists on the ground and online do not ‘just happen’ to capture and record media because they are in the right place at the right time but instead, systematically gather and strategically disseminate media. It may be time for a new term – ‘activist media” reporting from the frontlines –  that describes the organized media campaigns waged by these activists in a place where traditional media is largely absent.

Riyaad Minty, head of social media for Al Jazeera Network, in a discussion on lessons learned in covering the Arab Spring, noted the importance of citizen content in Al Jazeera’s coverage of events, calling it “incredibly important.” He notes that citizen media is, in fact, not new media; it is simply media, for them now.

A report from Channel 4 News notes rightly that a “a band of brand new, out-of-nowhere, self-styled TV news reporters has sprung up in besieged Syrian cities,” contributing to a media revolution. The article highlights the video, below, in which a video journalist from the Baba al-Sebaa area of Homs reports,  all the while dodging bullets toward the end of the video.

But videos like these are more than just valuable content. They are part of a cogent global narrative from a well-informed and well-equipped group of activists who use mobile live-streaming, video, Skype, and photos in very strategic ways to provide witness and testimony to the events in Syria. They inform a public outside of the country, as well as reinforce activism in many areas within the country, conveying the story of an opposition movement.

Most of the reporting is, of course, coming from the front lines, from people often risking their lives. They work with and are supported by organizations in and outside of the country that aggregate and disseminate content to mainstream media outlets publishing and pushing citizen content to a larger global audience to help reinforce the narrative of the rebellion.

The Vee-Jay Strategy

The media-savvy video journalists, dubbed vee-jays deploy a number of astute dissemination strategies: Photos and videos are shared across multiple platforms alongside additional text context or transcripts, and often have metadata such as time, date, and location stamps. Content is being uploaded hourly, and often live, on any number of social media sites, blogs and live-streaming video services like Bambuser and with the help of satellite connections. And where Internet or mobile network access are shut down or disrupted, footage is collected and distributed via agile alternatives such as runners – the old-fashioned ‘sneaker net.’

During the past year of the uprising, activists have refined the use of multiple technologies and platforms to capture and spread news, with copious videos and reports every day distribited to key Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube accounts.  They are shared across dedicated channels and via support organizations.

The sheer volume of content is notable. Outside of the country, Telecomix has gathered one year of revolution in Syria, collecting videos and news from the ground, and checking, dating, and ordering the content by place — about 900 videos have been posted so far, and this is not a complete collection of content.

In an interview with Guernica magazine, the founders of Syria’s Dier Press Network explain how they formed the country’s first citizen-journalist media company a year ago — a group of runners, camera staff, and people proviing tech support. The Press Network uses multiple channels to spread media content in Syria and abroad, using tactics such as handheld signs in YouTube videos, clearly-branded Facebook pages, and by providing FTP sites for media uploads.

In the interview, Kareem and Ahmed, the founders of the Dier Press Network, note:

Guernica: How did you build a citizen-journalist network? How would others do so?

Kareem: First thing was to start a Facebook page. The problem with this, we found out, was that Facebook was heavily monitored by the government. But still, we felt the most prominent way to spread the news during the media blackout was through Facebook.

Ahmed: We were a ragtag group with camera-phones. To go from there to a media company with a satellite TV station required a lot of risks. When our families found out about our work, they said “You’re risking your life doing this.” But we had to grow.

Kareem: So we took our next step. We had to figure out a way to brand ourselves so that YouTube watchers could associate our videos, which provided a reason for revolution, with a place to upload their own participation in the revolution. To do that, we came up with a logo that we posted on each video. We had protesters in the beginning of videos carry signs with our names and with websites where you could upload your videos anonymously. We had a Facebook forum where we could tell people about FTP sites where they could upload content. Ahmed, from abroad, was able to constantly re-route broken links or sites so that people could continue uploading content to DPN.

This multi-platform approach — leveraging a mix of online and social media sites, live-streaming platforms, and aggregation on dedicated channels, as well as diaspora support —  is not specific to events just in Syria.  The same tactics were used by activists covering events across the Arab Spring. Here is video from near Tahrir Square in Egypt, from February 3, 2012, between the hours of 03:30am – 04:45am.  We first heard of the video on Twitter.


