Mobile Phones for Journalism: Use or Perish?

The question of the role of mobile phones in the news process is not about whether we can use them, but rather, how effectively. The rush of news and social media mobile apps like Facebook and Twitter has already made news distribution a matter of a push of a button, and a few seconds. So the role of the mobile in news dissemination cannot be emphasized enough.
But the use of the mobile in news gathering remains an area of great possibilities, skepticism, and novelty, depending on which side of the divide you are. In India, journalists are increasingly using mobiles for gathering news, without them actually realising they are graduating to becoming MoJos!
Reporters are beginning to take photos on mobiles while on assignments, often on editors’ instructions. The common sentiment is that professional photojournalists must utilise their skills and high-end equipment for assignments that require high expertise.
More than being a mere choice or novelty, using mobiles is a necessary for professional journalists these days. Because if they don’t, they risk losing their readers/viewers to the tech-savvy citizen journalists who are already flooding the Online space with reportage from mobile phones. Read this if you don’t believe me For Smartphone Journalists, Resistance From All Sides
Technology is fuelling this transformation. India’s mobile handset market recorded a 14.1 per cent growth last year to hit a volume of 182 million handsets, according to this study by ABI Research India Rings In 182M Handsets In 2011. Sales will continue to grow into 2017, with smartphones leading the rise with a growth rate of 40 percent to reach 97.2 million units by 2017, representing 29 percent of the total handset volume then.
Smartphones today offer a range of choices for visual journalism, as mentioned in this blogpost The Best Smartphones for Photos and Videos. So explore and enjoy!

Using Social Media for Convergent Journalism: A Case Study

Over the last fortnight, The New York Times carried stories about how Apple heavily outsources manufacturing, and how Chinese workers producing its products work in substandard conditions. It’s online edition first carried this story How the U.S. Lost Out On iPhone Work on January 21.
It then decided to use the power of social media. Here’s its first Facebook post on January 22 of the online story link, which reaches its two million followers. Notice the ‘Likes’, ‘Comments’ and ‘Shares’, indicating the post travelled further to the pages of all the friends of all these hundreds of people! Even if a fraction of these clicked on the link, imagine how many readers were pulled to its website!

Same day, it also tweeted the online story link to its 4.4 million followers, followed by another tweet about people’s reaction to the story. Notice the retweets, that triggered the multiplier effect again!

The same day, it tweets a new link to a multimedia animation story graphic on its web edition (notice multipliers!)

On January 23, the story author interacts with readers. Here’s the tweet link (multipliers again).

The next day, it posts the multimedia animation on Facebook, informing story author will interact again (notice multipliers!).

On January 25, The New York Times carries the second story of the series In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad. The next day, a link goes on Facebook, also stating story author will hold live discussions!

On January 26, a Facebook post announces another live discussion. It also invites users to subscribe to the author’s personal Facebook page, creating his brand (notice the last line of the post)!

The two stories on its online edition have so far attracted more than 2500 comments. Reactions on the twitter hashtag #iEconomy, which the paper created along with the first tweet, are coming in even today!

The ‘Inspector Gadget’ Journalist

News organisations across the world are exploring ways to take convergent journalism to the next level. In India, we are still quite primitive, with a clear demarcation among print, broadcast and online journalists, and a further sub-classification for writers/reporters and photo/video journalists.
In this modest setting, I first experimented with convergent journalism in 2010, with my humble 2G Blackberry Curve. Convergence was limited to the fact that I didn’t have to wait till evening to reach office, and instead began filing stories in relative real-time on my phone much earlier.
But having now experimented with iPhone video and photos once, for a personal affair, I feel it can be used as a potent convergent journalism tool. The quality of photos and videos is good for web posting. Just take shots, get them on your computer and stitch together a multimedia story in quick time. It can be done on the phone itself, though with less ease-of-use and flexibility.
The iPhone, or the other new generation smartphones, can be near-complete journalism tools if they offer easy typing. I hear laser keyboards are in the pipeline, they’ll revolutionise journalism! Imagine the possibilities when you can cover, format and distribute multimedia news through a single gadget!


But even then, convergence is incomplete without fast Internet. That’s a big concern in the Indian context. Just 10 per cent of the country’s nearly 1.2 billion residents access Internet. Worse, only seven in every 10 connections that feed these users are broadband.
So in places like India where one has to return to base for distributing content, a DSLR camera and a sound recorder accompanied with a compact and powerful computer device, say a MacBook, can be great reporting tools. It can help create high-quality content in quick time!

