A chat about mojo with Robb Montgomery

When I started this course in May I signed up for Robb Montgomery’s mojo masterclass. It’s awesome. So after some cyber stalking, I asked Robb if I chat to him in more detail about mobile journalism and draw on his experience of it as a profession and what it’s like to teach it to people like me.

So me and Robb Skyped, Blighty to Berlin, and I’ve finally gotten around to putting it together. And in the interests of being multimedia, I turned it into a podcast.

Robb is fascinating and very talented, you have to listen to him. Me, on the other hand? I may have a face for radio but I’m not even sure if I have the voice – I sound so monotone! Perhaps this listening to your own voice lark gets easier over time…

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I do like a little bit of problem-solving


I’ve always liked finding solutions to problems, it’s incredibly satisfying and, on the whole, means you’ve learned something. Whether you succeed in solving the problem, or not.

And today I got a lot of satisfaction by solving a problem… bear with me, it’s a long (ish) story…

I needed to get some content ready and scheduled for Friendship Day on Sunday and to cut a long story short (er) we have some audio recordings of three members of a large student friendship group and I wanted to use JamSnap (picture and audio) to showcase them.

But JamSnap WILL NOT work on either of my two iPhones, it just spits me out every time I try and log in. Deleting and reinstalling didn’t work and it didn’t work for a colleague either. Time for Plan B…

Graphic designer to the rescue

I decided to use Thinglink, a similar app which allows you to pull other images, videos, events etc onto a background image (as referenced in previous posts). First issue… the image we had of the friends group was a group photo with the three in question sitting nowhere near each other. And it wasn’t high res.

In comes my graphic designer colleague who happily offers to tinker for me, managing to move the three friends I needed so they’re sitting side by side, the others cropped out. Awesome. Now, to make this the optimum size for Facebook meant distorting the image massively. No can do. My colleague came back with a polaroid design on top of a corkboard which kept the image small enough without looking like it was floating in a big hole. Nice one.

Now to adding the audio files and a whole heap of issues. A colleague recorded and edited the audio clips but the interviews were done over the phone so the sound quality is pretty poor, but bearable. Not ideal but given timescales and locations, phone chats were the best achievable. Thinglink desktop doesn’t allow you to pull in raw video files, only content with a url, like a YouTube video. I hopped over to the app version which allows you to pull in content from YouTube or your photo gallery, including raw video files. Great. But you can’t get an audio file to sit in your phone’s photo gallery or camera roll like you can a video. Grrrr. So while I had access to the audio files on my phone, either via WeTransfer and WeDownload or Dropbox, I couldn’t get them onto Thinglink.

Turning audio into a video…

Another Plan B needed, or is that Plan C? After lots of thinking, I wondered if hosting them on Soundcloud could work. And then, inspired by the waveform that appears as Soundcloud’s embeddable trademark, I searched for a rights free YouTube video of a waveform. Found one.

I then needed to get that onto my phone. I searched for a ‘download YouTube video’ converter (you can try ClipConverter or KeepVid.com, for example) and then popped it in Dropbox so I could get to it from my phone.

I then went back to the audio files sitting in WeDownload and there’s an option there to save them straight to iMovie. So I did that for each of the three audio files, as separate projects, and overlaid the waveform video on top and trimmed it to fit. Phew.

I then managed to save the three, now video files, and load them onto Thinglink from my phone. I then returned to the desktop version to add customised icons and some blurb.

Debugger (yes, it’s an odd word)

With all that effort, I decided to post a link on Facebook (viewable only to me) to see if it rendered properly. It was pulled through a strange title which I couldn’t suss out, so hopped over to the Facebook Debugger tool (very handy!), rescraped (by pressing the button) and tried again. Bob’s your uncle! And then I scheduled the post for publication at the weekend.

And I’m afraid that’s not the end of the story. I don’t think Thinglink works as well on Twitter so wanted to try something else with this story. I pulled some really nice friendship quotes from each of the audio files and used the Legend app to turn them into text/image-only videos, the quote flashing up first and ending with an image.

But the image was poor quality anyway and certainly not good enough to crop each of the three friends off for three separate quotes. But if I used the pic of the three of them, how would we know which one of them the quote related to? I tried putting red arrows on pointing to the friend being quoted in each of the three vids but this just looked pants.

On discussion with a colleague – two heads are better than one – she suggested playing one quote after another and ending with the image of the three of them, so one video rather than three, and playing the quotes in the order the ladies are sitting. Plan!

Eureka moment (almost)

Eek, but the apps give you a character limit and there’s no option to pull three quotes in one by one. Grrrr. I had a chat with the videographer to see if he could whip out his old school tools and make something for me, which would possibly take a bit of a time. And as we were talking it through, he said the phase ‘stitch the quotes together’. It was a eureka moment (almost). I said ‘give me 10 minutes and I’ll come back to you if I haven’t done it by then.’

