Mobile Journalism: Invasion of the Drones


The second RTÉ MoJoCon conference took place in Dublin recently. This event brings together some of the leading practitioners of mobile journalism – that is journalism recorded, edited and shared from smartphone devices – for a series of discussions and workshops.

The first MoJoCon in 2015 was a ground-breaking event. It opened the media industry’s eyes to what was happening in their field, things they had suspected but preferred not to think about. The message from that first event was clear: journalism was migrating to social media, especially video.

Is there a more disrupted industry than news media? In the space of a year, the message had been updated. The take-away from MoJoCon 2 was this: drones, virtual reality, live broadcast and 360-degree video are becoming mainstream. This is a fast-changing environment. Expect journo-bots at MoJoCon 3.

However, the MoJoCon crowd are at the edge. They are the early adapters. Even in their own newsrooms, they are regarded as dangerous lunatics: “She’s covering this with, what, a phone?” But where MoJoCon goes, the industry as a whole will follow – eventually.

In Ireland, we are lagging behind a little. RTÉ – thanks to Glen Mulcahy and Philip Bromwell – are leading the way, but even net natives such as are not in the game yet. A recent assignment I was given for Independent News & Media shows where we’re at here. It was a feature series, with photography and video to accompany print content. They sent three people: me, to write the print article, a photographer to shoot stills, and a videographer to shoot video. Quite a distance from the one-man-and-his-phone mojo ideal.

I’m going to look briefly at some of the stronger trends to emerge from the conference:

  1. Periscope: the live streaming app (owned by Twitter) is growing in popularity. Over 200 million events have been broadcast live so far, including the insanely popular “puddlewatch” – six hours a day of live coverage of a muddy puddle in Newcastle. The BBC’s Nick Garnett showed his periscope from the Nepal earthquake: simple footage of what his phone “saw” as he walked around moments after the earthquake hit. It worked because it was hosted by a platform with a huge audience (the BBC). Sue Llewelyn warned about the trolling dangers of the app. Because likes and comments are broadcast live in-screen, women are especially vulnerable to misogynistic abuse live on air;
  2. Apps and Devices: just like with every new technology, at the beginning, no one can agree on the standard format. However, things are settling down and starting to look like this: iOS devices using FilmicPro for recording video, Ferrite for recording audio, Video Compressor for reducing file size, and FTP Client Pro for transferring files.
  3. Type of Content: speaker after speaker said that newsrooms wanted old style, reporter-on-the-spot footage with something newsworthy going on behind them. Crafted video packages were great, but something raw, fast and newsy was best for social media.

MoJoCon 2 did not have the pioneering feel of its predecessor. Mobile journalism has become more mainstream in the year between the two events. Practitioners are still excited by their kit, apps and toys, but it’s all beginning to calm down a little. Until the next thing comes along, that is.