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Mobile Journalism and MoJos

Summary and Keywords

Journalism and news are so much a part of our lives that most societies take them for granted. To access the news, people have traditionally had to pay for newspapers or acquire television and radio receivers with accompanying licenses or cable subscriptions. To a large extent, accessing the news has been connected to specific physical domains, especially the home. The widespread diffusion of computers, the Web, and news sites that started in the mid-1990s has made news increasingly accessible, and over the past decade, mobile news has fueled this even more. Digital technologies have become an accepted part of our lives. Access to news and information is easier than ever, with an abundance of free news via connected and ubiquitous digital platforms. News is expensive to produce, however, creating concerns about future business models to support journalism. It means we cannot take journalism for granted. News media must produce content that is valuable to society.

Mobile devices and different forms of mobile media and communication have become integral parts of contemporary societies. The nexus of mobile media and reporting has become one of the most important developments for journalism. Research into mobile news production falls into two main strands. On the one hand, we find research taking an organizational approach, with studies of intra-organizational collaborations in developments of mobile services, what mobile platforms to use, business model considerations, and so forth. On the other hand, we encounter research focusing more specifically on news production among mobile journalists (so-called MoJos). For the working journalist, the mobile device has become the key tool for gathering information, images, and video, and for communicating with colleagues and sources.

Keywords: mobile news, mobile journalism, MoJo, digital journalism, news, journalism, smartphone, mobile applications, journalism studies

Journalism in an Age of Mobile Media

The news is all around us, ubiquitously present via a great number of media and digital platforms, and it is more accessible than ever. Journalism is increasingly being challenged by competition and financial challenges. Meanwhile, mobile media and communication have become an integral and taken-for-granted part of everyday life and society (Ling, 2012).

Research on the nexus of mobile and news production has essentially taken two different focuses. One strand of research focuses on how news publishers approach mobile news: incorporating mobile into cross-media, fostering collaboration and innovation processes, approaches to manual editing, and so forth. The other strand of research looks into the prominent role smartphones have taken in mobile journalism—how journalists work as mobile journalists (MoJos)—as well as mobile citizen journalism (how ordinary citizens across the world record and report on events as they unfold). The next section provides a historical overview of how mobile communications have developed, paving the way for the emergence of mobile journalism. Thereafter, this article reviews two key research areas: approaches of news publishers to mobile news, and mobile journalism, respectively. It closes with a critical discussion of contemporary research and proposes a future research agenda.

A Retrospective Glance on Mobile: Communications, Journalism, and News Consumption

One of the early precursors to mobile communications involved incorporating wireless telephony into modes of transport. Wireless telephony was brought onto military trains during the First World War, and a few years after onto commercial trains. In the 1940s, telephone companies brought mobile telephony to cars—though only a few calls could be made simultaneously, calls were managed manually, and there were few base stations. Telecommunications have long since been present in newsrooms. Historical analyses document American journalists using telephones for news gathering as early as the late 19th century. By the 1920s, use of telephones had become commonplace and continued with the development of so-called radio cars, which enabled journalists to work more from the field (Mari, 2017).