Alix Dunn of the engine room and observes that there are two “tiers” of citizen journalists.  In one, citizens are capturing first-hand footage and choosing to upload it to Twitter, Youtube, or Facebook or to established, outside media outlets, such as Al Jazeera’s Your Media/Sharek.

The second tier is going beyond the mere citizen bystander who happens to capture video. Here, citizen and activist journalists become a clearly-identified hub or point person for footage, to then conduct strategic outreach and promotion.  These activists aggregate and push content from others, often by establishing clearly-identified channels for other media organization and the general public. Examples include a Facebook page for the Activists News Association@RamyYaacoub’s Twitter feed; ThawraMedia, an open platform in Egypt that empowers free and individual journalism through sharing of videos and photos, online; theAlexander Page Project and the Reporting from Damascus blog (RFDblog), an aggregation of reports and media from Damascus; and the “Voice of Homs” Danny Dayem, highlighted in these reports by CNN report and BBC; and a YouTube channel from Freedom 4566, to name just a few of these citizen media hubs.

Here, for example, is recent footage shared by the Activists News Association, on a series of YouTube videos showing the shelling on residential areas in the Bab Amr area of Homs in Syria.

Agility Under Changing Conditions

The media activists have learned to be agile in reaction to specific challenges. When the Syrian regime blocked iPhone uploads in late 2011 in an attempt to control information, activists and journalists smuggled Android mobile devices across the border, using VPNs to upload videos. Again, the Dier Press Network founders:

Guernica: But at this point, what kind of cameras were you using?

Ahmed: We were using mostly cameraphones. When we first began, the number of people we knew with smartphones could be counted on your two hands. But now, Androids have been smuggled across the border. You see, at the same time that the definition of a camera was changing, carrying a camera had become a death sentence. The regime has been able to block iPhone uploads. But with the Droid, we can use VPN to upload videos to a number of sites in a number of different ways. In Dier ez-Zour, for example, in every neighborhood there has to be one to two people with a Droid.

Kareem: The best phone to use for filming a rebellion is a Droid.

Guernica: What is the current status of your news network, and what do you envision for the future?

Ahmed: DPN. has branched out to live coverage, a radio station, and a satellite TV stations carried by Niles SAT. We’re also releasing an app for smartphones. I’ve got to hand it to Kareem, who was on the ground in Syria until just a couple months ago. It’s pretty brave to go from a small group with no real funding to a satellite channel.

Strategic Data Collection and Distribution

Activists are savvy about generating and sharing content even with a frequent lack of Internet and mobile network coverage. Dunn notes the systematic data collection and information distribution during Internet shutdowns in Cairo, along the Turkish border of Syria, and in Benghazi, Libya.

When the Egyptian government shut down the Internet and mobile services, and encampments began in Tahrir Square in Egypt in January and February of 2011, a small group of activists set up a media tent in a corner of the square.  Activists and citizens captured video or audio on their mobiles phones and came to the media tent to upload media onto hard drives there. The drives were then physically transported to places that still had Internet access. In this way, “a small group of people were committed to disseminating information,  curating information and strategically sharing it with international media outlets,” Dunn said.

Crafting and Controlling a Message (and Sometimes Embellishing the Facts)

This curation at media tents allows activists to also better control their message, to reduce ‘noise’, and take a more strategic approach to posting content to YouTube or sharing with mainstream media outlets.

There is a similar approach in Syria. Content is strategically gathered, uploaded, and shared. “By naming these points media houses or tents early during conflict, they can become ad-hoc, mini-institutions,” Dunn says. “Media tents,” whether physical or virtual, are also plugged into local activist networks, and are thus more informed and aware as to what to filter for in order to transmit a clear and consistent message.  Lastly, these distribution hubs become a clearly-identifiable contact point for outside media.

