Using an iPhone? Use it right

This afternoon I posted a piece about using new technology like iPhones to enhance a story. The trouble currently is that many news directors see the phone itself as an end-all piece of equipment that replaces existing cameras, tripods, and lights. With that limited mindset, you are handicapping your reporters and disrespecting your viewers.

But, if you know how to use it right, and have the correct equipment, it makes all the difference.

In January, Philip Bromwell and Glen Mulcahy of RTE News in Ireland shot a package sharing the stories of the “Dublin Dockers.”

It’s professional, it’s sharp, it’s shot well, and you probably would never be able to tell that it was shot using a iPhone.

Personally, it took me by surprise. iPhone stories by local TV stations usually look so … cheap. I tried shooting some video on an iPhone for a story earlier this summer, and I trashed it right away. So I reached out to Bromwell and Mulcahy on Twitter to find out what it took to make an iPhone story look so good. For starters: using the right equipment.

Bromwell said the story required several add-ons to the iPhone, including a tripod, iRig, and microphone.

In fact, RTE has what they call the “Mojo Grab Bag,” for use in mobile journalism. Take a look at all the equipment that’s needed to turn an ordinary iPhone into a broadcast-ready tool. Lights, mounts, lenses, microphones. It’s an investment; the total cost of all this equipment is about the same cost as the phone itself.

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Secondly, you need the right app. The iPhone itself is limited in how you can control things like focus and audio. But the right app gives you the control you would typically see on larger cameras.

Bromwell said the more he’s used this type of equipment, the better he’s become. “I’ve shot several better pieces,” he wrote, including one earlier this year called The King of Coffee.

That’s just a damn good package. The shots were unique, well framed, tight and in focus. The natural sound popped. The interview was well-lit and sounded great. It all came from an iPhone and their “grab bag.”

The two did say there were limitations for reporters to consider, including a lack of zoom and storage space.

“Positives outweigh the limitations IMO,” Bromwell said. “Remarkable what you can do with a phone in right hands & training.”

To me, the key word there is training. Too many news directors likely saw Bromwell and Mulcahy’ story and never stopped to think about all the work that went into it. Those two men didn’t go out and just point-and-shoot, they took the time to find the right equipment, trained on it, and took the time to make sure the finished product was high quality.

“Learn/be taught to do the simple things well and use what you have,” Bromwell said. “Then get good at it.”

It takes the right tools. It takes the right apps. It takes the right training. And it takes a journalist who knows how to tell a visual story. Enhance your skills with new technology. I’m willing to admit that these two made me look at iPhone journalism a little differently.

At the same time, it’s a powerful tool that needs to be used responsibly, not in the current way TV news directors are trying to use them.

If TV news stations are serious about switching to an iPhone-centric approach, then they need to take a page out of Bromwell and Mulcahy’s book. Go all the way and make that investment, which will help the product reach its highest quality. Just like you wouldn’t send a reporter into the field with a VHS camcorder and a flashlight, don’t send an iPhone reporter into the field without the right equipment. Send those tools out with a reporter and a photographer, and see what the two of them can create together. It’s an expense, and as I said in my earlier post, most news directors are looking at the iPhone switch as a way to save money on equipment. That’s the unfortunate catch-22: switching to iPhones to save money actually requires spending more money to make it work.

It’s worth the investment if you’re taking the same care as Bromwell and Mulcahy to create great content. Use these tools in the right way, with highly skilled reporters and photographers to make the most out of your coverage. If you just want a basic iPhone to point-and-shoot, you’re hurting your news operation.

Want to learn more? Check out the RTE Mobile Journalism CheatSheet below and follow Mulcahy’s blog.

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