The Mobile Telephony System A in Sweden (1956) was the world’s first fully automatic mobile network for vehicles. AT&T deployed their Mobile Telephone Service (MTS) in the United States in the late 1940s, with calls managed manually by an operator. The “mobile phone” weighed around 35 kilograms, and subscriptions and call expenses were high. In the decades that followed, similar types of telecommunications services emerged in other countries, such as the Post Office Radiophone Service in the United Kingdom (1959), the OLT (Offentlig Landmobil Telefon) network in Norway (1966), and the 1971 launch of ARP (Autoradiopuhelin) in Finland (1971). These were all manually operated, domestic networks. A major change took place in 1981, when the first transnational and automatic mobile phone network was formed (Nordic Mobile Telephony, NMT), which constituted—along with NTT in Japan (1979) and AMPS in the United States (1983)—the so-called first generation of mobile systems (analogue). In the 1990s, a second generation of digital mobile systems emerged, using either the American Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) standard or the European Global System for Mobiles (GSM) standard. The growth in base stations meant more people could use telecommunications, but the batteries drained quickly when making calls. As batteries improved, mobile phone hardware producers such as Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola could develop substantially smaller lightweight mobile phones. Being digital in nature, this second generation enabled accessing and downloading of content, such as ringtones and pictures, and access to the Internet. NTT DoCoMo, in Japan, was the first telecoms operator to provide a comprehensive mobile Internet service to its customers. Vodafone (Live) and others followed. While second-generation networks were capable of offering mobile Internet access, their capacity was limited. The developments of a third-generation mobile network (3G) focused on increasing capacity for mobile broadband data services. The first 3G services were implemented in Japan in 2001 (NTT DoCoMo, 2001), then South Korea (SK Telecom and KTF) and the United States (Monet) a year later. The Hutchinson/Three group started rolling out 3G networks in Europe, having launched in ten countries in 2003. A few years later, the 3G networks were improved with so-called High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HDSPA), enabling faster downlink speeds. The 3G networks and the diffusion of flat subscriptions for mobile data, alongside commercial launches of smartphones such as the iPhone in 2007 and diverse Android devices from Samsung, LG, Google, etc., fueled a substantial uptake of mobile Internet. This has led to developments of a fourth-generation network (4G) using native IP-networks to further increase data transfer speeds. The Long-Term Evolution (LTE) standard, first offered by TeliaSonera in Scandinavia, has become synonymous with this development (though there is also a competing standard, called WiMAX). The bottom line is that both mobile networks and mobile devices have significantly improved over time, and with their Internet and computer-like functionalities, they can be used in diverse ways. The mobile phone has transformed into an advanced and highly portable mobile device (Westlund, 2008). To date, there are many different kinds of mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets, smartglasses, smartwatches, and other kinds of wearables. Smartphones are, by far, the most widely diffused and used mobile device in the world. Wearables have begun to spread, and some people use their Samsung Gear or Apple iWatch to access the news in a complementary way. But wearables have not gained a foothold among the masses for news: almost double the number of people used fitness bands rather than smartwatches in 2017—23% versus 13%—according to a survey conducted by UK Business Insider (Smith, 2017). This article focuses on what are commonly referred to as smartphones.

Mobile journalism can be seen as an example of how technology and journalism interrelate and depend on each other. Lewis and Westlund (2016) conceptualized four distinct facets of journalism-technology dependency, each indicating in what ways and to what extent human journalists depend on technical tools and systems in their production and distribution of journalism. Applying this lens, one can argue that mobile phones have been used by journalists for several decades as a basic technological tool, such as for contacting sources during the news production process and for calling editors in the newsroom. Mobile phone use has enabled the news media to report more quickly. Reporters no longer need to find a fixed telephone booth or return to the newsroom. Reporters have been using mobile devices to record and publish videos and photos; to record or receive audio podcasts; to interact with sources via social media, e-mail, or encrypted messaging platforms; and to write and publish news articles directly onto proprietary or non-proprietary platforms (Quinn, 2012b).

Beginning in the first years of the 21st century, news publishers across the world started offering push news notifications employing SMS (short message service) or MMS (multimedia message service) technology (Cheng & Bruns, 2009; Fidalgo, 2009; Wolf & Hohlfeld, 2012). Since then, mobile platforms such as native and responsive mobile applications have been incorporated into the cross-media publishing strategies and activities of contemporary news media (Westlund, 2011, 2012). Push news notifications remain important and have been incorporated into third-party applications provided by news aggregators and social media platforms (cf. Lewis & Westlund, 2016).

More systematic use of mobile devices for making videos began in early 2007, when the Reuters news agency, prior to its merger to become Thomson Reuters, conducted MoJo experiments from its European headquarters in London. Mark Jones, then editor of Reuters’ breaking news service, News Alert, said the company was looking to the future: “We were thinking about new ways to report,” he told one of the authors in 2007. Jones said he wanted to give his journalists technology that was portable and flexible, and that could be updated as the technology changed (Burum & Quinn, 2015). By the second decade of the 21st century the mobile device had become journalists’ essential tool for gathering information, images, and video, and for communicating with colleagues and sources. Journalists and citizens have smartphones at their disposal, which enables them to produce videos and take photos while not transporting heavy equipment. Before the spread of smartphones, journalists carried portable and fairly lightweight equipment in backpacks, which some popularly referred to as “backpack journalism.” As of 2018, news organizations like MittMedia in Sweden (employing around 570 journalists across 28 local titles) had trained all journalists to act as MoJos. Almost all journalists have an iPhone and associated equipment, such as a separate microphone and battery. In addition, the organization has ten backpacks containing equipment that enables individual journalist to produce and publish high-quality live television from the field.

