Journalism on the Go

sadcox
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This is a topic we’ll no doubt be visiting a lot here, and I’m guessing some of you have stronger opinions on this matter than I do, so feel free to contribute your advice in the comments. I know there are some real mobile enthusiasts who will have some great insight. Reader Brett writes:

Which mobiles are best for a journalist or a blogger on the go? Do you know which devices offer best photo resolution, battery life, memory, etc., and which cellular plan (bandwidth, etc.) might also be best for this type of application?

Before you iPhone people totally unleash on me (I know it’s coming) for not answering with a one word post “iPhone”, I’ve tried to head you off at the pass. I asked some of my iPhone using friends for their input. Although they’ve gulped the Apple-aid, I think they gave some really good and honest feedback.

Email and Twitter
One thing I really love about Twitter is that you can post by texting, so you can actually use the old devices to post there. Combine that with this solution, and you’re reporting live (but, uh, without photos and video). I’m sort of partial to the Blackberry and Windows devices, but it’s a hassle to browse to Twitter’s website to post on them, so texting is the best option. I don’t own an iPhone, but Copa Creative’s founder, Santiago Ramirez, told me his favorite app for Twitter on the iPhone is Twitterific (it’s free!), and he uses it for Twitter all the time.

But for a journalist Twitter’s 140 characters may not be enough. Another reader Mark Van Patten mentioned Posterous.com, which allows you to automatically post to several different sites (Flickr, Twitter, FaceBook, WordPress blogs) with an email.  Still, you need the phone to be able to send an email, and I think that’s a pretty basic requirement.

Camera quality
It’s temping to say, “if you are asking about camera quality, don’t use your phone as your camera.” I’ve used the 3 megapixel camera on an At&T Tilt for posting photos to Twitpic (I’m in my ‘Pulp Fiction’ phase), but I wouldn’t exactly call those quality photos. However there’s a strong possibility it’s the photographer. My friend Gavin Baker, CEO of Abunga.com, has taken several nice photos with the 2 megapixel camera on his iPhone.

One of the drawbacks of the iPhone is that you have to “jailbreak” it to record video. I asked my buddy Victor Agreda, who blogs at TUAW (The Unoffical Apple Weblog), if he’d jailbroken his iPhone.  His response, “Nope, I’m a chicken. Plus, it just isn’t worth it“. Although I’m the kind of guy who generally takes something apart to try to make it do something it wasn’t meant to do as soon as I buy it, I tend to agree with him in this case.  Even though jailbreaking an iPhone doesn’t seem too tough, I don’t think the video quality would be a real payoff.  Not that the video capabilities of any other phones are all that great, at least that I’ve seen.

If camera quality really matters it may be prudent to consider a multi-device solution.  More on that a little later.

Battery life
Is there a 3G phone with decent battery life out there?  No, seriously…is there?  Six hours seems to be the limit we’re approaching.  This is one that I’m not too educated on, but it looks like the iPhone holds up pretty well here, even though battery life was one of the things Gavin complained about.  As for my experience with the Tilt…meh.  My answer here is to keep chargers plugged in randomly throughout the house, a USB charger connected to my PC at all times, and one in the car.  If I’m not using the phone, I’m extremely happy charging it.

Can I use it as a modem (tether) for a laptop or other computer?
Ah…here’s where the multiple devices come in!  If you are able to use your phone as a modem, it may make sense to carry a couple of other small devices and a laptop, especially if you really care about quality photos and video. This is something the iPhone can’t do without jailbreaking.  Having said that at, uh 1:31 am on January 6th 2009, TUAW says that functionality may be coming this week, accompanied by a $30 monthly charge from AT&T.  Unofficially, my sources say there may be an announcement at Mac World today (the 6th).

I just tethered my phone to my PC for the first time over Christmas while out of town, and it worked reasonably well.  Of course, it’s not as fast as a cable or broadband connection, but it works in a pinch.  I’m on the AT&T network with that phone.

If you decide to go the multiple device route, check out Flip Video. This is one of the coolest devices I’ve ever owned!  No tapes, decent quality, fits in my front pocket, and it connects right to your PC through USB. I believe all of the reporters at my local paper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, carry these. They start at ~$100, and there’s even an HD option. Combine that with a point and shoot digital camera and you can get some nice visuals. You may even consider an entry level SLR–I have a Nikon D40 that takes amazing photos for the price (at least when my wife is operating it).

Plans/Coverage/Bandwidth
I grouped these together because they are all sort of dependent on each other.  I know that Sprint is running a promotion right now with unlimited everything, including text and data for $99, but of course, coverage may be an issue. A few years ago I was in Rocky Mountain National Park and my Sprint phone had zero signal, while my friend’s Verizon was pegged. As I said before, rumor has it that AT&T will be offering this ability to tether with the iPhone soon, but you’ll have to pay for it. Gizmodo did a nice comparison a couple of weeks ago, but it doesn’t look like they went too far off the beaten path for their study.

The Short Answer
I don’t think there’s a short answer to this question–at least I don’t have one.  I tend to lean towards the multiple device solution.  It’s a lot of stuff to carry, but a phone, camera, Flip, and laptop can all fit into a backpack easily. I’m pretty interested to see what you guys have to say about this. I’m looking at upgrading my personal phone and need someone to give me a compelling reason to go one way or another. I know there are some journalists out there doing this with some valuable experiences and advice.

Sorry Brett…I think I may have just answered your question with more questions.  😀

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4 Comments

  1. newscoma said January 6, 2009 | Permalink

    At the newspaper, we have been using point and shoot cameras (got a deal on Kodak 10 megapixels) and they do all right. The biggest problem we have is that we honestly need training on how to edit video. Do you have any advice on cheap (or free) video editing equipment?

  2. Craig McGill said January 7, 2009 | Permalink

    I tested the Nokia N95 as a reporting/pr tool and was quite impressed with it.

  3. sadcox said January 7, 2009 | Permalink

    Thanks for the link to the writeup Craig…it’s very thorough and should be helpful to readers!!!

  4. christinajade said January 14, 2009 | Permalink

    although my mouth has been watering every time i hold an iPhone, i am EXTREMELY fond of this ATT LG VU. (ok, it is actually eldorado’s, but he gave it to me to set up and decided he didn’t like it, so i’m keeping it, i think) anyway, it has the full touch screen that is easily customizable, 2 mp camera, OPTIONAL qwerty keyboard (which i like, hard to text on those things sometimes), and takes pretty good videos. it also has mobile tv, although here in west ky the service isn’t available yet. and yes, it is 3G, but there again, no 3G in paducah. *sigh* i downloaded opera mini and it is a great little browser.

    granted, i am not a journalist, but i love to be connected when i am at various events and festivals peddling my wares. example: i can use the VU and run a credit card through paypal, which expands my customer base. i can also tweet live from the event my location so i can be found more easily, or add a quick post to my blog.

    i’ll shut up now, but did everyone understand that i LIKE THIS PHONE? 🙂

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