Here’s a list of what Alissa Richardson and I spoke about at Mobile Me & You today.
Here’s a list of what Alissa Richardson and I spoke about at Mobile Me & You today.
Two years ago, I was telling people that the future of mobile journalism was likely in the ability to cheaply produce traditional video packages. I was wrong. I mean, you can do it. It’s been proven in a lot of places, from RTE’ in Ireland and BBC in England to KDRV-TV in Medford, Ore. Be smart about your light, your gear and your angles and you can do it. And you can do it well.
But the more I think about it — and I’ve written about this before, but maybe not in this way — mobile journalism is about owning the off-hours. This can be done a couple different ways, but the dissemination is all pretty much through social outlets (my favorite most recent example is done by Wytse Vellinga at Omlop Fryslan in The Netherlands; as an aside, “microphone” is “microfoon” in Dutch and that word makes me very happy).
Let’s define the off-hours a little bit. Community newspapers usually have two periods a day where they push content out to the web: a morning push and a late afternoon push. TV stations push out content during their newscasts, two to three times a day, depending on the market. We can call those off-periods “the betweencast.” In the very general graphic that at least three people will complain about because it doesn’t conform to how their outlet does it, the red and blue numbers represent content push times, the greenish numbers represent the betweencast. White numbers indicate times that most of us are sleeping and web numbers are very low.
Website viewership picks up after the content pushes. That’s the nature of the game. Here’s a month of visits from an NPR member station that chooses to remain anonymous. The jagged nature of the activity shows the ramp up in the morning, a lull, then an activity spike around 12 p.m., This pattern generally conforms to the “NPR curve” which most NPR member stations share because of Papa NPR’s schedule: Rising around 6 a.m., peaking around noon, then dipping before a slight rise around 4 p.m., before finally falling off around 6 p.m.
Here’s another example, this one a daily aggregate from a mid-major TV station. You’ll see a rise in the morning and a lowering plateau through the day. It steadies around noon before dipping in the afternoon just to rise slightly when the evening newscasts are on.
Here’s one last one, from a newspaper, because you can’t get enough of pixelated graphics. It’s a repeating trend: A rise in the morning hours that peaks around 8 a.m., a decline through the day.
All those down periods — regardless of the outlet — are unused reporting and promotional time. They’re a chance to show the flag, to create a brand tempest and to promo your next content push. Those off-hours are where staff are usually reporting for the next big push in a legacy product — newscast or website content. This is where mobile can become important. I believe that apps are only useful for reporters if they can create content in 90 seconds or less, so that reporters can keep doing the job we want them to do — reporting. And the best outlet for this kind of content is the social web.
The more good content we post to our social channels, the more we show the flag to an audience, the more we demonstrate that our outlet is authoritative and on the scene, the more we gain. We don’t want to have two broadcasts in the morning, a broadcast at noon, two at dinnertime and one before bed and not say anything rest of the day. It doesn’t work with how people are increasingly consuming news.
So let’s use the mobile tools to fuel that betweencast stories. It’s easy to envision how we’d do it on a big breaking story that needs constant updates. But we should be looking at how we do it when there’s just regular, daily run-of-the-mill news. And the answer is this: While we’re out gathering for the legacy product, anyway, we make sure that the reporters are using mobile tools. Finish an interview with a source? Cut a 10-second bite in Clips or Videolicious or Pinnacle Studio and drop a promo into it: “For more on this story, watch us at 5.” Or whatever.
Doing this is going to require some culture change. Management will need to encourage, reporters and producers will need to be OK with it. More than anything, we need to start thinking about the betweencast as a separate product — one that has a separate workflow from our existing products, one that exists both for and because of the mobile-social pathway.
Coming to Mobile Me+You in Lincoln, Nebraska over the next couple days? Find me. I’ll buy you a refreshing beverage and you can tell me why I’m wrong.
BBC Wales announced it was equipping reporters with a new mobile kit. It’s a very complete kit and one that really wouldn’t have been possible three or four years ago. The mobile gear that we put around a phone is evolving very rapidly. This kit is both a snapshot of where we are and a preview of where we’re going next.
