MoJo: Everything You Need to Know About Mobile Journalism

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What is Mobile Journalism? A Brief History of MoJo

We live in a rapidly changing world, driven by frequent technological and scientific breakthroughs. The biggest and most significant breakthrough of the 21st century has arguably been the introduction and proliferation of the smartphone. While the first smartphones can be dated back as far as the early 1990s, it wasn’t until Apple released the first iPhone in 2007 that they became a major part of our daily lives.

Over the years, various smartphone features were added and improved upon: better cameras, faster internet connectivity, longer battery life, more memory...the list goes on. Along the way, literallymillions of new apps were introduced as well. Now, you can find a faster route home while stuck in traffic; you send an important work email from the toilet; you can update your social media profile from a tropical beach, or from 30,000 feet on your flight home; you can find the love of your life, and order them dinner and a movie, with just a few swipes across your screen.

Person with smartphone

When you put that all together, you get the most incredibly powerful tool in the history of mankind - and it all fits into your pocket. Our mobile phones have drastically changed the way we live our daily lives, and the entire world around it is constantly trying to keep up. Businesses like Uber are built around smartphones. Pub trivia has been ruined forever. Almost every industry has been affected, and journalism is no exception.

As smartphones have become smarter, the world has become more accessible. The way we consume news has obviously been affected by the introduction of the smartphone. We can receive instant updates, read articles, and watch video as a story unfolds in real time. But it has also had a large effect on the way news is produced and reported.

Traditionally, when news breaks, even the first to the scene takes time to get there. An entire van filled with reporters, a camera crew and bulky equipment need to make their way there. The entire process - filming, editing, broadcasting - requires lots of people and equipment.

Today, a journalist with a smartphone can tell a story from beginning to end, independently handling every step along the way, all on their own. The power of a mobile phone and all of its tools are a huge part of what makes this possible: a smartphone allows them to film, record audio, take photographs, edit video, write stories, connect and post to the web, and of course, make actual phone calls. Equally important are the reporter’s resulting mobility, independence, and ability to work on the go. This, in a nutshell, is mobile journalism.

Why Mobile Journalism? The Benefits of MoJo

The effects of mobile journalism reach beyond the realm of traditional journalists. In the past, something as simple as photographing a newsworthy moment required you to have your camera with you at all times (or at least at that specific moment). If you were lucky enough to snap a good shot, odds are by the time you developed the photo and contacted your local news station, their professional photographers and reporters have already finished reporting that story. Nowadays, anyone with a smartphone can capture a picture or video, post it to their social media, and have it circulating online in a matter of minutes. Now, virtually anyone with a phone can become a mobile journalist. So why should you consider becoming a MoJo?

Compared with traditional journalism, mobile journalism has many benefits. Realizing the added benefits of mobile journalism can help you be on your way to becoming a mobile journalist. Here are some of the top benefits of becoming a MoJo:

  • It’s Affordable. When you add up the costs of all the heavy duty equipment that’s needed to be a journalist, it can start to get very expensive. Being able to capture high-quality pictures, video and audio with your phone without any additional cost is a huge money-saver. Even with added costs of supplementary apps and equipment, it’s still a much cheaper way to tell a story.
  • It’s Flexible. Taking away all of the heavy duty equipment, in addition to the team needed to operate it all, means you’ll be much more flexible. You won’t be slowed down by a van filled with cameras and other people. It’ll just be you and your phone. You can move at your own pace, going wherever you want, whenever you want, without being held back.
  • It’s Empowering. With all that newfound flexibility and mobility comes independence. Working on your own means you get the freedom to choose what story you want to tell. Your phone empowers you to control every aspect of production, meaning you get the opportunity to make your voice heard.
  • It’s Discreet. Reporting a story can mean having to go places where you’re not wanted. Oftentimes, a large camera and camera crew will have trouble getting access to specific locations, events or venues, but you can take your mobile phone with you virtually anywhere you go.
  • It’s Friendlier. Big news cameras can be intimidating. If you’re trying to get an interview with a local or a witness, they may be less open to doing so with a giant camera in their face. Mobile phones are smaller and more familiar, and therefore less intimidating, making you much more approachable to a person who you’d like to talk to.  
  • It’s Safer. Journalism can be a risky business. Whether it’s covering a natural disaster or reporting from a war zone, covering a story can be dangerous. Doing it from a mobile device can allow you to be more mobile, and to not draw attention to yourself when in these riskier situations.

How Can I Become a Mobile Journalist? 12 Helpful Tips

The reasoning for becoming a mobile journalist is clear. If it’s something you’d like to pursue, the next question would be: how can you become a mobile journalist? The answer to that is pretty long, but the short version is that this can be broken down into developing two important skill sets: technological skills, and journalistic skills.

It’s important to remember, amidst all of the technological advancements and their implications, that mobile journalism is still journalism. While technological changes may change the way news is reported, the basic foundations and rules of journalism still apply.

