When does “Mobile Journalism” become “Journalism?”

Photo via AustinMann.com
By A.J. Feather

We hear about mobile journalism a lot at the Missouri School of Journalism.  It seems almost every month someone has figured out how to capture a moment better with their smartphone than a DSLR or dedicated audio recorder.  It is also moving into the media. An article in Wired last month ventured to explain “How the Smartphone Ushered In a Golden Age of Journalism.” Judd Slivka, a professor of Convergence Journalism here at MU, argues ‘”Mobile journalism” is a ridiculous title, like “camera journalism.”’ He says the equipment does not determine what good journalism is. Good journalism is good journalism regardless of the means we use to produce it.

The question I ask in the title has to do a lot with innovation. This week, Apple released its newest generation of iPhones, both of which have better cameras than any previous generation of iPhone and arguably any previous smartphone with the exception of the Nokia Lumia, which was built almost specifically to act as a digital camera.  However, I will focus on the iPhone for the remainder of this post, as it is the world’s top selling smartphone.

Photographer Austin Mann took the new phones on location in Iceland and posted his findings in this article at The Verge. Mann says he thinks the 6 and 6 Plus are “meant to destroy your point-and-shoot, your camcorder and maybe even your DSLR.” You can view his photos here. The photos taken with the new phones’ cameras are striking.

So when can we finally stop training journalists to use a DSLR? I cannot count the number of times I have seen fuzzy photos and video with poor lighting when a novice DSLR user comes back from a shoot. When can we finally decide the ease of use we get with our smartphones outweighs any improvement in photo quality we might get with a DSLR?

It might still be a while. Dean Holland, a writer for the Digital Photography Review, compared Smartphones, DSLRs and film. The Nikon D-800, a DSLR, outperforms all the other cameras by leaps and bounds. However, the smartphones do perform very well comparatively in low-light situations.

So how much of the improved quality we get from DSLRs do we really need? That would be a question for your photo editor. A set of untrained eyes already have trouble seeing the difference between most of these photos, especially when they are condensed to the size at which they are published. I imagine within the next five to ten years we will see a substantial shift, but in the end, it will likely come down to cost and when a newsroom’s current cameras get too old.

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