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.
There are two things that make mobile journalism unique. First, it enables reporters to carry out many production and distribution activities with a single device. Second, and this is what makes smartphones truly revolutionary, the audience also has access to the means of producing content. This allows for new forms of storytelling, and supports a more inclusive approach to journalism.
A mobile journalism mindset
Perhaps more than any other device, a smartphone encourages cross-platform creativity and digital innovation.
Photos, videos, audio and graphics can be created and edited on the phone and uploaded to newsroom servers, and to online and social platforms direct from the device. You can also respond to audience queries and contacts via chat apps, social messaging and email.
Journalists who own or have access to a smartphone can develop skills like video journalism, radio journalism, podcasting, photography without having to buy 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.
Examples of mobile journalism
What does mobile journalism look and sound like in practice?
Photography: Photojournalism changed forever in 2017, when 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 Brazilian 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 LumaFusion 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.
Nowadays, some newsrooms are predominantly mojo, like NDTV in India. Other newsrooms have special teams that are mobile first, like the Irish public broadcaster RTE, which makes ‘Mobile Shorts‘ – video packages that are shot and edited on smartphones, with multiple versions made available for television and social platforms.
The RTE team films on iPhones using Filmic Pro, and then uses LumaFusion 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 Tiktok, Instagram Reels and Stories, Facebook Stories and Snapchat have created a demand for ‘portrait’ format videos that can be produced and watched on smartphones. Examples include TikTok journalism by BBC reporter Sophia Smith Galer, and the Washington Post’s Dave Jorgenson:
What does working as a mojo look like?
Glen Mulcahy, a pioneer of mobile journalism, filmed RTE journalist 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: