Journalism is changing. Nowadays, it is easier than ever for your volunteers and staff to produce news, right from their mobile phone.

This is known as citizen journalism and thanks in no small part to smartphones, it’s becoming more and more common. If your organisation or its volunteers happen to be near a breaking news event relevant to your cause and you own a smartphone, you are able to take pictures, videos and post to social media and blog sites, often before journalists even arrive at the scene.

One example of this was the Hudson river plane crash incident in January 2009. A man called Janis Krums took a very memorable photograph of the event as he crossed the river in a ferry to pick up the passengers. He immediately posted this on Twitter, where it was re-tweeted by others, and consequently picked up by major news organisations. Shockingly, passengers were also tweeting from inside the plane!

When the student protests occurred in December 2010, members of the public used Twitter and Google maps to co-ordinate the protests. Using smartphones, maps were even created that pinpointed the location of the policemen patrolling the area, whether on foot, on horses or with police dogs.

This level of interactivity between people in different locations has never been greater, and people are finding more and more creative ways to exploit this, as the final example below demonstrates.

Sometimes mobile journalism isn’t about being the first one on the scene. Sometimes it is being aware of the fact that you are in a situation that few other people will be able to experience first hand. This can make for some unique and amazing coverage. Douglas H. Wheelock, an astronaut from the US, became famous for taking photographs from outer space and posting them on his Twitter page (which has now gained over ninety thousand followers).

The power of smartphones is allowing citizens to become journalists themselves, and it can be surprisingly easy to do with the right technology and software.

The technology

If this is something that takes your interest, there are different things you would do well to acquire, to ensure you can be there on the scene as quickly as possible, getting your media out there before anybody else.

  1. Try to gather as many useful phone numbers and email addresses in your phone’s address book as you can (Twitpic, YouTube, Facebook and Posterous are a couple of recommended examples). Do you know how to tweet using a text message? Do you know how to upload a video to YouTube using email? Learning useful techniques like this can help you send your footage out there as quickly as possible, ensuring you are the first with the exclusive story.
  2. Know where the best places are to get a fast wi-fi connection. You’ll have no chance beating others to an exclusive story if it takes many minutes to submit it to the web.
  3. Set up multiple email accounts on your phone. This is in case one fails to work at the crucial moment. It is always recommended that you have a backup.
  4. Gather existing news and keep yourself informed. This can be done using RSS readers (Byline, NetNewsWire and Feeder are three popular ones).
  5. Perhaps most importantly, be sure you actually have the right tools to record, edit, and publish media. If you don’t have these things, you could be right in the middle of a breaking news event, and have no way to share it with others!

Consider this: the serious mobile journalist (often called a “backpack journalist”) will have a digital camera, digital video camera, digital dictaphone and a laptop or netbook with wireless connection. All we really need are an iPhone and charge, some social media accounts and some free (or inexpensive) apps, some of which are listed. See now why it is becoming so popular?

The software

Video editing

ReelDirector (£1.19)
Output HD video
Insert intro & splash videos
28 video transitions
Add text and subtitles

iMovie (£2.99)
Multi-touch editing – pinch to zoom, touch to add files or record video, swipe to trim and split clips
Add photos from your existing library or take new ones
Add music
Export to YouTube in three different qualities

Video broadcasting

Ustream Live Broadcaster (Free)
Stream live events to the Internet or record for later
Notify Twitter & Facebook when your broadcast starts
Interact with Twitter & Facebook users during transmission

CoveritLive iPhone (Free)
Power real-time events with real-time reporting & social engagement
Moderate & approve reader comments
Publish video, audio & photos in real-time

Audio capture & broadcast

AudioBoo (Free)
Record audio clips up to 5 minutes
Add titles, text, tags and a photo to your audio
Geotag to locate your audio
Share on social media
No AudioBoo account needed

Evernote (Free, with Pro subscription option)
Create text, audio and photo notes
Tag with keywords and geolocation
Organise into notebooks
Synchronise notes with your PC/Mac


Adobe Photoshop Express (Free)
Edit photos – crop rotate, fip
Apply filters, effects and borders
Share on

TwitPic Uploader (£0.59)
Post to Twitter and TwitPic
Supports multiple accounts

Pixelpipe (Free)
Upload media to over 100 social  networks
Supports audio, video & photos


WordPress (Free)
Create posts & add audio & video
Moderate comments

Tumblr (Free)
Post multiple media types
Save drafts & set future publishing dates
Send to Twitter

Posterous (Free)
Post multiple media types

Twitter (Free)
Post text updates, share photos & videos


The attitude

Having all the right technology and software is vital, but so is having the right attitude. Try to maintain an “always-on” attitude. Get used to collecting and sharing on the go. Tweet and share images, stream video. Find your “voice”, your style, and prepare yourself and your users for when the big story breaks.

It’s always good to experiment. Try some of the mobile tools and applications listed above (it is up to you whether you choose the free apps or the ones that cost a small amount). Gather the best that work for you, and become familiar with all their features.

Finally, be creative. Often if you want to be the first on a story, you need to think outside the box. Don’t be formulaic; try to find a different angle on an existing story, or even better, find a story that, for whatever reason, isn’t being covered (but is still news worthy).

Useful links

Blogs & websites

  • Global Mojo: a blog about using mobile phones for journalism
  • Mobile Active: a global network of people using mobile technology for social impact
  • Mobile Journalism: Class website


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