Throughout the 2010s, there has been a remarkable uptake of mobile news consumption, having both complementary and displacing effects on other forms of news consumption (see e.g., Chan, 2015; Thorson, Shoenberger, Karaliova, Kim, & Fidler, 2015; Westlund, 2015; Wolf & Schnauber, 2015). Accessing mobile news has become, for many, an integral part of everyday life. People turn to their mobile devices for news from early morning to late evening, at home, at work, and on the go (Molyneux, 2017; Newman, Fletcher, Kalogeropoulos, Levy, & Kleis Nielsen, 2017; Peters, 2012; Van Damme, Courtois, Verbrugge, & De Marez, 2015). Legacy news media such as newspapers and radio (in cars) have done this for years, but mobile devices are different because they are literally ubiquitously connected and carry affordances for production, consumption, and interactivity with the news (see e.g., Humphreys, 2013; Westlund, 2008, 2013). The widespread adoption of mobile news consumption has meant that news finds its way (back) into the everyday life of citizens who would not otherwise access the news via legacy news media. This has been met with much optimism among scholars and pundits concerned about an informed citizenry and democracy. However, mobile news consumption patterns differ from that of other news media. Oftentimes, mobile news consumption is marked by carrying out many but shorter sessions of accessing news (Molyneux, 2017; Westlund, 2016). People largely check the news to see if something important has happened (cf. Costera Meijer & Groot Kormelink, 2015). An American study analyzing eye-tracking and passive data found that people typically spend less time consuming news and noticing links when using smartphones or tablets, compared to when using computers. Mobile news app users spend more time accessing the news than mobile news site users (Dunaway, Searles, Sui, & Paul, 2018). Many news organizations make news available via alerts to people’s mobile phones, increasing the speed and ubiquity of news delivery. Some scholars have raised critical concerns about mobile news consumption, arguing that this is connected to less engagement and a reduction in news seeking behaviors (Dunaway, 2016). Clearly mobile news consumption patterns vary over time and between groups and countries (Newman et al., 2017), and improvements in mobile devices and applications can possibly stimulate more engaging news consumption patterns.

People equipped with smartphones can easily switch between being a producer and a user, what Bruns (2012) refers to as produsers. People across the globe demonstrate this in many diverse ways. Let us turn to a recent example. Just before New Year’s Eve in 2017, a significant portion of the Iranian population demonstrated throughout the country. Mobile and social media were key to the mobilization and coordination of the protests, as well as for live-streaming of these demonstrations. Many Iranians used the non-profit messenger application Telegram. The Iranian government tried to prevent citizens from meeting via their smartphones, and they censored some news media and social media, preventing citizens from live reporting and witnessing. As they closed one Telegram channel, new ones emerged, quickly attracting millions of followers. A massive amount of video footage of the protests and violent encounters became available for people and journalists throughout the world, literally as these events unfolded.

Citizens in Asia, Europe (Gordon, 2007), and Africa (Mabweazara, 2011) have used their mobile devices for reporting and witnessing, from societal crises to diverse forms of “black witnessing” among minorities in the United States (Richardson, 2016). It has become more common for people to record video in vertical mode as opposed to the traditional horizontal mode of television. This is starting to bring about a shift in the professional production of news videos. From about mid-2015, a vigorous and ongoing debate emerged about the pros and cons of vertical video. Horizontal video is the norm in movies and television, and traditional MoJos still use this format. Traditionalists argue this is because our eyes are aligned horizontally, but some popular mobile apps, most notably Snapchat and Periscope (owned by Twitter), only permit vertical video. YouTube allows vertical video to be included in its range of formats. Many journalists and MoJos promote the benefits of shooting vertical video, and in 2017, the journalists’ website published a podcast describing this significant change in process. Moreover, vertical video advertisements receive more attention than horizontal adverts (see e.g., Albeanu, 2016). Altogether, mobile devices have become essential not only for citizen journalism, but also for mobile journalists and as a tool for mobile news production more generally. Mobile devices have further fueled developments of instant news reporting, originally made possible through technologies such as the telegraph and electronic news services (see e.g., Sheller, 2015).

News Publishers’ Approaches to Mobile News

This section reviews research relating to the appropriation and use of mobile technology in news media organizations. Journalism studies enjoy a long tradition of newsroom oriented, qualitative, and case study-oriented research. Researchers have carried out ethnographic observations of news production processes in the newsroom, as well as in-depth interviews with select journalists and editors. Such research has indeed yielded many important insights into the institutional production and distribution of news.

This review focuses on considerations and interplays relating to editorial, business, and technological aspects. Such interplays have traditionally been neglected in journalism studies research. An institutional approach to contemporary news work should consider the broader range of social actors involved in key activities such as everyday news work (Lewis & Westlund, 2015). A growing line of research has shown that three key actors are involved in the intra-organizational processes of news media: journalists, businesspeople, and technologists (see e.g., Nielsen, 2012; Westlund & Krumsvik, 2014). This means attempting to comprehend not only editorial activities, but also business-oriented activities and technological developments and concerns.

