Recording Content on Mobile Phones

Africa needs to move from a continent that consumes media to one that produces it. With limited traditional media skills and budgets available for large-scale production projects, the answer may lie in our hands. Many modern mobile phones have the capability to fulfil a number of different media-recording and publishing roles, as such, can be vital tools for developing a digital media industry.

Mobile phones can be used to tell Africa’s stories to the world

Mobile Phone Capabilities

With the rise of smart phone technology, it is possible to carry around one device with the combined functionality of an audio recorder, video recorder and digital camera. While premium (and costly) brands such as the iPhone are often the first examples of smart phones that come to mind, there are also a range of more affordable options that offer comparable performance at a greatly reduced price. These include a number of handsets running the Android operating system (e.g. Samsung) as well as devices from brands like Huawei, ZTE, Sony and LG. 

Mobile phone handsets can offer digital media project teams a cost effective way to furnish producers with a single device with multiple recording capabilities. They are a worthwhile investment and not necessarily a “second best” solution as the quality the devices offer is often comparable to entry-level devices that would otherwise be used. They also have the advantage of keeping the user connected to the Internet, which allows them to perform simple edits on the spot and upload content directly to the Internet.

Audio Recording

Recording audio from interviews serves two purposes. It gives team members a record of the conversations for later reference but can also be used to add rich, experiential content to the project through the sharing of audio clips. While fairly inexpensive digital audio recorders are available, many smart phones come with the ability to capture audio right out of the box. There are also applications available that offer advanced functionality such as the ability to record calls (for phone interviews), edit out interruptions or long sections of silence. These vary from platform to platform (e.g. Mac OS for iPhone versus Google’s Android), and can be found with a simple search in the app (application) store relevant to the device in question.

Images and Video

The camera function on most smart phones (and even some feature phones) produces images that are more than adequate for most online purposes. With a smart phone at their disposal, team members are able to take and upload photos on-the-go, which allows them to complement written and audio content with images from remote locations.

Added to their standard cameras, the quality of smart phone video capture has improved dramatically over the last few years, up to the point that now they are even able to record feature films. Olive (http://olivethemovie.com/) was the first high-profile example of this, and was filmed on a Nokia N8 fitted to traditional film camera lenses. While the special lenses did help to improve the quality of the film, they are not necessary for the quality required for digital media projects. 

As an added bonus, many smart phones and operating systems offer the option to upload video footage directly to social networks like YouTube and Vimeo, allowing it to be quickly shared, reviewed and included in projects. For teams that will be recording video as a key part of the project, a number of accessories are available for smart phones that can improve the quality of the recording at a relatively low cost. These include mini tripods for stability as well as clip-on lenses and a number of apps that help to capture and edit footage on-the-go.

Benefits of Mobile Phone Recording 

A good example of phones being used as primary recording devices was seen in Reuters’ “mojo” (mobile journalist) programme. As a part of this initiative, journalists were provided with Nokia N82 phones, chosen for its high-resolution camera and quick speed. The device’s capabilities were further enhanced with accessories such as a keyboard, tripod and microphone. The phones were also preloaded with software that enabled the users to organise and publish text, photos and video directly onto blogs. This enabled the journalists to gather and produce content on the fly, providing online features that were seamlessly updated, and more responsive than traditional print, or even web-based, reporting. 

Some of the benefits reported as a part of the mojo approach include more casual/candid recording and the ability to capture images without drawing attention to the process. Even more than this, it allows for a seamless, multimedia approach to storytelling.

[Video content becomes one] part of a multimedia narrative, now that journalists no longer need to pick one medium but can work in them all. In short, we’re not using cameras to make TV with all its trappings and orthodoxies. We’re just making video – video that’s good enough to tell a story.

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Mobile phones are not simply a substitute for traditional recording devices but instead a viable alternative with their own benefits and approaches. Smart phones offer a compelling combination of portability, functionality, connectivity and affordability, and, as they are widely used, are often easier to train fieldworkers on than other devices . While it is not necessarily the answer to all content-recording needs, use of such technology is a consideration that project teams should certainly consider in their planning. 

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