MoJoCon: Journalism by mobile

An edited version of this article appeared in Village magazine, March 2016 edition

MoJoCon – the Mobile Journalism Conference which debuted in Dublin last year – has its roots almost a decade ago, when Glen Mulcahy, then working with RTE Nuacht, began experimenting with the camera on his Nokia N93 smartphone.

Glen Mulcahy at MoJoCon. Image used by permission Sir Cam Photos/Flickr
Glen Mulcahy at MoJoCon. Image used by permission Sir Cam Photos @camdiary

“Video quality was atrociously bad, photographs were tiny, 1Mb was seen as huge, it was very much in its infancy,” recalls Mulcahy, now RTE head of innovation.  “We were experimenting with that around the same Reuters had deployed the same tools to their journalists in the UK to create content for websites.”

A handful of  stories were produced to an acceptable broadcast quality using the mobile devices, and Mulcahy started keeping track of other broadcasters who were doing the same. “I thought, we need to bring everyone together, talk about what we’re doing, and that was the birth of MoJoCon.”

From those beginnings, and networks built up through Circom, the European Association of Regional Broadcasters, the idea for MoJoCon was born, a “leading international media conference focusing on mobile journalism, mobile content creation, mobile photography and new technology all in one event.”

Mulcahy may be an advocate for new technology, but he doesn’t expect RTE reporters will be carrying smartphones and selfie sticks by the end of the decade.

“People still expect a particular kind of look when they turn on the television. You can’t do sports coverage on mobile, for example, you need those broadcast cameras, powerful zoom, all those expensive things. That said, there is very interesting case study, a station in Luxembourg, Lémon Bleu, using mobile to create content for their tv news. I think they are very brave to go this early.”

“You will still see cameramen, you will still see satellite trucks in five years time, not journalists with selfie sticks. There are times when mobile works, but mobile is not mature enough yet to do 100% of the work.”

Where he does see openings  for new technology to expand are in non—broadcast media outlets.

“There are a few case studies in the Irish Times where I was absolutely blown away by some of the stuff they were able to do. They also very cleverly decided to upskill all their press photographers who were interested in doing it into shooting video with their DSLRs. So you have a new aesthetic, you definitely have better cameras, although not necessarily radically more expensive, and you also have some of the journalists who responded and went out shooting stuff with their phones.”

“You don’t need a broadcast quality camera to produce content that is also going to be delivered onto mobile phones.  I’m more and more coming to the opinion that there is a  mobile ecosystem where we create on the mobile phone, edit on mobile phone, and deliver to mobile phones.”

New technologies, and the ability to produce programming and news quickly and cheaply, also have implications for how RTE covers different communities, Mulcahy believes.

“In the UK, there was a concerted effort by the BBC over the last 12 to 18 months to try and encourage hyperlocal sites. I believe there is a UK government initiative where you can get a modest fund to basically try and get it off the ground.  So you know there’s probably more that the government could do to encourage that level of local community content.

“This is a device that the majority of people have in their pocket.  Maybe not everyone has a top of the iphone or whatever, but lots of people have smartphones that can do pretty decent video, reasonably decent video.”

“There is potential to turn what is currently a community newsletter, lots of community groups literally still putting stuff on an A4 sheet through the letterboxes, and we could really bring almost community activism at grass roots level up into the video space by showing them what you can do with mobile.”

Looking to the future, as technologies (and screens) merge, Mulcahy can see a point where RTE produces video and audio not just for broadcast, but for the web, and for web first. As technologies mature, there is no strict reason why, for example, a new report compiled during the mid-afternoon should have to wait until the Nine news to be seen, when it can be immediately streamed to desktop computers or phones.