Making your smartphone into a mobile newsroom

Assign the story and send a reporter.

Talk to photo and get a shooter to the scene.

Get the social media ball rolling.

Get the multimedia folks on video, audio and maybe some mapping and graphics.

All the elements of successful news coverage in the news 2.0 age, right?

With the continual march of technology, all these tasks, though, can be accomplished from your smartphone. The news is a nimble business that demands multiple elements. And while there is no replacement for the trained visual professionals and graphics journalists that traditionally have provided multiplatform assignments, the advent of the smartphone age in journalism has enabled all of us to cover the news with relatively high quality across 3G cellular transmissions.

And that pursuit and dissemination of information is not limited to the producers inside the newsroom. More people than ever have smartphones. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the like are awash in eyewitness journalism, like the video at the top of the post, actually shot from an iPad and used as a CNN iReport. The apps, tools and techniques used in successful newsgathering from the phone level work equally well for professional and citizen journalists alike. And, in many cases, the work of both groups can and should be combined – or curated – to give the news consumer a complete report that the pros with access and the citizens on the scene can provide.

While the use of smartphones and apps to cover unplanned or breaking news is a boon to our profession for the immediacy and scope offered, the tools and techniques involved can certainly be used for planned events as well.

Here’s a look at some of the apps that can make using your smartphone as a newsgathering command center work well. This is by no means all of the technology available, but it is a list of apps I’ve used in the field in varying degrees – Journalist’s Toolbox has a great list of resources you should check out as well. I’ve tried to list Android equivalents where possible, but hey, I’m an iPhone guy, so that’s the platform I know best. As for Windows phone, BlackBerry and the like, well, try the Google.

And if you’ve got a great app you’re using not listed here, share with the rest of us in the comments below.


Whether simply livetweeting an event, running a live chat or posting to your CMS, this is one of the more robust areas for the smartphone platform. You can tell the running narrative via Twitter and Facebook, write and file stories and curate the whole lot back at the office or Starbucks.

The apps:

    Twitter – there are plenty of apps, but really the official app from Twitter is pretty strong, offering photo integration and geolocation. UPDATE: The so-called #NewNewTwitter app, a drastically redesigned mobile experience has been drawing mostly raves as a way to get casual social media users more into Twitter.

    CoverItLive – a great tool for running a live discussion, you can actually run these curated, real-time sessions – complete with video, audio and photo uploads – from your iPhone or Android device.
    WordPress – the largest and most flexible blogging platform is also a kick-ass content management system. And you can write straight into it through a variety of mobile platform apps. The WordPress app is very good at dealing with text, a little clunky taking any other media into account from the field, though. You may be better off adding later from a laptop or pursiung other apps.

    Posterous – speaking of other apps … Posterous is a blogging platform that allows posting to numerous services and platforms via email. You can send images, audio, video and text and have them post to WordPress and a number of other CMSs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr and much more. Simply set up your Posterous account to filter out to the platforms of your choosing, write a headline as the email subject line, add whatever content you need to the body area of the note and hit send. Your content will automatically fire off to any site or service pre-chosen. You don’t even need an app – though there is a Posterous app for Android and iPhone.
    Tumblr – the hottest of the microblogging sites also makes for a pretty solid mobile content disbursal platform. While not as powerful or flexible as Posterous in many ways, it will allow you to create rich content posts to shoot out to other sites and services, though it is iPhone and Android app-dependent.
    Hootsuite – a pro-level tool for posting to Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Foursquare and a few other services, Hootsuite can be used as your posting engine for microblogs, though its not quite as fluid as the Twitter app. It is, however, great for managing the conversation. For iPhone and Android.

Writing and productivity

    Dropbox – one of the most essential tools – and not just for smartphones – this cloud-based free service allows for up to 2 gigs of free storage that shares across mobile and desktop platforms seamlessly. You can basically set this up as a file server, housing your written content, streaming your video and audio and storing images that play back in slideshow. All of it accessible from anywhere and synched up with all of your workstations. Apps for iPhone and Android.
    Elements – a text editing tool for iPhone that works within Dropbox. There are other, more full-featured apps, but I like this one for its simplicity. Bells and whistles are not always your friend on the small screen.
    Moe’s Notes – an interesting new iPhone app with some news potential, Moe’s Notes allows you to compile, well, notes on the fly. But it’s multimedia. You can combine text, video, audio, images, etc., then store, share and email in various formats. Haven’t had a chance to play with this a lot yet, but it shows a lot of promise and perhaps some curation potential.
    Visual Notes – an iPhone app similar to Moe’s Notes that allows for multimedia note production.

  • Evernote is probably the leader in the notes collection space, allowing inclusion of text, audio, photos and sharability of your work with team members. And it works in iOS and Android. Though with the recent release of Microsoft’s OneNote for iOS – it was already on Android and sports a popular Web app – it will be interesting to see where this type of software goes.


UPDATE, OCT. 4, 2011: The thing about camera phone is that it’s a phone with a camera. By that I mean that it is not a device built with photography in mind. Some phones carry off the secondary task better than others.

Apple’s iPhone 4 was at the top of the game when it was introduced about a year ago, winning rave reviews throughout the tech press. The plaudits continued when Apple rolled out an iOS update that brought limited HDR processing options to the phone’s inboard camera.

Apple sweetened the pot with the introduction of the iPhone 4s, with a greatly boosted image sensor and other upgrades that promise a significant increase in imaging quality.

The Nokia N8, a Symbian phone, is another phone with high marks for its photo capabilities. Unfortunately, unless you live in Europe, you are out of luck.

So you pick out a phone. What apps, beyond the basic camera app, should you take a look at? Here’s a few to take for a spin:

The apps

  • Camera+: An iPhone-only app that takes the basic camera functionality further with burst shooting modes, some useful editing features and sharing capability. Saves images to private camera roll separate from the Photos roll.
  • Instagram: Another iPhone-only app experiencing huge popularity – more than 150 million photos shared as of August 2011. Its strength is the social sharing potential with a strong Twitter and Facebook integration. Also boast a strong collection of filters. UPDATE: Instagram has finally announced an Android app is in development, though there’s no word on when it might be released.
  • Picplz: Another social sharing . Similar functionality to Instagram, but nowhere near the popularity.
  • Autostitch: An app for iPhone for creating panorama images. Dead simple to use and compiling images.
  • Snapseed: Named the 2011 iPad app of the year, Snapseed is a fantastic option for iPad and iPhone image editing, including a selection of filters and effects beyond just color correction and sharpening. I gotta say I still prefer Camera+ for the phone, but this is an outstanding iPad addition. There is now a desktop as well, though if you have Photoshop, you may want to stick with that since you spent a lot to buy it. There is no Android version, though the developers promise one soon.


Cameras just keep getting better on these phones. From Androids with multi-megapixels to the updated iPhone 4s with 1080p HD ability, you can get some pretty high quality images and HD video in the field, though low light is still iffy for both phone platforms. And, besides just shooting video, you can actually edit on the fly on your phone. Is video editing on a 4-inch screen ideal? Maybe not. But it’s better than nothing and, surprisingly, not that bad for limited jobs.

The apps:

  • iMovieavailable on iPhone only, this really is a pretty remarkable feat of engineering, fitting a full-featured video editor, complete with the ability to mix in stills and audio. But you’d better not have fat fingers. On iPad2, though, woof. What a tool.
  • 1stVideo is an intriguing entry in the video sphere because it does so much more than just video.It’s a video editor, yes, but also offers some robust options for audio editing and audio slideshow creating, as well as export options. Currently 1stVideo is iOS-only, however.
  • Vimeo – the slightly more upscale cousin to YouTube, Vimeo generally offers superior playback quality and a site free of the dancing kittens that litter YouTube. And they’ve recently released this iPhone and Android app that allows for basic video editing and upload.
  • Qik – a livestreaming video service that feeds to an embeddable Qik site page. Great for breaking news. But choose your spots – it’s a battery hog. For iPhone and Android.

  • Ustream – You’re all well-familiar with the desktop-based video streaming service, but you can also use it from the field to feed into your Ustream site – embeddable, of course. This is a bit more useful to the folks who may be back in the newsroom as they can then manage the social media conversation on the Ustream page and perhaps help filter questions and comments to the reporter. For iPhone and Android.
  • Skype – Yes, it’s a video/audio calling service. But you can stream from the field with decent quality. And you can record broadcasts for later upload and embed. Skype owns Qik, both of which are being acquired by Microsoft, by the way. So stay tuned on what that means for integration down the road.


Recording and dispersing audio really is in many ways at the core of what a phone should be able to do. And Android and iPhone devices have pretty good built-in recording apps (good luck, Blackberry users!).

But sometimes you might need to mic up.

There are a lot of options, but one of the higher quality models is the iRig quarter-inch mic setup. Unlike some of the USB variations, this can actually plug in to other devices and across platforms. It also has a mixing app. This gear is made for musicians, but really works well in a news setting as well.

The apps

  • iRig Recorder – currently only available in iOS because of low-latency recording capabilities in iOS not present in Android – though IK Multimedia says something is in the works.
  • RecForge Pro – a #3.99 app for Android devices is relatively new on the scene, but gets positive reviews in a space that has not been a strength for Android devices – multimedia, specifically audio recording.
  • SoundCloud is a newer app for iOS and Android that goes beyond simple recording with a social sharing function that allows for uploading to multiple platforms – Twitter, Tumblr, etc.
  • Mapping

    Checking in isn’t just for hipsters anymore. By making use of geolocation services, you can provide site maps and post updates and images attached to that checkin for your followers on multiple platforms.

    The apps:

    • Gowalla – my favorite checkin service as it allows for “universal checkins, including through Foursquare. For iPhone and Android. UPDATE: Foursquare has basically won the beolocation battle with Gowalla tacking more toward a business tool model. UPDATE: Faceboopk has now purchased Gowalla in a talent grab, likely signaling death for the service except for any integration that shows up into Facebook.
    • Foursquare – the leader in this space with Gowalla gone. Checkins and updates, sharable through Twitter and Facebook through the official app in Android and iOS, or via SMS texting.
    • Brightkite – an early-adopter checkin service that is moving away from that model, but does allow group texting. Haven’t tried this much yet, but could be a useful geo-communication tool.


    Battery, battery, battery. It’s the weak link in the mobile reporting platform scenario.

    Depending on how much of your phone’s notification services you have on, these things drain fairly quickly. Throw in a bunch of video shooting and/or streaming, constantly updating other platforms, making calls and checking email, and you will be dry before you know it.

    A quality battery charger/extender can be a lifesaver. My new favorite is the iCruiser – good review here. It can completely recharge an iPad or offer four or five recharges for an iPhone.

    And no, your Android is not immune. IPhone takes a beating over battery life, but no phone is safe from these draining pursuits.


    Below are a CoverItLive transcript and Ustream recording of a chat with some of the staff at the Register Citizen in Torrinington, CT., on the topic of mobile reporting:

    Free live streaming by Ustream

    The CoverItLive chat is here.

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