Al Jazeera Journalism Review

How the Pandemic Introduced Me to Mobile Journalism

6 Minute Read
 

During the height of the global pandemic, in May of 2020 as countries closed their borders, I became “stranded” in the United States. I found myself  without a crew of a photographer and a producer and television camera equipment. I did however, have an iPhone and a kit I assembled after taking an Al Jazeera mobile journalism course a few months prior. The year before, my hectic travel schedule as a senior correspondent forced me to leave the mobile journalism course midway through. However, I recognised how vital the skills could be and pushed my bosses to allow me to take the next available course. The timing proved to be perfect. 

At a time when many of my colleagues were unable to work in the field due to Covid-19 concerns and restrictions placed on travel, I became a crew of one and began to produce, shoot and report my own stories just a few months after completing the mobile journalism course. Granted, I already knew how to shoot and edit. However,  I needed the training to learn how to produce news stories with my mobile phone that met Al Jazeera standards. Due to working solo and with the limitations of shooting on an iPhone, I chose non-breaking news, enterprise stories where I was not bound by the demands of a looming deadline. 

 

1
"When many of my colleagues were unable to work in the field [..] I became a crew of one and began to produce, shoot and report my own stories". Photo Credit: Craig Atkinson

Shooting alone was often welcomed by the people I interviewed, many of whom were adamant about limiting exposure to other people, due to fears of the spread of the virus, and often had to be convinced to do in person interviews in lieu of speaking to me via Zoom . For example, when shooting a story about youth homelessness due to the pandemic, I arranged overnight access to a homeless shelter in Chicago. The staff were extremely worried about a Covid-19 outbreak which would have shuttered the shelter and left young people out on the street. The media liaison told me it was much easier to give me permission as a one woman crew than a typical three person team. Furthermore, after the shoot,  the staff mentioned that by walking in with only a duffel bag slung across my chest and my iPhone shoved in my jeans pocket, I was able to quickly put people disinclined to speak to journalists at ease. 

In fact, I was able to develop a rapport with the young people taking refuge at the shelter for the night, by joking that I know I didn’t look like a real news crew but that I was working alone with my iPhone during the pandemic. A few people shyly approached me as I was moving around the shelter to get shots to ask me questions. I even offered a few of these tech savvy  members of Generation Z a closer look at my shots and how the iPhone kit worked. That only made it easier for me to tell this story of their plight. Not one of the young people at the shelter refused to be on camera. That is rare  when doing such a sensitive story that involves people worried about being stigmatized. 

When I shot a story with “Maria,” a survivor of domestic violence, I believe the unobtrusive nature of an iPhone on a tripod helped reduce the apprehension she felt. Up until five minutes before “Maria” arrived for the interview at a park she chose near her home, she told me she wasn’t sure she could summon the strength to speak about her ordeal. At the conclusion of our interview, she told me she often forgot that there was a camera recording. 

There is no question that there are limitations and challenges of working alone with a mobile phone.  I needed extra time to set up my equipment and microphone to comply with Aljazeera’s Covid-19  guidelines. I also had to be very mindful of lighting conditions so I avoided shooting at night. I was also unable to film in rainy weather as I couldn't find gear to protect my equipment. If the conditions were windy, it was almost impossible to shoot without the shot being shaky, which was expected given how light the gear is.  

 

3
"I needed extra time to set up my equipment and microphone to comply with Aljazeera’s Covid-19 guidelines". Photo Credit: Craig Atkinson

 

I discovered that filming objects from a far distance using an iPhone was almost pointless. Unlike a standard television camera, the zoom function on the iPhone is inadequate. To get the best shots, build proper sequences and create wide, medium and tight shots, you literally need to move closer to the object you are shooting. That means pulling the iPhone off the tripod and setting it on the ground to stabilize it. I would never shoot with a mobile phone hand-held unless I was  shooting something such as a protest. In that instance, I purchased a stabilizing piece of equipment called a gimbal, that creates broadcast quality nice and smooth moving shots. 

Being unable to monitor audio quality while shooting interviews was also a major drawback. I was forced to pause filming repeatedly to check audio levels, to avoid returning from the field and finding the audio unusable.

