Mobile technology advancements are game changers for modern journalism

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

By Craig Wilson, Avid’s product evangelist, broadcast and media enterprise market solutions

Photo: Philip Bromwell, Digital Native Content Editor at RTÉ in Ireland

Over the past few years, the mobile journalist movement has been on the rise thanks to the increasing capabilities of camera phones. As camera phones have become more powerful, their use in the editorial world has steadily increased. 

And this trend has accelerated over the last 12 months, as journalists have been forced to work almost entirely remotely with little to no physical access to the newsroom. Indeed, according to a report from Reuters Institute, 76% of media leaders say Covid-19 has accelerated their plans for digital transformation in areas such as journalism and working practices.  

The ultracompetitive broadcast news environment has been another key contributing factor. Being first with breaking news or a viral-worthy video is more important than ever before, demanding a focus on being fast and flexible. The days of scrambling to get satellite trucks on the scene are now few and far between. Instead, journalists must be mobile so they can deliver news as it happens.

The good news is that the pandemic has firmly demonstrated the strength and efficiency of the mobile journalism - or ‘mojo’ - model. Traditional broadcast organisations have realised that high-quality stories can be created from anywhere, at any time, through mobile-based workflows and processes.

So, how exactly have digital capabilities impacted the world of journalism and how is the future of the industry shaping up? To provide some insider insight, we spoke to Philip Bromwell, Digital Native Content Editor at RTÉ in Ireland. 

Flexible mobility

A key enabler of the shift to mobile journalism has of course been the rapid technological advancement we’ve seen in recent years. In the early days, journalists were lumbered with bulky cameras that made it difficult to shoot content on the fly. 

The technology has developed, accessories have improved and workflows have been refined to the point where mobile devices can now be the default option for many. All the same storytelling rules still apply – they have just been transferred over to a much smaller mobile device.

Although quality has been a concern in the past, this is no longer an issue for mobile journalists. Virtually all modern smartphones can shoot full HD and most now have 4K capabilities as well, easily passing the quality threshold when it comes to broadcast news. The most effective mobile journalists are the ones that are really leveraging the technology available to them. 

Philip Bromwell also thinks the evolving skill set is an important part of how news operations have changed. He says that “it's not that hard to acquire the skills required to shoot with mobile devices. It's a lot easier to teach a person how to film something well on a mobile device than a traditional broadcast camera. Interestingly, most of the people on the RTE team now, they've never filmed with a bigger camera. Their main experience has been shooting with a smartphone, something that's likely going to increasingly become the standard model going forward. 

“But it’s not about just using smartphones and consigning everything else to the bin. It's really about adopting a mixed economy where all sorts of devices are in play, where you have the flexibility of thought, and the flexibility of skills to use what’s available in order to achieve what it is you’re trying to achieve.”

So as long as a journalist has that flexibility, creativity, and willingness to try new things, they’ll succeed in today’s digital world.

Insights gained

It’s an understatement to say that the past year has had a significant impact on mobile journalism. While many mojo models were already in operation, the entire industry had no choice but to adapt how they work and quickly adopt new mojo workflows. 

Philip believes there are a number of lessons to take from the experience of needing to work remotely due to Covid-19. “When we had to pivot very quickly, when every member of my team had to go remote, we found it fairly easy to transition to remote working because we had already adopted enough of a mojo model before remote working was essentially imposed on teams.”

“But even then, plenty of my colleagues were asking me, ‘So how do I do that on my phone?’ Because suddenly their workflow has changed and they don't have access to a crew. So increasingly, I’ve seen colleagues who wouldn’t otherwise have been mobile journalists acquire new mojo skills because the pandemic has changed the way the newsroom works.”

The stories and the content that came out of the pandemic also changed as lockdowns around the world were in place. Lots more content emerged that wouldn’t normally have been used in news. Philip explains: “Viral videos of communities coming together, people leaving hospital and stuff like that. All of this was being filmed on mobile devices by members of the public. As an organisation, RTE has repurposed more UGC than we have ever done in the last year. It was important that we were able to give a platform to that content.”

And while audiences are generally now more accepting of seeing slightly different news content than they were pre-pandemic, Philip isn’t sure that we’re able to see the full extent of just how much the news workflow has changed. He says “there's probably going to come a point when we're on the other side of this, where we can really stop to consider the lessons that we've learned and how we need to work going forward.” 

Above all, broadcasters and editorial teams must recognise the value that mobile journalism workflows and processes have provided over the last year. Everyone has had to put our trust in these mobile ways of working, which means teams can move forward with confidence in mojo rather than reverting back to old newsgathering and storytelling practices as soon as possible.

Future trends

So that begs the big question: is mobile the future of journalism? Philip says it’s certainly a trend that’s growing, but it’s not without its challenges.  

“I've seen it grow within organisations. But for many public service broadcasters, the nature of our organisations and our responsibilities means change doesn't happen overnight. What I have seen within RTÉ is that the ‘mojo model’ has gone from an idea and an experiment to a definite part of our offering.”

Developments over the next few months and years will be driven by factors such as audience behaviours, technology trends and content demands. This will all contribute to the next generation of newsrooms, which have naturally had to evolve and become more reliant on mobile journalism workflows.

It all comes down to that willingness to embrace the technology. To show that it's not about thinking about the potential weaknesses or restrictions. It's about really exploring the opportunities and the possibilities that it enables.

Ultimately, we know that it’s entirely possible to produce broadcast-quality content using the smartphones in most peoples’ pockets. This presents a huge opportunity for broadcasters to tell new stories, complement existing stories in different ways and reach wider audiences. 

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