10 tips for introducing mobile journalism into local newsrooms
Whether you work on a community radio station or your hyperlocal newspaper, local reporters often feel pressed for time and short on boots on the ground.
We rounded up ten of the best pieces advice for where a smartphone can be a lifeline for typical types of local reporting – and how to crack the craft of mobile journalism.
The pride of any newsroom – local or national – is being the first to break a story. As soon as a story breaks, your editor will want a reporter on the scene capturing all the action as it unfolds.
The ease of whipping out your smartphone means mobile journalists should be streets ahead of another reporter with heavier tool bag of DSLR or broadcast cameras. But Scott stressed that this is only possible if they have a swift workflow to work from.
“If a breaking news situation happens in front of me, I have to know the app I’m going to use, exactly how I’m going to edit it and upload it back to the newsroom or wherever I’m producing the content for.
“If there is a situation happening right in front of you, but you’re messing about with 50 different apps – it’s not going to be breaking news by the time you start shooting.”
Limitations of mobile technology and back-up options
The drawbacks of using smartphones when you are out-and-about have been well-documented. But for every con, Scott said, there are tools available to help overcome them.
These often come back to low-light situations, shaky footage and inability to zoom. Being equipped with lighting equipment and a tripod or gimbal should be enough to capture steady, well-lit footage. All you need to remember is to ‘zoom with your feet’ – walk towards what you are shooting – and you should have quality content.
She also warned that mobile phones can run out storage, data and electricity, so bring chargers and power-banks out with you, make sure you are constantly backing up files and use Wi-Fi whenever possible.
Some mobile journalists even take multiple phones out during a shoot as back-ups.
Vox-pops and pieces-to-camera
Local journalists will most likely be trying to catch video interviews when reporting out in their patch. If you are doing this with a mobile phone, it is also much easier to grab quotes on the fly but you need to make sure they are mic-ed up properly and you are not just using the phone microphone.
“A mobile phone is light,” she said. “I can just put lapel microphone in my pocket and I’m ready to go.
“This is just about a supplementary item that we have in our back pocket, and we need to know when to use it. You can only do that by getting out there and practising.”
Effective workflow and avoiding ‘mojo overload’
A good example of a solid workflow is to shoot in FiLMiC Pro using a tripod or gimbal and edit the footage in LumaFusion. That works well for iPhone users, but Android users will need to turn to Kinemaster to edit their footage.
In a lot of cases, that will be sufficient before posting the content online or to social media. But Scott warned it is easy to get carried away. A common mistake is to try to do too much or over-invest in apps and equipment before truly understanding the basics.
“They don’t know where to start because they’ve gone in too deep,” Scott explained.
“Start off light, maybe replace one item that you are shooting on a bigger broadcast camera with something you can do on a phone. Get to grips with one app, master it and move on – then build from there.”
Next time your editor sends you to a press conference, why not think about the opportunities to use your mobile phone instead?
Scott said it is a good opportunity to grab visuals and audio on one device, as well as take advantage of social media – and have a better chance of beating competitors to the punch.
“I don’t have to record the sound separately and sync it, I can take a picture and upload it to social media as soon as it happens, I can go live directly from my phone,” she explained.
“People think it needs to be highly edited – but we can do that on our phones.”
Saving money and human resources
An iPhone, even at the very top end, is a less cost-intensive option than standard broadcast equipment – and even then, many older and cheaper models will do the job.
But not only does it mean newsrooms can save some pennies, it means they do not have to be as reliant on specialists.
“More of your newsroom personnel can go out and shoot – we’re not all trained videographers and sound engineers – but why not get more people involved?” she explained.
Smartphone shots are often indistinguishable from the high-end counterpart – but she added that training is required to make sure content does not look amateur.
“It’s like being thrown in at the deep end, people do need to be trained in this technology. Just because we use it to WhatsApp our mum and dad, it’s another tool to be skilled up on.”
Filming in a crowd
It could be possible – in the day-to-day life of an intrepid reporter – to report from a riot or protest demonstration. In such event, your mobile weapon could be the ideal, discrete tool of choice.
“It’s small, so I can get in and amongst the crowd,” she explained.
“I don’t have people thinking I’m covering a story, so I don’t have people jumping in front of the camera, barged out the way or people shouting or trying to interrupt because we’re all filming on our phones all the time.
“It’s unobtrusive, we’re used to taking selfies and filming each other. If I’m a journalist on the street, it just makes for sometimes – and not all times – for more natural coverage.”
Influencer vs ‘run-and-gun’
Using your smartphone means journalists have the option to shoot a rougher ‘run and gun’ documentary-style video or make full use of selfie-style reporting. You are not tied to one form of storytelling; you can flip between serious and light-hearted depending on what content you want to produce.
“We need to embrace all of the tools that are available within social media platforms, like face filters, text, stickers and GIFs because that’s the way audiences are consuming news online now,” Scott said.
“Whether you are producing more traditional, highly-edited news package or documentaries, or this selfie-style, fun, behind-the-scenes journalism that’s a bit off-the-cuff and on-the-go – that’s fine. Both of them can be done with a mobile phone.”
Using social media publishing tools
If you are vying for the latter – more off-beat reporting – then after initial editing your piece on LumaFusion or Kinemaster, you can use apps like Unfold to prepare that content specifically for Instagram or Facebook Stories.
You can also make further edits within the social media platforms themselves – like GIFs and stickers on Instagram or Snapchat – and simply save it to your camera roll without needing to publish it. This is a worthwhile hack for bootstrapped local newsrooms.
“Just using these publishing social apps, not just a place to push content out but edit content in, they have a lot of apps within them. I know exactly to go to get the right text or cartoon for my footage.”
First step into the foray
For the local news journalist wanting to embrace mobile journalism but unsure where to start, Scott recommended integrating and connecting within community groups like the #Mojofest Facebook Group. Here, they can be inspired and begin learning clever hacks and techniques.
“The best thing to do is go out there, shoot and edit content – and you don’t even have to publish it anywhere,” she said.
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January 13, 2020 at 06:37PM