I’m a huge gear nerd, so I used the opportunity of the rollout today to have an email conversation with Guto Thomas, the reporting lede for BBC Wales. Though it was a conversation ostensibly about the mobile kit, it covers a lot of ground about the state and business of modern journalism. Interview below the kit interactive…[thinglink 708018870589325312]
What’s the role of mojo for BBC Wales? Are you looking for your reporters to do traditional broadcast packages on mobile equipment from the field, direct-to-social short bursts, some blended thing or something I haven’t thought at all of?
Most of our reporters have become used to sending audio back to base using their smartphones over the last few years, but the adoption rate for gathering and sending video has been much slower. And ironically, the area which is the easiest to deliver is by far the most unfamiliar to traditional broadcast journalists – i.e. stills photography. However, the landscape is changing. The evolution of social platforms in a news context, and the revolution in capability for iPhones, iPhone peripherals and bespoke apps is converging to create a new space in which mobile journalism can thrive. So the idea in BBC Wales is to create a handful of mojo kit bags which include the best quality and most flexible range of tools that we think will allow mobile journalism to grow into a more mainstream activity. At the moment, it’s still a niche. In terms of what we want from the field – the list is only limited by the creativity of the production team. In areas such as News, it’s by definition a more traditional newsgathering function. In Sport, there’s some scope to be more creative in creating short trails for existing traditional programmes – e.g. graphics onto stills or video. However, the mix of kit and apps also mean that other production areas could push the boundaries much further. What binds all of this together however, is the ability of staff to send their content back to base via the BBC’s PNG app, ready for transmission or publication on traditional or officially sanctioned platforms – as well as the ability to send publish content directly to a social platform. It’s allows different horses to ride different courses.
How much mobile production have your reporters done?
For over a decade, the concept of stand-alone journalists working remotely in BBC Wales has evolved from DV-tape cameras to tapeless VJ workflows, edited on laptops and now Macbook Pros. We’ve moved from real time playouts to file exports and from FTP to our JFE system (BBC only), which delivers video content directly to any local office around the world. The iPhone was even more transformational in that it delivers all of this functionality within a single, small device that you always have with you. Editing finished content on the same device is the next step – which is why we’re specified the larger screen and capacity of the iPhone 6s Plus. However, it’s in no way a necessity. There are different ways to look at each side of the #mojo coin – the strict side which dictates it’s not #mojo unless every step of the production chain is completed on the same device; or the pragmatic side which provides options for gathering, sending, downloading, or editing … all of which are interchangeable between devices and locations … and all of which is dependent on the circumstances. How adept is the individual with using the device? How much time is there until publication of transmission? And how good or bad is the connectivity? We hope to see our ability to manage all of these factors improving as we start using this new kit, leading to far more mobile journalism content being delivered.
How many of these very robust kits have you created or plan to create? What’s the ratio of kit to staff?
Initially, as a proof of concept, we’re delivering three of these kit bags. We also have many of the constituent parts to make up a fourth kitbag, based on a trial kit-bag that we’ve been asking journalists to use over the last few months. This has allowed us to get valuable feedback from staff about which bits of kit are more important than others – although it will inevitably continue to evolve over time as new products and innovation becomes available. The traditional model would have been to provide kit as personal or dedicated issue. However, this is no longer financially feasible, and so we’ll make the kits available to any staff that wants them, on a daily hire charge to each Department. For a single day, the hire charge will be around $15. This will provide that reporter with kit and apps worth around $2300. We have over 1200 staff in BBC Wales – but of course only some of those would want or need to use these kit bags. Roughly one third of BBC Wales staff work in either Sport or News & Current Affairs – and so we think the kit should be able to pay for itself via these nominal hire charges within 12 months.
Are these kits designed to be grab-and-go for people en route to a story or are these going to be assigned ahead of time with the expectation they’ll be used in the field?
They are very much grab and go kits. Every four months, we’re going to assess the extent to which kits are being used, as well as the quantity and quality of the content they deliver. We simply can’t afford to issue multiple personal issue kits – however, the usage statistics from the approach we’re taking will be invaluable when we need to assess future requirements, when our existing fleet of VJ cameras reach the end of their useful lives.
Was there a specific design philosophy behind the kit you built?