In a recent documentary on Channel 4, the vee-jays of Syria are protrayed in vivid detail. Filmed by an activist from France identified only as “Mani’, the video follows the vee-jays and their strategies and their brazen reporting.  Unfortunately, as the The Daily Beast writes, in their effort to convey their message, some have been shown to embellish their reporting:

The report also spotlights how activists, in one instance, stage a video. In one scene, Mani catches Tellawi complaining to his colleagues that the section of Homs they’re reporting from is too far from the action. “We’ll need to set a tire on fire,” Tellawi says, in order to mimic smoke from battle. Then, Tellawi remembers that he’s being filmed and turns to Mani’s camera with a sheepish grin. Later in the day, Tellawi stands on a rooftop to record a video dispatch as smoke billows behind him. It’s a visually harrowing scene. Mani pans past Tellawi and traces the smoke to an alley below, where a tire is engulfed in flames. 

The report rightly points out that the activists are not journalists and have an agenda – something that news organizations relying on footage from Syria struggly with.  The selective showing of footage, rightly noted as a greater issue than the staging of a fire, and ommission of other footage certainly serves the narrative of the media activists. But, the Daily Beast rightly points out:

While the brutality of Assad’s crackdown is clear—and few, if any, seasoned observers buy into the regime’s anti-activist smear campaigns—Tellawi’s burning tire spotlights an issue journalists who rely on footage from video activists have struggled with from the start: How much can they trust footage they’re getting from sources who are clearly partial to the opposition’s cause? Anderson Cooper recently dedicated a long CNN segment to debunking allegations that Dayem was embellishing his reports. As Mabro, the deputy foreign editor at Channel 4 News, puts it: “News organizations have been relying on these guys for footage for the last six months, but they’re not journalists. They have a message they want out.”

Take a look at an excerpt of the Channel 4 film about the vee-jays:

Collaboration In and Out of the Country

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC), which recently won a 2012 Netizen award, is an umbrella organization which works to coordinate and synchronize activities, movement, and political positions of members in cities and towns across Syria.

The LCC’s media team consists of activists on the ground in Syria who capture and upload content, and a network of people around the world who help translate, verify, and disseminate media via the LCC site, Facebook pagephoto blog, or on Twitter.

LCC does not conduct on-the-ground trainings in Syria, and LCC spokesperson Rafif Jouejati suspects that most media training that is happening right now is being carried out remotely. The LCC, for example, uses social collaboration tools and closed chat rooms to teach aspects of documentation. Many lessons get at the issue of authenticity: when filming, make sure to capture a known landmark in the city or town, include a shot from a local dated paper or an event that is widely known to be happening.

Focusing on authentic, verifiable data is strategic itself, and LCC takes it seriously. “We do not disseminate information unless it has been corroborated by multiple other sources,” she said. “At one point, the regime accused content of being filmed at a studio in Qatar,” Jouejati said. “So we’ve taken great pains to make sure footage and reports are are authenticated so we can counter the regime.”

Reporters Without Borders highlights strategic ways that activists, netizens, and hacktivists combat censorship. Telecomix, a distributed groups of technologists, conducted #OpSyria, helping Syrians avert government censorship. On September 4, 2011, the network conducted a campaign that,

…succeeded in diverting all Syrian Internet traffic to a special page with advice on circumventing censorship, including how to install the Tor software and use a secured https connection. More and more people have since then connected to the Telecomix channel using the protected instant messaging system IRC and have been given help with circulating videos, photos and eye-witness accounts.

Live-streaming service Bambuser has a dedicated “Middle East” section with broadcasts going up every day from Egypt and Syria. This may serve to not only inform those outside the region, but also to motivate those putting themselves at risk to capture the footage.

Deir Press has extensive footage on Bambuser – hours and hours of events unfolding from demonstrations and chants, to documenting attacks on specific neighborhoods.  Here is footage from March 23, 2012:

Telecomix has gathered one year of revolution in Syria, collecting and posting about 900 videos so far.Syrian Stories adds context and categories to these videos with an interactive timeline.

Support for Safer, Better Citizen Content

Organizations like Mosireen are a result of the growth of citizen media in Egypt, in which, “armed with mobile phones and cameras, thousands upon thousands of citizens kept the balance of truth in their country by recording events as they happened in front of them, wrong-footing censorship and empowering the voice of a street-level perspective.”

