Who am I?

Suddenly, my world has been turned upside down.

Ok, that’s overly dramatic. But I do feel a change coming on.

This morning I sat down with Stephen Quinn for an hour to talk about mobile journalism. (He’s written a book about it.) By the end of that chat I was thinking about developing and teaching a mobile journalism class — and about my own personal changes in journalistic style.

Tom Warhover, I’m talking to you now. Tom is the editor of the Missourian and has been beating the mobile journalism drum for years. His focus has been getting inexpensive, portable tools into the hands of journalists (journalism students in our case) with the hope of getting more coverage in the paper because the job is easier.

I’ve fought him nearly every step of the way because of what I saw as serious quality compromises mobile journalism forces us to make. My opinions have been largely based on the devices I’ve seen and knowing their (poor) technical specs. Audio devices weren’t clear enough. Cell phone camera lenses were bad and the files were too small. And no one had a decent quality portable video camera, especially with digital files. Then the Flip video camera came along. And portable digital audio devices with adjustable levels. And cell phone cameras are now shooting HD quality video. Holy crap! (I hope this is the next thing: DSLRs that can transmit information.)

The final component came last weekend when I tried out VeriCorder’s 1st Video app for the iPhone. I was impressed. The impressive part is the editing of the video and transmitting the final .mov file to your chosen destination.The editing was far more sophisticated and easier than I expected. And the learning curve was pretty small.

Then last night there was a major fire in town. A historic barn-turned-outdoor theater burned to the ground. I didn’t cover it. Today, while talking with Stephen, I realized why.

barn fire

The Columbia Tribune's Nick King shot this photo of the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre fire.

Yesterday, I didn’t want to gather up my DSLR gear and head to the scene. I’d have to shoot, then go to home or to the office to edit. The quality would be great, but it would be time consuming. Today I caught myself telling Stephen, “If I’d had my iPhone set-up, I’d have gone out with that, shot video and edited it all on the phone.”

Did you see it? That bright light that just flashed? That was the light bulb (or strobe light) in my head. I’ve changed. Had I had the smaller, lighter, quicker to edit with mobile gear, I probably would have covered the fire. But thinking of lugging all my good, high-quality, expensive gear out was too much for me.

Now granted, I didn’t have to cover this fire. But with the other gear, I’d been more inclined to do so. The mobile journalism devices would have made the job a lot easier. The software for mobile jouranlism is there. Device quality is there. Tom Warhover might be right. And I no longer know who I am.


3 responses to “Who am I?

  1. Karen,

    Mobile journalism makes multimedia coverage of events easier for the average journalist to accomplish, especially when there are no other options (for instance, if the fire were to go out before a suitcase cam can get there). Additionally, within a year or two, flip and cell phone recording devices are going to improve further, so the disparity between consumer- and professional-grade equipment is going to be blurred.

    That being said, I think the caveat is in your last graph. You didn’t have to cover the fire. It wasn’t your job. Yeah, you could have gone out there, but I would bet good money there were Missourian/Tribune/TV/radio people out there, whose job it was to cover the fire via multimedia, and I would parlay that bet with one that they were using professional-grade gear. And knew what types of shots would resonate best with the audience.

    If that were a print beat reporter who whipped out his or her iPhone and got video as he or she did some interviews, I can only commend that and applaud it. As you said, the quality is there. But if I’m sitting at home and I have the option, give me the package shot by the DSLR every day of the week.

  2. Great blog. I like a lot of the new wave mobile journalism because it allows for even more immediacy on the Web, it seems to me.

    While covering a house fire in the STL area this summer, I sent pictures from my phone that were used on our Web site. If I couldn’t have done that, it would have taken another hour to post photos.

  3. Karen – you’ve caught the same bug I have… The drive to innovate, play and cover information differently. It’s exciting. It’s mind blowing. It’s so much fun. Now if we could just get a little more control over the lens function of the iPhone. That would be awesome.

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