Production and Distribution of Mobile News

Production and distribution of mobile news has long involved weighing editorial considerations in relation to those of business and technology. In the early years of the 2000s, some news media started experimenting with mobile news publishing for portable digital assistants (PDA) and for telecommunications operators’ portal sites (e.g., Vodafone Live). The news media typically chose to feature only a tiny selection of news materials, mostly text articles rather than images, since data transfers were slow at the time, and customers were paying hefty amounts for their data. The Japanese i-Mode service, launched in 1999, was the first successful service for mobile Internet. Mobile customers could enjoy a variety of content and services customized for their mobile devices. Elsewhere, mobile services arose that built on the notion that the mobile experience must be customized. An interesting example is that of the largest quality newspaper in Sweden (Dagens Nyheter) launching a mobile news-friendly device in 2007 (i.e., having a button with direct access to the mobile site), produced by their partner Nokia and bundled with telecom operator Telenor offering a flat-rate subscription for their mobile news. This initiative, presented by Dagens Nyheter at an annual congress, was met with enthusiasm by members of the World Association of Newspapers. However, the timing was unfortunate, as 2007 was the year in which Apple launched its iPhone and mobile ecosystem. The Dagens Nyheter mobile device was unsuccessful, and the project was terminated. At the time, news publishers around the world were in a formative phase of developing approaches to mobile news publishing. Among the editorial considerations was the question of how news content could be produced exclusively for mobile devices, or whether it should be repurposed. News publishers have taken different approaches and have changed their approaches over time. Local UK newspapers mostly repurposed general news, sports, and entertainment news, plus weather, travel, and traffic, during the first years that followed the diffusion of touchscreen smartphones (Nel & Westlund, 2012). Cross-cultural research in the years that followed found that the mobile sites/apps provided by newspaper companies for the most part are text-oriented, publishing fewer images or audio- and video materials (Rodríguez, García, Westlund, & Ulloa-Erazo, 2016). The affordances of the mobile device can be used to establish a connection to the relative location of the reporting, event, or user, facilitating what scholars have referred to as locative journalism (Nyre, Bjørnestad, Tessem, & Øie, 2012) and locative news (Goggin, Martin, & Dwyer, 2015). The nexus of social media and locative news for mobile devices has become increasingly significant and has even played as crucial role in specific events, such as the Boston Marathon Massacre in 2013. A group of Australian scholars write: “Locative news is surely a new way of marshalling, mediating, and making sense of place; evidenced in the new kinds of information created through projects of emplacement, and by the movement in and through places by objects, technologies, and users” (Goggin et al., 2015, p. 44).

Mobile First Approaches

Ultimately, with mobile news gaining traction, more and more news publishers have started developing so-called “mobile first” strategies. The meaning of this varies, including but not limited to publishing the news for mobile devices very quickly and also making mobile a top priority for the business model. Facing decline and intensified competition, legacy news media on an international scale have been pressured and concerned about how to develop successful and sustainable revenue streams (see e.g., Nielsen, 2016) for their mobile platforms. Many publishers have watched as people switch to consuming news online, and later mobile platforms, but this has not been accompanied by a similarly quick transition in terms of revenues. The annual report from the Internet Advertising Bureau in the United Kingdom, for example, revealed that companies more than doubled the amount they spent on mobile video advertisements because almost half of the time spent on the Internet was via smartphones. James Chandler, the chief marketing officer at the Internet Advertising Bureau, noted “Mobile now accounts for 38% of all digital ad spend, up from 4% just five years ago. . . . Consequently, as companies have to follow what the industry calls ‘eyeballs’ to get their ads in front of people, they have to allocate more budget to mobile and online video, as that’s where people are spending more time” (Sweney, 2017). While mobile advertising is continuously gaining in significance, this does not mean that news publishers enjoy all of this growth, since Google and Facebook are by far the most successful in the competitive mobile advertising space (Ohlsson & Facht, 2017). Among newspapers in Norway and Sweden, figures from 2015 and 2016 suggest that about a quarter of all digital revenues came from mobile operations, with a slight increase in each country between the years. Some newspapers, such as the Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet, made more revenue by 2017 from mobile than from desktop (Westlund, 2017).

