The influence of mobile journalism

There is tradition in using emerging technology to diversify journalistic practices. Since 2008, the rise of mobile journalism has empowered journalists across the world to tell stories. Early research (Bivens 2008) examined how traditional journalistic practices were beginning to be influenced by mobile technologies and, through an ethnographic study of 40 newsrooms, found the role that the citizen journalist played through documenting events on mobile devices to aid “reporting of contested topics or regions fraught with accessibility issues” (113). Studies on early adopters (Koponen & Vaataja 2009) found the benefits for journalists, particularly for efficiency. Mobile allowed great access to documentary stories, particularly in places where traditional media crews were banned (Quinn 2013), so this has proved valuable in countries with poor media freedom and also by allowing reporters to get closer to the story (Karhunen 2017). The same study described mobile-led stories as being “more genuine”, “authentic”,“more intimate”,“faster”, and “more informal” (Karhunen 2017,118).

There has been an increase in the number of media organizations wanting to recruit journalists with mobile-making skills (Wenger et al. 2014), though concerns around the professionalization has been questioned with particular reference to expert knowledge, professional autonomy, routines, and the influence of external organizations (Blakenship 2016).

It is necessary to put to one side the questions concerning quality, workflows, and techniques as this is not the focus of this chapter. However, it is important to consider how the rise of mobile journalism has enabled diverse voices to reach new audiences and capture a new form of journalistic storytelling. Mudliar et al. (2013) studied how the use of mobile technologies enabled rural communities in India to become active participants in issues that they were facing. Previously excluded, with the discourse largely taking place on television and in newspaper editorials, an interactive voice forum called CGNet Swara allowed communities to record messages of local interest, as well as to listen to messages that others had recorded. Although seen as a tool for citizen journalism and public engagement, the research found that communities felt that it was a “tool that carries complaints forward and helps in their resolution” (ibid., 72).

The impact of equipping people with skills to report on what is going in their location is nowhere more prominent than in Egypt, where there has been a long history of bloggers and activists chronicling events and demonstrations against the then President Hosni Mubarak, which were not covered on mainstream media. The impact was clear with blogs becoming powerful sources of information and also lobbying with the ability to reach international audiences (Levinson 2005). However, concerns around government intimidation and fragmentation with competition is often addressed (Hamdy 2009; Isherwood 2008; Radsch 2008).

Hashtag Our Stories was formed in September 2017, with the company mission set out as follows: “A global network of mobile storytellers creating videos about people changing their worlds”. With the same ethos as Contrast VR, Hashtag Our Stories has been working to equip people with the skills necessary to broadcast their stories on platforms that have a global audience. The company, led by Yusuf Omar, has trained more than 2,000 mobile journalists in 140 countries to tell mobile stories which are then curated on the company’s social platforms. The plan for the organization is to cover stories and voices that are “specifically looked at, often been talked about, but seldom been talked to” (2019).

In a similar vein to the work at Contrast VR and Electric South, on-the-ground training in communities has meant that there are more journalists to do “good factual reliable and authentic journalism” (2019), reaching 6 million people across their social platforms. They believe this is a more authentic way than through the lens of foreign journalists, as replicated in the mission behind Contrast VR. As with Contrast VR and the research that emerged from citizen journalism in the Arab Spring, it is built on the idea that diversity in voices enables a more authentic journalistic voice. Despite operating with the digital divide, Omar believes projects like this are breaking the barriers of entry into the ecosystem.

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