Mobile journalism is a form of digital storytelling where the primary device used for creating and editing images, audio and video is a smartphone.
Many mobile journalists build other portable devices like laptops and DSLRs into their workflow, but smartphones are at the heart of mobile journalism, and are increasingly used journalists for radio news and podcasts, and video for TV news and documentaries as well as videos for social platforms.
A widely accepted definition today is: “A new workflow for media storytelling where reporters are trained and equipped for being fully mobile and fully autonomous”.
Perhaps more than any other device, smartphones encourage cross-platform creativity and digital innovation.
Photos, videos, audio and graphics can be created and edited on the phone and uploaded to newsroom servers, online and social platforms direct from the device. You can also respond to audience queries and contacts via chat apps, social messaging and email.
Because journalists typically own a smartphone, they can develop skills like video journalism, radio journalism, podcasting, photography without the expense of traditional high-cost equipment. In a fully ‘mojo’ newsroom, this can break down silos between different departments such as the social media desk and the video production desk.
And, of course, your smartphone is a telephone – so you can use it to line up interviews and record calls.
Once you understand and adopt this mindset, you can get the greatest value from your phone as a production studio in your pocket.
What does mobile journalism look and sound like in practice?
Photography: In 2017, Time Magazine published ‘Firsts’– a series of 46 portraits of women who were first in their field. The series was shot on an iPhone and the Portuguese photographer behind the lens, Louisa Dorr, explains how she approached this ground-breaking project in this video (note: it’s in Portuguese):
Radio: Smartphones have been used by radio journalists for over a decade as a recording device. The arrival of audio editing apps around 2011 meant radio reporters could also do modest edits and mixes before filing their stories, and some radio journalists – like Neal Augustein at WTOP in the US – got rid of larger recording devices altogether.
Nowadays it’s possible for broadcast journalists to do their entire job with a phone. This is how CBC reporter Dan McGarvey works. Dan produces mobile content for radio, television, social platforms and online with a smartphone. For examples of his radio journalism, check out his Soundcloud. Here’s one example:
Television: Smartphones have become increasingly commonplace as a video recording device for television. This side-by-side comparison of footage captured with a traditional broadcast camera, and an iPhone using the Filmic Pro app, was created in 2018 by the BBC Academy and is a great example of how far smartphone cameras have come for TV news.
Some journalists, like the BBC’s Dougal Shaw, film on a smartphone and edit on a desktop system like Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro. He describes his workflow in this BBC Academy blog post. Here’s a video he filmed on an iPhone, and edited in Final Cut:
Other journalists film and edit video just using their smartphones. An example is this story by Wytse Vellinga, a journalist at the Dutch broadcaster Omrop Fryslân, who filmed this story on an iPhone using Filmic Pro, and edited it using the Luma Fusion app.
Multi-platform: In 2015, BBC reporter Nick Garnett covered the Nepal earthquake, and used a smartphone along with traditional equipment to cover the disaster for radio and online. Read how he approached the job here.
Fast forward to 2017, when the Irish broadcaster RTE launched ‘Mobile Shorts‘ – video packages that are shot and edited on smartphones, with multiple versions made available for television and social platforms. The team films on iPhones using Filmic Pro, and then uses Luma Fusion to prepare square, portrait and landscape versions of their stories for social media and online. While many of these stories are given a run on television, they’re designed to be ‘social first’, with a focus on human interest and community issues – and they often outperform newsroom TV stories in terms of audience interest and engagement. Here’s an example:
Vertical storytelling: The rise of vertical platforms like Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories and Snapchat have created a demand for ‘portrait’ format videos that can be produced and watched on smartphones. Many journalists are experimenting with this process of creation and distribution, and examples include this election coverage by the BBC, and this example of ‘selfie journalism’ by Hashtag our Stories:
Glen Mulcahy, former Head of Innovation at Irish RTE and a pioneer of mobile journalism, filmed his colleague Philip Bromwell during a mobile video shoot. This shows how Philip filmed with his smartphone in 3 hours, condensed into 3 minutes via time-lapse: