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How To Get The Most Out Of Your iPhone As A Reporting Tool

Increasingly, iPhones are becoming a credible, convenient and reliable tool for journalists –both amateur and professional– to use in the field. Mobile reporting was even the topic of a UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism course taught by Jeremy Rue to help journalists learn how to get the most out of reporting from a mobile device.

Will Sullivan at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri also put together an incredible guide which outlines the various hardware and applications every journalist should have — definitely a recommended read. (Update 4/16: this post originally stated, incorrectly, that Will Sullivan’s guide was a project out of UC Berkeley. In fact, the funding, support and resources for his mobile tools guide came from RJI where he is a 2010-2011 fellow studying mobile and tablet development).

But that’s not what I’m writing about here. Aside from the must-have apps, these are some practical tips and tricks — the dirty, simple basics for day-to-day reporting — that can help you get the most out of your iPhone as a reporting tool.

Look like a legit journalist

If you’re going to use your mobile phone, present yourself credibly. Not everyone is going to feel comfortable with the idea of a real journalist using an everyday mobile device as a professional reporting tool. So show them you’re serious through your appearance, actions and words. Introduce yourself courteously and professionallly.

In the video below, one of Rue’s students, Jerome Hubbard, hit the streets with his iPhone to see if people take him seriously. The responses, as you’ll see for yourself, are mostly that, yes, they do indeed take him seriously because he presents himself as a journalist.

Get your act together; organize your apps

Just as you would know where you keep your pencil, paper, camera and audio recorder, make sure the apps you need are easily accessible on your phone so you don’t look clumsy fumbling through pages and folders of apps.

“Put all the icons that you’ll be using close together so you don’t have to go scrolling for them when time matters most,” said Web editor and social media producer Nate McGarth in a tweet.

For example, create a folder called “Reporting” or “Journalism Tools”  and order them your apps based on usage. Again, Will Sullivan has a great collection of which apps are the best for editing audio, transmitting files, using geolocation, live streaming, taking notes, and editing photos and video.

Use airplane mode to avoid disruptions

From experience, I know the feeling in your gut when reviewing the audio of an hour-long interview to find that only  the first six minutes had been recorded. The culprit? Getting a call mid-interview discontinues the recording of audio from the voice memos application. If you can afford to avoid phone calls and texts for the duration of your interview, turning the phone to airplane mode will send the calls straight to voicemail to allow for uninterrupted recording (that applies to audio, video, livestreaming, etc).

Use solid objects as a stabilizer for video

If you’re recording on the spot and want to get semi-stable video, set the phone up against a solid surface like a wall or a book on the table. If you’re out in the field recording video, be sure to anchor the phone against your body to keep it as stable a possible.

“For techniques, we found the easiest thing you can do to get video to look better is to steady the phone,” Rue said. “Putting the phone on a monopod made a world of difference in terms of that professional look. Since mobile devices are so small by nature, the video is so much shakier.”

Sometimes, a little motion is OK.

“If it’s spot news, I don’t worry too much,” said Glen Faison, managing editor of the Daily Republic in Fairfield, Calif., via Twitter. “Some motion sometimes adds to video’s appeal.”

Investing in an iPhone tripod (about $15 on Amazon) might be a good idea if the iPhone is your primary video recording device.

Buy an audio adpater

Even the shakiest video is forgivable if the audio quality is superb. To get that extra umph, buy an adapter. Rue suggests purchasing simple adapters from KVConnection.com, so standard microphones can be plugged into the iphone.

“Android does not support external microphones with video at this time, even with an adapter,” Rue said.

Get the most out of your battery life

Unlike standard video cameras and audio recorders, where you can just pop in an extra battery and continue recording — the iPhone battery isn’t removable, as you very well know.

To get the most out of your battery life:

  • Make sure unnecessary applications aren’t running in the background
  • Force reboot your phone before you knowingly go out to cover an event
  • Consider buying an iPhone battery case (about $40) as a backup

What about other smartphones?

After teaching a class on mobile reporting, Rue and his students concluded iPhones are where it’s at for journalism.

“We found that–at this time–iPhones were far superior than Androids for use in reporting; namely because there is so much more third-party support in terms of accessories and apps that support video/photo/audio capture,” Rue said. “This may change in the future since Androids are gaining traction in market share.”

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