‘You always have your phone with you!’
Geertje Algera is one of the first journalists in The Netherlands who works as a full time mobile journalist, also called MoJo. As a reporter for KRO-NCRV she makes reports for internet and Dutch Public TV with only her iPhone, a mike and a tripod.
‘You make reports on your iPhone? And they broadcast them on telly? ‘, people are shocked when I tell them what I do. MoJo stands for Mobile Journalist, and it’s a new way to create tv-content. Of course filming with a cell phone is nothing new. It is increasingly common for journalists to take a few shots with their smartphone and use them to provide additional online content. But setting off with just a smartphone, a microphone and a tripod to make a report for television is something that has been possible since the introduction of the iPhone 4S 8 megapixel camera.
I have not started this work because of cutbacks or because I am against camera crews. Definitely not. Working with professionals is fantastic, and of course I see and hear the difference between my shots and the shots of a professional camera crew. But many people do not see or hear the difference. And most importantly, all reports start with a good story and the camera is of secondary importance.
The reason I have immersed myself in MoJo is because it is a very easy way of working. Without a camera crew and without a heavy camera bag you can go anywhere in the world and make nice shots. Whether it’s a rough neighbourhood somewhere in the Netherlands, or a conflict area abroad. It is also creative, innovative, challenging and a lot of fun to work this way. It’s pioneering in a world full of gadgets and hundreds of apps, and that is wonderful for a creative person.
Since 2004 I have been working as a reporter for the KRO and since 2006 also as a camera journalist (CamJo), filming with a small Sony camera. I found working as CamJo always quite a struggle because of the heavy equipment. Also technically I often found it difficult; the white-balance, the receivers, the depth of field.
When I read an online article in the spring of 2014 about making reports with a mobile phone, I was immediately enthusiastic. The EBU (European Broadcasting Union) in Geneva offered a two-day course. I registered last minute and flew to Switzerland the next week. It was a very intensive course, but in 24 hours I learned everything I needed to start as a MoJo.
I learned that the minimal equipment is a smartphone, a tie clip microphone and a tripod. The iPhone is the most popular smartphone, because although mobile journalism is possible with a Windows or Android phone, the world of MoJo is dominated by the user-friendly iPhone.
And filming vertically is out of the question, simply because TV screens are horizontal. And keep your home button on the right so that your shots are not upside down.
I bought the basic equipment and made my first mobile reports for the on demand platform Spirit of KRO-NCRV. Spirit is an internet first department, where journalists get a lot of freedom to try new things. I make reports about religion, spirituality and diversity.
I soon realized that people find it easier to talk to a small camera, for example during street interviews in Utrecht. Or the time when I portrayed a Dutch-Moroccan blogger. But also during a silent march and during a Bikram yoga class, I could make my shots and interviews very much low profile.
Interviewees are usually very surprised that I film with an iPhone. Often I tell them in advance, but sometimes I forget and people are a bit disappointed, ‘Where’s the camera crew?’ When I explain my new way of working, and pull out my microphone and tripod, the interviewees quickly adjust to the new situation.
The most frequently asked question from colleagues is about the quality of the sound and what microphone I use. I have the RØDE SmartLAV+ tie clip microphone with an extension cord. The microphone plugs directly into the headphone jack, and provided that it is quiet in the area, this microphone records conversations very well.
Techies are quick to ask me about the frame-rate of the iPhone. The standard camera app on the phone has a 30 frame rate. And television works with a frame rate of 25. To solve this problem there are apps like Filmic Pro and Pro Camera, where you can adjust the frame rate. For online video, the frame rate of 30 is usually not a problem.
Of course there are limitations. What absolutely doesn’t work is filming in the dark or dusk, and even artificial light inside is usually insufficient. The quality of the material deteriorates as soon as the lighting conditions get worse. Another problem is the battery life and memory of the phone. After about two hours of filming the battery dies. Fortunately, there are external batteries that can bring your phone back to life. Initially I had an iPhone 5c with 16 GB of memory, which was very frustrating because after a half an hour of filming I was out of memory. Then I switched to the iPhone 6 with 128 GB.
