Mobile journalism examples and production tips: Q&A with RTÉ video journalist Philip Bromwell

Philip Bromwell is a news video journalist with RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster; for the past 12 months, he has taken on an extra responsibility to explore and encourage mobile journalism (mojo) in the newsroom. In an email interview, I asked Philip some questions about mobile video reporting:

  • What equipment do you use to record video and audio? What works well and what doesn’t?
  • What apps do you use for editing? What works well and what doesn’t?
  • What obstacles and challenges did you face when transitioning to mobile production?
  • What is your work flow for mobile video news production?

The three mobile video stories below are selected from Philip’s video works, and each comes with a brief introduction. Philip’s responses to my questions come after the videos.

Fifty Shades of Red: A story for RTE TV news filmed entirely on an iPhone 6 Plus. It looks at the market for Irish-grown poinsettias this Christmas. It was filmed at Kilmoon Cross Nurseries in Co Meath. Interviewees are Rita Scally and Andrea McMahon.

The King of Coffee: Seivijus “Elvis” Matiejunas has been training around the clock as he prepares to represent Ireland at the World Latte Art Championships in Australia (15-18 May 2014). This news report was shot on an iPhone 5S and broadcast on RTÉ News, Ireland’s national broadcaster, on 14/5/2014.

Viking House: Eoin Donnelly is making a viking house which will be on display in the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. This RTÉ news report was shot on an iPhone 5S, as part of a wider mobile journalism project in RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster.

Please tell us something about your background.

I have been a video journalist for 13 years, first with the BBC in the UK and now with RTÉ, the national broadcaster in Ireland.  I cover the full range of stories at home and abroad – career highlights include reporting on the 2012 Olympics, the Syrian refugee crisis and the situation in Tibet. For the past 12 months I have also taken on an extra responsibility to explore and encourage mobile journalism (mojo). In our newsroom this means using iPhones to generate more content for a range of outputs (TV, radio and online).

What equipment do you use to record video and audio? What works well and what doesn’t?

I shoot and edit all my own reports – my current VJ kit consists of a Sony EX3 Camera and a MacBook Pro. We use iPhones because they are the smartphones already deployed in our newsroom. However, it is also argued that iOS is more secure than Android and certainly the market is less fragmented (which has consequently made it easier to develop reliable mojo workflows).

My colleague, Glen Mulcahy, devised a mojo “grab bag”, which contains the essential, additional hardware to allow you to produce broadcast quality material in the field. The contents include: a small lightweight tripod; Mophie Juice Pack (extra battery); small camera light; iRig (which allows you to connect an external mic to the phone); lavalier clip and handheld mics. There are obviously many other bits and pieces of hardware (extra lenses, camera sliders etc) which could augment this kit.

Glen discusses a lot of this on his excellent blog (http://tvvj.wordpress.com/), which is well worth a look. Crucially, we also use the FiLMiC Pro app for shooting video – it allows you to get professional results by using such features as white balance, focus and exposure controls. We can also shoot in 25fps (which is used in Europe). It goes without saying that shooting video horizontally is one of the basic first steps to filming good content with a mobile phone.

I think what we have been able to demonstrate in RTÉ is just how good mojo material can be. I have shot a number of complete news reports on iPhones over the past year – first using a 4S, then a 5S and now the 6 Plus model (http://vimeo.com/user4997389). Several colleagues have also produced stories this way.

It must be said that we are not expecting the majority of our journalists to push the boundaries this far. We are still set up as a fairly conventional newsroom, with reporters and camera operators working together. However, what we do want everybody to do is to use their phones to take more/better photographs, shoot video and to think about telling stories in different ways.

News and the way it is consumed is changing rapidly and I think we have to embrace that change. To that end, the iPhone is the broadcasting equivalent of a “Swiss Army Knife” – a great “all-in-one” tool which allows you to do so much more than make phone calls and post on Facebook!

What apps do you use for editing? What works well and what doesn’t?