Here are 12 tips that cover both skill sets to help you get started on your journey towards being a mobile journalist:

  1. Always be prepared. News doesn’t break according to a schedule, or with any warning. You’ll need to be ready at a moment’s notice to put on your journalist hat and start reporting.
  2. Have your gear handy. At the very least, you should have your phone with you at all times to be prepared to get a quick picture or video, to send out a tweet, or to make an important phone call. If you can, keep your other gear - mics, lights, tripods - with you as well to make sure you’re ready to go into reporter mode at any time.
  3. Know your equipment. This seems basic, but it’s still important that you know your way around your phone and all of your gear. Not only do you need to know how to operate all the necessary apps on your phone, as well as any other gear and accessories that you may have, you need to know how to operate them efficiently, quickly and under pressure. Taking an extra few seconds to get yourself set up can be the difference between capturing a story, or not. It sounds silly, but practice using all of your apps and gear when you’re at home.
  4. Keep your phone charged. You don’t want to find yourself with your battery about to die when you’re on the verge of scooping a huge story. Make sure your battery is always charged, and keep an external charger with you as a backup.
  5. Use airplane mode. In those moments where you find your battery running low, switch to airplane mode to save battery. It’s also important to remember that your phone is still a phone, even when you’re recording an important video. That means that your video or audio recordings can still be interrupted by a phone call. Switching your phone to airplane mode before shooting videos or doing an interview can make a big difference there.  
  6. Don’t delete anything. You never know when an issue may arise in the editing or publishing process and you’ll need to find the original video again. Make sure that you don’t delete anything, at least until the story is edited and published.
  7. Get out there. Go places. Meet people. Network. Make contacts. This is easier said than done, and forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is always difficult, but it’s also where all of the stories are. You’ll find very few stories from the comfort of your home.  
  8. Show up. Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. While we live in a time of extraordinary technological capabilities that allow us to connect with others from virtually anywhere, it’s important to remember that you’ll need to show up in person sometimes. When reporting a story, when conducting an interview, it’s always better to do so in person, to get face to face with your subjects, to observe their behaviors. In doing so, you’ll also let the other person know that they are an important part of your story. This could potentially mean that you get a more willing and helpful interviewee.  
  9. Keep your eyes open. Stories are everywhere, even if not in the most obvious places. It’s important to always be open to learning about and sharing an unexpected story. You may never know what person, or place, or statistic, or document, or any other thing will end up being crucial to your story that you may have otherwise overlooked. Don’t have tunnel vision, and don’t think you already know the story you are telling, because you don’t.  
  10. Know how to tell your story. Finding and documenting something newsworthy is only half the battle. You may have captured amazing video or done a great interview with someone, but it’s meaningless if you don’t know how to put it together into a fluid, structured story. Being able to structure and tell the story correctly is an important part of the process that can’t be overlooked. Journalists, above all, are storytellers.  
  11. Check, and double check, everything. Being a journalist gives you a lot of power, so you must be extra careful when it comes to checking all of your facts - names, dates, numbers, events, addresses - as well as all everything technical - grammar, spelling, and all of that fun stuff. Reporting something incorrectly can have huge consequences, so it’s important to really make sure you verify your facts get everything right.
  12. Be tough. Being a reporter can be difficult. It’s a competitive field to work in. People may be unfriendly, rude, or try to prevent you from telling your story. Unforeseen circumstances may screw things up at any time. Don’t take these things personally and let them hold you back. Instead, learn to let that bounce off you and keep pushing.

There are also a seemingly unlimited number of resources available on the internet for you to learn more about mobile journalism. Check out thisonline course to learn more.

Challenges of Mobile Journalism 

While there are many benefits to becoming a mobile journalist, it also presents many challenges. Here are some of the challenges facing mobile journalists today:

  • Working alone. The downside to all the freedom and independence mobile journalism grants you is that working alone can be very difficult. This means you’ll be responsible for every step of the process, and for every aspect of the project, from reporting and interviewing to filming and editing - and that can be exhausting and overwhelming. You’ll quickly need to learn multiple skill sets to keep up.
  • Limited camera. As great as smartphone cameras have become, they are still fairly limited. They do not film or photograph well in low light settings. They don’t have optical zoom, meaning that you’ll generally need to be pretty close to whoever or whatever you are filming if you want good quality. Without any kind of stabilizer, they produce very shaky video.
  • Limited audio. As with a smartphone’s camera, smartphone audio is also fairly limited. The recording quality drops off significantly as you move farther away from your subject, and when filming outdoors, the slightest gust of wind can ruin any recording. Unless you are right next to whatever you are recording and in a quiet, indoor space, you will likely have issues with your audio.
  • Data dependence. A big part of being a mobile journalist is being connected to the internet. Being on the go and reporting from a wide variety of locations means that oftentimes, you won’t have a reliable connection. In certain instances, this may hinder your ability to work.
  • Battery. Gone are the days of simple flip phones with batteries that last for days. Today’s smartphones, with all of their capabilities, generally don’t have batteries that are built to last that long, especially if they are being used as frequently as a mobile journalist needs to use them. The chance that a story may break at any time means being extra cautious about your battery usage.
  • Storage capacity. As a mobile journalist, you’ll quickly find yourself deleting things from your phone to make room for a new video. With the amount of apps you’ll need, and the amount of photographs and videos you’ll be taking, your phone’s memory won’t be enough, and you’ll have to start finding alternative methods for storing everything.

