Just before Christmas I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across an excellent article by The Guardian’s Ross Barkan.
In it, he describes the mobile phone as our era’s cigarette… corrupting on so many levels and incredibly addictive.
Barkan asserts that the 2010s began with the arrival of smartphones en masse and, over the next decade, these little devices ruined the promise of the internet and made us all twitchy, addicted and addled. It’s hard to disagree.
But as I read the article (on my phone, of course) I began to think about the many invaluable ways the smartphone has revolutionised my industry, journalism, for the better.
I began working at the Age newspaper as a Video Journalist in early 2007, just a few weeks after Steve Jobs walked on stage at the Macworld convention in California and announced the first iPhone.
On January 9, 2007 Apple introduced the iPhone.
A few months earlier, Google had bought YouTube, then less than two years old, for US$1.65 billion. The internet began filling up with video.
Fairfax had dreams of cashing in as well. In my early years there, we began to pump out videos at pace with the main purpose of serving pre-roll ads, a potential revenue stream newspapers had never been able to mine.
We bought bigger and better cameras, yet were always the poor cousins to the TV crews we’d meet at press conferences or at crime scenes. Being professional meant being ‘big’.
In those days, you’d get laughed out of the room if you pulled out a smartphone as a tool for news gathering. After all, the resolution was relatively poor, there was no optical zoom and capturing good audio was almost impossible.
But year on year things got more interesting. The iPhone went from 320x240 pixels at launch to 960x720 pixels by iPhone 4 (2010) to today’s iPhone 11, which boasts 4k video recording, the same resolution of high end TVs. Sensors got better, peripheral devices for audio and lighting were developed and improved compression, which made transmitting video over the internet easier and easier.
In those days, you'd get laughed out of the room if you pulled out a smartphone as a tool for news gathering.
Mobile phones are now at the point where, if used correctly, they can compete with professional cameras 20 times more expensive. But the impact of phones as news gathering tools is far greater than that. There are many less obvious reasons why we should all be embracing our phones and learning to use them properly.
For one, the vast majority of people in the world now carry with them at all times a high-end video recording device. This is revolutionary. And the best camera in the world is the one you have when you need it. It’s all well and good to have a $20,000 camera in the boot of your car, but when the hot air balloon falls out of the sky in front of you or you’re suddenly on the scene of a police incident, what camera are you going to use? Press conferences today are awash with journalists holding up their phones, typing into their phones, recording video on their phones, transmitting video on their phones… you get the idea.
Even for more formal interviews in situations I can control, I find myself using the phone more and more as a primary camera, owing to its small size, ease of operation and quality of results. Also, people aren’t intimidated by camera phones, but stick a big ‘professional’ unit in their face and they’ll likely become nervous or refuse to be interviewed. Either way, you’re worse off.
I find myself using the phone more and more as a primary camera, owing to its small size, ease of operation and quality of results.
High quality slow motion and time-lapse features also offer the creative user ways to add varied elements to their storytelling. Initially horrendous, mobile video editing software is now very professional, giving the intrepid journalist a full edit suite in their pocket.
Also, 2G became 3G. 4G is becoming 5G. Sending large video files back to the newsroom, or to your YouTube channel, is a breeze. Live-streaming is now commonplace, as is 360 video.
Which is all a long way of saying ‘hooray for the smartphone!’
The barriers to entry are gone. Anybody can be a video journalist, a podcaster or photographer. All you have to do is learn how to properly use the tool that’s been in your pocket this whole time.
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