Yes – quality, versatility, practicality and value for money
You went with the Rode SmartLav and have a corded stick mic. Why no wireless gear?
Good question. We already have Sony and Sennheiser radio mic sets issued with all of our VJ camera kits. The beauty of the iRig Pro is that the XLR connection allows us to use our existing kit with this new technology. Just as with the Beyer reporter microphones, we simply wouldn’t be able to justify the cost of buying extra radio mic kits of this quality for these kit bags. However, colleagues in BBC Wales Sport are just this week testing the Rode Filmmaker kit that transmits on a wireless connection rather than a radio frequency, and so that’s something we may revisit sooner rather than later. We suggested they try this because of radio frequency licensing problems for their event in Bosnia … so we hope that provides as good a result as the football game they’re covering between Wales and the Bosnian national football team!
The ShoulderPod s1 is a great tool for hand shooting, but you chose to go with a different tripod mount (the MeFOTO sidekick) which gives some more options in terms of filming but adds some bulk to the kit. What was the reasoning?
We wanted to make sure that anybody that picks up this kitbag feels that they’re not hampered by the limitations of the equipment. We’re also very much looking forward to the launch of Shoulderpod’s new smartphone rig that they demonstrated at the #mojocon conference in Dublin last March. This could provide a solution that renders our Plan A redundant. However, providing creative programme makers with a range of tools that enable the best content to be delivered is a core aspiration for this project – which is why we went for having two different kinds of mount rather than just one. In addition of course, it also means that the kit can accommodate multiple iPhones or smartphones to be used at the same time.
I don’t see any frames like the iOgrapher or the BeastGrip or the mCam that include shoes for mounting external things like light, pre-amps, shotguns, etc. What drove that design decision?
Well spotted. Yes, we’ve experimented with some of these already for various devices, and have decided to wait for a few months to see how the new Shoulderpod rig compares in terms of quality, versatility and cost. Al of the rigs you’ve mentioned will also be considered at the same time – as well as any others that are launched in the meantime. This is a market that’s exploding with innovative new products – but we’ve just decided to wait. The other factor here is that we want to get as much feedback from users as possible, so that we go for the best solution that suits them.
Speaking of which, it seemed like you went with very “phone-attached” technologies (the OlloClip lenses, the Manfrotto light kits). Was that conscious design decision or just how things worked out?
Yes – to a point. However, if we go for a frame in the future, then the lens is the only element that would be directly affected. The microphones, Manfrotto light, even the iRig pro can all be mounted. I have a sticky back coldshoe adapter glued to the back of my iRig that allows it to be moun ted on a hotshoe etc. So I’m pretty confident that most of this kit is robust enough to survive the rigours of heavy usage, and that they’re adaptable enough to be rigged in different ways. Whether I’m proven right is about to be put to the test!
A couple examples of work produced entirely on mobile devices.
First up, the Pancake Man. Steve Rice shot this on his iPhone 5s with an iPro lens package on it and an iRig Pro attached to a LectraSonic wireless mic, then AirDropped it to my iPad 3, where I edited it in Pinnacle Studio.
Next up, a feature on clydesdales. This was shot entirely on iPad 3 by me and an iPad Mini by Ryan Famuliner. Ryan AirDropped his footage (it’s all the in-action stuff) to me and I edited it in Pinnacle Studio. This was the first large piece we created entirely on mobile devices.
So you’ve got your phone or tablet. You’ve downloaded the $38 in apps that you need to be an effective mobile journalist. You’ve ordered your iRig Pre, your 37mm lenses, your shotgun mic, your lav mic, your wireless receivers. But you have a problem.
Your phone doesn’t hold any of these. Unless you use gaffer’s tape. The phone — and it doesn’t matter if you’re an iPerson or an Android — is designed to be sleek and to move in and out of your pocket with ease. It lacks the things the we need to make production better — a mount for a tripod and shoe to hold accessories.
The cases designed to be phone cases aren’t designed for mobile media work. So an industry of phone and tablet frames has sprung up. There are a lot of options out there. None of them are perfect. Some of them aren’t even good. I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to fit square pegs into round holes, and here’s what I’ve found:
1) The thinner the case, the less space you have to add stuff on.