The case for citizen journalism in India

In today’s fast evolving digital age, every concept centred around journalism needs to be evaluated against the technology that supports it. Every piece of news generated by a citizen journalist requires a carrier for it to be delivered to the user. Digital delivery would seem like the most obvious option in this case. By extending that logic slightly loosely, we can presume the success and popularity of citizen journalism is directly linked to the digital technology available.
The case for citizen journalism in India needs to be seen in that context too. For a useful analysis, let’s introduce a comparison. A major citizen journalism success story is of South Korea’s OhMyNews with more than 50,000 citizens contributing to it. Two key factors fuel its success. One, the country is heavily populated, with 41 million citizens. Second, at least seven in every 10 of its citizens have high­speed broadband access that powers participatory journalism.
By comparison, India has nearly 1.2 billion residents. Just one in every 10 of these accesses Internet. Worse, about seven in every 10 connections that feed these users are broadband. New mobile technologies are indeed fast invading the Indian market. But lack of high-speed Internet continues to restrict citizen journalism.
This is not to say citizens are totally away from the news process. CNN-IBN, a leading television news channel, encourages and carries programmes based on reports by citizen journalists. In most cases, it offers production expertise to citizens who want to report. Last year, it launched awards for citizen journalists across categories like Breaking News, Compelling Imagery, Commentary and Interview. Another popular channel, NDTV, also carries a regular programe managed by citizen journalists.
Like for the journalism profession in general, the future of citizen journalism in India lies in how quickly the country can offer fast speed Internet access to users.

What works in digital news: A consumer’s view

Like with all consumer products, selling a New Media service requires answering this quintessential question right — what works? I love The New York Times. As a digital news consumer, I have a theory for why it works for me. But before I delve more into that, let me list out the key assumptions, at the risk of sounding too simplistic.
Online news and infotainment have broadly two types of consumers. First, those who want news and infotainment about interesting current affairs. The others are Netizens looking not for just ANY news, but for information THEY want, delivered in a way THEY like.
Consumers in the first category will settle for any news source that feeds their need for basic news and infotainment. They are more likely to skip paywalls and settle for a reasonably satisfactory FREE source. With ad rates falling and competition multiplying, that idea won’t excite too many news business managers.
So then what works? I say, feed the consumer who REALLY wants what you offer. Take The New York Times as an example. It’s a visual treat — amazing photographs, great interactive features, videos and text stories. I crave for its visual storytelling. It says to a consumer like me — “Hey, I am constantly making efforts to offer something YOU like.”
Sooner than later, I will end up paying for such a personalised, niche service, provided I am tempted enough, the key temptation being a subscription rate that doesn’t shoot through the roof!
A dedicated fan following can be created around any niche product, say a news service for techies, or sports enthusiasts, or movie fans. And they are most likely to do what business managers want them to do the most– Pay!

Paywalls and Convergence

As convergence catches up with news organisations the world over, managers putting together a sustainable business model are faced with the all-important question — should the content be free or paid-for. I am not much of a business strategist, but as a user I can say paid subscription doesn’t work for me, for now. My usage behaviour towards The New York Times online stands testimony to this.
I like The New York Times for its unique content and the ‘different’ user experience it offers. I used to access it in my free time. All that changed when one day the website denied me access, saying I had exhausted my free usage and that I had to pay to read further.
I began exploring other news websites for ‘different’ content. I don’t say I have found a good alternative for The New York Times. But who cares. I have found other interesting news websites minus the paywall. In any case, there’s sufficient information online to fulfill my basic news needs. So the paid subscription of The New York Times doesn’t excite me as of now.
But my attitude may have been different had I been a regular reader of that newspaper, meaning I was so hooked to it that I would have paid to access it. Converting your existing readers to paid digital subscribers is easier. Financial Times claims 2.5 million of its four million subscribers have converted to paid subscribers. But developing new loyalties with a paywall would seem to be a lot tougher.
I must confess though that I still miss The New York Times. I may go back to it, become a paid subscriber. If that happens, the only reason will be because the content it offers is so unique. Sounds like a strong case for niche online content?

Surviving Convergence

Here’s an interesting way of looking at what we journalists do. According to Duke University’s Professor Hamilton, media provides four kinds of information: producer information, which relates to how users do their job, consumer information, entertainment information and voter information.
Consumer information is crucial to pulling users to access media. Comparing today’s popular media, say newspapers (at least in the Indian context), with new media, say Internet, then becomes crucial in understanding the dynamics of media convergence and business models.
Last month, I was looking for tenants for a new Paying Guest accommodation at my home. I advertised in a local newspaper, at a nominal payment. The ad appeared on a Saturday, and two people phoned me for inquiries the next day. The issue ended there.
A week later, I advertised on two real estate websites, for free. I was flooded with inquiries and finally managed to rent out the room at a great price. Three weeks on, I am still getting inquiry calls, as I haven’t withdrawn the ads yet!
The experience was a lesson in what I feel could be crucial to deciding the future of journalism – paid versus free content. The success of any convergent media organisation will depend on the business models vis a vis these two factors.
Convergence media pioneer The New York Times last month confirmed it is selling 16 regional newspapers to enable it to continue its transformation to a digitally focussed multimedia platform.
The company, arguably a pioneer in media convergence, has gone in for a business model dependent on paid subscription. While it waits to see how well the strategy works, I can say one thing– ever since it went fully paid, I have substantially decreased the time I devoted to The New York Times website.