Many people do not appear to be willing to pay for mobile news content (Gundlach & Hofmann, 2017), although some news media have succeeded in charging for more exclusive content, or bundling packages of access to diverse platforms. While many news media are focusing on their two traditional revenue streams, advertising and payments for the news, some have begun exploring m-commerce and data trade. More and more news media are experimenting with native advertising, including for mobile screens, and these typically do not include the same disclosures as when published on the larger computer screen. Another important issue is that of users having easier access to ad-blocking functionalities with their mobile devices compared with computers. The bottom line is that the news media must become successful in generating revenue streams from mobile news (as well as during times in which social media compete for their market shares). Some companies, such as newspapers owned by Schibsted Media Group, began a road toward success with their mobile news operations several years ago (Ljungqvist, 2015). Moreover, journalism managers saw the financial benefits of publishing free content from the audience. Organizations such as the BBC established desks such as the User-Generated Content (UGC) desk in 2008 to process information and news tips from the audience, who obviously have more eyes and ears than the news media (Harrison, 2010). Similar initiatives have been formed in other parts of the world. Many companies are still struggling to make mobile news profitable, and those who do not succeed may go out of business in the future.

Now let us turn more exclusively to the technological aspects of how news publishers produce and distribute mobile news. On the production side, news publishers invest in and develop ways by which their staff can use their mobile devices as tools for producing mobile news (acting as MoJos). The editorial content management system (CMS) is a key facilitator in the publishing process (cf. Lewis & Westlund, 2015). The affordances of digital technology also come into play in terms of the architecture setting the context for the mobile user-interface and it has great importance for what kind of news consumption experience people will have. Oftentimes, digital designers seek a useful and user-friendly user experience. Automated processes can handle large amounts of content being published, in a rapid and cost-efficient way. Some companies, such as Quartz, use artificial intelligence and chat bots for facilitating a mobile news experience geared toward conversation. Some news companies use proprietary platforms with human editors, manually editing and customizing content for distinct platforms (Westlund, 2013).

Mobile Journalists

The contemporary news cycle is much faster, compared with the leisurely pace with which news circulated about two and a half centuries ago. America’s Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, for example, was not reported in England until 48 days later—on August 21. It took 12 days for news of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar, on October 21, 1805, to reach England.

Because journalists are constantly aware of deadlines, reporters tend to embrace technologies if they realize their potential for delivering faster news, although much research has shown that journalists may refrain from adopting new technologies and routines if these result in reductions of their professional control (see e.g., Lewis, 2012). Initially, mobile phones were used to deliver news content via voice. The mobile offered a fast way to report for radio from the scene of a news event, such as an accident or protest. Later, print journalists began to appreciate that news and photographs could be delivered via SMS and MMS. With smartphones and mobile networks becoming more ubiquitous and powerful, mobile journalists gained possibilities for capturing and sending videos. The process of creating news videos has become known as MoJo. A MoJo is a neologism formed from the first two letters of the phrase “mobile journalist.” The exact date of the first MoJo video news report is still debated, but it is believed to have been about 2007 (Quinn, 2012a).

Reporters at online site of the Philippines Daily Inquirer in Manila, began delivering stories to the Web via mobile phones in 2007. J. V. Rufino, the company’s vice-president for mobile, told one of the authors it was easy to send photographs and text via narrowband Internet. But video was sometimes a problem in his country in 2007, because the files were so much larger. “We could not send video in real time; it tended to be a gap of anywhere between half an hour and several hours. Reporters had to go to an Internet café or back home to get a faster connection, or reporters had to compress the video to a manageable size on their notebook [small laptop computers] to make it transmittable.” Sometimes reporters could only send a few selected video clips because that was much faster, Rufino said. The clips were meant to accompany articles on the web (Quinn, 2008, pp. 17–18).

As mentioned, what is believed to be the first MoJo reporting in Europe occurred at the European headquarters of Reuters in London, in 2007. At the time, Ilicco Elia was head of consumer mobile for Reuters Media. He believed the MoJo project was the start of a new way to tell stories. “Mobile phones allow journalists to swap their heavy camera equipment for a smaller device,” he said (personal communication to one of the authors). From about 2008, Bambuser was an early leader as a way to film with a mobile device and broadcast unedited footage live on the web. By then, the World Association of Newspapers was providing practitioners across the world training in the emerging art of MoJo. The implicit and explicit MoJo knowledge of Mojo was further transferred from individual journalists (attending the training) to other journalists in their respective news organizations (Westlund, 2013). In the United States, two journalism students at the University of Missouri brought MoJo a leap forward in 2010, working as MoJos at the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) annual conference in Las Vegas. They covered the show for the Daily Buzz website using only an iPhone, a microphone, an Owle Bubo metal case for the iPhone, and a new piece of software called 1st Video, developed by a Canadian start-up, Vericorder Technologies. The students recorded, edited, and posted video during the show solely from their iPhones. At the time, Vericorder’s app was the only available software for doing MoJo that involved using two video editing tracks, similar to editing on a laptop. The company ran out of funds and stopped updating its software near the end of 2013 (Quinn, 2012a).

Apple launched its mobile ecosystem in 2007 and entered the mobile journalism software space more specifically when it introduced the iMovie app for the iPhone 4 in June 2010. Apple continued to update the app and discontinued its development of FinalCutPro, popular among broadcast journalists, in favor of iMovie. This was presumably because the consumer and produser markets were considered more attractive than the professional market, and the iMovie app would stimulate sales of the iPhone and iPad. The history of technology is littered with stories of failure (cf. Moore, 2014). As with all tools and software, an individual makes the choice to use or reject the technology. In the world of journalism, rejection of technologies has usually occurred because the software and hardware were too difficult for busy journalists to spend time understanding them (Quinn, 2012b). The iPhone remains the preferred tool for MoJo, based on research conducted by BBC journalist and MoJo trainer Marc Settle and published on the blog of the BBC’s Academy website. Settle wrote that iOS was the “platform of choice of most major broadcasters, including the BBC” (Settle, 2017). This is because, until late 2017, the apps that provided the two video editing tracks considered essential for full MoJo work were made only for iOS (see section “Tools for MoJo”). Even in countries where the Android operating system is the most common, such as India and China, iOS still dominates as a MoJo tool (Burum & Quinn, 2015). BBC MoJo reporter Nick Garnett confirmed the dominance of iOS in an article for the BBC’s Academy (Garnett, 2017).

MoJos and Citizen Journalists

This article suggests that “MoJo” is a journalistic process. Essentially, journalism concerns the processes through which news is produced, and the processes matter more than who is a journalist. The rise of so-called “citizen journalism,” in the early years of the 21st century, has been noted in a variety of magazine articles, academic papers, and books (see e.g., Lewis, Kaufhold, & Lasorsa, 2010; Wall, 2015). One of the pioneers was in South Korea. OhmyNews became popular and commercially successful with its motto “Every Citizen Is a Reporter” after Oh Yeon-ho founded it on February 22, 2000. A core staff of traditional reporters and editors wrote perhaps a fifth of its content, but the rest consisted of freelance contributions from citizens. OhmyNews was credited with changing South Korea’s conservative political environment. “Every citizen can be a reporter. Journalists aren’t some exotic species, they’re everyone who seeks to take new developments, put them into writing, and share them with others,” Oh told one of the authors (Quinn, 2008, p. 86). OhmyNews provided citizens with a sense of involvement, solidarity, and empowerment. Editor Jean Min said OhmyNews worked as a “market place of eyeballs for citizen reporters who otherwise would set up their own blogs” (Quinn, 2008, p. 92).

Bowman and Willis described citizen or participatory content creation as a form of alternative journalism: “The audience has taken on the roles of publisher, broadcaster, editor, content creator (writer, photographer, videographer, and cartoonist), commentator, documentarian, knowledge manager (librarian), and advertiser (buyer and seller)” (Bowman & Willis, 2003). Alternative forms of journalism are sometimes the product of disenchantment with traditional news coverage and represent the views of marginalized groups in society. For Stuart Gant, alternative journalism is the product of available technological possibilities—in the case of journalism it is the Internet’s many-to-many interactivity and ability to distribute information quickly and easily (Gant, 2007).

With social media, the audience is now also acting as producers, what Bruns (2012) referred to as produsers. Some analysts suggest that social media has taken on the responsibility or role that citizen journalism has surrendered. Ilicco Elia of Reuters said the mobile device was key to everything: “Social media is nothing without mobile” (Burum & Quinn, 2015, p. 6). In recent years, there has been massive growth in the relative number of people turning to social media platforms from their mobile devices, rather than from desktop. Ultimately, social media and mobile media are very closely connected. As the smartphone became more sophisticated, it became apparent that the simplest and most efficient way to create video for breaking news was with a mobile device. MoJos create breaking news video cheaply, and the mobile device remains the essential tool for creating content for traditional journalism, citizen journalism, and social media.

How MoJos Work

MoJo is video journalism done with only a mobile device (often an iOS device). Members of the public and professional journalists can do it. Professional journalists, however, are expected to follow specific journalistic ideals and norms in their epistemological news production process (cf. Ekström, 2002) and are surrounded by other legal conditions (such as the right to protect sources), and they are scrutinized by news publishers. Citizens have performed (random acts of) journalism using their mobile devices, but they can also (intentionally) produce biased “news” intended to misinform the public, authorities, and others (Tandoc, Lim, & Ling, 2017). The word mobile is also relevant in the sense that MoJo involves being mobile, as in using the mobile device in the field to create original content. MoJos shoot, interview, edit, narrate, and add titles with only a smartphone and then publish an exclusive piece of journalism from the field to their audience.