Mosireen provides a workspace for activists and the public as well as training, technical support, and equipment. It’s also a platform to share videos with a larger audience. In an email invitation for a gathering in early March, Mosireen highlights its growth:

We have very quickly become the most viewed non-profit YouTube channel in Egypt of all time, have accumulated hundreds of hours of crucial footage and trained over one hundred people with skills ranging from the basics to the advanced.

This more strategic and skilled networked group of activists does not, however, go unnoticed. In Syria,the government has blocked mobile services, including 3G, and blocked live-streaming service Bambuser.  Previously, Bambuser has been blocked in Bahrain for much of the last 6 months and before that in Egypt in 2011.

(Some) Newsrooms and Publishers Get It

Media-savvy activists know that a powerful video is one that is seen. In sharing content across multiple platforms — such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, live blogs, dedicated channels like Mosireen, and by direct upload to news outlets — events are seen within and outside the borders of Syria, Egypt, and Bahrain. This helps to reinforce a narrative within the country and ultimately reinforces the sentiment, to the world, that there is an opposition movement.

According to this article, the number of Bambuser videos from Syria has increased notably this year, and mainstream media outlets are publishing the content:

Yesterday an oil pipeline in Homs was bombed by the Syrian military. A local citizen in Homs, who’s been filming the fighting over several days, used Bambuser to live-stream an entire day of footage showing the black smoke rising from the explosion, with gunfire and shelling heard in the background. The archived footage can be watched here. That footage was also broadcast live by many major TV news outlets including CNN, BBC, AlJazeera, SkyNews and others with credentials to access live feeds from Bambuser.

Demotix, a company which brokers its feed of citizen journalism to mainstream media and pays citizen journalists a small percentage of the sale, also sees an increase in the use of citizen content amongst established news outlets. CEO Turi Munthe says that Demotix media clients have seen over the course of a few years an increase in content, not just in terms of breadth and where it comes from but also in terms of coverage and quality of content.

By and large, though, mainstream media outlets still call the targeted, intentional, and organized media campaigns simply ‘citizen media,’ all the while extensively using the footage in their reporting.  We think it’s time to understand that citizen media from the frontlines in Syria and across the Middle East is, thanks to savvy and organized activists, now much more than just citizens ‘being at the right place at the right time.’

Image courtesy of Flickr user Syria-Frames-of-Freedom, licensed under Creative Commons. The photo was taken using a Nokia N8.

Closing the Gap in Indigenous Australia with Mobile Journalism

In a crisp, 6-minute mobile video, Gerald Yawulkpuy introduces the local news from his community.

Welcome to Ramo News – all the news from Ramingining. My name is Gerald Yawulkpuy, good evening.

Tonight, the very successful Youth Week Program. The Court in town for the first time, and the opening of our wet season swimming pool.

But first of all, an update on the critical situation in Ramingining about the road conditions and the fuel for the power station.

Gerald is just one of a growing number of mobile journalists, or Mojos, creating video stories from remote regions in the Northern Territory of Australia. He learned how to use an iPhone kit to create, edit, and upload news stories as part of a project called NT Mojos, which is funded by the Australian government in partnership with Burum Media and the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education.

The project empowers indigenous people to have a local voice and to provide a less marginalized view of everyday indigenous life in Australia by enabling trained reporters in remote communities to create and share the stories most important to them. The final videos are posted on a government site as well as here.

A Passionate Leader Brings Energy to the Project

When it comes to NT Mojos, the executive producer Ivo Burum wears many hats. It was his idea to launch the pilot after over 30 years of experience in the field as a reporter and broadcaster. Most recently, with theAustralian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Burum taught people to use small cameras to create and deliver content for television, including shows like Race Around Oz.

“While mobile is quite new, the concept of people creating self-shot content is not,” he said. With NT Mojos, Burum is revisiting lessons from earlier experiences with user-generated content, but instead of focusing on large infrastructures such as television programs, is spending money on training in indigenous communities.

As part of his daily work, Burum travels to remote communities in the Northern Territory to help select participants and lead the trainings. For more on the project, watch this documentary on The Making of NT Mojo:

Says Burum, “I take Mojo quite seriously. It’s a real opportunity for people to change their lives and to create a citizen voice — and that’s what is important.”