Because you cannot make a movement like a tilt, pan or zoom with an iPhone, it’s important to think ahead about your storyboard and shot-sequence. How do you get movement in your story, how do you create dynamic shots? The first thing I learned about that was, ‘zoom with your feet’, in other words, you can’t zoom in, so you have to walk towards something to make a close up shot.
Additionally, there are more and more gadgets available to make beautiful tilts and riders with your smartphone like the Mobislyder and Galileo. The BoomBandit even makes shots that look like you had a crane at the set. There are also individual lenses available that can be screwed onto your smartphone.
What makes filming with the iPhone so special, is the large number of apps available to create special shots. Give a video an 8mm or VHS 80s effect for example. My favourite is Hyper Lapse to make beautiful speed-ups, or a stable pan thanks to the built-in stabilization. Usually I edit my images in Final Cut Pro 7. But editing on the iPhone (or iPad) is also possible and a lot of fun. The fine needlework is not that bad. The iMovie program is what most MoJo’s use (4.99 in the App Store). But editing is easier with apps like Lumify, Splice or Pinnacle.
Dutch NOS national news takes a positive view on the MoJo developments and since this past summer they have been working to expand the video production with smartphone-material. Gerard van den Broek of NOS Video First stresses that NOS by no means want to replace existing camera teams, but the smartphone shots will be used as additional material, or at times when a camera crew is not yet present.
It amazes me that the number of fulltime MoJo’s in the Netherlands is still so limited. At the regional broadcasters Wytse Vellinga of Omrop Fryslân is an ambassador. He started secretly after attending a workshop for regional broadcasters (ROOS). ‘This is the only way to convince the sceptics.’ Vellinga and NOS News also bank on the iPhone being the most stable and user-friendly device.
In Ireland the RTE is leading the way. In March they organized MoJoCon, the first global convention about mobile journalism. Glen Mulcahy of RTE invited over fifty speakers to the Irish capital and nearly four hundred MoJo’s from around the world attended the conference. What really stood out to me is that times are changing very quickly right now. Video is moving towards online and on demand, and traditional tv is on the decline.
In addition, the focus in Dublin was on storytelling. No old journalism with a new device, but a different type of journalism. More cross-media, more social. And the story always overrules the technique. The consumer is not interested in pixels, image lines, white balance and perfect audio, consumers want to be sucked into good stories. My firm belief is: Every journalist should learn the basics of shooting with a smartphone, because news and good stories are everywhere, and you always have your phone with you!
1 Purchase a tie clip microphone, for example the RØDE SmartLAV+ lavelier.
2 Buy a small tripod, for example, a Joby or a Manfrotto Pixi.
3 When you start filming, set your phone to airplane mode to prevent interference of incoming messages and to save your battery.
4 Decide where the focus and exposure should be and ‘lock’ this by holding your finger on the screen. Especially with interviews and close-ups, this is important.
5 Start by making short 15 second clips on Instagram, take five shots and tell a story. The square Instagram is the exception to horizontal shooting: You can hold your phone vertically!
6 Create short videos with the app Lumify, an intuitive app for people who find iMovie too complicated.
7 Install the app Magisto, perfect to make an online movie. The program is self-thinking and edits automatically (!) your best shots and adds awesome effects.
8 Use the apps Periscope or Meerkat to broadcast live, for media organizations check out the Dejero app.
9 In terms of accessories you can go crazy, additional lenses, a rail, jib or dolly. Even a steadycam or a crane are available. Or consider the possibility of transforming your phone into a drone!
10 Make sure you always have your earplugs with you, in case of an emergency you can use the earphones as an external microphone for a quote or soundbite.
A sample iPhone report by Geertje Algera: The Weekendschool was founded in 1998 in Amsterdam as a supplementary education for motivated young people aged 10 to 14 from socioeconomic disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Safae (11) and Sabri (12) go to Weekendschool each Sunday! This Sunday they are following a lesson in law.