Smart phone check.
Accessories e.g. mic check.
Bandwidth check available. Periscope. Up.
That’s it. You’re now a member of the elite, once distant, reporting class. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a citizen or not. Mobile Journalism. That’s you!
Chances are you’ve amassed a regalia of new kit — small fortune — as a strategy for any story. Everyone else is telling you this is the future.
They can’t be wrong. In every major story deemed international news by networks and social media, footage captured and played on a mobile phone has been widely disseminated. The impact has been a revolution in journalism called mobile journalism.
Or has it?
The mobile phone represents one of the most powerful computers of its size, with the ability to, transmit, manipulate, edit, and rebroadcast to social platforms in various ways. It’s also one of the smallest cameras too on par with the Richter — the smallest 16mm camera created in the 1970s.
Using a mobile phone to take photos or shoot film is a skill you can pick up for about 50 UKP — 250 UKP day’s training. Cognitive skills alone too will do it, which is why after showing your mum various functions, by trial and error she’s up and away shooting those holiday snaps.
Underlying this belief in the near omniscience of the mobile is the sweetest of marketing sleight of hands playing to our penchant for ‘wow technology’ rather than what might be necessary. And this techno-fetishism runs the risk of jeopardises our true understanding of events. A fetish for phones ignores our perilous need for knowledge — of the epistemological kind.
Let me explain. I’m a university lecture which endows me with no privileges or special knowledge. But I do work in journalism with Masters students and have done so for the last decade and some. Because of my background and work, I have been a keen observer of traits and behaviours.
I’m also a bit of a geek. Explain! I was one of the first videojournalists in the UK, according to the NUJ. We played with new technology almost off the conveyer belt. I’m so geeked out, that I bought my first Power Book G3 in 2000 by purchasing a day return flight ticket to New York. Here it is below. I was a network television producer at the time for Channel 4 News.
In 2004 I headed up a group that presented to managers at the BBC about the future of mobile. It was researched over six months.
In 2005 I was awarded one of the US’ most respected awards for journalism innovation, The Knight Batten followed by a gushing piece by Apple my Mum keeps, calling me a “One Man Hurricane” — probably because people will tell you I get very excited when I talk or that I blow too.
So why am I coming across all Cruella de Vil? Because of the stuff perpetuated by some professional broadcasters and technologists, who should know better.
Generally speaking there are two broad areas of journalism reportage within mainstream that have found their way into citizen reportage — that’s breaking news and the well crafted package.
We likely know what is Breaking News. An event of some significance to you or your social network e.g. terrorism attack, which focuses your attention and is time-sensitive in its distribution. With your mobile phone, you simply point and shoot. The skill set is in knowing what buttons to press and where generally to the point the camera to reveal watchable details about an event. More often than not you get it right, accompanied by a request in your twitter feed from a professional outfit asking to use it. You could charge them.
In reality, you’re unlikely to often, if any, come across breaking news, unless you’ve some planetary alignment going on in your astrology or you go looking for it. I lived and reported in South Africa in the end of apartheid and would regularly go to the townships knowing Inkatha and ANC supporters would pick a fight.
The crafted news package is a different kettle of fish. It’s what broadcasters generally use throughout their programmes. It is a structured narrative in which you piece together footage, voice-over, graphics and photos to tell a logically coherent story.
It’s easy when you get the hang of it, but if you were to ask my Masters students over the years, such as Aimee whose since left a response to this post, they’d tell you what challenges they have to face. I can say too, I make it very accessible to learn based on my background, so for instance I created the 369 rule that helps novices create compelling-easy-to-produce video.
Either of these aforementioned forms can be shot with a mobile phone. The first is particularly suited, but unless you plan on setting up an online TV and have an idea of live events in mind, it may not be worth your while going high end. Either way, given the mini industry of accessories that has sprouted around mobile, your outlay will still cost you a pretty penny.
