Tag Archives: mobile journalism

Mobile phones aren’t bad for your health, you are

Concerned by the lack of health and safety information in place regarding the use of mobile devices for work (an essential part of a mobile journalist’s role) and the impact working in this way can have on our posture and nervous system, I caught up with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham. The good news is, mobile devices are not to blame for any so-called related health issues – we are.

Alastair sees a variety of people with postural issues, many exacerbated by the tools and technology the modern world makes it impossible for us to ignore. But he’s not seeing more people than he used to. Postural issues, he says, are not new. And it’s the impact our posture has on our nervous system that we need to worry about – and potentially addictive behaviours, like reaching for a smartphone to scroll through Facebook out of habit rather than interest or need.

Alastair frequently deals with office-based issues and encourages people to set up their desks in a way that’s going to work for their bodies, comfort and longer term health. He’s not saying anyone should give up work. And it’s the same for mobile phone users – we don’t need to give them up, just change the way we use them.

I’m looking at this from the perspective of mobile journalism but, of course, this applies to anyone using a smartphone regularly, particularly those using them for work.

What’s a mobile journalist again?

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 a chat with him last year, described it as the ability to report out in the field. And Richardson (2012), referenced by Wikipedia, describes it as “an emerging form of new media storytelling where reporters use portable electronic devices with network connectivity to gather, edit and distribute news from his or her community”.

Take all those definitions, the fact I work on a content and social media team with storytelling at its heart, and add in my latest MA module on Instagram – a mobile app which unlike its fellow social media platforms Twitter and Facebook remains true to its app origins and many features, including analytics, have to be accessed directly via the mobile app. Not accounting for the fact I obviously use my mobile phone for social purposes too, this adds up a lot of hours connected to a device which essentially fits in the palm of my hand.

Blurring the boundaries between home and work

Add on top of that how easy it is to blur the boundaries between work and home life (known as a digital brain switch thanks to Roby et al) when the mobile phone travels with you in both. How many of us quickly check our email on our phones or tablets from the sofa at home, just because we can, not because we need to even want to. While the French recently won the right not to check email out of hours, for many of us this adds to workplace efficiency – news doesn’t always break between 9am and 5pm and, as my Instagram project reminds me, evening is often the best time to post because it’s when most people are firing up their social media apps.

Health and safety info, in the main, relates to desktop working, PCs and laptops, with little consideration for portable devices like tablets and smartphones. In fact, most reference to mobile phone use at work is linked to distraction, i.e your workplace should have a mobile phone policy in order to keep your staff off them so they can do their work.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them.

Man hunched over looking at a mobile phone

Photo by Derick Anies via Unsplash

Training our body into discomfort

Much of the health and safety I can find ‘out there’ pertains to helping staff  not use their smartphones at work; to leave their mobile phones alone and help them avoid nomophobia (smartphone addiction and the need to constantly check for messages and notifications, or anxiety when without it).  Nomophobics beware, there are even mobile apps to stop you using mobile apps, like Forest, to stop you using your phone for periods of time.

But what about health and safety information for those who do use smartphones and all the productivity tools they offer, as part of their daily work? When I pick my phone up during working hours, for the majority of the time it’s to take a photo, shoot some video footage, edit a video, design graphics, create gifs or use filters, transfer images to Dropbox etc. My working ‘to do’ list is created on a mobile app (Wunderlist) synced to all devices so I can add actions to it whilst in meetings to avoid an endless stream of post-it notes littering my desk.

Mobile Office Ltd specialises in supporting people who are ‘mobile’ when they work, from using laptops on trains, agile work patterns and hot desking, to daily use of smartphones and tablets. Their report ‘Ergonomic Risks in Mobile Working‘ states:

Mobile devices give us huge benefits in terms of work flexibility, but they also present us with musculoskeletal risks that previous generations never experienced. We need to focus on managing and reducing the physical strain and discomfort which mobile devices can place on us, so that we can benefit from them without risking long-term pain and injury.

