8 must-have iPhone & Android apps for covering breaking news

At the Lawrence Journal World, we recently outfitted our reporters with iPhone 4s — a move that has yielded multiple advantages.

Having been an iPhone owner for years, I’ve compiled a list of apps for reporters and bloggers to download and briefly explained how to use them. Each one of these has proven helpful in my own work as a journalist and in our newsroom as a whole when covering breaking news.

Twitter for iPhone
This is a must-have. You can add multiple accounts, so reporters can live tweet events from both your news account and their personal account. It’s also a good contact tool.

5-0 Radio Police Scanner
An instant police scanner (with tens of thousands of feeds) anywhere you go. If you’re on the way to cover breaking news, you can listen to scanner traffic on your phone while you drive. With the Pro version, you can record scanner traffic as an .mp3.

Google maps
This app comes pre-installed on the iPhone. You can search for directions before going on an assignment and use it as a GPS. You can also bookmark favorite locations. And you can navigate your way home when you get lost.

The Weather Channel or Weather+
These apps are more accurate and simply better than the pre-installed weather app, and they provide more information. You can also get severe weather alerts and radar.

Voice Memos
This pre-installed app is best used to record podcasts and raw audio. You can edit files and email or text them after recording. On iPhones, the files are sent in a .m4a format, which is the MPEG version of an audio file. The file can be imported directly into iTunes or Garage Band for podcasting and editing. You may need to convert the file into an .mp3 if your CMS doesn’t handle .mp4 files. On Android, standard audio file format is a .amr, but other voice recording apps record in different file types that can be converted to an .mp3 using any file conversion program.

USTREAM Live Broadcaster
Instant live streaming on a 3G or wifi network. Log in and hit “Go live.” You can mute audio, add polls and record your live stream directly to your phone. This is a great option for breaking news and live streaming events or press conferences (as long as your network is reliable). Just make sure you use a tripod.

You can edit and share on the fly with iMovie for iPhone. The app lets you pick themes, add music, insert photos and record audio. You can then export and share the movie directly to the Web or add it straight to your computer when you sync.

  • Cost: $4.99
  • Android: No
  • Needs iOS 4.2.6 or later

Using this photo app is a great way to make your pics look artsy. You can also share them directly on multiple social channels or via email.

  • Cost: Free
  • Android: No
  • Needs iOS 3.1.2 or later

Remember to:

  • Add bookmarks to your Web browser as soon as you get your phone. Make a list of URLs you want to bookmark. Keeping an organized list of bookmarks will save valuable time when trying to navigate the Web. I keep bookmarks for adding and editing stories, photos and videos to our websites. I also bookmark URLs for sending text and email alerts, checking for local power outages and updating the home page of our main website.
  • Test upload photos, videos, text and audio from your phone’s browser. Some systems may not be compatible with smartphones, so have a plan in place for uploading content before a big story breaks.

What apps have you found helpful when covering breaking news?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rpcrowe Ryan Crowe

    It’s not an app, but Cover It Live’s mobile page has been a good tool to keep in my mobile bookmarks.

    Having a good IM client such as AIM or Google Talk (pre-installed on almost every Android) is a good backup.

  • http://www.facebook.com/whitneymathews Whitney Mathews

    I haven’t tried Audioboo yet. I’ll definitely give it a shot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/whitneymathews Whitney Mathews

    Thanks for the suggestions and tips, Kate!

    We’ve also equipped our reporters with two types of mobile tripods, lav mics and mini-boom mics. The lav mics required adapters from KV Connections, but the cool part is the adapter functions as a splitter for a mic and headphones. That way the reporter can listen to the audio coming in while they’re recording video on their phone.

    I recently got a mifi hub, but haven’t experimented with it much yet. I have a feeling I will use it more should Kansas advance in the NCAA Tournament. We’ll end up doing a ton of live field coverage.

  • http://newshour.org/ Kate Gardiner

    I would add that better quality audio can be recorded with Hindenberg ($$) /Lite (Free) and directly uploaded to your FTP. Cinch & Audioboo are also great for recording in the field, with different functionalities. The price is right (free) for downloading and experimenting with all of them. Sounds like a newsroom brownbag to me…

    ** Integrating your Facebook profile adds any phone numbers you might need via their Phonebook application.

    ** If you’re on Blackberry/dumbphone, turn on the SMS alerts from Twitter (text ON to 40404) for the period you’re in the field, toggled to accounts that might be relevant. Your newsroom should be identifying those for you if you don’t have the time. If you get annoyed/event ends, texting ‘OFF’ will -gasp- turn them off.

    ** If you’re reporting with a team, breaking news is a great time to implement some of the new toys from SXSW – notably group texting mechanisms Beluga, GroupMe or Fast Society to create a group for SMS/quick communication. FS, at least, enables you to add dumbphone users too, via SMS; everyone can participate regardless of technology.

    ** If you’re recording video in the field, having a Gorilla Mobile tripod might be a good investment – it’s small enough for your (man) purse but agile enough to grab on and stabilize for a quick video standup or Ustream/Skype.

    ** Always bring your headset for your phone — it’ll help you hear and free up your hands for something else (shooting/typing/driving etc.)

    ** If you’re shooting with a DSLR, resize your images before uploading in the field (it saves a lot of time and better-quality images can be uploaded when things calm down, if it matters to editorial). If you’re using Canon, the wifi-enabled Flash cards may work with your camera — they’re finicky but faster than not using them.

    ** If you don’t have a mifi or other mobile web service, download a tethering app for your phone. It’s a battery suck but it’s better than not being able to file.

    ** Be aware of places that have wifi near you in the field — sites like wefi can really save you time.

    ** At Al Jazeera we’re also experimenting with various audio tools to record in the field and automatically distribute to social media or our FTP for use on-air.