RTE Innovation Lead Glen Mulcahy: Bad news and good news about mobile journalism

This guest post was contributed by David Smith, lecturer of journalism at West Virginia University. The Google Hangout video is embedded at the end of this post, along with many of the mobile journalism examples and resources mentioned during the hangout.

Glen Mulcahy, Innovation Lead at RTE in Ireland, gave students from the WVU Reed College of Media an inspiring yet realistic view about the future of journalism during a recent Google Hangout.

“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” asked Glen.

The bad news, according to him, was that the sheer quantity of user generated content has created a new media landscape – one where the audience often learns of the latest news from friends and strangers on social media, not from traditional news organizations.

Advances in mobile phone technology have made every individual a visual storyteller with the ability to gather and distribute content, and that content often competes for eyeballs with the work of those same news organizations. Furthermore, Glen strongly doubts that there will be a broadcaster like RTE around in 20 years.

Glen balanced that with the good news: all of these new challenges can also be seen as new opportunities for journalists.

Although there’s a massive amount of content being produced every second, Glen believes the audience still looks to journalists to provide credibility and a polished, professional product. Even if someone sees raw, unedited content (particularly video) on networks and platforms like Twitter, Facebook or Periscope, they still turn to professional news organizations for verification.

And the same technological advances that allow the audience to produce content also give every journalist the ability to be a visual storyteller. According to Glen, “You have a tool in your pocket that will allow you to do a broadcast quality documentary. Gear is cheap now. But that brings a new challenge for you, because the “audience” is producing better content.”

Glen challenged students to be “the cream of the crop. Be mindful of the new trends in technology … push the boundaries as far as you can.” Giving examples from his experience working in a traditional broadcast organization, he urged students to use the tools available to them to break out of the story forms that, even in many news organizations today, are formulaic and in desperate need of new ideas.

He shared examples of some of the new ideas and story forms that have inspired him recently, many of them nonlinear projects that use immersive storytelling to give the user more control over the viewing experience, such as Polar Sea by Arte TV and Fort McMoney, an interactive documentary/game about a boom town in the Canadian tar sands.

But it’s mobile journalism that is Glen’s passion and expertise. And he believes that empowering all journalists to be visual storytellers helps achieve another goal he has – tearing down walls and eliminating the “tiers” that still exist in some news organizations. At RTE, Glen works with journalists from a variety of backgrounds – television, print, radio – and trains them in the latest techniques in mobile journalism. In fact, some of the work produced by their journalists using mobile phones is published and aired alongside stories produced using traditional broadcast equipment.

Most of the students attending the discussion were enrolled in the WVU Reed College of Media’s introductory multimedia storytelling course, Media Tools & Applications. In the course, students produce multimedia content using their smartphones and the Adobe Creative Cloud.   Glen offered many practical tips and storytelling techniques that reinforced what we’re teaching them in class. He shared examples, like Philip Bromwell’s “King of Coffee” video, visual storytelling “cheat sheets,” and broke down the current apps and tools that his team uses to produce photos, audio and video on their iphones.

Students were also eager for career advice – they were curious to hear how Glen’s career began and to learn more about the winding path he took from his early days as a disruptor in film school to his current position as an innovative disruptor at RTE (and the creator of an international mobile journalism conference, MojoCon).

Throughout the discussion, Glen balanced a healthy skepticism about the future of traditional journalism with excitement about the possibilities presented by new disruption. He described journalism as “a career that is going to be more and more difficult to … make a decent living from,” but also emphasized that “the role of the journalist is as relevant and as important as ever.”

And although much of the discussion focused on current and future tech related to journalism, he also urged students, “If you’re passionate about storytelling, there is definitely a niche for you. But you better get damn good at telling stories. Shoddy journalism will die quickly.”

List of mobile journalism and resources referenced in the video:

Related posts:

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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