Mobile journalism is a great way to work in Europe or the US – the advantages (lower cost, higher flexibility) are widely discussed. But in developing countries, #Mojo really makes an exciting difference. And it matters much more than here I guess. I had a chance to explore the options during a training with BBC Media Action in Yangon.
When I landed at Yangon Airport the evening before the #Mojo training, I came across the everyday obstacles journalists face in Myanmar: The local phone I was given was a Huawei G730 – with Android 4.3 running on it. It wasn´t – let´s say – the perfect device for mobile journalism. The 3G connection was at best patchy, and my heart only jumped very shortly after logging into the hotel Wifi: Yes, there was a wifi, but how much data I would be able to channel through it was another question.
When I met the training team of BBC Media Action the next morning, all my scepticism was blown away: a young, energetic group consisting of five Burmese journalists and their British senior trainer, Clare Lyons, a former BBC journalist. When she had started her work in Myanmar in early 2014, she told me, there was not much talk of mobile journalism. But after running a video journalism course, mostly with freelancers and print journalists, she realised that many of them would not be able to afford quality video cameras or editing software – the average national income is between $100-150 per month, though journalists might earn a little more.
So Clare Lyons and her team had a great and brave idea: They started „Moeljo-“-Training – for Mobile Election Journalism. The aim was to give Burmese journalists the basic skills to create audio and video content on their smartphones, mainly for news websites. The Myanmar election was only 10 months away when they started their training in January 2015 (that is even some weeks before everyone would start talking about mobile journalism with the help of #Mojocon 1 in Dublin). By the beginning of the election campaign, in September, they had trained 170 journalists around the country.
It was no option for Clare and her team to use iPhones: They were (and are still) not popular in Myanmar, mostly due to their high price. So it had to be Android. They started of using no sound accesories, just using the inbuilt microphones, the generic camera App and Viva Video to edit. And they found that they made a great impact on the journalists throughout the country – even though sound was possibly a little below perfect, camera focus pulls were quite visible and „Viva Video“ produced videos far from HD quality (with only 640 x 368 resolution). But still the journalists they trained were enabled to shoot video in a challenging context in the runup to free elections in a country right in the middle of an exciting change towards democracy.
During our training this December, after the elections, we tried to develop their great project a little further. Our aim was to find Apps and accesories that would enhance the quality of their videos without loosing the focus of providing a solution for cheaper, older Android phones – with possibly still only a little headroom for accessoires.
We quickly found out that CinemaFV5 would be a great App to shoot video with – even if the Huawei G730 is still limitied to a resolution of 1280 x 760. With most of the different phone models we tried manual focus and exposure control worked fine. The results really made a difference compared to shooting with generic camera Apps. For editing we looked and Kinemaster – but many phones wouldn´t swallow the complex App. Better worked PowerDirector which wouldn´t allow everything you dream of in editing, especially not exracting sound from video clips. But the App helped to produce great video packages. Its overvoicing tool was also helpful.
Soundwise we looked into the Irig Pre with an external microphone we borrowed from BBC Worldservice radio next door. With some phones it wasn´t easy to handle, expecially the Huawei G730 recorded some artifical clicking and humming. We also tried out the iRic Microphone which with some phones had the same effect. They didn´t seem to like Phantom power or condensator mics. Easier to use were the straightforward Rode Smartlav and the Rode Videomic which are possibly the mics of choice if journalists in Myanmar only think about getting one or two.
For sound recording we used the free version of Easy Voice Recorder, for editing the free Lexis audio editor. It allows only work on one track which is a little painful. But Audio Evolution Mobile Studio Pro, generally a great App, isn´t available in Myanmar due to Google´s platform restrictions to selling the App in certain countries. Dany Wentzel, the developper, told me via Email, „it wasn´t worth the effort“ to find a solution to sell his great App to journalists in Myanmar. I found that a bit disappoitning: The effort might be to big for him moeywise, but with regard to the idea of spreading journalism in a country that is just embracing democratic change, no effort can be too big I guess.
We looked at more Apps for Android. And as many of the really cool iOs-Apps are now available for Android I saw some happy faces amongst the Burmese journalists: Legend, PicPlayPost, HyperLapse, Snapseed for picture editing and others. The biggest revelation to my Myanmar colleagues was live streaming though: After a little exercise at Yangon´s landmark Shwedagon Pagoda, some couldn´t stop broadcasting. And some found their 3G network was sometimes good enough for it.
So the bottom line is encouraging: Now is the time. Android is good enough to produce the same, (well maybe nearly the same) results in mobile journalism compared to an iOs device. And the great thing is: It´s Android phones that are popular in developping countries. They really make a difference. A great, encouraging experience after a week´s training with great colleagues in Yangon.
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