With the increase more generally in flexible working patterns due to the nature of modern workflow, the 24/7 news agenda and access to work email and tools from wherever you are, the report also stresses the importance of organisations training employees to take mobile working seriously, when research shows many ignore postural advice. And hands up, I confess, I am one of them. I’m also a flexible worker, placing ever more importance on using my iPhone for work. And my work phone does not have a SIM card, it’s not used for phone calls but for its array of apps, photography and videography functions.

This may or may not be an issue for all mobile journalists (or, indeed, anyone who uses a smartphone regularly) because other factors influence health here – posture when using a mobile phone and habits we get into which ‘train’ our body into discomfort. For me, my terrible posture is exacerbated when I use a phone – I hunch over in a really ugly position – and I seem to tense up a little when I do this. Alastair says I’ve trained my nervous system to accept this as normal behaviour so it’s repeated, I now find it difficult to relax completely, even when watching the TV, my body’s in a state of permanent tension and I often wake up in the morning feeling like I’ve slept scrunched up in a ball. For me, repeated trips to the osteopath to stretch me out, clear the problem up. Until the next time.

The tall girl with terrible posture

I was the tallest girl in school for a long while, and being painfully shy in my younger years, my height only served to make me stand out more, and I was quite happy to go unnoticed so subconsciously resorted to slouching. And so began the first of many years of bad posture.

After suffering with numbness in my hand some six or seven years ago, caused by my terrible posture but exacerbated by mobile phone use, I went to see Alastair. He believes that exercises and treatment to ease symptoms can have the effect of allowing people to persist in the patterns that created the problem in the first place.

I could prescribe hundreds of different exercises but if you have to keep coming back to see me then I’m not doing my job. If I’m doing my job properly and you truly want to get better, you’ll come and see me for a series of sessions and not necessarily have to see me again.

The occupational health team at work told me I’d have to stop using my mobile phone or, at least, drastically reduce the amount of time I spent on it. They advised me to get one without access to email and apps so I could just use the phone function. I remember thinking to myself ‘that will never happen’, and more so now, because my iPhone is integral to my job and my passions – mobile journalism, visual storytelling and social media.

But Alastair reminds me that my iPhone is not to blame, I am. My phone isn’t causing me pain and discomfort, I am. And I don’t need to stop using it to get better, I need to change the way I use it. And only I can do that. In the meantime, Alastair can educate me on the how and why. (PS A video demonstrating smartphone-related postural issues and how to undo them, will follow soon). Ironically, I’m returning to this area of research because of my MA, not my postural issues, and clearly if I tackled them head-on I may not have been on what Alistair describes as a ‘downward spiral’ for so long. Note to self: I really need to listen to Alistair.

Training our bodies into a state of stress

Alastair explains that there’s a link between our vision and our nervous system and physiology. “When we take in our peripheral vision, we’re aware of our entire environment. When we put our head down to look in closer detail at something it activates our sympathetic nervous system which is our stress system, so one of the problems with phones is it puts us in a state of stress as we focus in on detail.

“When you ask someone to think about something, you’ll see them shift their balance onto one leg, push their shoulder forward, hand on the face, looking down. We’re in internal processing mode. Multitasking has been proven time and time again to be a complete illusion, we don’t multitask, we sequentially task, so when we have to think hard about something or focus on detail we shut down our physiology, we’re in a much less active posture.

“We’re in an age where people check social media constantly, checking new info, focusing in on the minutiae of what’s happening in people’s lives, losing the perspective of the bigger picture. If we have a more open perspective, lengthen our spine, open up the shoulders, your head comes up, the muscles relax and you’re now in a very different state of space. If we spend a lot of time on phones what happens is that our nervous system becomes predicated on that and it becomes our default system.

“What we need to do is remember to come out in and out of the closed posture to avoid training your body to function in a particular way. It’s actually  quick to train your body, it learns very quickly, but it’s an individual’s responsibility to do this.”

Alastair says the media would like to have us believe the all this technology will be the end of us all, but the devices aren’t the issue, it’s how we physically use them.

