The rise and rise of mobile journalism

With the world’s largest Mobile Journalism Conference, MoJoCon, less than a week away, video journalists and storytellers from different countries are preparing to travel to Galway in Ireland for three days of networking and classes from the elite in the mobile journalism field.

But what is mobile journalism – or ‘Mojo’ as it is referred to by many – and how is this new journalistic technique being used in newsrooms around the world?

Mojo is a way for journalists to use smart, portable and on-the-go technology – with an emphasis on smartphones – to film, photograph, edit and distribute content to any broadcaster or publication.

Mojo has evolved into a professional tool in many newsrooms due to limited access to, or budgets for, high-end video cameras and DSLRs. Smartphones are also ubiquitous and familiar to journalists of all ages, and as a result they often find it easier to use these devices to create content for radio, television and print compared to traditional journalistic equipment.

Patrick Johnson is the Breaking News Reporter for The Republican, and is based in Massachusetts in the United States. He told Hatch he has seen Mojo take over the industry dramatically within the past 10 years.

“If something is breaking, we have to have a post up in 5 minutes,” he says. “In those first 5 minutes, I’m Tweeting descriptions and photos from the scene, and someone back in the office will compile that into the breaking post.

“After that I do a Facebook Live for at least 10 minutes, then I shoot video [for packaged content], all the while gathering information like I’ve always used to.”

Mr Johnson said his workflow for a breaking news story is radically different to how it was in the past.

“You’d find a pay-phone in a bar, and dictate stuff if you were close to deadline. If deadline was hours away, you’d just drive back to the office and write the story there.

“Now, I head to my car, open my laptop and write it. I can also update the story, choose and edit photos and process video.”

Direct engagement with audiences

Many publications use Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Youtube, Instagram and even Periscope to engage with their audience in real time on social media – and this can all be done via a mobile device.

Mr Johnson says he was shocked at a press conference earlier this year to find cabling from heavy, old-school cameras, and by seeing journalists on the phone to the newsrooms discussing when they could go live.

“I just cue up Facebook, type a brief intro, hit the red button and say ‘we’re here at the press conference’. Immediately, I’ll see the viewer count shoot up, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000,” he explains.

“It’s being broadcast live in HD on Facebook, and the paper has grabbed the embed code and plugged it into our website.”

Professor Peter Black, a media law researcher at Queensland University of Technology says mobile technology “has transformed both how the media industry creates content but also how the public then consumes that content”, observing that both creation and consumption increasingly take place on mobiles.

One of the speakers at this year’s Mojocon is Erin Collins, a reporter and mobile journalist at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Ms Collins calls Mojo “the latest evolving chapter in the unfolding narrative” of technology shifts in journalism.

“Technological change has been a part of media since Gutenberg invented the printing press,” she says. “It’s become the only constant in our industry.”

While mobiles make audio-visual content gathering easier for journalists, Ms Collins says it has led to sometimes unrealistic expectations from editors.

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction and for every efficiency gained, workload is often ramped up,” she said.

Another negative, she says, is that learning mojo takes time.

“It is kind of training intensive, not just in how to use it but when to use it,” she says. “And it’s largely something people have to pick up on their own.”

Ms Collins says CBC’s older staff have found learning the new technology under these conditions challenging, and that she has become an unofficial mojo tutor and mentor for her colleagues.

The need for solid training is echoed by Corinne Podger, lecturer in Mobile Journalism at Macleay Colleague, and also a speaker at this year’s Mojocon.

“There’s a huge and immediately difference in the quality of work between someone who’s had Mojo training and someone who’s just grabbed a phone and hoped for the best,” she says.

Ms Podger says Mojocon is a chance to bring valuable lessons from the international Mojo sector home to Australia.

“I’ve attended Mojocon each year since it launched and it’s totally unique – there’s nowhere else in the world that brings newsroom practitioners of smartphone storytelling together in this way,” she told Hatch.

“As a speaker this year, I’m also looking forward to sharing learning outcomes from how we’re building these skillsets at Macleay so our graduates emerge ready to lead in this rapidly evolving field of content production.”

MoJoCon will run from May 4-6 in Galway, Ireland. More information about the conference is available on the MoJoCon website.

Feature image by Eden Borella: Blair Cowan and Corinne Podger in Mojo class at Macleay.