Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mobile journalism: the future is here

For Thomson Foundation alumnus Akhilesh Sharma a smartphone is indispensable. Ahead of this year’s summer course which covers smartphone reporting, he explains how he uses mobile technology in his work as a television journalist in India.
For a journalist, a smartphone is not a luxury but necessity. I recall earlier days of mobile telephony in India. In the early 1990s I was given a Nokia handset, which looked like a brick and must have weighed around 400g.
I used to cover local courts then and I remember that before the advent of the mobile phone, I used to rush out of the courtroom to look for a landline to contact the office about breaking news.

Call costs

At that time in India, mobile services were very costly: an outgoing call was about 18INR (US$0.33) per minute and incoming calls was half of that. So my seniors told me that I couldn’t use the phone unless the news was really big. But gone are those days. In India today the mobile call rates possibly lowest in the world.
My life with the smartphone began with a Blackberry. Initially it was mainly to access the office email. I used to send updates and file my stories. Then came Blackberry messenger, but the app world was still unknown to us.
There were some legal issues between Blackberry and the government of India, mainly over the access to the server. In the meanwhile, I was given an iPhone by the office and I completely forgot I had ever used a Blackberry.
My journalistic world now revolves around the iPhone. I use it to send emails and write my stories in Hindi.
Apps on the iPhone are a great help. I have dictionary and apps like Qik allow me to record video and send it to the office. It can be used to do live reporting too.
The iPhone camera is excellent. A colleague of mine recorded a small interview with the Prime Minister inside the Parliament on iPhone - normal TV cameras are not allowed in certain locations but mobile phones are - and sent it to the office. It was our exclusive and a scoop!

Social media

Social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and You Tube are an essential part of my reporting kit. Being a political reporter, it helps me a lot because many politicians these days are using social media to keep in touch.
Also, I have the apps of local broadcasters and newspapers that alert me with breaking news as and when it happens.
Apps like Google maps have made my navigation much easier. Then, there is voice recorder. On many occasions I have recorded my voiceover on it and mailed it to the office. The sound quality is excellent.
Smartphones like the iPhone come with in-built memory of 16GB and more. So one should not worry too much about the number of contacts or the video or photographs stored in the phone. Another thing is that contacts are synchronised with your mailbox. So if you were to lose the phone, your contacts are safe.
And, of course, there is Angry Birds and Temple Run. But, these two apps mean that as soon as I reach home, my kids take away the phone from me and the fight starts between them to capture it. So much for the smartphone!
Akhilesh Sharma is a senior political editor with NDTV India, a 24 hour Hindi news channel. A graduate of the Thomson Foundation’s 2000 summer course, he has spent the past 19 years working at various national and international news organisations including the BBC in London.