2) The more stuff you need, the bulkier the case needs to be (running the risk of making something mobile un-mobile).
There are purpose-sized frames. These are designed for specific phone or tablet forms. I’m fond of the iOgrapher, which allows me to mount 37mm-sized telephoto and wide-angle lenses and has three cold shoe mounts on it so I can attach lights and audio equipment. It also has a mount so I can screw it on a tripod or a monopod. My colleague, Steve Rice, really likes the iPro lens case, which fits around your phone and uses a bayonet mount to put on Zeiss-glassed lenses. The downside to the iOgrapher is that it doesn’t let me use the better quality iPro lenses. The downside to the iPro is that it doesn’t let you mount accessories on it — and it doesn’t mount to a tripod on its own. The downside to both is that they’re designed to fit a specific device. When I upgraded from an iPhone 5s to an iPhone6, I had to get a new frame (iOgrapher did not produce iPhone 6 cases quickly). When Steve jumped from his 5s to a 6+, he had to order a new case. Same thing with the mCamlite metal cases, which are practically indestructible. Get a new phone and it’s another $120 for a frame.
Then there are the universal frames. These are designed to fit (most) any frame. I use a Beastgrip frame for my iPhone6 and for the LG2 and the Nokia Lumia 920 I sometimes shoot with. It has mounting holes for a tripod and to attach other pieces of equipment and one cold shoe mount. You’d probably like the Beastgrip, except they stopped making them. They were available on Kickstarter, then Etsy for a little bit. The guy who created it on a 3D printer did a new Kickstarter for a Beastgrip Pro (it will have a better build quality and be able to handle a depth-of-field adapter to mount DSLR lenses). Those are supposed to deliver in August and he’s taking non-Kickstarter pre-orders. There’s the UniGrip Pro, made of aluminum and able to fit pretty much any phone and attach to a tripod. But it has no shoe mount on it (though you can buy some attachments that will do that) and I’m not entirely convinced that it will hold my phone if it takes a shot. There’s the ShoulderPod S1, beloved by Glen Mulcahy at Ireland’s RTE’. They have a handle you can use to do pans, are adjustable and can attach to a tripod. But you can’t put gear on them.
There’s the MXL VE-001, which is an L-bracket that a tripod mount on the bottom and a universal clamp for phones along with two cold shoe mounts. It’s sold with a crummy shotgun mic, but you could replace that easily and it comes pretty close to being good. And it works OK if you’re needing to be mobile. But there’s only two mounts (a light and a wireless receiver), and no place to hang a pre-amp.
So many imperfect options. What do you?
You hack it. You order a bunch of stuff from different places online and you build something that works for you, generally at a fraction of the price.
Here’s what works for me:
1) A Vello L-bracket with two cold shoe mounts. It has a nice handgrip and the knob on the bottom can be mounted on a tripod. But there’s no place to mount my phone (unlike the MXL version, this doesn’t come with a universal clamp).
3) A Vello three-shoe Y-bracket. It secures into the L-bracket’s top shoe and holds my wireless receiver, a light and the iRig Pre (note I had to epoxy a shoe onto the back of the iRig; in a later iteration, I’ll file the screw in there down a bit more to make it more flush). You could also accomplish this by using a triple-strobe mount (mine is from CowboyStudio); it’s really personal preference. Using the Y-bracket or the triple-strobe mount keeps the side shoe on the L-bracket open for a shotgun mic. Attach that puppy to a TRRS splitter and run it straight into the phone when you’re not using the wireless receiver and you have a pretty decent piece of machinery.
I’d use this set up if I were doing an interview using the phone (the huge light makes it kind of top heavy). Total cost for the frame as pictured: $31.88. The price goes up when you start adding lights and mics. But less than $32 for a phone frame when a BeastGrip costs $70, an iOgrapher $60 and the ShoulderPod alone costs $35 isn’t a bad deal.
A few other configurations:
This one is slightly more subtle in terms of the light. It’s able to be easily handcarried but still has the virtues of terrific audio with the iRig Pre and the Sennheiser on there. It’s a good street rig and the tripod mount on the bottom makes it a good interview rig, too.
