Mobile Journalism at the Presidential Debate

Posted October 11, 2016
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This past weekend we went to cover the second Presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis.  We weren't there to cover the horse race or the debate though, we were there to see how the media overall was covering this campaign.  The main takeaway for us: this is the campaign of the smartphone -- both in the ways that journalists were capturing the event, and how they distributed their work.

During the debate day the campus turned into almost one giant spin room: CNN, Fox News and MSNBC all had massive sets where they were doing their broadcasts, and throughout the campus, members of the media (local, national and international) roamed to talk to students, teachers and other people on campus.  Most of these journalists were using iPhones to take video and interviews.  Everywhere you turned on campus there were journalists and other members of the media trying to get a read on the event, talk to teachers and students and taking the pulse of the campus.  There were a few more standard camera crews walking around but the people you saw in most places, getting the most interviews were journalists using a mobile kit.

The advantage is clear.  If you are working with a traditional crew you have about three people and large equipment, and if you get an interview with students they are probably more primed to think of the interview in a network news framing -- which could make their answers less candid and more reserved.  With a smartphone VJ kit however, we saw one or two people teams that could roam the campus more easily and are much more approachable to the student body.  After all, if you are just using a smartphone you can walk up to your subject, talk to them a little bit, and then take out the equipment.  Without the large equipment all there from the start the journalist has the ability to make a more personal connection and get better participants and responses.

Now consider the advantages in distribution.  In a traditional crew you have to wait until all the footage has been captured, then a producer reviews it, then it is sent to the editor to make a package, then it is sent back to the producer, and then it can be slated for distribution.  When working with a mobile VJ kit, you can not only screen your footage immediately, but also edit it, send it to a producer or client, and upload all from the phone, all only a matter of minutes after capturing the footage.

Smartphone video production and video journalism are clearly on the rise, not only with presidential debates, but with news stories and outlets all over the world.  It simply creates a more efficient workflow, gives the journalist far more access and doesn't sacrifice any quality as compared to working with a traditional camera.  Furthermore, as the cameras get better and better on smartphones, companies are producing more and more accessories for smartphones to make them even better production devices.

We are clearly big fans of smartphone journalism and think that it could change the way they we cover and consume news around the world.  If you are working with a smartphone in your career we'd love to see your work and hear your stories of success and any challenges that still remain.


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