Backpack journalism/mojo

WTOP reporter Neal Augenstein is donating this iPhone and a custom microphone stand he designed to hold it at press conferences.

WTOP ‘mojo’ pioneer donates iPhone to the Newseum

WTOP radio’s mobile-journalism pioneer Neal Augenstein covers D.C.-area news using only his iPhone. Today, Augenstein and WTOP are donating his iPhone 4S to the Newseum, which welcomes it as an artifact of the new era of mobile-empowered reporting.

“I’m delighted the Newseum is recognizing that mobile journalism is taking its place along legacy reporting tools,” Augenstein told me via email. “Being able to record and edit audio and video, take and edit pictures, write Web stories, and do social networking on a single device has revolutionized my job.” Read more

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BBC develops iPhone app for its reporters
BBC’s reporters in the field will soon be able to file video, photos and audio directly to the network’s production system from an iPhone or iPad. Developers are adapting a special app to handle those functions. The BBC also is seeking to license an existing app, Luci Live, to enable reporters to broadcast live from a phone. “It is beginning to be a realistic possibility to use iPhones and other devices for live reporting, and in the end if you’ve got someone on the scene then you want to be able to use them,” Martin Turner, BBC’s head of operations for newsgathering, told || Earlier: 8 must-have iPhone & Android apps for covering breaking news; iPhone 4 offers new tools for journalists Read more


Stelter: In Joplin, ‘my best reporting was on Twitter’

…the Deadline
The New York Times’ Brian Stelter has blogged about his experience covering the tornado destruction in Joplin, Mo. — the first time he’s reported on a natural disaster. Expecting to go to Chicago to interview Oprah Winfrey, he arrived ill-prepared, without boots, maps, or a pen for his notebook. “What I learned: always carry extra pens.” Stelter ended up tweeting much of what he saw; he used Instagram to send photos, which helped him remember scenes for his stories. At his suggestion, the Times linked to his tweets on its home page. “It was, after all, the place where my latest reporting was being posted. … Looking back, I think my best reporting was on Twitter. … People later told me that they thought I was processing what I was seeing in real-time on Twitter. I was.” He archived his tweets on his Tumblr.
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Twitpic changes reveal conflict as users, journalists, photo sharing services have competing goals

The popular photo-sharing service Twitpic this month took more control over the photos that millions of Twitter users upload to its site each month.

Although it provoked an outcry from people who said Twitpic was infringing on users’ copyright, the changes highlight conflicts between users, professional journalists and online sharing services in a muddled system of online news and information.

“We’re at a stage where this conversation is inevitable,” said David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University. “We’re no longer puzzling over whether people will produce this work — we know they do and they have been — we’re now at a stage where we’re asking what is the right way for a business built on that type of work to generate revenue and potentially share that revenue with those that produce the work.”

Twitpic changed its terms of service to crack down on media republication of images, even telling users they couldn’t grant a license for reuse of their own Twitpic photos (though the company retreated from that position under criticism). So if you were Janis Krums watching a plane floating in the Hudson River, or Stefanie Gordon capturing a shuttle launch above cloud cover, news outlets couldn’t grab your photo off Twitpic and republish it.

Twitpic then announced it would allow an agency to exclusively sell media companies the rights to use photos, saying it intended to sell images published by unspecified “celebrities.” (I tried to reach Twitpic founder Noah Everett and others at Twitpic for comment but have not received a response.)

In short, here are the conflicting interests at play:

  • Twitpic and similar services want to make money. They want images to be viewed on their own pages (next to their ads) and don’t want to be a distribution service for photos to be used elsewhere, unless they get paid for that.
  • Citizen journalists and other users want exposure for their images. They uploaded them to share them, to have them go viral. They want to retain copyright, but may not care so much about their images being reused on other sites if they’re credited.
  • Media companies want access to content, ideally at no cost or low cost, quickly. They want clarity about copyrights. They want access, under whatever terms, to stunning newsworthy images such as the plane landing on the Hudson River, destruction in Haiti, a hole in the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines jet, or Monday’s space shuttle launch captured from a passenger jet above the clouds.

