(This is a seminar paper and here, I tried to write about mobile journalism in general as well cast some light on mobile journalism in my country- Bangladesh.)
Mobile Phone does not need any introduction. It is one of the most common electronic devices that can be found all over the world. Initially, mobile phones were only used for communication (like calling someone) but with time, both the technology behind the mobile device and mobile network improved, allowing us to do more than just communicating with our friends and families. This improved capability opened up new possibilities in many fields including journalism. “Mobile Journalism” is another new possibility. Journalists armed with a powerful handset can perform a wide range of functions adding more efficiency to the process of news collection and creation. Hence, Mobile Journalism has huge potential not only in rich countries but even in a country like Bangladesh.
Before any discussion on Mobile Journalism, first, it is necessary to look at its definition. McKane and Quinn provide the following definition but they used the term “Cell Phone Journalism.” According to them, Mobile Journalism is a kind of “journalism in which the reporting tool – for recording audio and video, writing material and transmitting it – is a mobile phone. It is probably most used for breaking news, such as sporting events, accidents or tragedies.”
Unlike regular journalists, Mobile Journalists are not required to carry large and very expensive equipment. Often, just a smartphone is all it takes to type a report, take pictures, record audio, record video and upload Internet from the phone or even broadcast live online.
There are not too many definitions of smartphone. PC Magazine Encyclopedia provides the following definition:
A cellular telephone with built-in applications and Internet access. Smartphones provide digital voice service as well as text messaging, e-mail, Web browsing, still and video cameras, MP3 player, video viewing and often video calling. In addition to their built-in functions, smartphones can run myriad applications, turning the once single-minded cellphone into a mobile computer.
It is the features that make smartphones different from ordinary phones or feature phones. Previously, only those phones were considered smartphones that had all the features of a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).
Some of the major features of smartphone are-
- Powerful processor and memory
- Capability to run different applications
- High-speed Internet access capability
- Operating system
- QWERTY keyboard (virtual or physical)
- High-resolution touchscreen
Many consider smartphone an alternative to personal computer. Hence, the popularity of smartphone is increasing rapidly. According to the report of International Data Corporation (IDC), in 2011, the worldwide sales of smartphone stood at 491.4 million which was 61.3% higher compared to the sales figure of the previous year, 304.7 million. The fourth quarter of 2011 alone observed worldwide sales of 157.8 million smartphones.
Survey conducted by reputed American research organization, Pew Research Center, revealed that as of February 2012, 46% of the adult population in the U.S. owned smartphone which was 35% in May 2011.
Kantar Worldpanel ComTech published a report in January 2012 which revealed that in the last quarter of 2011, in Great Britain, smartphones accounted for 70.7% of the total mobile phone sales which translates into a 48.9% smartphone penetration of the total population.
In its report, eMarketer, said, “….nearly 116 million Americans will use a smartphone at least monthly by the end of this year, up from 93.1 million in 2011. By 2013, they will represent over half of all mobile phone users, and by 2016, nearly three in five consumers will have a smartphone.”
A Mobile Journalist will be equipped with a smartphone and he will perform different functions with it. However, preparing a good report requires more than just a smartphone. Some of the hardware devices that a mobile journalist would need are:
- Tripod and a handheld image stabilizer: With the help of a tripod, a journalist can ensure that his/her smartphone will work smoothly while doing a video or taking a picture. This is ideal for self-reporting or taking an interview. While taking a picture or recording a video only with the smartphone in hand, the handset may shake. This is common to most people while using a camera. An image stabilizer will help to get better picture quality.
- Ultra –portable keyboard: Most smartphone handsets come with virtual keyboards. However, it is perhaps not enough for most journalists for typing a long report from the place of the event. An ultra-portable Bluetooth keyboard can be used.
- Microphone and recorder: Most smartphone models have good audio recording facilities. However, if a journalist wants better audio recording then external microphone can be added to the smartphone.
- Lens: For professional quality images, photographers use lens along with their cameras. A Mobile Journalist can also add a lens to his/her smartphone.