It’s More about the Story and Less about the Technology

In selecting Mojo participants for training, the first step is to engage the community and talk to local elders to see if they want to be involved. If they do, Burum meets with them to help select candidates. In one eager community, 15 people lined up to join the training. “It’s not difficult to sell the idea to communities,” Burum said. He also brings in existing media centers and indigenous engagement officers to help choose participants.

For the pilot, 9 Mojos were chosen from 6 communities in the Northern Territory: Galiwin’kuLajamanu,NumbulwarRamingining, and Wurrumiyanga (Nguiu).

Training is initially held at the Batchelor Institute, where Burum and others teach aspects of storytelling as well as technical skills on iPhone mobile journalism kits. After the training intensive is complete, the Mojos return to their communities, ready to hit the ground running. “One of the goals is to get Mojos to a point where they can make stories without continued support from myself or the Institute”, Burum said.

The bulk of the training focuses on fundamentals of journalism and teaching the who, what, where, when, and why of story construction, as well as being an ethical storyteller or journalist. The tech stuff comes more naturally. Burum said that when the Mojos first got their hands on the iPhone kits, they immediately began recording, before they were even taught how. “It seemed intuitive”, he said.

Each Mojo receives a “kit”, based around the iPhone 4. Other hardware components include:

  • An OWLE Bubo mount for the camera. This helps stabilize the phone and allows for other external attachments.
  • A multi-directional mini shotgun microphone, which is attached to the OWLE case.
  • A small rechargable LED light. This helps for recording at night or in low conditions.

The kit that includes an iPhone costs less than $900 AUD.

NT Mojos use Vericorder’s 1st Video editing app, chosen because it allows editing on up to four tracks of audio and two tracks of video and has super and subtitle features, essential for indigenous language work. It also has a resume function that enables the app to re-start uploads from a drop out point, in case of a temporary loss of signal. In the remote regions of the Northern Territory, most of the uploading is done via a 3G network instead of over WiFi.

Stories are shot and edited directly on the phone, and uploaded to the Internet when complete.

Education and Income

It was not too difficult to get funding for the project. For one, Burum Media has a good track record with media production in Australia. Second, timing was right. The government is looking for ways to engage with remote communities and help “close the gap,” Burum said. “NT Mojos is a way to bridge a divide between white and indigenous Australia.”

Another ongoing issue in this region is education and literacy. Because NT Mojos teaches story-telling first and technology second, the project is “as much about increasing literacy levels and helping people think about their environment and how to convey those thoughts and stories,” Burum said.

After returning to their communities, the trained Mojos are able to report on any story they choose. It is important to teach journalism concepts of defamation, libel, and story accuracy, as the NT Mojo’s were not clear about this. “When you are speaking about issues you are passionate about, you want to be sure you can broadcast and share the stories with a larger audience without fear of libel actions,” Burum said.

These larger lessons contribute to the sustainability of the project, as does continued involvement within the community, from elders, teachers, and media centers. Burum’s goal, he jokes, is to not have to go back to regions where he has taught.

A key to sustainability is to link income to skills learned. Following the Mojo’s success at the Fist Full of Filmsfestival in Darwin, ABC asked if nine of the original trainees could contribute to the public broadcaster as paid freelance stringers based in the remote communities. “That’s a wonderful thing because education is one thing, but creating jobs after you are educated in a remote community is another thing,” Burum said.

Burum believes another important step on the road to sustainability is to integrate Mojo into the education system in remote schools in the NT. “It’s critical to get these natural storytellers thinking about story telling themodern way as early as possible and that’s the way mojo is heading in the NT — into schools as part of the curriculum,” he said.

Burum has also launched a version of the project in China, called Ningbo Mojo. The pilot began with 10 mojos and 4 teachers from Nottingham University in Ningbo, China in June 2011. The same iPhone kits and Vericorder apps are used, though Burum finds that upload issues arise more often due to Internet censorship in the country. “Despite the restrictions, the Ningbo mojos from the Nottingham University Television Station used mojo for their broadcast work including filming a media conference in Ningbo.” Another introductory and intermediate workshop is planned in Ningbo this year.

The Burum Media mojo package has also been delivered to a secondary school in Melbourne and to ‘J’ students at Deakin University. Burum has tips on mobile journalism at the How To Mojo blog and more NT student videos on his YouTube channel. More info on the My School Mojo package can be found

For more guides on mobile audio and video reporting, see this list of iPhone tips from the International Journalist’s Network, this how-to guide on Mobile Audio Recording from the Field, and the Mobile Media Toolkit sections on Creating and Sharing Mobile Content.

Photo courtesy of Ivo Burum. 

Umuntu Media: A Local Focus, Across the African Continent

The population of the African continent is 1 billion people, but only one registered URL exists for every 10,000 Internet users. What this means is that there are relatively few locally owned Internet sites,

The population of the African continent is 1 billion people, but only one registered URL exists for every 10,000 Internet users. What this means is that there are relatively few locally owned Internet sites, compared to more developed countries.

Umuntu Media was launched in September 2010 to address this gap. Johan Nel, CEO of the media company, said that inspiration came from his travels across Africa. “The big gap I saw was local content. Elsewhere, in more developed areas, we take this for granted,” Nel said. “There is no one place where you can find proper international and local news, apply for jobs online, buy and sell goods, rent or buy properties, or just look at restaurant reviews.”

Umuntu Media currently has active news sites at iNamibiaiZambiaiBotswana, and iZimbabwe. The goal of the Umuntu Media news portals is to provide locals in each country a space for online or mobile news, services, and entertainment.

Where does content come from?

A central news hub is located in Cape Town, South Africa, where the Internet tends to be faster and power more reliable than other locations on the continent. The Umuntu hub purchases international news content from wire services and local feeds from in-country content publishers in Africa. It complements this coverage with hyper-local reports from freelance journalists who are paid a monthly retainer to supply content.

Content is published in the language of the leading newspaper in the country. Right now, sites are in English and Portuguese. But, Umuntu uses social media to engage in additional, local languages. With the iNamibia site, for example, the local freelance journalists are employed to control social media engagement and do so in Afrikaans, German, English, and Oshiwambo.

Umuntu also employs sales teams in each country to help drive revenue.

Citizen reports are welcome, mobile content is lacking

All the Umuntu sites have an iNews section where citizens can contribute reports, including text, audio, or video content. Before it is published, this citizen-generated content is run by the editorial team to check for blatant mistakes. On average, the iNamibia site receives about 30 citizen submissions per week, Nel said.

Mobile content submissions seem to be lagging, for the time being. Nel finds that citizens are not using mobiles as much to create and submit content,  but rather people are working from Internet cafes to log into the Umuntu sites and submit written stories.

“I wish we could move faster into this environment, but it’s just not happening as fast as we’d like it to,” Nel said. He suggests that mobile reporting is still new and the adoption cycle takes time. Data costs may also be a contributing factor to slow uptake, as users are worried about sending video and photo content from the prepaid phones, Nel said.

Umuntu publishes as a web-first news site, but also is optimized for mobile viewing. A new mobile version is to be released this week. When they last launched mobile components to the site, it saw a 200% growth in traffic.

Nel has noticed a spike in mobile consumption of the site during times when people are in transit to office jobs, then again when they commute home. During the day, when many readers are at work, online consumption is high.

Challenges and next steps

In January, Umuntu Media plans to launch iAngola and iMozambique, in Portuguese. In February, it also plans to launch news sites in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria.

“It’s a massive, ambitious project to publish in 11 African countries, from Cape Town,” Nel said. Other challenges include managing people locally, and scooping local newspapers that have existed for decades. Umuntu attempts to offer services and coverage that a typical print newspaper can not, and it attempts to do this remotely, from the hub in South Africa.

A strong social media presence helps. iNamibia eaches 25% of the online audience in the country, and within 6 months of it’s launch, the  site has become the largest Facebook page for any media organization or brand in the country, Nel said.

Umuntu Media will soon be launching Mimiboard, a social media tool “designed in Africa by Africans for Africa,” Nel said. The mobile platform will be launched in alpha version in January 2012.


How to Use Bambuser to Live-Stream your News Content

How do you engage an audience and share breaking news when you cover it all: from severe weather to city commissioner conferences to fire rescue. Live-streaming may be the answer.