In many ways these interests are at odds. When Twitpic makes a play to expand its control of those images and sell them (at least some of them), users and journalists cry out. When journalists reuse photos without credit or payment, Twitpic and its users complain.

What’s needed is a system in which none of these three parties — users, journalists or the service — wields too much power over the other two, and one in which each knows exactly what rights they and others have.

Though Twitpic gets more attention as one of the oldest and most popular social media photo sharing services, the user agreements for other services reveal the same tensions. Policies vary widely in what uses they allow and what attribution they require.

Consider for an example the different approaches of Yfrog and Picplz.

Yfrog (owned by ImageShack) promises not to sell or license user photos without permission. It also has good embedding tools on each photo page to encourage appropriate embedding and linking of photos on other sites. Its terms and conditions say:

“…(We) will not sell or distribute your content to third parties or affiliates without your permission. Third parties may exercise the following options regarding your content:

  • Third parties may hyperlink to the page that displays your content on the ImageShack Network without modification and with proper attribution to you.
  • Third parties may request permission to use your content by contacting you directly.

All requests for permission regarding your content usage directed at ImageShack will be forwarded to you.”

By contrast, Picplz can use photos however it wants, and does not allow any third-party reuse. Its terms say:

“If you post Content to the Service, unless we indicate otherwise, you grant MixedMediaLabs and its affiliates a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable right to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such Content…“ and other users “may not: (i) collect, use, copy or distribute any portion of the Site or the Materials; (ii) resell, publicly perform or publicly display any portion of the Site or the Materials; (iii) modify or otherwise make any derivative uses of any portion of the Site, the Mobile applications or the Materials.”

It’s important for these terms of service to be clear, and as short as possible, said Dan Gillmor, a citizen journalism expert and author of “Mediactive,” a book that aims to turn passive media consumers into active users.

They should explicitly say, for example, whether the service claims the right just to display the user’s content, or if it may sell the photo or grant reuse rights to others.

What’s really missing, Ardia said, is a simple, standardized way to communicate the rights that each service claims.

“We could create a symbolic language that would communicate in a very simple way what the overall terms of service entail with regard to the rights that users give up,” he said.

There will eventually be a sharing system that works for users, journalists and service companies, Gillmor said. “We’re in the early days of these things developing.”

The biggest conflicts occur where money is involved.

“Users have come to expect a lot of services for free when it comes to the Internet, and yet there is a business reality that is operating for these kinds of sites where the provision of bandwidth and server space and other kinds of services isn’t free,” Ardia told me. “It shouldn’t be a surprise that companies like Twitpic … are trying to find ways to cover those costs.”

So maybe we need a system that deals with the money problem up front, instead of building a user base by providing a free service and then forcing companies to concoct revenue schemes in ways that users might not end up liking.

That’s the view of Martin Pannier, cofounder and CEO of, a new photo sharing site he describes as “a Vimeo or a Scribd, but for pictures.”

Picuous, now in beta, will place pictures in an HTML5 player that will enable them to be embedded with an automatic linkback and copyright notice. The player also will allow the owner to know where the image has been embedded and how many times it’s been viewed.

“What we like about our solution is that it’s free, instantaneous and legal for a journalist to use any photographer’s picture, but the photographer then gets attention, and traffic, that she can monetize afterwards,” Pannier told me.

“If the journalist wishes to get the picture without the player, she can then very easily license the picture right there in the player.”

Image rights are tricky, Pannier said. Because some Twitter clients automatically use Twitpic, Yfrog or others when posting an image, “journalists should be very wary of using any pictures from there since it’s quite possible that the user never approved any terms — and could reclaim ownership of her picture.”

Picuous will use a freemium model in which users can upgrade to premium plans for about $5 to $10 a month. In exchange, users know the company won’t have to leverage their content to make money, Pannier said.