Due to storage limitations on an iPhone, I had to be very careful  how I recorded shots. I limited my interviews to no more than a couple of questions or several minutes each, since they would occupy a lot of storage space. Otherwise,  I had to stop during a shoot to transfer video clips to an external hard drive, which was time consuming and proved to be impractical as I was often given access to places for only a specific period of time and people I worked with had busy schedules.

The stories I shot with my iPhone also covered different topics, such as voter suppression in the United States ahead of the 2020 presidential and congressional elections, essential workers in a county jail where there was a Covid-19 outbreak and a new American economic initiative to pair workers with available jobs in the trades. 

During the racial justice protests that swept America after a Minneapolis Police Officer murdered George Floyd, I used the iPhone kit I’d assembled to do live shots on multiple occasions. In doing so, I became an additional correspondent in the field contributing to our network’s coverage of this historic protest movement when there was either no photographer or interest in paying for a satellite truck.

There were of course times people snidely remarked that they couldn’t believe that a senior correspondent with Al Jazeera English would be working alone with her iPhone. I realized that for many Americans I lacked the credibility and prestige of showing up at a shoot with a full crew of a producer and a photographer with a television camera and equipment that couldn’t be purchased by anyone at the mall. However, the finished stories were the real proof of performance. To an untrained eye, I believe and I was told that the video is virtually indistinguishable from that of a standard television camera. Credit needs to be given to the team of editors in Washington DC who transformed my video into quality, compelling news stories for Al Jazeera English

 

2
"During the racial justice protests that swept America after a Minneapolis Police Officer murdered George Floyd, I used the iPhone kit I’d assembled to do live shots on multiple occasions". Photo Credit: Craig Atkinson

 

From an Al Jazeera standpoint, my ability to work with a mobile phone turned me, a senior correspondent, into a full news crew.  While I would not recommend correspondents work with a mobile phone on a daily basis or to cover breaking news stories as it diverts attention from our primary role, a mobile phone can prove to be  invaluable . It can become a second camera for a team in the field, an emergency alternative when a photographer is unavailable, a discrete way to record when official journalist access is restricted and it reduces the costs of newsgathering for enterprise stories.  

In the end, the fact that I worked alone to produce, shoot and report stories on my iPhone is likely irrelevant to our audience. What is relevant, is that I was able to continue working during  unprecedented circumstances at the beginning of the pandemic to report stories and highlight voices that align with our mission to give “voice to the voiceless and speak truth to power.” Ultimately, our goal as a network is to create compelling, impactful stories regardless of the circumstances we face and the tools we use.

 

More Articles

Investigative journalism: How to develop and manage your sources

Your sources are the backbone of any investigation. In Part 3 of our series on investigative journalism, we look at how to find, foster and manage them

Malak Khalil Published on: 26 Jan, 2023
Investigative journalism: Hypothesis-based investigations

What is a hypothesis-based investigation, how do you come up with one and how do you investigate and prove it? Part 2 of our series on investigative journalism

Malak Khalil Published on: 19 Jan, 2023
Investigative journalism: What should you investigate?

In the first of our series on investigative journalism, we look at how journalists decide what to investigate

Malak Khalil Published on: 12 Jan, 2023
Navigating the Great Firewall of China

International media is blacked out in China - and very few are willing to try to bypass the country’s Firewall  

headshot
Al Jazeera Journalism Review Correspondent Published on: 5 Jan, 2023
Why are journalists in India turning to YouTube?

Indian journalists say the platform is a more democratic and uncensored place to work, but is the growing trend of YouTubers calling themselves journalists a cause for concern?

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 2 Jan, 2023
How Hungary’s media created the ‘Muslim bogeyman’

THE LONG READ: Hungary was one of the first Soviet-controlled countries to welcome refugees in the late 1980s. These days its government is one of the most opposed to migration in Europe. We examine how the media paved the way for this turnaround

Kinga
Kinga Rajzak Published on: 28 Dec, 2022
Conflict, crisis and Colombia’s shifting media landscape

THE LONG READ: As political and commercial elites continue their stranglehold on mainstream media in Colombia, some independent minnows are starting to emerge

Mauricio
Mauricio Morales Published on: 5 Dec, 2022
How to cover major sports events

With the World Cup Qatar 2022 in full swing, the fourth part of our series on sports journalism focuses on how to cover major sporting events

Younes
Younes El Kharashi Published on: 1 Dec, 2022
How do sports journalists find and report the news?

