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How to experiment in a new medium: The rookie mobile journalist

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How to experiment in a new medium: The rookie mobile journalist

Benjy Wilson | August 16, 2016

With a plethora of resources, apps and advice online, it can be hard to know where to start when exploring new mediums. After researching for hours or even days, the only true way to learn is by doing and trying things out for yourself in the field.

As a first-time mobile journalist, I found out pretty quickly that all my prep, and the little money I’d invested, was no substitute to just getting the clips and interview content I needed for my stories regardless of using any fancy tricks or gadgets.

For my first mobile pieces, I covered July 4 celebrations in Topeka, Kansas and a story on government-sponsored settlements in Israel’s Negev Desert. Prior to traveling, my phone (Samsung Galaxy S5) was prepped with tidy folders full of apps and widgets as suggested by a variety of mobile moguls.

Yet it was only at the first hurdle that all plans were swiftly abandoned. This highlighted for me one of the core mantras of mobile journalism – the story comes first no matter what. Just being able to get the content you need with a default app is key.

However, once those first-time jitters have passed, there’s a host of tools and hardware available that were able to reduce or fix my more egregious errors. The most valuable item was without a doubt the absolute savior of my trip - the Tecknet PowerTitan T2 external battery pack.

Being able to keep my phone going for an extra few hours each day was essential. A full pack roughly charged my phone from 0 percent to full about three times. With different packs available for a variety of budgets and phones it's hard to overstate how great it was to have with me.  

The other piece of hardware I took with me was a Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod. I found that the tripod's small legs were a good handle to use for interviews, and then opening the tripod allowed for really quick stop-and-go photos and short videos for stock footage.

Looking back, I feel that the apps and software were actually the least important tools of the whole adventure. The hardware extended and improved my ability to use my smartphone, but the apps themselves are more like a bag of fancy tricks.

That said, my favorite trick came from an app, TouchRetouch. The app allows you to fix and retouch images. This came in handy when photos had slight imperfections or distractions. The retouch and clone stamp tools would usually be an arduous process for me in Photoshop but the app does a decent (but not perfect) job at taking out blemishes. The more you retouch and the bigger the objects, the more noticeable any edits will be, but usually they’re something you would have to be looking for in the first place.

My next and most dependable utility is Cinema FV-5. This app was probably always open on my phone for the duration of each trip and is an advanced video camera app. As a rookie, I relied heavily on the built-in sound meters and live refocus tools, especially in the United States.

Working close to parades, traffic and construction zones meant that it was imperative to always listen to audio while recording interviews.  That way I'd know if I'd have to redo portions of an interview due to poor audio quality.

My final app was probably my favorite. PicPlayPost is a tool to create interactive collages for social media or that can be embedded into articles. Using a grid system to arrange content, you add pictures, videos, GIFs and audio to create a collage. I found these especially fun for promoting stories on Twitter, and the ability to save the collage to my phone’s gallery meant I could edit them later too and had the collage available as a file.

Overall, the trip was a great opportunity to be in the field and do stories in an exciting new way. I found that many who give app or hardware advice weren't wrong per se, but assumed the reader had a certain level of technical prowess and ability.

Mastering the basics isn’t even something I’d say I have done yet. However, it’s certainly the keystone to mobile journalism; everything else is just an additional technique. Trying something advanced shouldn’t put you in a situation that may compromise your video content’s quality, but you do have to find a way to practice.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Stephan Ridgway.

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Comments

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