- Portable Light: Lighting is a big problem when it comes to taking pictures or doing video with a smartphone. Battery run LED lights can be used in this regard.
- Batteries and chargers: A Mobile Journalist must carry backup batteries and a charger. A solar charger is helpful in remote and rural areas where electricity may not be always available.
Applications or apps are very important for Mobile Journalists. An app is a small program, created to perform a specific task. There are free and paid apps. By using apps, a Mobile Journalist will be able to edit his contents (audio or video), upload directly in a website, broadcast live in Internet and do many other things.
Some successful examples of Mobile Journalism:
Mobile Journalism is still a new concept. Some news organizations and NGOs have come forward with their own projects.
Gannett Company Inc. of USA deserves a special mention when it comes to the implementation of Mobile Journalism in the media. It is the largest newspaper publisher in USA and publishes USA Today which is perhaps the most widely circulated newspaper in the country. Earlier this year, Gannett decided to purchase more than one thousand iPhone 4S handsets for its field reporters and photographers. By using these handsets, reporters and photographers will collect audio and video content and upload them in real time. In other words, whenever a news is taking place, the reporter on the field, using his iPhone 4S, is uploading the news for Internet and mobile phone consumers.
In India, there is a project called CGNet Swara (http://cgnetswara.org/) established in the state of Chhattisgarh. Many indigenous people live in this area and a large number of them are extremely poor. These poor people often do not get basic facilities and the media often neglects them. In order to bring out the problems of these poor and neglected people, a voice portal called CGNet Swara has been created. In this service, any person can dial from his/her mobile phone and can record his complain. The report is then verified by a team of moderators and then published on the service. In addition, the reports are regularly posted on CGNet website.
A service similar to CGNet Swara, called RuaiSwara, has been developed in Indonesia in Bahasa language. It also has an affiliated service called RuaiSMS which uses text messaging system to submit reports. Other similar projects have been developed in Afghanistan and Egypt.
Mobile Journalism in Africa:
Africa is currently the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. As per the report of GSM Association, the number of mobile phone subscribers in the continent has grown almost at a rate of 20% for the past five years. It expects that the number of mobile phone subscribers would reach more than 735 million by the end of 2012.Use of Internet is limited in Africa. The same goes for TV and newspaper. Radio is very popular but radio waves are sometimes blocked in some countries. In this condition, getting news on mobile phones in the form of short message has become very popular.
Ushahidi is a non-profit technology organization that develops open source software for gathering news. Ushahidi (http://ushahidi.com/) developed a news gathering platform by the same name. It started its journey in early 2008 during the political instability in Kenya. It was used to gather news about the latest political condition of different areas of the country. Eyewitnesses sent messages via mobile phone and Email. The information was then plotted on Google Map.
The biggest challenge for Ushahidi was to ensure the quality and reliability of news they were gathering. To solve this problem, Ushahidi developed another application called SwiftRiver (http://ushahidi.com/products) that verified and filtered real time data collected via Twitter, SMS, Email and RSS feeds.
Voices of Africa Media Foundation:
Voices of Africa Media Foundation (http://www.voamf.org/) is a Netherland-based non-profit organization. It trains young journalists to create news videos for the web using mobile phones. The organization was established in 2006. It conducted training programs in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Uganda and trained more than 50 mobile reporters. A collection of around 1000 video reports produced by these reporters is available in their websites.
Potential in Bangladesh:
Mobile Journalism has a lot of potential in Bangladesh for several reasons. First of all, TV channels and FM radio stations can cut cost by giving smartphones to their correspondents at Upazila level. Even in Dhaka, they can increase the number of reporters to a large extent this way. The TV channels and radio stations can have freelance reporters in every area of Dhaka city if they just give smartphones to their contributing reporters. Thus, the TV channels can get more local news without investing a lot of money and resources.
