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This image from November 24, 2012 shows a protester uses a tablet to photograph a rally on Makhawan Bridge in Bangkok, Thailand, organized by the nationalist Pitak Siam group. People everywhere, including journalists are using smartphones and tablets to report on events.

Learning Reporting in an Ever-Changing Digital World

Sarah K. Jones
8/12/14

Today’s tech-savvy student journalists are able to work from their phones or iPads and no longer need to carry around bulky equipment. This was underlined for me when I and some fellow students had to conduct interviews for a radio segment at the 2014 Native American Journalists Association’s Mentoring Program. Deadline was approaching fast, so we plugged a microphone into a cell phone and were ready to ask questions, with no computer or even a laptop.

Going digital has changed the way student journalists—and journalists in general—do their jobs. All my fellow students at the program, held this year in Santa Clara, California, in conjunction with NAJA’s annual convention, were already adept and could quickly master the latest apps and devices.

In addition to being digital on the student project itself—I recorded a video piece on a local ping pong parlor on my tablet—this year’s NAJA conference offered two general workshops to teach journalists how to use mobile devices to their full potential. The first session, “Your Mobile Workshop” told attendees the best applications available for download on a smartphone.

Mentoring program instructor Val Hoeppner, Cherokee, is an avid user of mobile apps, trying out all the latest ones and deciding what will work best on-the-go. According to her website, her goal is to “help newsrooms develop a workflow that matches the urgency of publication with accuracy and quality standards.”

Apps such as Dropbox and Google Drive allow reporters to send files from the scene without the need for an actual computer. Other apps are available to record audio—some of Hoeppner’s top picks are Google Voice and Tape A Call.

Sending files and recording audio isn’t all. Shooting photography, video and even editing is also something your mobile devices are capable of doing. VSCO camera and ProCamera are recommended for still photos and iMovie is comparable to the industry’s standard Final Cut Pro when editing video, all of which we did under demanding deadlines at the NAJA project, called Native Voice (for the college students among us) and Project Phoenix (for the high schoolers).

The next session at the conference, “Mobile Pro,” went deeper into the logistics of shooting quality photos on a phone. Eugene Tapahe, Navajo, one of the mentors, was one of the instructors for the session. He believes photographers don’t need an expensive camera because a phone photograph looks almost as good if done properly.

Some things to keep in mind when shooting photos on your phone are lighting, positioning of the photo, using your feet to zoom and clicking the side buttons to capture the photo instead of the front button. Some of these tips might seem pretty basic, but it can be the difference between a good photo and a bad one.

The iPhone may never take the place of a regular camera, but there is a plus side to using a phone camera, Tapahe says. The most obvious is how portable and small it is. Aside from being less intrusive than a camera when taking photos of people, Tapahe also suggested that using a phone enhances his creativity and the thought he puts into his photos.

“Know your phone’s limitations before anything,” Tapahe said. “iPhone is not a traditional camera, so why should you take traditional photos?”

By changing the angle of the photos or stepping in closer photographers can easily turn a simple photo into a creative one. Look for patterns when you set up your shot and pay attention to the placement of whatever you are capturing. The best tip Tapahe gave was to “practice, practice and practice some more.” Familiarize yourself with your camera and know what you need to do before you take a picture.

For journalists today, both students like us and the older journalists attending the general sessions, mobile devices are the best choice for getting a photo out fast. As soon as you snap your breaking news photo you can edit it and send it out, without going anywhere. Mobile devices have changed the way journalism is done and it will never be the same.

Being a journalist means a life full of asking questions and learning more about the world we live in. With technology constantly changing it also means—for student journalists like myself—that we will forever be changing and learning the newest, best way to get the job done.

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