Salsa dancing could be the answer

So how do we strike up a healthy relationship with our mobile phones when we need them for work? Alastair said salsa – or social – dancing is a great activity. Dancing opens your posture completely, there’s music, people, a good atmosphere – it’s impossible to focus in on yourself and is an excellent physical distraction from the way you’d hold yourself when editing a video on a mobile phone, for example.

If salsa dancing’s not for you, there are other ways to strike a balance. Alastair says we don’t have to hunch over and look at our phones for hours, we can open up our posture and hold our phones up and position ourselves in a more relaxed and open way. And we can alternate activities so as not to train our bodies into bad habits. For me, for example, I can spend time editing a video on my iPhone, then walk across campus to interview an academic, then spend some time monitoring and posting content on Instagram, then sit in on a meeting. Just as I organise my diary so I don’t have back-to-back meetings at opposite ends of campus, I can also organise my workflow so I’m not spending too much time on closed-posture activities. And being aware of how I use mobile devices – thinking about open posture, trying not to tense up, I can train my body to retain these good habits and reduce the amount of stress I put it under.

Take a break, boost productivity

Alistair says taking breaks have been proven time and again – across a variety of professions – to enhance productivity. Going for a walk at lunch time, he says, will increase your output during the afternoon, compared to working through your lunch break.

In fact, taking breaks boosts productivity, no matter what your profession. This 2015 article for The Telegraph states:

Recent data from productivity app DeskTime, which tracked people’s office habits, found that the employees with the highest productivity took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work – and they did not spend that break time checking social media or replying to emails.

And Florida State University Professor K. Anders Ericsson, in his research into elite performers across a variety of disciplines from musicians to athletes says breaks every 90 minutes made a positive impact on performance.

My smartphone is here to stay

I’m not sure salsa dancing in the office will catch on, and as much as I like a ‘cracking’ good session with the osteopath it’s reassuring to know that making positive, permanent changes, means I can enjoy a happy, healthy and long relationship with my mobile phone. The advice I received seven or so years ago – to ditch the mobile phone – was neither practical nor necessary. But I do need to listen to Alistair, take his advice seriously and attempt to ditch my mobile-induced health symptoms (diagnosed as work-related upper limb disorder).

My conversation with Alastair, unfortunately, failed to record (see, smartphones aren’t always awesome!) so I did a quick audio round up in the car on the way home to remind myself of his key points. You can listen to it (unpolished, warts and all) here or directly on Soundcloud.

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Using voice memo to rescue an interview

Between Christmas and New Year I had the pleasure of chatting with physiotherapist Alastair Greetham about the potential impact of mobile phone use on our health, particularly in relation to my own personal case as a mobile journalist, someone with terrible posture and a recurring need to see an osteopath to offset my symptoms.

I chatted for over an hour with Alastair but only managed to record the first five minutes (damn you, mobile phone and lapel mic) and in an attempt to remember as much as possible about what he said, I recorded this voice memo during the drive home.

So this is a warts and all recording, attempting to recall the interview while driving and trying to remember the way home. No editing has been done – this is 100% authentic panic interview recall. This research forms part of my MA in Online Journalism and focus on mobile journalism, in particular.

You can read the full interview – undertaken as research as part of my MA in Online Journalism – soon, and I’ll also be recording a video session with Alistair to physically show some of the open/closed postural movements I talk about in this audio recording.

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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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How to make a great pic awesome



Snapping away as a bride walks down the aisle mostly brings up a camera-full of blurred, awkward photos as you grapple with friends and family from the discomfort of a pew.

On the occasion of Esther and Dave’s wedding I hit it lucky, capturing this photo of Esther in all her wedding-day glory. It also captures my friend Jen’s mobile phone, just in shot and framing Esther perfectly. I’d like to say this was my creative genius at play, but alas, it was just a coincidence, albeit a brilliant one.

I tinkered around with the image a bit (after the wedding, of course, although I could easily have done it at the back of the church and between hymns). And, thanks to the Photosplash app, I turned it from a brilliant photo into an awesome one.

This app turns your photos into black and white and you can use your fingertip to highlight areas of colour.