In principle, anyone can film with a smartphone and put the raw footage on the web, and much of the content on Facebook and YouTube is of a similar character (or involves minor editing inside the social platform). In recent years, the Internet has been flooded with companies that facilitate such basic forms of MoJo. One of the early leaders was the Bambuser company, founded in 2007, which made it possible to do live video from nearly anywhere, using one’s mobile device. For example, journalists used mobile devices to report live from the 2008 World Association of Newspapers congress in Gothenburg. However, faced with fierce competition, Bambuser terminated its service in late 2017. Professional journalists doing MoJo do everything with their mobile device—filming, interviewing, editing, titles, and narration—with the aim of producing an exclusive piece of journalism. The ability to edit on the device and the adoption of professional standards and codes of ethics distinguishes professional MoJo. The finished video looks professional and is a multi-media journalism package ready for the Web or television. Over the past decade, MoJo practices have emerged among news media literally across all continents of the world.

In 2016, Dougal Shaw, a video reporter with the BBC, chose to go on a “MoJo diet,” where he did all his work for a month using only an iPhone. He described his experiences in a series of blog posts on the BBC’s training site, the BBC Academy. Shaw wrote: “As the diet came to an end, I was still haunted by the wounded words of the cameraman at Founder’s Forum [a news event Shaw covered]: that mobile filming meant a compromise on quality—and ultimately a threat to the professional camera operator. It reminded me of some of the early animosity leveled at video journalists (many of whom are producers who have learned to shoot and edit later in their careers) by people who are full-time camera operators or editors. But I don’t think mobiles represent a threat: far from it. In fact, it is because of the rise of mobile devices that there is now more demand than ever for people who know how to film. There’s a seemingly insatiable appetite for video content both from media outlets and the corporate world” (Shaw, 2016).

MoJo practitioners also need to appreciate that many videos viewed on the mobile—upwards of four in five in some countries—are viewed without sound, often because people are watching them at work, in public, or in bed while other family members are sleeping. We now have terms to describe how people find personal time at work: cyberloafing and cyberslacking. MoJos need to be able to incorporate captions, logos, and any visuals that help communicate a silent message. Rajesh Kalra, the editor in chief of the world’s largest newspaper website (, said 80% of the videos consumed on his site were watched without sound (personal communication, 2016).

Tools for MoJo

The essence of journalism is compression, selection, and professionalism. It’s as much about what journalists leave out as what they include that influences the quality of the final product. Professional MoJo work involves the ability to edit on the device and insert cutaways, which radically increases the storyteller’s ability to compress information. Professional editing requires two image editing tracks to enable the use of cutaways. It is not possible to make quality video with only one video editing track. Professionals generally agree that editing is also done much faster via a touchscreen than a keyboard, which explains why smartphones have become the go-to tool. Around the world, journalists have adopted the mobile device for making videos—because the tool is always in their handbag or pocket, and because it is relatively easy to use, as well as being relatively inexpensive compared with the cost of traditional video equipment.

Smartphones with versions of the Android operating systems vary widely in the way they work with apps. At the time of writing, only a small handful of Android apps allowed multi-track video editing, but they were all inadequate for a range of reasons. The KineMaster app for Android, for example, was acceptable to professionals in the sense that it offered multiple video editing tracks. But these were only available with some versions of the Android operating system, and users needed to pay for a second editing track via a subscription. The app also imposed a watermark that involved another payment to have removed. The app only allowed people to save the file in 720p rather than full high definition (1080p). Some smartphones have better cameras than the iPhone, with its iOS, but if journalists cannot edit two video tracks with the available apps and/or save the files in full high definition for uploading and distribution without watermarks, then the quality of the camera is almost irrelevant.

The Irish national broadcaster RTE organized an annual MoJo conference every year in May from 2015 to 2017. A feature of the conference was the increasing range of MoJo accessories sold there. More than 50 companies attended the 2017 event, selling a wide range of microphones, tripods, software, cases for holding smartphones, remote controls, gimbals, lenses, and lights. The number of attendees and companies has more than doubled, an indication of the growing recognition of MoJo among professional journalists. In 2017, conference organizer Glen Mulcahy of RTE established a closed Facebook group associated with the conference called “MoJoCom Where the global MoJo Community meet and share.” By the start of 2018, the group had more than 4,000 members.