“The problem of these [other photo-sharing] companies is monetization — which is why we chose to go the ‘pay-to-host’ route, which allows us to stay in business without having to resort to selling our users’ pictures. How else can they monetize Twitpic?” Read more


Ex-newspaper photographer helps amateurs undercut the pros

After taking a buyout from The Baltimore Sun, David Hobby started teaching amateurs cheap, effective lighting techniques. Steven Weiss writes, “Undercutting professionals by arming hordes of well-trained amateurs, just as the media companies have slashed photography budgets across the board, Hobby has helped changed the face of the photography business.” Hobby says there will still be jobs for professional photographers: “You’ll have fewer rock stars, and a much larger middle class.” Read more

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Damon Winter explains process, philosophy behind award-winning Hipstamatic photos

When I heard about the controversy surrounding Damon Winter’s award-winning series of photos that were captured with the Hipstamatic iPhone app, I contacted him to see if he would participate in a live chat on

He told me he couldn’t participate because he’s on assignment in Afghanistan. But he offered to write a statement describing the role of aesthetics in photojournalism, explaining his process in capturing these images, and reacting to the controversy over these images.

We are publishing his complete statement, edited for grammar and clarity. If you want to participate in the live chat Friday at 3 p.m. ET with Kenny Irby and Ben Lowy regarding the use of Hipstamatic in photojournalism, scroll down below the statement.

I have stayed away from much of the online discussion of the use of camera phones and apps in photojournalism largely because I have not wanted to be seen as an advocate for their use and to avoid any appearance of endorsing any particular product or technique, which I absolutely do not. It was never my intention for these photos to be seen only in the context of the tool by which they were made. That is unfortunate because it is a good story. Having said that, I will always stand behind these photographs and am confident in my decision that this was the right tool to tell this particular story.

I think any discussion on the validity of these images comes down to two basic fundamentals: aesthetics and content. At the heart of all of these photos is a moment, or a detail, or an expression that tells the story of these soldiers’ day-to-day lives while on a combat mission. Nothing can change that. No content has been added, taken away, obscured, or altered. These are remarkably straightforward and simple images.

What I think has gotten people so worked up falls under the heading of aesthetics. Some consider the use of the phone camera as a gimmick or aestheticizing (Is that a word? I don’t think, so but I’m using it anyway) news photos. I think that those are fair arguments to make, but those arguments have nothing to do with the content of the photos. We are being naïve if we think aesthetics do not play an important role in the way we as photojournalists tell a story. We are not walking photocopiers. We are storytellers. We observe, we chose moments, we frame little slices of our world with our viewfinders, we even decide how much or how little light will illuminate our subjects, and yes we choose what equipment to use and through all of these decisions, we shape the way a story is told.

Let’s look at how the images have been processed by the camera application. From what I understand, a standard set of rules is applied to each image as it is taken. It is not the case that an image is taken and then a filter is chosen and applied later. A photo is taken and then you must wait between five and 10 seconds or so as the image is processed before you can take the next one. Every image receives what seems to be a pretty similar treatment, which involves a color-balance shift, burning of predetermined areas of the frame and increased contrast.

These are all pretty standard parameters in Photoshop, and all things that can still be done on a color enlarger. I think the problem people have with this is that a program is doing it and not the photographer. But I don’t see how it is so terribly different from choosing a camera or film or process that has a unique but consistent and predictable outcome, like shooting with a Holga, or cross-processing or using a color balance not intended for the lighting conditions (tungsten in daylight, daylight in fluorescent, the cloudy setting to warm up a scene, etc.).

If we look at the image that won first place in Feature singles in this year’s POY competition, it is an image that has been converted to black and white, shot with an extremely shallow depth of field to focus attention on the intended subject, blur other distractions, and give it a certain “feel,” and features a very heavy use of vignetting (probably a mix of in-camera and post-production, Photoshop burning).