A closer look at the newspapers, news websites, TV channels and FM radio stations indicates that most of the news items are related to Dhaka city. Mobile journalism can change this matter very easily. More than 300,000 people of Bangladeshi origin live in the United Kingdom. Most of them are from the greater Sylhet region. So, if an entrepreneur comes up with an idea of a website that would provide news of local events in greater Sylhet region then, there is a good chance the venture will become financially sustainable.
The idea of Mobile Journalism can be used in education in a country like Bangladesh. Dropout from school is still a big challenge for the country. Many children stop going to school because either they get engaged into some kind of work or their parents simply cannot afford to send them to school. Mobile phone is widely used in Bangladesh now. People of all ages watch videos in their handsets. The education ministry can create educational videos, suitable for viewing in mobile phone handsets. Then students will have access to educational videos and they can learn at their own time and own pace. This idea can be implemented even for university students.
Higher price of smartphones is the main obstacle for flourishing of Mobile Journalism in Bangladesh. It takes almost Tk. 20,000 to buy an ordinary smartphone that can be used for Mobile Journalism. Secondly, in rich and developed countries, smartphone handsets come with contracts or as part of a bundle and at first the consumers do not have to pay a lot of money. However, in Bangladesh, mobile phone operators like Grameenphone, Banglalink, Robi or Airtel have not introduced such contract system that would allow a person to buy a smartphone paying around five thousand taka in down payment and then a flat amount of money per month as part of the contract for a period of time like one or two years.
Another major obstacle is that iPhone has not come to Bangladesh yet. Of course, for getting the maximum benefit from iPhone, 3G internet is needed. iPhone is sold in some shops in Dhaka city and some people have bought such handsets from abroad. Unfortunately, due to the absence of 3G Internet, the users cannot get any noticeable benefits from their handsets. iPhone is a very popular smartphone in USA and many of the applications related to Mobile Journalism are made for iPhone. So, unless iPhone is launched in Bangladesh officially, our journalists will not be able to get many of the benefits from their smartphone sets.
In Bangladesh, there is shortage of skilled people in every sector. As far as Mobile Journalism is concerned, there is hardly any skilled person in this field. This should not be considered as a problem but a potential. Private universities can take this opportunity and introduce some courses and make the best out of it and create skilled people.
Another big obstacle is that mobile transaction or sending and receiving money via mobile phones is still in its early days in Bangladesh. It is still not popular or not widely used. As a result, it is almost impossible at this moment to develop a revenue model for Mobile Journalism in the country.
3G: The game changer
3G Internet is supposed to be launched within the year 2012 in Bangladesh. This will change everything for Mobile Internet. People will be able to get faster Internet in their handsets and browsing Internet will become enjoyable. People will be able to watch video contents from Internet and do voice and video chat from their 3G enabled devices. 3G Internet will also help to flourish Mobile Journalism in the country. People will be able to take videos and then send easily via Internet from their handsets. At this moment, sending a video file through handset is almost impossible because of poor internet speed.
Courses on Mobile Journalism for University Students:
It will be wrong to say only journalism students should study Mobile Journalism. If a course is introduced on this field, then students majoring in English and Business Administration will also get benefited. When Mobile Journalism will flourish, there will be a lot of demand for content and in Bangladesh; there will always be good demand for content in English language. One of the main goals of a student majoring in English literature and language is to become skilled in writing English. So, when Mobile Journalism will flourish, they can have a career in writing content in English.
As for students studying Business Administration, Mobile Journalism will perhaps help them to get new ideas for business. There will be new entrepreneurs in this field and it is the Business Administration students who can think of coming up with new ideas and new business models to make Mobile Journalism profitable and popular.
Mobile teaching is another idea which is perhaps not directly related to Mobile Journalism but has enormous potential in Bangladesh. Mobile teaching and learning are not supposed to replace classroom teaching and learning. What it can do is that it can give extra content to the students so that the student can use these materials- video, audio and text whenever they are free.
Mobile Journalism is still a new concept but it has a lot of potential in Bangladesh. It is time to get the best out of this new concept.