Based on a survey conducted via the MoJoCom group on Facebook, the majority of MoJo practitioners prefer using Apple’s iOS (operating system) for MoJo work. This is because at the time of writing mainly iOS devices were capable of running apps that allowed two video editing tracks. Two tracks are considered a minimum requirement to be able to do professional editing. A small proportion of Android smartphones are capable of two video editing tracks. The most commonly used editing apps are iMovie, LumaFusion, and KineMaster.

The MoJo Advantage

Newsroom managers like MoJos because they operate alone. To send a MoJo overseas on assignment involves only one hotel room, one airfare and one salary. The equipment is relatively inexpensive and less likely to be confiscated by repressive regimes. Many are the journalists who have had their broadcast-quality cameras confiscated at airports in several countries. The risks of confiscation are much smaller with a smartphone, since most people nowadays carry one.

The ability to create a powerful video using only a smartphone is a distinct skill, because one person does everything. Being a single operator means a MoJo must be able to plan well, compose powerful images, edit intelligently, write compelling and concise scripts, deliver them with clear diction, create powerful headlines, and have sufficient technical skills to be able to send the finished product from the field, often on slow WiFi or telecom networks. Plus, they need to be able to fashion a concise news video that the audience will want to watch. This requires training and talent. The first couple of seconds of a video are important in the contemporary attention economy, in which people oftentimes quickly browse or flip a page/screen if content does not immediately catch their attention. Obviously, content producers want to keep people watching.

Toward a Future Research Agenda: Incorporating Mobile Into Digital Journalism Studies

This article has briefly introduced the emergence of mobile telecommunications and considered how mobile media have gained a foothold in society and within journalism, as well as in everyday news consumption practices. It has discussed and reviewed key research in two distinct yet interrelated areas of mobile journalism. While there are a growing number of scientific studies into these two areas, it is fair to say that surprisingly little research has been done given the exceptional significance mobile news has gained over the past decade.

The first section focused on the approaches by news publishers to mobile news, shedding light on earlier studies into how news institutions have approached, appropriated, and made use of mobile media. Not only editorial, but also technological and business-facing activities were discussed. Relevant literature included both nationally specific qualitative studies and cross-cultural quantitative studies. Some studies have taken a longitudinal or cross-sectional approach, whereas others have only been conducted on one occasion. Altogether, the findings indicate several important developments among contemporary news publishers, but they do not provide a more complete and global view of the field.

The second section focused on the individual social actors doing mobile journalism, both mobile journalists (MoJos) and citizen journalists using mobile devices. The article has combined findings from the few scientific studies of MoJo with reflections from the industry and the practitioners’ point of view. The research on mobile citizen journalism has been linked to the much wider field of citizen journalism. That research has typically take the shape of case studies.

What then is the likely future for mobile journalism and research about mobile journalism? Given the emphasis on cutting costs in newsrooms around the world, and the growth in journalism beyond traditional institutions and newsrooms, MoJos are well placed to grow in numbers, relevance, and success. The growing significance and use of mobile media in journalism should be taken seriously by journalism studies scholars. Mobile media is inexorably linked to social media platforms (being the main device via which people access social media), as well as big data, analytics, personalization, and so forth. However, with big data and social media having become the “buzzwords du jour,” many scholars have overlooked the parallel and truly important mobile media developments.

Following this review, researchers should attempt to conduct research that further complements and add insights into existing studies. This might include, for example, conducting in-depth fieldwork and interviews with individual MoJos, as well as other social actors in news organizations (technologists and business people), about their diverse approaches to mobile media. For example, do they produce and publish news all by themselves while in the field, using mobile devices, or do they coordinate with editors or specialists during the news production process? Future research will seek broadening perspectives by turning to developments in other geographical areas of the world and by cross-culturally comparing those to the areas already covered. The field would obviously also benefit from scholars employing other sorts of methods and theories in their scholarly investigations. For example, future research could benefit from drawing upon political economy in analyzing the complex power relationships relating to platforms, mobile ecosystems, mobile applications, and the data being collected and analyzed. Moreover, many novel mobile technologies, such as wearables and drones, are in development and are being diffused. Many practitioners and pundits envision such technologies will be widely adopted; but even if they turn out to be right, it is far from certain they will be appropriated for the production and/or accessing of mobile news. In any case, scholars of journalism should keep an eye on such developments, developing research projects where they see fit.

Ultimately, our overall suggestion for the future research agenda is to treat mobile as a key element of digital journalism. Scholars must start taking mobile media seriously. The future of digital journalism is mobile, and thus digital journalism scholarship would benefit from analyzing this ongoing shift.

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