I was never going to get a wifi signal in a church but thanks to the power of 3G or 4G I could easily have enhanced the photo and posted it to social media by the time the bride had said ‘I do’.

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The next project: a brain dump

My last project on enterprise terrified me because I didn’t think I had it in me to be entrepreneurial. This one, production labs, terrifies me because a) I don’t feel like I’ve done anything yet and we’re already four weeks into the module and b) and I’m struggling to see where I’ll end up. Maybe this is important, maybe it isn’t, but I like to visualise the goalposts and what it is I might be kicking through them when deadline day comes around.


Mojo from Robyn Bateman on Vimeo.


I have no idea where this blog post will lead me, but I’m writing it in an attempt to lay my thoughts on the table. Here goes…

What and why?

I want to focus on mobile journalism and with more mobile phones in the world than toilets, it’s a pretty important tool. I’m led to believe this module is about upskilling, picking something out, focussing on it, and becoming competent. All a bit woolly, I know, but I’m comfortable creating stories on a mobile phone albeit it only at a basic level. I want to ‘go pro’ and become a bloody good mobile journalist, both in terms of storytelling and juggling the technology (and being practical too – I don’t want to lug a mass of kit with me everywhere and neither do I want to be caught short, so what’s the compromise?) And I’m really keen to share what I learn with others. What I love most about being good at something is showing other people how to do it. Knowledge is pretty useless if you don’t pass it along.


Good question. What I have in my head is researching a bunch of stuff, trying a bunch of stuff, recording a bunch of stuff and talking to a bunch of people. And wrapping it up in a nice-looking website. Oh, but this is an MA so it needs to be a bit more high-brow than that, and it will be. Honest.

To start there will be:

  • Interviews with experts and other people who are dabbling with mobile storytelling
  • An online course on mobile journalism: everything I need to know about everything you can do to tell stories with a smartphone
  • Research: patterns, trends, predictions, thoughts, lessons.
  • A website: somewhere to record all of the above.
  • Creativity: I don’t know if you score MA points for creativity but I’d like to package some of my content up in a creative way (more on this later)

And lastly there will be an assignment which will involve a whole heap of critical evaluation. I’m my own worst (best?) critic and that’s a good start.

Other angles

As I said above, I’m interested in passing on the technical skills. But I’m also interested in how, practically, the use of the mobile phones can/will/is transforming news room set-ups and how that affects workflow patterns. What I mean by that, is will more traditional methods of reporting be overtaken by the sheer amount of cool things you can do on your mobile phone in the field? And the speed with which your content can be published?

I’m also interested in how we take a single story and present it to our audiences in whatever format and on whatever  channel is best for them. Adaptive content. It’s no longer as simple as pressing a publish button on a website – social media is a game changer when it comes to consuming and publishing news so how to we rework our stories?

One step on from that is who creates these stories, from start to finish, and when multiple teams are involved, who takes ownership and how are these stories worked on efficiently? Workflow. I’m interested in this because I work for a university’s communications department where several teams dip their toe into the content creation pool, all with a slightly different objectives and all owning a different channel. So, should content come first and channel second (I think so) and which team should take ownership of a story and at what point? Which is the most efficient way and what workplace practices need to be introduced to help?

For starters, we need to create content for the chunk, not the blob – a great definition!


I went to a content strategy workshop last November run by the awesome Picklejar Communications which flagged something I hold dear when creating content: try and solve your audience’s pain. And this was echoed by Caitlin Moran in this BBC video on the future of journalism – people want to consume news with context – how does this information directly affect them as an individual, how does it solve a problem they’re having, how does it impact their life? No longer can you throw out your news stories and expect them to cut through the noise – the internet is home to far more content than a human being has the capacity to consume, so yours needs to be good to get noticed. And this requires much more thought than we perhaps give it.

Did that help?

Yes, yes it did. Reading that through has helped form some sort of structure, I need to get on with it, hone the project down to risk taking on too much with too little time, and immerse myself in the world of mobile journalism. Starting with some planning tools and project management strategies to help me flesh out the bare bones of this project and deliver something worth kicking through those goal posts.

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