MOJO: Mobile Journalism on the Rise

A multimedia journalist’s toolkit often includes a still camera, a video camera and separate audio recorder, not to mention a tripod, wind muffler, shotgun mic or any other form of equipment that needs to be hauled around.

Used correctly a smartphone can record great audio, as long as it has enough storage left. Photo by Sarah Parks.

With the quality of mobile phone technology which keeps improving, though, this traditional way of covering stories may be changing.

Major Outlets Going MOJO

More and more major media outlets have been experimenting with mobile journalism, or MOJO, a form of reporting done solely with portable devices.

BBC, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are just a few examples of major news organizations adopting mobile technology to cover high profile stories- such as this BBC report done entirely with a phone to cover refugees fleeing ISIS.

Camera apps, like VCSO Camera or Filterstorm Neue, can be installed in smartphones to get better photos and editing software similar to Adobe Photoshop on a computer.

There are also external lenses which can be attached to smartphones to allow greater clarity and zoom capabilities.

According to RSJ instructor David Calvert, one advantage of smartphones is that they are less obtrusive. Calvert is a visual storyteller in Reno, Nevada, specializing in corporate and editorial photojournalism. Photo by Sarah Parks.

Mobile Photography Tips with David Calvert

David Calvert, a Reno-based photographer, created and taught his own mobile photography class at the University of Nevada, Reno.

According to Calvert, the gear or equipment you have are not as important as the storytelling opportunities. If there is an opportunity to get a good story, he says, and all you have is your smartphone, you have the capability to capture that story.

“The best camera that you have is the camera that you have on you at the time,” said Calvert.

He says a mobile camera can even have advantages in certain situations. “People are more likely to feel comfortable when you pull out a cellphone to record rather than other gear,” he said. “It is less distracting and more intimate.”

Here are some of his basic tips on mobile photography:

· Don’t use your zoom. Physically walk towards the subject.

· Fill the frame with content- get in close!

· Develop a consistent style. Experiment until you can find something that you like and then keep going with it.

· Wipe off your lens! Make sure it is clean before taking photos.

Nikolai Cox interviews Northstar Ski Resort employee Tara Richardson with a smartphone about heavy storms in the Reno/Tahoe region this winter. Photo by Laura Gattis.

Audio Tips for Phones

Smartphones come equipped with a voice recording app that can be used for recording interviews, ambient noise or nat sounds. If you want something a little better quality, there are apps, such as AudioNote or SkyRecorder, that enhance the recording capabilities.

BBC’s smartphone specialist Marc Settle gives some great tips for recording audio on a smartphone:

· Put your phone in airplane mode before recording. It stops the phone from receiving phone calls.

· Check where the mic is and make sure to keep your fingers out of the way.

· Hold the phone 4–6 inches away from your mouth when recording. Any closer and you’ll get mic pops.

· Put a wind muffler over the speaker to cut down background noise.

· For better audio quality, use an external mic with an adapter.

Reporter Jenny Boltz prepares to hit record with Northstar Ski Resort employee Tara Richardson. Photo by Laura Gattis.

Video Tips For Phones

When shooting video with a smartphone, it is very important that your shots are stable. Attach a grip or mount to your phone to add stability. You also want to turn your phone to airplane mode before filming.

To get the right orientation, turn your phone horizontally to film in landscape, unless your video is meant for smartphone viewers. Just like photos, it is important to stabilize your camera by either leaning against something solid or using a mount and tripod.

Although the mic and camera on your phone will be good enough for most situations, if you want better quality, there are many attachments and accessories which can help.

· Video apps, such as VFilmic Pro or iMovie

· Face lamps for areas without enough light, such as Luxpad22

· Audio equipment- earbuds with a built-in mic or a lav or shotgun mic

· Stands, mounts or grips to stabilize video, like the Shoulderpod S1

Mobile journalism also gives journalists the ability to instantaneously collect and edit a piece of work. They can publish their work immediately or show live updates from the scene at any moment.

Although criticized for not being able to perform as well as a professional camera or audio device, the efficiency of the smartphone and ability to garner trust have some journalists reaching past the camera bag and into their pocket.

Looking for some more pointers on mobile journalism? The Reynolds Journalism Institute in Missouri compiled this list.


Reporting for Reynolds Sandbox by Sarah Parks with additional photography by Laura Gattis

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