Michelle Li and the WSFX and WECT newsroom in Wilmington, North Carolina, are using Bambuser to live stream reports from the newsroom and from the field, using laptops with webcams and the Bambuser mobile application.

The Mobile Media Toolkit offers guidance on how to live stream content, but we caught up with Li to hear more about how Bambuser works in action.

Why Bambuser?

The WECT newsroom began using Bambuser earlier this year. Li had used other platforms but chose Bambuser because of its mobile capabilities. “It was easy to get the app, it was easy to use, and it was easy to use in replacement of the live shot,” she said. “If we had bad weather, for instance, we could go live from our cell phones.” The Bambuser mobile app is available widely across platforms including Apple, Android, Bada, Symbian, Windows Mobile, and more. In September, Bambuser released updated apps which offered an “interesting technology solution for mobile bandwidth constraints.” Read more here in this GigaOm post.

“We try to use Bambuser everyday,” Li said. She tries to push a news conversation with user comments and feedback during the live-streaming reports. While some broadcasts inevitably garner questions about day to day happenings in the newsroom, many stories attract dozens of comments from viewers.

What type of content works well for live-streaming reports?

Li tries to think of national and international stories that people can talk about, but the platform works well for hyper-local coverage, too. During severe weather, Li will broadcast live and relay questions that are coming in to the newsroom from Twitter and other social media sites. Li live-streams events that she thinks will be “big talkers.” Community-oriented and helpful topics like saving on electric bills, for instance, or Friday reports on upcoming weekend events, all make great live stream topics as they directly reach viewers and open the door for comments and questions.

Ever wonder what news anchors are talking about when not on camera? The WECT newsroom live streams before and during nightly news broadcasts, which adds transparency, and humor, to the process. Currently, they use Bambuser to capture the 6:30 pm news program. See more videos on Li’s Bambuser profile here.

Bambuser is also being used to cover Occupy Wall Street events around the globe, and was used to live-stream events during recent uprisings in Egypt, Syria, and Libya.

Live-streaming to both complement existing coverage and to stand alone.

Recently in the region, a controversial county commissioner held an impromptu news conference. While the newsroom could not dedicate air time to covering the entire event, Li was able to get to the scene and use just a laptop to live-stream the entire event on Bambuser. “The laptop was angled poorly,” Li said, “but the information was still there.” 600 people viewed the event live, and over 1700 people viewed it overall. In this case, live-streaming with Bambuser served as a stand-alone way to cover an event that traditional news-gathering means could not.

Here is the Bambuser footage from the event:

On using a laptop versus the mobile app to stream live, it depends on where reporters can get an Internet connection and how stable the shot is going to be, Li said. But that flexibility lends itself well to covering breaking news, especially in situations where you can’t take bulky recording equipment. Li’s colleague in the newsroom, Ashlea Kosikowski, uses the mobile app from the field to cover events like police standoffs, or, one time, when a man was stuck in a sink hole. Ashlea’s Bambuser profile is here.

Here is live-streamed video from a rescue:

Get started with your own live-stream.

To get started, sign up for a Bambuser account. If you are on a laptop, plug in your webcam or DV camera, and start recording. Here is a start-up guide and screencast to help. If you are using mobile, download and install the app, login with your username and password, and start streaming!

What makes for a good live stream? User interest is key, but engagement is important, too. Most videos from WECT garner about 20 live followers on average, with more viewers overall. If it’s a planned event, adding links and promoting the event on social media and other sites can help reach viewers. Time of day may matter, too. WECT is planning to add a Bambuser live stream of a later news program, when more people will be at home and available to join the conversation. You can set a shelf-live for specific videos, or you can keep them public so viewers can catch up after a live event.

For more, check out the Bambuser site here and download the app here.

Photo from Flickr user tomsun.

From Somalia to the UK, 24-hour Audio News Coverage via Mobile

Somalia is suffering through its worst drought in 60 years, and people are fleeing the famine and conflict. A large number of Somalians already live in diasporas across Africa, Europe, and North America. A new service from Voice of America’s Somalia Service and AudioNow makes it easier for Somalians in the United Kingdom to listen to coverage of the drought and other audio news updates, via a basic mobile phone.

