Interview with Dave Earley about Mobile Journalism – MoJo

Mobile Journalism Toolkit for Pop!Tech Fellows...
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I had an interview request about mobile journalism, or mojo, from Air Force News of all places.
The editor, Simone Liebelt, is a former student of Deakin University academic and mobile journalism expert Stephen Quinn, who recommended me as “one of the pioneers in Australia” for the story on Mobile Journalism trends. The following are some of the answers I was going to email in, but we ended up talking over the phone.
Read on for my ideas about using mobile phones for news gathering.

AIRFORCE NEWS: When did you start using mobile phones for news gathering and did you introduce it to your colleagues?

earleyedtion: In my first week as an intern at The Courier-Mail in February 2007, I took a PDA phone to an interview at the International Airport. The interview was with Wayne Bennett as the Broncos were leaving for England and the World Club Challenge. After the interview, I emailed the audio file back to the office, and the online editors were able to edit and put it online before I even arrived back from the airport.

In June 2007 I made the first stilted attempts at using a mobile phone for following (not gathering) the news, when I joined Twitter. Twitter still offered 250 free SMS updates a week, and I was only following a few news accounts, so started receiving “breaking” news to my mobile phone. It was news already being reported by mainstream media, but it was immediate alerts to things I might not have already been aware of. I wouldn’t say I introduced my colleagues to it, but did tell them about potential stories, especially the online subs if it was an interesting story we didn’t yet know about or have online.

Beyond that, I wasn’t really using a mobile phone for news gathering (eg images or video). Since then I have made some attempts at live streaming video from a news scene, and taking my own images and video, but generally on a point and shoot camera, rather than a mobile phone.

Did the trend catch on quickly and what has the reaction been from your fellow journos?

It was The Courier Mail online news room who suggested I record and send back the audio. Unbelievably, that was two years ago now. I say unbelievably because that was an example of how we could start using mobiles to break news, but it’s now two years later and that sort of newsgathering has still not progressed to be standard industry practice.

Fellow journos are open to trying things like that, using mobiles in the field, but it either hasn’t been encouraged or pushed enough. We’ve had people send in video from the field on a mobile phone. But again, I can only think of one occasion where that has happened. It takes a change of mindset. People have to be thinking of it, have it on their mind

What inspired you, i.e. overseas media agencies using the technology or Prof Quinn’s work?

A bit of both. The first thing that got my interest was the Reuters MoJo program. They were testing Nokia N95s to report, including in Africa. What was unique was that they were using only the N95. They got a little bit of help rigging up an external microphone connection that usually wouldn’t be possible, but the results were great.

I also tutored for a semester at the University of Queensland in web production, trying to help get a bit more online production into the curriculum. While I was there Professor Quinn came to talk to UQ SJC staff about some of the work he was doing with Fairfax. Fairfax  were starting to roll out and use the iMate JasJam phone as their multimedia reporting device – using hard foldout keyboards for typing on the go. I wanted to try that.

Would you say you are a Mojo pioneer in Australia, and if so, why?

I wouldn’t say I am a mojo pioneer in Australia. In truth I rarely get the opportunity to do things that are truly “mobile” in their use.
not sure how much I’m actually doing as mojo. It certainly isn’t my job description, just something I’d like to make happen.

I have not particularly seen journalists who would specifically describe themselves as “mobile”. The closest is perhaps fully multimedia journalists who do everything. For example there are some ABC multimedia journalists who use a high def digital video camera to take stills, audio and video. But I’m not sure if they are then mobile in their editing and sending content, or if they then return to a studio.

The only way I might be pioneering is that I’m actively looking for applications and accessories that would facilitate the mobile journalist.  So whether that’s using an iPhone, a Nokia, or a phone running Windows Mobile, I’ve been trying to find things specifically created for the mobile journalist. There aren’t many that I’ve found.

What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of the Mojo, and are you a big advocate?

I expanded more on this answer when Simone interviewed me on the phone…

Advantages: mobile. Go anywhere.

Disadvantages: Quality. I don’t think it’s much of an issue, but it holds people back who are constrained by a misconception about “broadcast quality”. There’s a possible lack of resources…maybe a feeling of disconnectedness from the newsroom, or the perception of a lack of support in news decision making… but I don’t really believe those things would be a problem.

If you’re equipped with a lightweight but powerful laptop, and an internet connection, which obviously thanks to 3G wireless networks means you can be connected almost anywhere, I really don’t see many disadvantages. When you know you’re going to be truly remote without any net connection, maybe you’ll have a satellite phone…

Do you think it will replace professional camera equipment in the future, and will it promote members of the general public to become field reporters?

When you start talking about “mobile journalist”, you’re starting to blur the lines between the professional and the public journalist, which I’m not against. People all over the world are on the ground in places a journalist might not be able to get to for a long period of time.

Again, when you say “it” in regards to MOJO, are you talking about phones, or compact DV cams? I think everything will get smaller and more compact. There will always be professional quality and consumer quality products, but I do think professional camera equipment will change in the future. In the same way that it has changed over the years, it will catch up with technology.  As someone once said, so-called “broadcast quality” in the 70s or 80s was horrendous, compared to so-called “broadcast quality” now. And if a cheap DV-cam can now produce better quality than what was considered “broadcast quality” in the 80s, then I think it has, and could have, replaced that earlier professional camera equipment.

Do you think it will become standard practice, and how soon?

I’m not sure it will become a standard practice. I also expanded on this question on the phone. Generally, I think that I’ve seen little to no movement in the past two years about mobile journalism moving towards standard practice, so don’t hold out much hope of it speeding up unless there are people in positions of influence who are serious about making it happen.

Can you give me any recent examples of where only Mojos have captured events (i.e. no standard methods used)?

No standard methods? No, I can’t think  of any!  What do you mean by no standard methods? Like no office involved at all? Completely done on the road?

Anything else you would like to mention?

Something I’ve been thinking about over the last week is how do you actually define the MoJo?  Perhaps this is where academics like Stephen Quinn come in, as people who probably can apply a theoretical or academic approach to it as well. So is it someone who does things ONLY with a mobile phone? Or is it someone who is able to do things, “from the road”? Because “from the road” can expand quite a bit to include massive cameras and equipment… You don’t want to limit the possibilities with a restrictive definition, so to me it’s more something along the lines of “nimble”. Able to be as mobile or as nimble as possible. To edit audio or video you need a laptop, so does that remove it from being MoJo, because you’ve gone outside the mobile phone?

I don’t think that should remove it from the realms of MoJo. If you’re expected to edit audio or video before sending it back to the newsroom, you’ll need a laptop. Then to send it you might have to use your mobile’s 3G connection, so I think it’s difficult to limit MoJo to the mobile phone exclusively.

Simone mentioned she had also talked to Miguel de Souza from AAP about MoJo. His opinion will carry more authority than mine.

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