10 minutes later and I’d done it. I created three separate quote clips using Legend, and saved them to my camera roll. I then hopped over to the Splice app and ‘spliced’ the three quotes together and added an image at the end. Bingo! No need for the videographer to interrupt his work, yay! It’s easy to forget that a single app won’t always do everything you want but you can jump from one to another with a single piece of content.

End of the story yet? Not quite. I then went to schedule the video and Twitter post for the weekend but the scheduling tool we used wouldn’t take the video file format (and I can’t even remember what that was, but probably a mov?!). Back onto Google where I found onlinevideoconverter.com and converted the file into an mp4 and FINALLY I was done.

Here’s a screen shot…


And here’s link to the post, with the Thinglink interactive on Facebook.

Stop, collaborate and listen (I’ll thank Vanilla Ice for that one)

Sounds like a lot of work for a single story but it didn’t take all that long – although it does highlight the amount of effort that can go into a single tweet or Facebook status. Social media isn’t as quick as you’d think.

It also shows that collaboration is key. Four colleagues were involved in this process – the one who did the audio interviews, the graphic designer, the videographer and my line manager who I consulted when I felt a bit stuck. That’s five of us! And, while in theory I could have done of those tasks myself (the graphic design being the most challenging) it would have taken me an age. So while it’s easy to think it’s just me, a story idea and the mobile phone, it actually rarely ever is.

To summarise, I felt great. I’d solved a lot of problems with this content and while the one that concerns me most – the quality of the audio – is beyond my control, I’ve learned a lot. Problem-solving is actually a lot of fun!

And I’ll update this post with the actual content once it’s live (update: now done!)

Here’s a link to the video on Twitter so can you play it, and below are screen grabs of the video (left) on Twitter and an image card (right – taking the same content and giving it two ‘treatments’, posting within an hour of each other to test which worked better. At the time of updating this post (3pm ish on Sunday 7th August) the video got much more engagement. Is is the moving quotes, or could it be the Yeats quote?



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Dabble with apps, share the love

As part of this latest production labs module (note: deadline looming, desperately need to get my act together!) I’ve been glued to my mobile phone. No surprise since I’m looking into mobile journalism, but a pleasant side effect is that I’m now the proud owner of some very useful apps; ones I actually use rather than sitting there soaking up storage space.

Mobile journos – in my experience – are keen to share their top tips, advice, skills, technology etc to support others, particularly as it’s still an emerging rather than established and mainstream practice. And in that vein, I wrote a blog post for local (Milton Keynes) web design agency Westfourstreet

Read: 9 apps to support your creativity


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What’s a mobile journalist?

What’s the true definition of a mobile journalist?

Westlund (2013) describes them as “journalists who use mobile devices extensively in their news reporting”. Blankenship (2015) in his research into mobile journalism in TV networks, says mobile journalism is “whereby a single reporter must write, shoot and edit their own news stories.” Christian Payne, in my chat with him a few weeks back, described it as the ability to report out in the field. And Wikipedia describes it as…


This may sound like a bit of a cop out, but I think all the above statements are true and that mobile journalism, in my experience, is a little bit of all of them. The one that jars with me just a bit is Blankenship’s reference to a single reporter. While his research examines reporters working for TV networks specifically, I don’t think mobile reporting for any organisation needs to be done alone.

Yes, in theory a mobile journalist can go out and get the story, shoot it, edit it and publish it. Alone. But working in pairs, or teams, can be more effective when gathering news. Take, for example, Shadi Rahimi who refers to a two-person mobile reporting team as a mobile army, sent out into the streets of Baltimore during violent protests to cover the story from the ground. And, he says, to do what mobile reporting has an ability to do like no other kind of journalism: “the opportunity to engage directly with the social media audience”.

Two’s company (and a great way to learn)

I certainly think when starting out with mobile or multimedia reporting, working in pairs is an excellent way to learn. Deuze (2007) says to remain competitive journalists must be multi-skilled – but going from print to multimedia reporter, for example, (as I did) is a big learning curve. You are catapulted from an intimate setting with an interviewee, armed with just a pen, paper and maybe a dictaphone, to a world where you are suddenly in charge of visual appeal, technology, audio quality and background action, all while attempting to make your interviewee comfortable in front of the camera and actually listen to what they’re saying so you’ll have a clue how you’ll edit it together later. It’s a lot.

