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.”

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