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Usually it takes about six months for me to get the second phone call. The first phone call or email is from a middle-level manager at a news outlet who is excited about the potential of using mobile tools for journalism. We talk about how to use mobile tools. We talk about which tools to use. Everyone is happy.

Then the second contact comes. “My news director/talent/managing editor is unhappy with the quality of our mobile stuff. They’re giving up.”

Nine. I’ve had nine of these calls in the last six months. Here’s why: We’re doing mobile journalism wrong.

We’re fighting the last war and trying to produce content that shouldn’t be produced on mobile devices — and shouldn’t be displayed on them either. We’re tied to content forms we know, rather than developing a content form that works with both production and consumption technology. Former Twitterite Vivian Schiller calls it being “platform devout” — developing content for specific platforms (mobile, desktop, social) — rather than one piece of content for all platforms.  Translate this into mobile consumption and we know we need content that can be consumed in a swipe format, is bandwidth-lean and gets to the point quickly.

That three-minute video news package? Probably not going to get many views on mobile. The artistic words-and-sounds package that has to be pinched and swiped just to view it in the phone’s browser? It’s going to cause frustration and abandonment. Shooting in low light? Shooting sports? Shooting from far away? You’re not going to get the quality you want or what your users expect.

Fortunately, producing on mobile lends itself to making content that’s easily created on mobile if — and it’s a big if — we produce with consumption in mind.  There are four advantages to working on mobile platforms.  

  1. Mobile is a force multiplier. It allows us to expand our visual assets on a story from just a photographer/videographer to at least the reporter on the scene.  Let’s say you have a police standoff in a house in a neighborhood. Your best lens is in a fixed position pointed at the house’s door for the moment of storming or surrender. But a lot of the reporting being done is in the neighborhood around the house (Think of all those “He was such a quiet man, always seemed to mind his own business” quotes).  You can use the mobile phones that reporters have to flood the neighborhood and get reaction, background, etc. It’s likely not going to be groundbreaking information, but it’s going to provide a constant stream for your social channels.
  2. We can go direct to social fast. This is the name of the game these days. Being able to gather, edit and produce in a mobile-friendly format is invaluable, especially during the daytime hours when people are consuming news on social feeds. Social allows us to be our own publishers, but it also allows us to dominate our competition and own a scene. We can tweet quickly, put stuff up on Facebook faster, and react to audience desires or comments promptly.
  3. We’re working in a single platform. If I shoot video on my phone using an app, I can do a simple cut in the app, export it to my photo gallery or camera roll and move it from there right out to social. In a newscycle that’s increasingly being measured in seconds, this counts.
  4. The app universe lets us create unique content that’s often more audience-engaging than traditional content. There are a million apps out there, and some of them are unintentionally very good for journalism. It’s difficult to create a slideshow from your phone. But it’s easy to create a collage in an app like Diptic or PicPlayPost, which serves the same purpose but doesn’t require the dreaded “Tap to continue” reflex. I can create immersive panoramic photographs that the audience can pinch and grab their way around. I can layer video and links into a photo. This is all content that resonates with the mobile audience because they can interact with it.

This is a conversation we’re not having today: It’s not just the technology that’s advanced, but also social media’s permeation into every part of the newscycle. Now it’s become commonplace to tweet from the scene or shoot a quick pic with the phone’s cam. Which means we need to be asking, “What is the right content for mobile?”

That’s our next frontier — and my next column.

Judd Slivka  
 
Director — Aerial Journalism



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