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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Do you need a head of apps?

March 6, 2018 | By Corinne Podger—Director, Digital Skills Agency @corinne_podger

Mobile journalism sounds like a great idea for cash-strapped media outlets. Get your journalists to use smartphones to shoot and edit video and photos, and save a bundle versus the cost of DSLRs and pro camcorders.

It sounds simple enough. But newsrooms that are getting on the “mojo” bandwagon have learned the hard way that asking journalists to find and use tools to create mobile content on their own can be a quality control nightmare.

Most consumer video editing apps reduce the size of a video file on export. Some give it a squeeze on import as well, meaning the finished video is fine for social platforms but useless for television. Some audio editing apps will export MP3s, but charge extra for broadcast-standard .WAV files.

A Very British Approach

The BBC recommends third-party apps to its journalists, and even creates apps to help its reporters file directly into the broadcaster’s servers.

So, what’s an editor to do? Well, one way is to appoint someone to curate your apps. At the BBC, where smartphones are increasingly used to create content for linear, on-demand and social platforms, there is a “Mobile Apps” team, which includes a group of IOS developers.

They’ve developed an in-house video recording app that shoots at 25fps (a requirement in PAL-system countries like the UK) rather than the standard 30fps, and which can file video recordings direct to the BBC’s news ingest system. The team also curates an internal-facing BBC Apps Store, where journalists can download bespoke BBC and recommended third-party apps.

The BBC’s internal training department also employs mobile journalism trainers like Marc Blank-Settle and Deirdre Mulcahy who teach reporters how to use a smartphone for radio, photography and video storytelling, and how to use the apps best suited to their jobs. In mid-2017, the BBC published some of that learning during a ‘Mojo Week’ at the BBC Academy.

That being said, the BBC is a huge news outlet with 8,000 journalists, who are also free to try out new apps to find ones that work for them.

Going Dutch

The Dutch broadcaster Omrop Fryslân is a much smaller operation than the BBC, and its in-house mobile trainer Wytse Vellinga has a high level of control over the apps and phones the reporters use to make TV, radio, online and social content.

Every journalist is required to learn to use their phone to create content for all three platforms, and to use a curated list of apps that give the best results. They receive two days’ training and follow-up support.

“If you do not standardize, people tend to get lost in what they can do with their phones,” Mr Vellinga says. “There are just too many different apps out there that claim to deliver quality results – but those results will vary too much for use in a newsroom.”

The Irish Way

A combination of the above two approaches is in place at Irish broadcaster RTÉ, where smartphones are also used across all platforms – radio, TV, online and social. Many journalists at RTÉ use smartphones some of the time, but the broadcaster also has a small team of mobile journalists who shoot and edit on mobile and publish to online and social first, and then, if appropriate, repurposed for television.

The team is led by video journalist Philip Bromwell, who says reporters across the organization are encouraged to use apps designed with reporters in mind – Filmic Pro for shooting, and Luma Fusion for editing – and to adopt consistent styles in their choice of fonts and supers.

“This content could include anything from a reporter taking a still photograph for an online article, to a journalist shooting and editing an entire story on their phone,” he says.

Having an in-house ‘mojo’ team means any RTÉ reporter can get immediate, job-specific guidance from a colleague on which app to use – Bromwell says his team has experimented with more than 50 and narrowed day-to-day use down to “a handful” – and the wider newsroom has a small group of experts to advise on file formats and workflows.

“That said, I also encourage colleagues or trainees to explore and ‘play’ with apps themselves,” Bromwell says. “Mobile journalism is still evolving – none of us has all the answers yet!”

So, while the proliferation of accessible and affordable mobile content creation tools abound, it is important that you set standards for the content. Experimentation is essential, but so are leadership and quality results.

Corinne Podger is a digital journalism educator and consultant for media outlets, NGOs and businesses. She is a specialist trainer in smartphone storytelling for television, radio, online and social media, and has taught more than 2500 journalists and communicators to use smartphones for TV and social video, radio, podcasts and photography.

She has worked as a trainer with BBC Media Action, Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Financial Times, Fairfax Media, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung and supported learning for journalists from over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Australasia.

Corinne has also lectured on mobile journalism at universities and colleges in Australia, Europe and the United States, and speaks regularly at journalism conferences.

She runs bespoke consultancies and individual workshops on request. To contact Corinne, click here.

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