The truth about the BBC's iPhone broadcasting plans

is Head of Operations, Newsgathering, BBC News.

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I had been standing on the roof of a hotel in Luanda, Angola, for two hours. In the middle of the night. In a tropical downpour.

I had a fantastic radio package: full of elegant edits, telling interviews and atmospheric actuality. But I also had a satphone that refused to connect to London no matter what I did to it.

That's the problem with broadcast journalism. It involves broadcasting - and that means using technology that isn't always as portable or as reliable as one would like.

All TV and radio journalists will have their own horror stories about being let down by technology. In fact, most would probably agree that being shot at is less stressful than the process of filing.

Into this mix, the BBC is adding the smartphone. There are different flavours in different parts of the organisation, but the one that's attracted attention recently is the iPhone.

It's probably worth being clear about what we're doing because there has been some misunderstanding. What we're not doing is creating our own app to do live broadcasting.  There are already excellent apps for that so we want to use them.

What we are doing is porting an existing solution that allows anyone in the BBC to file audio, video and stills directly into our content production systems. We've been using this on Symbian phones for some time, so the aim is to take an existing solution and get more value out of it.

Some people have questioned why we would bother when there are already plenty of apps that do this. The reason is simple. These apps work brilliantly until you need to get the content into a complex production system with metadata in the right format.

And if you don't ingest the material automatically, someone has to do it manually, which isn't a very sensible use of their time or journalistic skills.

Wrestling with a satphone isn't a very productive journalistic enterprise, either. So we're constantly looking for ways to enable staff to spend more time finding things out and less time filing. That's why we like smartphones.

But more interesting than the technology is what you can do with it, and how it might change the nature of journalism.

If you can broadcast or file from wherever you are without wasting time setting up equipment, then that transforms how you do news. You can develop new angles on a story, create a truly interactive relationship with audiences, fact-check political claims, and provide a stream of updates from where a story is happening rather than from where you can put a satellite truck.

The BBC is far from alone in using smartphones for newsgathering and that's what makes them so important. Exploited wisely, they can help to create a new journalism which is richer, better informed and more engaging.

Of course, there are still limitations. You need connectivity and decent-quality video needs reasonable bandwidth. Many journalists have already discovered that smartphones are certainly not immune to technological gremlins. And if we simply use them to do more of what we do already then audiences will not be impressed.

But the potential of smartphones is fascinating. And they might even mean a few less grey hairs and a little less time spent wrestling with equipment in the rain.

Martin Turner is Head of Operations, Newsgathering, BBC News.

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