We recommend the Pinnacle Studio app for editing TV material, largely because it allows us to edit in 25fps. There are a number of editing options out there – the most popular is iMovie. It’s very easy to use – although the iPhone app doesn’t allow you to adjust the frame rate to 25fps (which we need in Europe).

I should point out that if I shoot a complete tv news story on my phone, I still prefer to import the footage into my Mac for editing. I just find this a more comfortable/sophisticated way to work. That said, if I needed to turn the footage around quickly I would obviously shoot, edit and send the material from my phone.

What is your work flow in creating a mobile video story?

Research, shoot, script (writing to the pictures) and edit – which is pretty much what I do when I use my “big” kit.

I think if you choose to create a complete story on your phone you also need to consider whether you’ll be able to deliver the story in this way. After all, there are some limitations – such as not being able to zoom (the more you zoom, the worse your picture gets), or you might struggle filming in low light.

That said, I also like to think about what advantages there might be to doing the story this way. Maybe filming on your phone will allow you to get a more personal or intimate story from your contributor(s). Maybe you’ll find a way to creatively use something like the 8mm Camera Vintage app, which will give your story a retro feel. Certainly if you gather a lot of material on your phone for a TV report you also have ample opportunity to use a visual storytelling app like Storehouse or Steller to create a multimedia version of the story (which you can link to online or via social media).

What obstacles and challenges did you have when transitioning to mobile production?

Obviously I was telling stories, filming and editing for several years before I started practising mobile journalism. So I have been able to bring all of this experience to my mojo work. For others, I think it is easier (and cheaper) to learn how to film and edit on your phone than it is to use a big camera. You just have to be open-minded enough to give it a go. Yes, there is still perhaps a wider perception in the industry that mobile production is second-rate. But more and more people are coming around to the reality that the results can be genuinely eye-opening.

What else do you want to tell journalism students or professionals who want to learn mobile storytelling?

There are plenty of tips and and advice tagged #mojo on Twitter, and I also recommend following the upcoming RTE International Mobile Journalism Conference (http://mojocon.rte.ie), to be held March 27/28 in Dublin, Ireland.

With the consumption of video on mobile devices going through the roof, it makes sense to me that much more content will have to be delivered from mobile devices. Lots of broadcasters and media organisations are still finding their way in this space, coming up with their own “mobile strategy”. But if you have a smartphone, you also have “a camera in your pocket”…. so no excuses! Give mojo a go. And share the results. After all, we are all learning from each other.

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Mu Lin

Founder at MutuStar LLC
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 (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), 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.
Mu Lin
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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 (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), 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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6 Responses to Mobile journalism examples and production tips: Q&A with RTÉ video journalist Philip Bromwell

  1. Samuel says:

    Wow. I like the fact that a complete news report shot on an iPhone makes it to TV. But apart from the iPhone, what other smartphones produce TV quality images. I am seriously considering getting a smartphone that can shoot broadcast quality videos for TV. I am shooting for an Android or Windows phone because I use a laptop PC.

  2. Philip says:

    Hi Samuel – I wouldn’t be an authority on your other smartphone options. But nearly all the latest models have really good cameras. I just think the iphone has the greatest amount of (combined) knowledge and experience behind it. That said I know others are pushing the Windows phones (eg Lumia 930 and 1020 models) and doubtless the latest Galaxy is good too. I just haven’t used them. Good luck with your choice and happy filming

  3. Samuel says:

    Many thanks for the timely response. Very helpful. Wishing you a happy new year and the best for 2015.

  4. ekoherald says:

    Nice Write up! This will be useful not only for media students but also practitioners.
    I think manufacturers of the Android and Window phones and other devices are working to make the gadgets #MOJO compliance.
    However, Android phones can still be useful tho not as easy as iPhones! #HND2DM

  5. Great article! Love the fact that journalism can be easily used with a smartphone.
    We have a new product that’s coming soon on Kickstarter, a smart body for a smart phone.
    Check out on http://www.indievice.com

  6. Pingback: Mobile journalism examples and production tips – MacDara Conroy

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