India and the US: Internet and mobile devices at the turn of 2012

Tech analysts are busy spotting future trends as 2011 comes to a close. In India, consensus seems to be on three grounds. One, the mobile market here is set to change radically. Two, the battle worth tracking is between market leader Nokia and its fast growing competitor Samsung that is riding high on its smartphones. Third, Internet usage is going to drive the mobile phone landscape.
At this juncture, a new US study I came across last week on Internet traffic through mobile phones and connected devices, mainly tablets, reveals an interesting contrast between the markets in America and India.
In the US, and also in the UK and Singapore, seven per cent of the total Internet usage happens through devices other than computers. Nearly 70 per cent of this usage is done through mobile phones. In India, the non-computer Internet traffic is 3.7 per cent, with nearly 90 per cent coming through mobile phones.
Talking about devices. Six in every 10 mobile phones in the US are smartphones. Latest industry data show just one in every 20 mobile phones in India is a smartphone.
That takes us to the leading market players. Nokia leads with a 35 per cent share of the Indian market. Samsung is close behind with 25 per cent, and catching up fast with its android phones. Blackberry trails with a nearly 20 per cent share, while IPhone is hardly a significant player.
By contrast, in US three in every ten mobile phones is an Android smartphone, and two in 10 an Iphone. A main reason for the relatively lower popularity of these two smartphones in India is that high-speed Internet service is too costly and too slow to enable users utilise these phones to their full capacity.
With service providers making their data plans more competitive, 2012 could mark a radical shift in the Indian mobile market.

Thoughts On Media Convergence

Print journalists like me who are looking to diversify to multi-platform news delivery are likely to struggle to understand the scope, extent and forms of convergence. A new course reading I studied this week offers great insight into this phenomenon. My thoughts…
Convergence is taking shape in broadly five ways globally. First, ownership convergence. It is an arrangement in which a news organisation operating on a variety of platforms, like print and broadcast, converges its arms to offer an alternate, all-in-one platform.
Back in India, this is perhaps the most popular. The textbook example is the country’s leading newspaper, The Times of India. It’s online avatar carries content from and actively promotes its sister news channel Times Now. It even publicises the other media outlets that its holding company operates.
Tactical Convergence. It means when different media groups working on different platforms converge on an all-in-one platform as part of better business strategy. It’s about collaborating expertise purely for marketting gains, with little or no synergy of editorial planning between organisations.
A third form, structural convergence, is one where a media organisation reorganises its cadres to introduce digital journalism in its system and procedures.
A fourth form, information gathering convergence, will perhaps interest individual journalists the most. It requires the journalist, irrespective of his specialisation, to report on multiple platforms. It’s an advanced form of convergence, little known in India. Also called Inspector Gadget convergence, where a journalist is expected to acquire storytelling skills across platforms.
The last form is the storytelling or presentation convergence. But whichever form it takes, convergence should follow this general theory:

“Convergence always costs more than you think it will, takes longer than you think it will, and is more difficult to do than you think it will be’ — Professor James Gentry

Journalism Blues? Not yet, at least in India

Here’s a nice, funny video about an old school journalist getting nostalgic about “his times” as the Internet and tech-heavy modern-day journalism redefines the profession. I guess this guy should take the first flight to India if he wants to feel any better.
The pad and the pen, the gatekeeping and the who, what, where and when are still very much in vogue with journalists in this part of the world. A newspaper journalist is still referred to as a “print” journalist and the one walking around with a camera is a “TV reporter”.
Indian journalism is still largely untouched by the Internet euphoria that has caught on seemingly in every other country. I don’t say the industry here is not trying to broaden journalism platforms. But when compared with global advances in this direction, the efforts back in India are simply far and few.
“What’s that”. My colleagues and fellow journalists would ask me, with a puzzled look on their face, whenever I told them I am pursuing a course in multimedia journalism. Multi-platform journalism is not only less popular here but also little known.
Part of the reason obviously is technology constraints. Latest industry research estimates just one in every 10 of the nearly 1.2 billion Indians accesses Internet. And of the 112 million countrywide Internet users, only 90 million claim to use the web at least once a month. Out of the 14.7 million Internet connections, only 11.9 million are broadband. Multi-platform innovation in journalism just doesn’t have sufficient users here.
But print and broadcast industry leaders and pioneers are still trying to broaden their platforms with whatever scope they have. But online content is still limited to the “copy-and-paste” format, focussing on simple news curation across platforms.