By Kevin Kline

Some of the world’s most talented journalists will be in Ireland early next month. Organised by RTÉ, the third Mojocon will take place in Galway. Even if you’re not a journalist, the conference matters to you. The way we all consume content is changing, and members of the media are moving with the times.

Mojo, short for Mobile Journalism, is the use of mobile technology like smartphones and other consumer(ish) level equipment to capture and report the news. While phone video on television and online is nothing new, the picture quality of a new smartphone can rival professional-quality cameras worth tens of thousands of euros.

“I think in many ways it is as much a platform to show RTÉ what people are doing as it is to show what RTÉ are doing,” says Glen Mulcahy, founder of Mojocon and the Head of Innovation at RTÉ.

Outlets like the BBC and RTÉ already use phone cameras for much of their content creation. In many ways those outlets have been on the forefront of using the new technology.

Since the conference began in 2015, more than 2,600 people around the world joined a Facebook group talking about mojo tricks and best practices. Mulcahy says the conference is a chance to bring those early adopters together face-to-face.

The conference will feature a variety of technologies plus discussions about how to create the most engaging content possible. Mulcahy says among the keynote speeches, there will be a session about how 5G mobile data will transform how we create and consume media. Vodafone, a sponsor of Mojocon, is in the middle of plans to determine a path to 5G in the next few years.

Mulcahy says, “I think when I was putting together the program for this year, the one thing I really wanted to build on was… the continued evolution of 360 content and VR.”

He seemed especially excited that Insta360 will be showing off their professional-grade 8K camera for the first time in Europe.

“The products that they do are clever, but the pricing is extremely aggressive compared to some of their competitors,” says Mulcahy. “[It] is going to really change up the game because of the price point.”

At €3,500, the Insta360 Pro is significantly less expensive than its main competitor the €40,000 Nokia Ozo.

As for the decision to move the conference from Dublin to Galway, Mulcahy says it will enhance the conference for attendees while helping fulfil RTÉ’s commitment to all of Ireland.

“For people to truly understand Irish culture,” says Mulcahy. “I couldn’t think of a better city to bring them to.”

Galway will also be an easier city for networking after hours with multiple events taking place around the city.

Mojo Resistance

I spent several years working in American newsrooms, so I can safely say changes to the way we gather news don’t always go over very well. Two decades ago, stations started to move away from camera crew teams with a photojournalist, audio person, and talent. Instead, more and more reporters shot their own content. I know many photojournalists who resisted that transition out of fear for their jobs. Mulcahy admits some companies did that to save money. This transition to using much smaller cameras comes with similar resistance, but there’s a difference.

Mulcahy says he started the conference after a frustration from training journalists to use mojo only to hear from those journalists bosses that they couldn’t put the video on air.

“A lot of time the resistance was a mixture of unionised and core engineering beliefs that this is not good enough for broadcast,” says Mulcahy.

He says the conference helped showcase good examples of mojo to encourage others to follow suit. Mulcahy says the most nimble organisations like AJ+ and Buzzfeed are adopting a hybrid approach with their equipment: traditional cameras with telephoto lenses, cinematic DSLRs, and smartphones.

As for the accusation of cutting costs, Mulcahy says that approach is flawed: “Bring mobile journalism into your organisation because it makes you more agile and more responsive.”

In the end, the platform doesn’t matter as much as journalists sometimes think. Focus, instead, on finding good stories about people.

In fact, Mulcahy says mojo actually make that task easier. Setting up a phone’s camera is far less intimidating for an interview than a massive television camera. That allows the subject to be more engaging and less nervous. As someone who has conducted many interviews for TV, I know a comfortable interview subject will do a better interview.

Last summer, RTÉ became the first broadcaster in Europe to commission and air a feature-length documentary shot entirely in 4K on an iPhone. In The Collectors, Director Eleanor Mannion followed six compulsive collectors over several weeks. Viewer’s seemed to love the film not because of the smartphone technology. They loved the intimate connections with the people in it.

“She had done it so well,” says Mulcahy. “She had proven you could use the craft of visual storytelling on a mobile device to execute a documentary that people become completely engaged with.”

For the future of news, Mulcahy says platforms are changing and equipment will change too. What won’t change, is the demand for good journalism.

“You look at all of the stuff that’s happening with Trump and fake news and Brexit and everything,” says Mulcahy. “There are key things we need to focus on. The box that we deliver the content in is the last thing we should get hung up about.”

He continues, “the integrity, the journalistic ethics is all the stuff. That’s the core of what we really need to worry about.”

Mojocon will take place May 4-6 at the Radison Blu Galway. I will be at the event looking into the impact it has on the Irish technology community. Be sure to follow Irish Tech News’ coverage.

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