Mobile Journalism Kits: Gear, Apps, & Equipment

All of the challenges listed above make being a mobile journalist a bit more difficult. Thankfully, there are some solutions that are available to make things run a bit smoother for you: quality phone apps and gear go a long way towards improving your MoJo experience.

Mobile Journalism Apps

Whether you have an iPhone or Android phone, there is an enormous amount of helpful apps to choose from. We’ve narrowed it down to a select few that would be the most helpful for a mobile journalist.

Photography Apps

  • ProShot ($4.99) One of the best photography apps available, cramming much of what a DSLR camera gives you into your mobile phone. It also shoots 4K videos. Available for both iOS and Android phones.
  • Camera+ ($3.79) Another great camera app that gives you detailed control over a variety of settings, with an built-in suite for editing and touching up your images. Available for both iOS and Android phones.

Video and Editing Apps

  • Filmic Pro ( $9.99) This app gives you professional quality, 4K video recording, with manual controls over settings such as shutter speed, focus and ISO. Available for both iOS and Android phones.
  • Open Camera (free) A great video and photography app that allows for HD quality video, and a wide variety of other features, including the option to take a photo via voice command. Available for Android phones only.
  • Kinemaster (free) This free app gives you professional level video editing, with the ability to cut clips down to the individual frame. It also allows for multi-track audio editing, color adjustment and a ton of other quality features. Available for both iOS and Android.

Audio Apps

  • Hindenburg Field Recorder ($29.99) A rather expensive app, but that’s because it’s the best of the best. It provides professional quality audio, perfect for interviews or podcasts, along with a full set of editing tools. Available for iOS only.
  • Audio Recorder (free) An easy to use app which allows for recording and editing audio. Available for Android only.

Social Apps

  • Twitter (free) Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms, and while it’s filled with celebrity gossip and cat memes, it’s also a hugely important tool for reporting. It’s one of the top platforms used for breaking news, instant reactions, and analysis, and is a great place for a reporter to both keep up with news and break their own stories.
  • Periscope (free) This is a great tool for broadcasting live videos. It’s great to have if you are at the scene of breaking news, or if you are at an important live event that you want to share with your followers.

Mobile Journalism Kits 

Once you’ve got your phone set up with all of the best apps, you’ll need to get some gear. There’s a lot that you’ll need, and there are a lot of options to choose from. We’ve got you covered here, with a few great options for putting together an awesome MoJo kit:

The Starter Kit

The Pro Kit

The Max Kit

MoJo Kit Accessories 

There are always more accessories for you to add on to your basic MoJo kit. Here are some important ones that will give your kit a nice boost:

  • Bags - Having all of this equipment means having to carry it around with you everywhere, so a quality bag is an important get for your MoJo kit.
  • External batteries - Phone batteries don’t last all that long. A portable battery to charge your phone on the go is always a worthwhile investment.
  • Protective phone cases and screen protectors - You’ll be using your phonea lot.Make sure to keep it well-protected.
  • Lenses - Smartphone cameras are amazing, but they are still limited, especially when it comes to their small lenses. Add-on lenses can help to improve video quality in certain circumstances.

The Future of Mobile Journalism 

Mobile journalism is changing the way stories are being told. Some old-fashioned, traditional journalists are resisting the change, but many more are embracing it. Mobile journalism is here, and it’s here to stay.

The fact that mobile journalism isn’t going away doesn’t mean that it replaces traditional journalism. They are still different, and each have their benefits, and thus can coexist. Many media outlets have integrated mobile journalism into their framework, as a complement to its traditional reporting. For example, many news corporations use mobile journalism for much of their social media coverage, while sticking with their big news cameras in more traditional settings. We’re not at the point where we’re interviewing the president with a tricked out smartphone.  

All of these advancements and changes do not come without a more serious message of caution. In a world dominated by fake news, mobile journalism can pose a threat to the integrity of reporting. People do not always realize the immense power they wield with a phone in their hands, and this can have serious consequences. Journalism is built upon a foundation of ethics, integrity, accuracy, and truth. Without the proper training or care, these foundations can be shaken by failing to meet basic journalistic standards. With the breakneck speed that news moves at today, even the most well-meaning reporter may feel rushed, and publish a story with critical errors. At worst, people may take advantage of this newly accessible system to spread misinformation.

This is not to say that people should shy away from pursuing mobile journalism, but that one should do so with extreme care and caution. Journalism, the act of telling stories, is still a noble pursuit. With the right approach, and with a little knowledge, preparation, and gear, you can be well on your way to being a mobile journalist.