Mobile news reporting requires more than smartphone and tools

Effective mobile news reporting requires some essential journalism training – knowing how to use cookware does not make you a good cook; similarly, knowing how to use the mobile tools does not necessarily make you a good mobile reporter. This is an observation from my experiment producing an audio photo slideshow entirely on my iPhone, without any use of a computer.

The finished slideshow is a 1’25” video for a street performance in New York. I was at the park where they were performing, and I suddenly got the idea to create an audio photo slideshow entirely on a smartphone – assuming I’m a newspaper reporter being assigned to cover this community event and need to file a report from the field.

The production process – tools and issues

  • Audio: I recorded about two minutes’ of the singing using iPhone’s built-in recorder, Voice Memo.
    • the issue: audio clip recorded cannot be directly imported to iMovie; a workaround was to email it to myself and download on my iPhone the attached audio, which was only 1.4mb in size and can be directly opened to iMovie.
  • Photo: I took about 70 photos using iPhone’s built-in Camera app.
    • the issue: iPhone camera doesn’t have optical zoom, so to get a close-up shot, I had to stand close enough to the subject – it may seem a bit impolite holding the phone real close to someone’s face.
  • Editing: For $4.99, I purchased the iMovie app for iPhone.
    • the issue: the default app setting may need some tweaking; for instance, the default duration for a photo is 6 seconds, which feels too long for medium and close-up photos. When you add cross-dissolve transition, the default duration is one second which, again, looks too long in some fast-pacing sequences.
      Below is a screenshot of the editing interface of iMovie:
  • Sharing: I uploaded the finished slideshow video from my iPhone to Vimeo and Youtube from within iMovie, and further shared it on Twitter
    • the issue with uploading to Youtube/Vimeo: iMovie can upload finished video to online hosting services such as Vimeo and Youtube. The size of the finished video is about 38mb – it took six minutes to upload to Youtube and a few more minutes’ processing for the video to go live on Youtube; however, it took about 10 minutes to upload to Vimeo and another 20 minutes’ processing before it went live on Vimeo. All the uploading was done via my iPhone’s AT&T 3G connection.
    • the issue with sharing to Twitter: Youtube makes it very convenient to share to social networks with easy-to-follow buttons; but I was struggling with Vimeo trying to connect it to my Twitter account – I eventually failed to go through the setup, not knowing where it went wrong.
  • Limitation of this solution: for complex productions that involve elements such as interviews, narrations, music, or sound effects, advanced audio and video editing apps are needed.  The audio app needs to be able to edit recorded audio, and the video app should be able to handle multiple video and audio tracks (iMovie only has one audio track and one video track). A good app for this purpose is Voddio – for $9.99, this app is a one-stop production suite with advanced audio/video recording and editing functions, and it has two video tracks and three audio tracks.

Some observations and thoughts – journalism training is at the heart of effective mobile news gathering

Mobile news production and distribution on smartphone are now technologically viable; however, effective mobile news gathering, such as a simple audio slideshow, requires more than knowing tools and technology.

At the heart of audio slideshow creation is the knowledge of photography, video production and post editing – subjects that have long been taught in journalism classes: how to frame a shot, what shots are needed, how to structure a story, how to edit in sequences, etc.

Before I started taking photos for this slideshow, I sort of knew what the finished slideshow would look like, and I knew what types of photos I would need. Just like shooting video b-rolls, I would need wide shots, medium shots and close-up shots taken at different locations and angles – and that’s exactly what I did. During editing, I would need to edit in sequences such as wide-medium-close-close, and I was actually following such sequences when taking the photos, which made the subsequent editing a bit easier.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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