How to mojo: integrating mobile learning in journalism education

By Corrine Podger


A growing number of universities and colleges are teaching mobile journalism, including the University of Melbourne, which introduced it for the first time in 2018.

While smartphones are ubiquitous, teaching students industry best practice in their use is not always straightforward. Mojo teachers find themselves confronting polymorphous definitions – including what ‘mobile journalism’ actually is.  All kinds of content creators self-describe as ‘mobile journalists’, including photographers, radio producers, podcasters, filmmakers and TV reporters.

How they use the device will vary too; some journalists insist that mojo means shoot-editing entirely in the phone; others disagree if they have access to (or are required to use) desktop software for post-production.

‘Mobile’ can also refer equally to a phone, or to agile reporting; and the growing number of sub-2kg prosumer camcorders and lightweight DSLRs has led some to question whether smartphone journalism will even be with us much longer.

Definitions are further complicated by the co-option of ‘mobile journalism’ as a professional descriptor by people who aren’t journalists. It was for this reason that Torben Stephan, commissioned me to write the Mobile Journalism Manual for Reporters and Newsrooms in April last year in the final months of his term as director of Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung’s Media Programme Asia.

Stephan rejects the idea that device choice confers professional status.

“Although mobile devices are bringing new approaches, workflows, frameworks and possibilities, it is important to understand that mobile journalism is still journalism,” he told the International Journalists’ Network last May.

“Journalists’ knowledge and skills are still necessary even as they transition to mojo: find a story, get the sources of information, be accurate, follow the basic rules of storytelling and be ethical. All these new tools are nothing if there is not quality and professionalism.”

Unsurprisingly, approaches to teaching are evolving fast, according to Mary Ferguson, who tutors in Broadcast and Digital Media at the University of Bedfordshire, which – like many institutions – has built mojo into an existing subject.

“I’ve only begun to deliver mobile journalism into my curriculum this academic year, but it has already become apparent that the complexities around mojo really need a separate unit where storytelling, end-to-end workflows and technologies are taught with assessment at the end. This is on the cards for our next periodic review.”

Other institutions give mojo standalone status, to cover conventional and emerging storytelling approaches, formats and technologies for video, audio and photographic journalism. Both approaches have benefits, but neither produces an expert practitioner across all formats and platforms. This might be an argument for creating advanced units at Masters or Graduate Certificate level, something that’s under consideration at some universities in North America and Europe, although the market for such courses is untested.

“Change is happening so quickly that we don’t even have all the nouns we need,” says Assistant Professor Susan Newhook, from the School of Journalism at University of Kings College in Halifax, Canada.

“In academic environments where it can take more than a year to add a single course to the calendar, the development of innovative mobile curricula may need to move off campus, or at least outside core curriculum and into added-value workshops, seminars and major research assignments.”

For educators working in this space, here are some closing thoughts:

Smartphones are supremely role-agnostic. They can support investigative reporting (via encrypted chat apps like Signal), radio and podcast production (with multi-track editing apps like Ferrite), TV editing (via broadcast NLE apps like Luma Fusion) and motion graphics design (via Alight Motion, an Android app that will be joined by an IOS equivalent this year).

Any journalist who uses a smartphone to do their job can arguably be regarded as a ‘mobile journalist’. Taking a catholic approach to an agnostic device helps reporters and students develop and strengthen the digital mindset needed in today’s multi-platform, multi-tasking newsrooms.

Mojo encourages the tearing down of silos between newsroom roles and journalistic disciplines, Newhook observes. “As the barriers come down, training not just in practical skills but in the approaches and tropes of conventional multimedia reporting becomes important too – for camera operators, editors, video and radio reporters, producers, photographers and graphic designers. This supports innovation and improves techniques and workflows – and the smartphone can even provide a virtual meeting place for these conversations.”

For more information, consult the Mobile Journalism Manual for Reporters and Newsrooms by Corinne Podger (c) Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2018.

Corinne Podger is a casual lecturer in Digital and Mobile Journalism at the University of Melbourne, and a consulting trainer in digital strategy, mobile journalism and social media for media development agencies including Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung, BBC Media Action and the World Association of Newspaper Editors. Contact Corinne on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn

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