In the third of our special series on sports journalism, we focus on the best ways to find and report sports news - from nurturing your sources to writing news stories

Younes
Younes El Kharashi Published on: 29 Nov, 2022
How to get started in sports journalism

In the second part of our special series on sports journalism, we explore the ways in which sports journalists can make a start in their careers

Younes
Younes El Kharashi Published on: 24 Nov, 2022
Sports journalism is no ‘easy life’

In the first of our special series of articles focusing on sports journalism, we examine the wide range of skills and ethical knowledge it takes to be a great sports reporter

Younes
Younes El Kharashi Published on: 22 Nov, 2022
Connecting continents - the trials and tribulations of diaspora journalists

THE LONG READ: The tireless work undertaken by diaspora journalists to change narratives about their homelands and to build bridges between communities still goes largely unacknowledged

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 8 Nov, 2022
The common struggles of female journalists around the world

Female journalists from different regions speak out

Safina
Safina Nabi Published on: 1 Nov, 2022
Al Jazeera Investigations - the making of the Labour Files

An Al Jazeera investigation into the running of the UK’s Labour Party has revealed evidence of an ‘Orwellian’ smear campaign against its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a ‘hierarchy’ of racism within the party and even the hacking of journalists. Here’s how it came about 

Phil
Phil Rees Published on: 19 Oct, 2022
'If women are dying as a result of it, then I should report about it' - telling the untold stories of Cameroon

Journalists like Comfort Mussa, based in Cameroon, say that seeking out the untold stories of real people and having the bravery to cover taboo subjects are essential to their work

Akem
Akem Nkwain Published on: 3 Oct, 2022
The devastating silencing of the ‘Voice of Palestine’

Al Jazeera English’s Senior Correspondent recalls the last time she saw Shireen Abu Akleh and what it has been like to cover the investigations into her killing by Israeli forces

Natasha Ghoneim
Natasha Ghoneim Published on: 21 Sep, 2022
The trials, tribulations and irreplaceability of political cartoonists

How political cartoons have evolved in recent decades and are now shaping public discourse in southern Africa

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 1 Sep, 2022
‘Silence is no longer the answer’ - the Kashmiri journalists living in exile

Kashmiri journalists living in self-imposed exile abroad talk about threats to their families and their determination to keep reporting on human rights abuses

Raqib
Raqib Hameed Naik Published on: 29 Aug, 2022
Navigating Taliban rule as a YouTuber - one year on

For the YouTubers who stepped into the shoes of journalists who fled following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the message is clear - broadcast what we tell you or be closed down

Sayed Jalal
Sayed Jalal Shajjan Published on: 18 Aug, 2022
Casualties of Partition - telling the story of Zainab and Boota

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: On the 75th anniversary of the Partition of Pakistan and India, a writer recalls his efforts to uncover the mystery of a family divided and asks if we always have the right to push for the ‘truth’

Haroon Khalid
Haroon Khalid Published on: 15 Aug, 2022
‘We have to walk miles to cover the news’ - journalism in Sri Lanka

The ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka has been widely covered by international media. But what is life like for journalists in the country right now?

Abeer Khan Published on: 7 Aug, 2022
‘No less than a fight for survival’ - life for mobile journalists in India

THE LONG READ: Mobile phones have made a career in the media more accessible to independent journalists. But they have also made it easier to exploit them

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 2 Aug, 2022
When covering refugee stories makes you a figure of hate

A wave of anti-migrant sentiment is gripping South Africa and those journalists covering it, who are migrants themselves, have become a particular target

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 28 Jul, 2022
How do journalists work under information blockades?

THE LONG READ: Internet blockades are used by governments to stifle dissent, unrest and even the reporting of war. We take an in-depth look at this phenomenon and highlight ways journalists can carry on working regardless

Adil Akhoon
Adil Amin Akhoon, Saliq Parvaiz Published on: 7 Jul, 2022