Kit and advice for publishers shooting & editing with a smartphone

Nicolas Becquet, a journalist and digital platforms manager for the Belgian daily L’Echo, gives his tips for starting out with mobile journalism.

For the last two years, mobile journalism has entered common editorial practice, from the largest to the smallest newsrooms.

Driven by the adoption of Facebook Live and by the willingness of journalists to share their experiences on the ground in new ways, lightweight mobile video has become widespread.

I want to share with you here a few pieces of advice to help you choose your “mojo kit” well. Whether you’re a freelancer, a journalist in local media, a radio reporter or a video journalist the needs, expectations and budgets will differ – which is why for each accessory there are a few options listed.

But before talking about the kit and pressing on the “buy” button, it’s important to address a few early questions to help best define the needs and uses you have in mind.

1. What is mobile journalism?

“Mobile journalism” is using all the possibilities offered by the combination of a smartphone, some apps, social networks and an internet connection to cover easily and quickly what is happening on the ground.

The freedom offered by a smartphone challenges our creativity and our ability to come up with new ways to tell stories. From traditional video reports to covering an event in the form of bite-size stories, as well as with “live” video, mobile formats can offer an exciting range of options.

The smartphone is obviously at the centre of “mojo”, but action cameras like Go-Pros, drones, 360 cameras or some other type of lightweight gadget are another part of this too.

2. For who and when?

Mobile journalism is for all those who want to take advantage of their presence at a story to capture video, take photos, record sound or go live. From a local newspaper to a network video journalist, everyone can find the kit and applications they need for each occasion.

3. Professional quality or merely low-cost?

No, a journalist on their own with just a smartphone won’t ever be able to come up with the same type of output as a TV crew. And anyway, that isn’t really the objective. Mojo is a complimentary activity, giving everyone the chance to make audiovisual content with lightweight equipment which won’t break the bank.

But it’s fair to say that a recent iPhone, paired with professional accessories and apps, can form part of the arsenal of a director or TV crew or documentary maker.

The tech is ready. If it’s used with professional know-how, the cocktail will be quite heady.

4. iOS or Android?

This is the question that comes up most often in training or during chats among media types – but the answer should leave you in no doubt. The iOS ecosystem wins, hands down. News organisations which go for Android are often soon biting their hands in frustration. (If this is not the case for you, I’d be interested in hearing more, so leave a message in the comments).

iOS: Quality and range of apps; stability of the operating system, the performance of the phones, up-to-date accessories.

Apple is far ahead thanks to the consistency and quality of its ecosystem. Of course, the exorbitant prices, problems over compatibility and the fact you can’t easily increase device storage are big drawbacks. But the reliability is unquestionable.

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Nicolas Becquet is a journalist and digital platforms manager for the Belgian daily L’Echo. His original blog post in French was kindly translated into English by Marc Settle, smartphone trainer at the BBC Academy. Find out more about mobile-first journalism, both on the newsgathering and production side, as well as storytelling and engagement with mobile audiences, at London’s newsrewired on 7 March 2018.