You too could be a smartphone reporter

Tuesday 8 May 2012, 12:53

Marc Settle Marc Settle specialises in smartphone reporting for the BBC College of Journalism. Twitter: @MarcSettle

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Have a look at your mobile phone. What do you use it for?

Calls - certainly. Texting - almost definitely. Browsing the internet - more and more likely, especially if you have a smartphone. What about taking photos? Recording video? Less likely, but perhaps. And what about recording audio? I reckon few of you will have done that with your phone.

But if you've done all three - photos, videos, audio - then congratulations: you've the potential to join the growing band of mobile journalists.

News organisations are fast coming round to the realisation that the high-spec mobile phones many of us have in our pockets can, to broadcast standard, perform many of the functions previously taken on by individual devices.

Smartphone ownership is rising rapidly, with the latest data showing they're in the pockets of around two of every five phone-owners in the UK; around one in three in the US; and, worldwide, roughly one in four. Ofcom have released a study into how people in Britain use various forms of media; their conclusion is that we're a nation addicted to our smartphones.

Most radio producers would accept that a Marantz PMD660, used with a BeyerDynamic M58 microphone, would give a better quality audio recording. And if you know in advance that you have a sit-down interview arranged with a senior politician, you'll give the interview that extra air of professionalism using kit like the Marantz (below):

Marantz recorder

But what about the unexpected news story? You might not be carrying the Marantz and the microphone around with you at all times, and a smartphone will do a pretty good job in its stead, in most circumstances.

The BBC is now training many of its journalists in best practice when using a smartphone to gather news. Martin Turner, the head of Operations within the Newsgathering department, blogged recently to explain that many BBC staff with an iPhone will soon get a bespoke app to enable material to be filed directly into content production systems. Similar apps for other operating systems such as Android may follow in the months to come.

A number of BBC journalists, though, are already using their smartphones in their day-to-day jobs. One very much in the vanguard is the BBC's North of England reporter for BBC Radio 5 Live, Nick Garnett, who shares tips on what works, and what doesn't, on his blog.

Another is Alex Littlewood, based in the south-west of England. He was very much thrown in at the deep-end: the day after acquiring his iPhone, being sent to the north Cornwall coast early one morning amid reports of ammunition having washed up on the beach. His results were broadcast on Spotlight later that day.

It is unarguable that more and more content produced by journalists using smartphones will be used in the future on air, subject to the technical limitations which admittedly aren't associated with traditional equipment.

But there is a wider question that the BBC and other broadcasters will need to consider: to what extent should employees who are non-journalists be shown how to make best use of their smartphones as reporting devices?

Can an organisation with thousands of employees who own these devices afford not to tap into this mass potential resource of news-gatherers?

Eyewitnesses have long only been able to report what they can see using a phone line; does the rise of smartphones mean everyone ought to know how to use them to take decent photos as well as record video and audio?

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