The package, the story form, requires more than the skill of point and shoot. It’s the knowledge of story telling from gathering montage, sometimes seemingly unconnected pieces of data and film. It’s a learned practice.
And it’s not just the craft skill of moving image making, but understanding the semiotics of images, and knowledge of the ‘news’ event. Semiotics is how your images/text or words strung together create impressions, overt and hidden, for the viewer.
Hence your filming of children, use of language, and juxtaposition of shots can by professional broadcast news standards or guidelines be at odds with your perception or hurtful, unknowingly, to a constituent. A London man today was charged with inciting racist after yesterday accosting a muslim woman and asking her to explain herself over the Brussel bombings.
BBC guidelines for instance prohibit the filming of children by a journalist unless they have consent from a parent. The famous kuleshov effect shows how changing one image creates a completely different meaning.
Then there’s the requisite of knowledge to accompany a story that delivers truthful factual information, otherwise the story can come across as tepid, or the result is an obfuscation, or distortion of events.
In effect, the major function of our own evolutionary technology, which provides us with reflective, critical knowledge and emotional intelligence is in danger of being ceded to a mobile camera. It’s like we’ve stopped thinking, or perhaps ignore the fundamental differences between recorded video, what’s in a frame and expressing ourselves without a camera.
The mobile phone is just another camera and the maxim “you choose the right camera for the job” means there are stories in which the mobile phone may not suitable . Note too the mobile phone, unlike the mobile journalism of Robert Drew circa 1960s has not changed the film language.
In 2012 Al Jazeera aired a full documentary shot on mobile. It made sense. Anyone touting a pro-camera in Syria would be placed under suspicion, so the mobile phone provided room to be clandestine. The move was hailed as a radical creating excitement in the mobile community. I was part of the RTS Innovation judging panel to which the film was submitted. It was an extraordinary film, but not because it was shot on mobile. It did not make the final cut and today Al Jazeera still uses an array of cameras for its projects.
In its current ergonomic state the Smart phone, like previous cameras before it has a limit on its shelf life. This graphic illustration of camera sales on PetaPixel reveals a general view, that over the years cameras are replaceable.
The strategy in commerce 101 is to create a market that can sustain an economic return on sales of a product before moving on. Commerce trumps suitability, marketing creates the need, and all tech businesses know the maxim: “innovate or die”.
Hence it’s only a matter of time, assiduously extended by Smart phone manufacturers ‘giving away’ their products to maintain market growth.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-Smart phone. I own a couple and recently made this promo below on one in Jaipur. I’m concerned that the Smart phone, and this could apply to other utilities has become a device that will take care of everything; a lamentable one-size fits — a view sometimes expressed amongst those pursuing a craft skill.
At MojonCon — Ireland’s premier mobile symposium engaged in spreading knowledge and innovation; its creator Glen Mulcahy gets it. Last year, while presenting, it was fascinating to meet a group of highly skilled filmmakers who completed their first film on mobiles, but when offered bigger budgets chose to use Arris.
The sophistication in image production, cinema, hypervisual, 3D, virtual reality, A.I. Hologram technology and the Outernet. (I recorded this at the China expo in 2011)…
…is creating ever evolving visual indexes, which we’re dragging ourselves to render comprehensively. Often we’re interpreting on the fly. What’s more worrying is that in our contracted world, the knowledge that binds semiotics is woefully inadequate when we consider rendering stories that envelope diversity and diverse cultures.
The alternative to placing comparatively little understanding, implicit and explicit meaning in images, compared to the acquisition of mobile ‘wow’ technology provides crevices for myriad groups to exploit skewed knowledge to sell us their stories. Whether it’s terrorist training grounds being glamorised, politicians cultivating unconscious images to win our votes, or public relations masquerading as news to distort and issue for public consumption, the beauty-tech pageant of mobile obscures what’s really going on.
Our present predicament won’t help us combat ignorance when knowledge is in short supply. The revolution is passing us by.