“You have a well-educated, motivated, and mobile population that is willing to dial up and listen to radio broadcasts on their mobile phones,” said Steven Ferri, Web Managing Editor of VOA in Africa.

The new service allows people to do just that. Using a basic mobile or landline phone, people call a local UK number to listen to extensive live coverage of Somalian news, 24 hours a day. George Cernat, of AudioNow, estimates that every day, about 1500 to 2000 people access the VOA Somalia content on their phones. The only cost for the user are the fees or time associated with regular airtime use. spoke with Ferri and Cernat to hear more about the mobile radio service and where else it is being used.

How the Service Works

In the UK, people call a local number (020 3519 3010) and are immediately connected to a live stream; there are no menu options as with a traditional integrated voice response system. The AudioNow service is a proprietary technology that converts Internet audio formats and streams the content to a gateway server. The service then relays the stream to people who call in to the pre-established (and promoted) local number. On the backend, the system has a built-in logic to recognize the various audio formats as well as the ability to continually update the location of the content on the Internet, and, hence, via mobile.

There are other ways to access radio on a mobile phone. Some phones use data service to access radio via the Internet, many smartphones have radio apps, and other phones have FM receiver chips. But data is expensive, apps require more expensive smartphones, and receiver chips may have spotty or unreliable coverage. The call-in functionality of the VOA and AudioNow service allows anyone in the UK to access the content, on a landline or a basic feature phone, and the only cost to the user are regular airtime costs. Content can be broadcast in any language or format.

Cernat describes the service as “satellite radio on a phone.” The service woks like online radio, where a user clicks on a live stream to listen to content over the Internet. Here, you connect via mobile phone instead of online.

Partnerships with Radio Stations and Telecoms

AudioNow charges radio stations a one-time connection fee of 200 USD to connect an MP3 stream and provide a local number. It’s up to the radio station to promote the service and number. Cernat said that the service can provide the scale many radio stations are looking for, as an unlimited number of users can call in to the service at any time.

Another partnership occurs at the level of the mobile network operator. AudioNow works with various telecoms to find the lowest cost provider in establishing local numbers. In some cases, such as recent mobile radio service in Guinea, AudioNow set up the gateway server at the teleco in Conakry, as it was easier to co-locate the service there than to serve it via the US.

Metrics on Listeners

AudioNow also provides metrics to its partners via a daily email and online. Radio stations can run reports and see the number of users, the time of day users call, the length of time listened, and the numbers that people call from.

In the UK, for example, Cernat said about 1500 to 2000 listeners a day call in to hear news from Somalia. At the station end, Ferri receives daily metrics and is able to see numbers day over day or week over week, which helps VOA observe trends, get a better sense of growth potential, and understand the type of news and events that people respond to.

Other Uses, In and Out of Country

So far, most AudioNow partner stations are in the US and the UK, as this is operationally easier, Cernat said.  But in the past months VOA and AudioNow have launched services in Guinea, Liberia, and Latin America.

The mobile radio service holds potential for ethnic groups to tap into news and events from their homeland, but it can also be used in-country. In Guinea, the VOA uses the mobile service almost as a “Plan B” for content delivery. Traditional news dissemination in the country (via radio, TV, and the Internet) can be intermittently shut down by government or disrupted due to unreliable infrastructure. During times of high instability, providing a way for people to call a local number for news and information is key. “If everything else breaks down, we will still have dial-up audio available,” Feri said.

Other major broadcasters have begun mobile distribution in Guinea and Liberia, including the BBC and Radio France Internationale (RFI). The service is hosted on the Cellcom mobile network; Cellcom subscribers also have the option of  calling a short code with a reduced flat rate. The numbers to call are:

Cellcom Guinea:

BBC: Short Code: 501, Full Number: 65100991

RFI: Short Code: 502, Full Number: 65100992

VOA: Short Code: 503, Full Number: 65100993

Cellcom Liberia:

BBC: Short Code: 330, Full Number: 0777999330

RFI: Short Code: 331, Full Number: 0777999331

VOA: Short Code: 332, Full Number: 0777999332

AudioNow is being used outside of established radio broadcast stations, too. In the US, the Maryland Transit Administration uses the service so MTA users can dial a local number to listen to official traffic updates on the go.