#cnnfrontline Mobile and journalism: Part two – some answers to questions

This is part 2 of a couple of posts that develop some of the areas covered and not covered by the CNN mobile journalism panel I sat on at the Frontline.

In a previous post I clarified some of the points I made. I didn’t want to sideline them it was just going to be a long post. So I my touch back on some of that in this post.

To try and keep some shape to the post I thought I would go back and look at the suggested areas given to me for the panel. They are broadly the same as the topic areas on the eventbrite page.

How important are eyewitness reports in news today? In the future.

Of course it’s really important. We can’t be everywhere as journalists so being able to get input from the scene is invaluable, however we get it. Given the subject area of the panel I suppose the context for this is the use of mobile as the tool that gets eyewitness accounts to ‘us’, the mainstram media. The fact that the CNNi app comes with ireport built in illustrates the importance of mobile as a possible platform.

Of course this is where the vexed question of CitJ rears its’ head. I was amused to read in the pre-amble to the event “Citizen journalists and ordinary people are, increasingly, beating TV crews to the scene of breaking news stories.”. Yes people are racing to events but they are also there already. We used to call them victims or bystanders.

What motivates people to submit content to news orgnaisations? What type of people do it?

All kinds of people. All kinds of motives. Some people will do it out of a passion for the story and at the other end of the spectrum, some will do it out of spite. What’s clear is that that they send in to an organization because they have some affinity to it. They send to the BBC because they respect it and want to be part of it. They will take time to post a video to CNN because they may get a chance to be associated with it. That’s where we let them down sometimes. We don’t recognize that and engage. Sometimes we don’t even say thank you. How hurt would you be when someone something you respect let’s you down or treats you badly.

Is it important for practicing journalists to understand and use mobile technology in their work? What does it bring to their craft that’s new, or better.

In a nutshell, yes. If you don’t use mobile in what you do how can you possibly know how to serve and interact with your audience who do.

CNNi’s Louis Gump made a great point when he said that mobile is not just one thing. It’s mobile phone apps, its tablets and ipad stuff and its the mobile web (browsing the web on a phone). I think thats really important in this context. But we also need to add that in a journalistic context it’s also a tool to gather content. Alex Woods had it so right when he said we have to think of a mobile in its individual parts. It’s a camera, a video camera, a web browser and a phone.

That brings loads of opportunities but it also challenges.

It challenges the working practice and professional definitions. Take the mobile web. Louis rightly pointed out the stylistic differences for content online (images and bullet point text). But many journalists balk at that as a change from their ‘normal style’. The mobile phone as a tool is great but what about the feeling of inadequacy when using a mobile phone to shoot video rather than a big broadcast camera (subjugating your ego to small devices as @benhammersly summarized it!)? What about the problem that most journalists pay their own phone bills and don’t want to subsidize their org by paying the data tariff so they can stream their own video?

All of those questions, and the related by-ways of debate they create are, I think, one of the reasons the debate was a bit stale for some. You see, we haven’t really answered those questions. As journalists we haven’t come to terms with those changes. When people in the room are asking if it’s a good idea to specialise or learn a range of these ‘new skills’ then you realise that perhaps the debate isn’t so stale.

Tips on creating great stories using a mobile device?

I’d say consume some content on your own phone. Think about the limitations and your experience. It’s no different from the consumer so put yourself in their shoes then act on your own experience. I would also go back to Alex’s point about thinking about the individual functions- the camera, video, apps etc. The rest is then a case of what you are doing. If you are taking a picture then think about what makes a good editorial picture. That doesn’t change because you are using a mobile. Likewise with video. Yes, some of the tropes of TV can be subverted but the basics work.

What’s the impact of new technology on the business of news?
Obviously there is a huge impact. As I was drafting this post the BBC have just announced that they have  had the go ahead for BBC apps. That’ll put the cat amongst the pigeons. But that aside I think it’s important to look at the different sectors of ‘mobile’ to gauge the impact but in general I think the impact is in capacity. You have to spend money to get the capacity to do mobile – the technology part of it. But there is also your the capacity of the people within your organsiation – the understanding and skills.

Of course you could throw a lot of money at the problem but skills and understanding are often resilient to that. Hearts and minds don’t often change with cash. But time and money are well spent when building capacity and the smart people are seeing it as a medium term thing.

Take the ipad for example. In a quick straw poll of the audience only 3 out of 40’ish people admitted to having an ipad. So why the big fuss about it? Well, one part is the apps which are a big area of development. But for the smart set the ipad is a transitional platform. It’s a place to experiment with HTML 5 for example. Get you offering right on the ipad and chances are you will be a step further down the line when browsers catch up.

The danger is that some orgs will try and bypass the necessary investment by seeing mobile as just another platform to aggregate and dump content on to. Thats a mistake. Shovelware on any platform doesn’t work. Aggregation is something that is better left to your audience to do and not your organization.

How is technology changing the way people consume news?
Whenever new technology comes along it will change peoples habits. Mobile is no exception. But the killer combination is mobile and the rise of social media online. Any stats on mobile app use for example shows the importance of Facebook and social sites Facebook. Look at the fluster around Flipboard and you get an idea of the issues as the relate to journalism.

So if you are a large media organisation looking to develop for a mobile platform then ask yourself what social media elements you are adding? What social media habits are you tapping in to? Do your journalists have the capacity to work in a social media environment.

Perhaps the answer to a business model lies in the fact that if you are not up to capacity on understanding and working with communities then decide what content you can give for free in an app wrapper to get you on the platform. But don’t give it much thought beyond that. You just aren’t ready to make the best of it.

A quick bluster through I know. But it’s a start. I’d love more questions.

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