Profiles in mobile journalism: Finding a new disruption

by Clothilde Goujard
Oct 30, 2018 in Mobile Journalism

Across the world, mobile journalists are telling riveting stories with little more than a smartphone in hand. This five-part series will examine how we define mobile journalism, how traditional newsrooms are adapting, citizen contributions, how mobile is improving journalism and disruption in mobile journalism.

After working with mobile journalism for several years, Yusuf Omar is convinced of one thing: mobile journalism needs disruption.

“Mojo’s been around for five or six years now,” says the mobile editor of The Hindustan Times who “hacks” social platforms like Snapchat to tell stories in innovative new ways, including a popular piece on rape victims in India. “It needs a new wave of energy to say ‘Screw this, stop trying to create rules and frame this as mojo or not mojo… You can do things however you want.”

Omar wants to rethink mobile journalism because he thinks so far it has been very influenced by broadcast journalists, who “are bringing bad broadcast habits from television to mojo.” He doesn’t think mojos should have hold their phones in landscape or use a tripod, for example.

Making better stories is what most journalists strive to do; some manage to combine technological innovations and their storytelling skills. Mobile journalism has allowed newspapers to offer more visual stories to their audiences. But some newsrooms use mobile phones like traditional cameras on sets. Dougal Shaw, a BBC journalist, sees this as making “old-fashioned TV” in the wrong place and audience.

“You need to reinvent [videos] online. It has to be a different approach,” he says, pointing to Vice’s online video strategy, which has worked well with younger audiences. With mobile journalism comes mobile audiences that consume video and audio differently than previous generations that didn’t have the internet.

“The goal is not to imitate TV,” says Philippe Couve, a former journalist and mojo trainer. “We need to find a language, a visual grammar that allows us to tell stories differently.”

Couve founded a startup that helps mostly French-speaking media outlets in their digital transition. From what he’s seen, we’re only starting to see how great mobile journalism can be.

“The potential for it is even greater than we are seeing at the moment,” says Ivo Burum, an Australian journalist and mojo trainer.

Until now, journalists have focused too much on the technical side of mobile journalism, according to Burum.

“There’s a lot of people at the moment who are involved in mobile journalism who have a very techno-determinist approach about it,” he says. “I’m very technically savvy ... but I also don’t believe it’s the most important thing.”

Some media outlets only see limited potential for mobile journalism. Many mojo trainers still see newsrooms where journalists only use their mobiles to report on breaking news. But daring mojos are way ahead of that adoption curve, even making documentaries with their mobiles. Glen Mulcahy, head of innovation at Irish broadcaster RTE and founder of Mojocon, says he expects to “see more high-end production over the next 12 months.”

Nicolas Becquet, journalist at Belgian media organization L’Echo, is optimistic. Since his widely discussed opinion piece on the lack of mobile journalism during the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, he’s seen interesting development in Francophone media like the launch of FranceInfo.

This French media organization is using mobile journalism for a video series on Facebook Live with a more informal tone. Mentalities have evolved very fast, he says, meaning “many media organizations [are] testing this method of production and distribution.”

While some media outlets are experimenting, Omar deems them too cautious and slow.

“Everyone is being too precious about their digital strategy. Everything is an experimentation,” he says. “I think it’s the fear of [failing] and making mistakes.”

He’s already on to a new project: Building a team of mobile journalists on the Hindi-speaking side of The Hindustan Times.

On the other side of the world, Christian Espinosa, an Ecuadorian mojo trainer, is already thinking farther ahead.

“The future of mobile journalism? It will be mobile, but not necessarily with a hand-carried device but with a chip in your retina, for example,” he says. In the shorter-term, he believes mobile journalists need to think about new narratives and storytelling techniques, while considering the mobile user, his geolocalization and engagement.

Whether they want it or not, newsrooms around the world will have to think differently and learn about the storytelling skills mojos are developing. Mulcahy is already planning mobile journalism conferences in the U.S. and in Asia. Couve’s company, Samsa, is also organizing a conference in France. Curious journalists are also gathering for mojo meetups in London and Berlin, forming a growing community.

Shaw said he gets questions on Twitter from people as far away South Africa and France. “It’s an international community learning to use the technology,” he says. Mulcahy, who started a mojo Facebook group, is surprised to see “several hundred people crowdsourcing knowledge.”

Leonor Suárez, a Spanish TV journalist, keeps in touch with people and new developments through Mulcahy’s Facebook group.

“We’re not a big community, but we are very linked and connected,” she says. “It’s really exciting to belong to it.”

Main image of Dougal Shaw courtesy of Shaw.