Mobile Journalism as a New Form of Backpack Journalism  

12 April 2017

The journalism world has been transformed into a twenty-four-hour of information business. Digitization of media has created a turning point in news organizations worldwide, especially after 9/11 attacks. As news media organizations developed, they have taken advantage of virtually every technological aspect. Thus, different aspects of media (print, audio, and video) have converged through the advent of the Internet. This article seeks to explore media convergence in the 21st century by taking into account the trendy use of smartphones with the new trend of mobile journalism known as backpack journalism. 

According to Dr. Juan Antonio Giner, founder of Innovation International Media Consulting Group, "Media diversification is the past. Digital convergence is the present. Multimedia integration is the future". Giner’s words have proven to be definitely right in an era of digital revolution when journalism institutions in the USA and elsewhere are mixing all forms of modern and traditional media. It has, therefore, become easier for radio stations to use the web to stream, archive and enhance their audio with print versions of their stories. This also applies to print publications that supplement their print stories with audio and video. 

Media convergence developed programs around multimedia journalism and backpacking that pave the way for future journalists to learn and delve into the different corners of the news industry. Today, in this regard, journalists are required to be trained in all types of audio-visual, printed and social media tools to accomplish their various journalistic tasks. Under this journalistic movement, a journalist is required to be a reporter, photographer, and videographer, as well as an editor and producer of stories. This standardized practice is known as 'backpack journalism', which presents the outstanding multi-polar revolution in the new industry. 

Historically, backpack journalism was first created as a project by Michael Rosenblum in the mid-1990s.This project has evolved out of Video News International (VNI), a project organized by The New York Times. According to Rosenblum, backpack journalism was meant to train print journalists and photographers how to use small high-quality digital video cameras which would encourage television networks to cover more effective and powerful stories not only at the national level but also on the international scale. Then came Bill Gentile and Thomas Kennedy who introduced it at the American University’s School of Communication in an attempt to promote the sense of authorship to practitioners of backpack journalism and to influence the decision-makers, managers and editors regarding the implementation of this model but most importantly to reach a wider audience worldwide interested in powerful stories about key issues.This multi-polar storytelling procedure is meant for creators and distributors of new visual commenting platforms that aim at producing powerful content for their news organizations.

Mobile Journalism came into light since 2005 with the London Bombing when there were difficulties for mainstream media to produce a complete coverage. In fact, Ordinary people took the lead and reported what happened. In this regard, it was stated by Hadland who quoted Richard Sambrook of the BBC that "within hours, the BBC had received a thousand photographs, 4,000 text messages and 20,000 emails from the public. There was a real expectation there that this piece of equipment would have a dramatic impact on journalism, broadcast and other people were participating in our coverage in a way that we had never seen before. By the next day, our main evening TV newscast began with a package edited entirely from video sent in by viewers. From now on news coverage is a partnership." This quote was extracted from an article which was written and published in 2014 by Rima Marrouch, entitled "Mobile Phones Are Changing Journalism Practice in the 21st Century".

It should also be noted that mobile phone journalism was used to cover the Iraq war in 2003. Another illustration that shows the successful spread of mobile journalism (MOJO) is the South Korean filmmaker Park Chan Wook who shot a short film entirely on an iPhone device in 2011, entitled Paranmanjag (Night Fishing).Hadland differentiates between the kinds of MOJO: 

•    User Generated Content - raw unedited material sent by amateur eyewitnesses who happened to be there.
•    Citizen Journalists content who manage to get their material to major broadcasters. 
•    Professional Journalists who tell stories with video/audio using a mobile phone, who are able to shoot, edit and upload on the spot in real time (produce on the spot piece of work that is uploadable).

In the post-2005 emergence of mobile journalism, several news organizations, chiefly among which are TV Channels like BBC and CNN, have installed many apps for both Android and iPhone. For instance, Wall Street Journal’s introduced in 2012 the concept of ‘WorldStream’ to their plan of work: under this spectrum, there are more than 400 reporters trained in smartphone video production. Impactful online videos have become a trendy media tool embraced by newspapers around the world to engage the audience in filming, reporting and expressing their opinions about what is going on in the world. On the other hand, it is highly important to mention the fact that through the advent of the Internet but more specifically through the resort to mobile journalism, political and social opinions have become relatively free and uncensored as everyone gets involved in voicing their views on multiple issues.

Mobile journalism (MOJO) has become available today by Stephen Quinn and Ivo Brum who put emphasis on the fact that this multi-polar storytelling process relies on both traditional and modern journalism skills including audio, video, text, graphics, stills, editing and reporting on a mobile phone. A mobile journalist uses a cellular phone network to cover and present a completely well-processed journalistic work to the public. As a matter of fact, Mojo-useful attachments can be a smartphone or any other smart device with connectivity,mini-directional microphone, lens adaptors, light tripod, dolly rechargeable, mini tripod, SDcard and an account with a phone company and or Internet service provider(ISP).

The different accessories mentioned above help provide high-quality video and there are several types of these materials that correspond to each mobile journalist's budget. MOJO is praised by all journalists who have resorted to it as a quick and efficient tool that helps them better film visually strong feature stories. In fact, it is sufficiently efficient in filming content-setting general views (GVs), interviews with just a mobile kit. Then, the journalist uses their phone to edit packages, particularly reports that will be published online.

To study the attitudes towards the usage of mobiles in the digital realm in the US, it is clearly remarkable in the diagram above that mobile news are rising rapidly.In fact, the portion of Americans who ever get news on a mobile device has gone up from 54 percent in 2013 to 72 percent today.This highlights the significance of mobile journalism and its brighter future in an era of a digital industry of news.

Last but not least, mobile journalism has created a revolutionary point in the journalism world even in developing countries like Tunisia. In this country, where the mainstream media is still under the control of the government and its hidden agendas, an independent journalist adopts this new model and introduces it to other journalists and citizens in different regions of the country as a way to help them meet the challenges of a digital world full of incidents and unexpected events.  Adnen Chaouachi is the initiator of this mobile journalism trend in Tunisia and he gives courses to other groups of journalists from TV channels, radios or print journals. His aim is to prepare a new generation of Tunisian journalists and citizen journalists aware of the everlasting changes around them and to engage them on how to mediatise key issues and deliver strong messages through just a simple yet all-encompassing item: a smartphone.


Ms. Hanen Abbassi is a Master degree researcher on International Relations, the role of Media in Democratisation and International Politics at the Higher Institute of Human Science of Tunis (ISSHT)