I’d call this next one the “street hunter,” and I think that it illustrates a lot of mobile journalism’s potential. It’s fairly compact, brings light and improved sound to the table and can be used with a tripod or as a standalone piece of equipment.
This last one shows the original Beastgrip with a Y-bracket on there. There are people who swear by the Beastgrip because it allows you to mount case-mounted lenses such as the iPro on there. I don’t like moving around shooting with it. I think it’s great in a fixed position, as pictured below, and it works better than any of the other mounts if you want to turn the phone into something that approximates a GoPro. The Beastgrip/superclamp/ballhead combo below has been mounted on a truck’s siderail, a boat’s bowrail , a bike’s handlebars and on the actuator arm of a commercial mixer.
I teach mobile journalism. I work with companies that want to do mobile journalism (Cellphones! Reporters! Action News!). I’ve tested more than 700 apps in two years (and took the spousal asskicking that came with that).
I talk about mobile a lot, and I’ve come to this conclusion: We’re doing mobile journalism wrong. We’re trying to fight the last war. The technology is rapidly improving, but we’re using mobile journalism for something that it’s not really designed to do.
An example, ripped from the headlines, as it were:
A manager at a TV station was very excited about the camera improvements in the iPhone6 and he purchased them for his reporters.
“They’re not producing the quality that we can run on the air,” he fumed to me a few months later.
“What did you buy for them?” I asked.
And that’s the problem right there. The camera on the iPhone6 is great (so is the camera on the Nokia Lumia 1020, by the way). But it creates a wide field of view, can’t zoom and the phone doesn’t provide broadcast quality sound. Unless you supplement with other tools, you’re not going to get the results you want. The people who are doing broadcast-quality mobile journalism that’s actually being broadcast? They’re not just using a phone. It creates a paradox: The more quality we add, the less mobile we become.
Except that we’re acting like the phone can be a thoughtless replacement for shoulder cameras and DSLRs.
There are four advantages that we have using mobile tools (given the current technology):
1. Mobile gives a force multiplier effect. Think of a story — tragic or otherwise — where you’ve needed to flood the area with assets. Let’s say you’re a newspaper that has a vibrant online site, a strong social media presence and six photographer/videographers. There’s a bank standoff. You can spare one photographer and that person has to really be in a fixed position in case something happens at the front of the bank. But you have 30 reporters in the newsroom. They probably all have mobile phones. And even if we don’t equip them with all the extras, we can use them — and their phones — to gather the kind of quick-hit video and interviews that resonate over social media.
2. Mobile gives us a single production platform. We can break the story process into five parts: gathering, assembling, editing, publishing, reacting. Typically we’d report on a camera or audio recorder, transfer a card to a laptop and assemble and edit there, transmit either from the laptop or through a sat transmitter and then watch social reaction via phone or laptop. Mobile consolidates that. It takes out minutes, and in our hyper-tiny-fast social news cycle, minutes mean beating the competition. Producing on a mobile platform reduces our time-to-publish.
3. We can go direct to social fast. This is where the brand battle is going to be increasingly won and lost, as flagship products such as newscasts and websites become places for deep story details. That hyper-tiny-fast-social newscycle lives on Twitter or whatever evolves in that space next. Mobile platforms are built as social tools and can help us get accurate information to the audience ahead of our competitors.
4. The app universe lets us build novel content. Content doesn’t look the same when we build it from a phone — and that’s a good thing. On a desktop, we’d do a photo gallery, with a click-for-next-photo architecture. Great for pageviews. Painful to do on a mobile handset. Using a collage app like Diptic or PicPlayPost, I can take my slideshow and put into a collage and show you my entire visual story in a glance and you decide how you want to interact with it. Or, using PicPlayPost or Diptic Video, I can create video collages that play videos all at once or sequentially and tell my story that way. It’s something different. I can use 360 Panorama to do an immersive 360-degree shot to show the breadth of damage at a natural disaster or what a football field looks like at halftime of a big game.
I don’t mean to say that we should abandon the pursuit of broadcast-quality pieces shot on mobile devices. Far from it. But there’s a better way to use mobile tools than just trying to reconstruct the past.
I’ll serve up some examples over the next several weeks to try and prove my point.