The best way to learn, however, is to make mistakes. And I’ve made plenty over the years. It’s also a confidence thing, to be able to say mid way through an interview: “hey, sorry, can we start that one again” for whatever reason. Just like I did when shooting this video… a group of guys taking a seemingly harmless cigarette break in the background clocked us and thought it would be fun to blow all manner of smoke rings in the direction of the camera, which was somewhat distracting. I spotted it, we moved a couple of metres so they were out of shot, and started again. But it does take confidence and experience to spot all these things – there’s nothing like pressing record on an interview to find you’re standing below a flightpath to Heathrow, or a lawnmower suddenly starts up. You won’t notice these until you review the footage (often after the interviewee has gone) and find they’ve obliterated your audio. Over time, you’ll spot them quicker and have the right tools in your kit bag to deal with them. And they make for a great blooper real!

So, the learning curve is less steep if you tackle it in pairs, helping each other, divvying up tasks and splitting the mammoth responsibilities that come with mobile journalism in half. I.e when one of you is fannying around with a tripod, the other one can be warming up the interviewee. However, Blankenship has got a point – an established mobile journalist will indeed be going it alone, for the most part, and should have all the necessary skills in order to do so. Otherwise they’re less mobile, so to speak. I kind of did a u-turn on myself there but what I’m trying to say is learn with others to enable yourself to go it alone with skill and confidence.

We transfer, we download (but you have to connect the dots)

Mobile journalism, by definition, has to include the use of a smartphone (Neal Augenstein actually refers to it as iPhone reporting). But there’s nothing to say the whole story has to be compiled on the mobile. Mobile journalists might have other equipment too, for example, networked digital cameras for shooting top notch photos and publishing straight to social media or ‘sending’ them to a mobile phone. Clever. I actually do pretty much everything on my iPhone 6S but I’m not afraid to jump onto a desktop – if I’m near the office – to make life easier. I find it less of a faff to transfer files, source images, convert files etc on a desktop and I sometimes flit between phone and desktop to get the job done.

For example, an issue I had when editing a video from a team away day is that colleagues had sent me some of their clips to include with my own, via WeTransfer. The trouble with this, I found, is while you can send files via WeTransfer on a mobile, you can’t download them. This requires the installation of a second app called WeDownload (which you have to pay a couple of quid for if you want more than five files). I sussed this out after a spot of internet research it but it took me a lot longer than just pressing ‘download’ and this kind of thing can slow you down in the field.

In the field… literally

Speaking of fields, Christian Payne is right when he says the power of a mobile phone (with wifi or GPS, of course) is invaluable for reporting, polishing and posting on location. This is a great -and recent – little experiment by a team of journalists from BBC Surrey and Sussex who ‘went mobile’ for 24 hours to see what they came up with. There were pros and cons but it was an interesting test and a great way to connect journalists with their audiences directly via social media. In a similar vein, this US lecturer did a mobile-only experiment with students but for a period of six weeks.

And here’s a great example of capturing content in the field… literally. I was after some close-up shots of colleagues on Segways during a team-building day when one of them did something amusing. I’ve added a soundtrack to this so you can’t hear another colleague in the background shouting “Robyn!! Did you get that on video!!??” Oh yes, I did.

But I should end this blog post on a more serious note, and, at least answering the question I posed in the opening sentence.

Based on my own experience (I’ve been dabbling with multimedia for nine or so years now), research as part of my production labs module for my MA and interviews with practitioners like Christian Payne (mentioned above) and Robb Montgomery (interview to come soon), my interpretation of ‘mobile journalism’ (#mojo) is made up of three elements:

a) a single person

b) out in the field

c) using a smartphone

Of course I haven’t touched on citizen journalism (who is a mobile journalist, rather than what is a mobile journalist) but that’s for another post…

PS Keep your eyes for a web project called MobyClick in which I’ll be sharing some useful resources and insights into mobile journalism. Coming soon!




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You know you’re addicted to this #mojo lark when…

…you take your kids to zoo and can’t help but whip out the mobile phone. And don’t take any pictures of the kids! I was genuinely gutted that I left the 64GB iPhone 6S at home (dead battery) and instead had to make do with the 16GB iPhone 5S after deleting a load of photos to make room. It was a gloriously sunny day and I can’t help thinking I missed a trick or two at Woburn Safari Park.

The kids fell asleep about the time I pulled into the lion enclosure and I desperately tried to capture an artistic shot of two lions sleeping in my rear view mirror. I really needed to open the window and reverse a bit to make it work… but chose safety over art. I’m not ready for the “Did you hear the one about the lion who found his #mojo? For dinner!”.

Instead, and in the space of literally two minutes because a) my phone ran out of storage and b) the kids were screaming for ice cream, I took a few shots of some super cute sea lions. And this is the result, courtesy of Splice for editing and Videoshop for the text overlay. Short and sweet.

Sea Lions at Woburn Safari Park from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.

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