Mobile news gathering: what we can do with a smartphone?

Mobile news gathering is better suited for citizen journalism (those done by average people) and breaking news (by either average people or a reporter who happens to be at the scene).

This is a video shot and edited entirely on an iPhone – when it comes to human creativity, only sky is the limit. A wonderful idea and cinematography work.

However, seeing the “behind the scene” part at the end of this video and all those gears and setups, I was wondering: in a news gathering scenario, if a reporter needs to bring that many equipments to work with an iPhone, and spend that much time on workarounds and planning, why not just use a straight, regular video camera?

So, this video shows the many possibilities using a smartphone, it also shows that mobile news gathering is different from a creative film work.

This is a gas explosion news which was captured by Robert Stephens (founder of Best Buy’s Geek Squad) on his iPhone then edited using iMovie app after he pulled into a gas station. He edited the footage, added a map, subtitle and voiceover describing the incident and finally uploaded the film to YouTube and iReport. Stephens then tweeted (with a few stills) permission for others (including the media) to use the footage, and before long, his breaking news was getting coverage on CNN and MSNBC.

The production quality of this breaking news is in no way comparable to the first video. The footage is not in landscape (he was driving with another hand – not safe I must say), it is shaky, there is no interview. However, for breaking news, what people care more about is not the production quality, it is the first-hand, real-time visuals and narratives.

From a production standpoint, today’s smartphones such as iPhone are capable of generating all the necessary elements for a typical television news: edited footage, voiceover (narration), graphic, subtitle, and not to mention real-time transfer from field via cellular network or wifi connections. It should be noted that Stephen did his editing on iPad 2, after he transferred the footage from iPhone. He might just want to have more workspace on a larger screen. The iMovie app works just well on iPhone. In another post I wrote, I demonstrated how one can produce an audio photo slideshow entirely on a smartphone.

That said, I don’t think it is a good idea to use smartphones for some planned or pre-arranged television productions, where you need to have tripods for steady image, external mic for sound recording, a specific setup for interviews, some basic lighting setups, and to record multiple takes for editing and post production.

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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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One Response to Mobile news gathering: what we can do with a smartphone?

  1. Chris says:

    Regarding use of smartphones for TV and even narrative feature films production, there is a small explosion of gear being developed specifically for these devices: tripods, addon lenses, dollies etc. Also apps like Filmic Pro for the iPhone that vastly improve on the Apple video app.


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