A large portion of the information in the image has been obscured in the interest of aesthetics. We do not see in black and white. The photographer had to actively choose to convert the image. And we do not see the world at f/1.2. This is an aesthetic choice. None of these elements contribute to the “accuracy” of the image. These are all ways that the scene has been “enhanced “ aesthetically.

There has been no complaint about images like this as they have been celebrated in photojournalism competitions for years. I have a hard time seeing how this differs in essence from how the camera phone has processed the images. I just didn’t go into Photoshop and process it myself. It’s just a different tool.

If I had had the choice at the time, I would have used a program that applied less of an effect than what I used, but I was using it for the first time and this was all that I had available to me. Without an Internet connection, I could not download a different plug-in for the application that had more subtle processing. I would have preferred that, but this is what I had and this is what I used and that is that. I have always loved shooting the square format, and this program allows you to shoot and, most importantly, compose in that format.

I could not have taken these photos using my SLR and that perhaps is the most important point regarding my use of the camera phone for this story. Using the phone is discreet and casual and unintimidating. The soldiers often take pictures of each other with their phones and that was the hope of this essay: to have a set of photos that could almost look like the snapshots that the men take of each other but with a professional eye. It is also the beauty of using a new tool that allows you to see and approach your subjects differently. I am terrible sometimes about paying attention to the little details in storytelling, and using this phone brought me in to those little details that I know I would have missed otherwise.

The image of the men all resting together outside on a rusted bed frame would never have been made with my regular camera. They would have scattered the moment I raised my 5D with a big 24-70 lens attached. The men were very comfortable with the phone, and it always got a laugh from them when they would see me shooting with it, with professional cameras hanging from my shoulders.

“A Grunt’s Life” was essentially a lighter feature story in the context of our larger project following the 1-87 infantry battalion of the 10th Mountain Division on their yearlong deployment, a project that has employed still photography, video, audio, and Quicktime VR panoramas. This essay was not a news story, especially not within the context of “A Year at War.”

The reporter, James Dao, and I had wracked our brains trying to figure out how to tell the story after having been on so many missions that often go nowhere and have no clearly defined story arc. We had spent so much time with these men and they had become so comfortable with us that we really got to see a rare and honest glimpse into their lives — which for us sometimes resembled more a summer camp with guns than a military operation for the men on the ground. Halfway through our six-day mission I knew there was no other way I could tell the story, and I concentrated my efforts on shooting the snapshots with the phone. The written story was light but gritty and raw, and it was told in a way that meshed perfectly with the images — a rare and wonderful thing for a newspaper collaboration. I believe our readers were served well by the piece.

People may have the impression that it is too easy to make interesting images with a camera app like this, but that is not the case — just as it is not the case that good pictures automatically come out of exotic places. At the heart of every solid image are the same fundamentals: composition, information, moment, emotion, connection. If people think that this is a magic tool that makes every image great, they are wrong. Of the hundreds and hundreds of images taken with the phone over the course of those six days in Nahr-i-Sufi, only a handful were worth reproducing. Considering how slow the process of shooting with that application and phone is, that’s not a great batting average.

I cannot say if I will use this again for my job. I have no intention of becoming a camera phone photographer. I use it often for personal photos (my cat being my favorite subject). But I maintain that it is exactly that reason that it was the perfect tool to tell this particular story. It helped me to make personal, intimate photos of a subject (the American soldier on wartime deployment) that is often seen only as part of a massive, anonymous fighting machine.

People have covered war with plastic, toy cameras, including Erin Trieb most recently in Afghanistan. (Her work was discussed at length in an MSNBC piece.) David Burnett used the tilt of his large-format cameras to render major sporting events into miniature dioramas. Paolo Pellegrin creates exquisite black and white images from major news events around the world that often more closely resemble paintings than photographs, using the same digital camera that we all use.

Each photographer uses a technique or tool that helps him or her to best tell the stories, and all of their work has been acknowledged and celebrated. None of these techniques are grounded on the idea of visual accuracy. But they are effectively used to tell stories, convey ideas and to enlighten, which is the real heart of our work.

Even your panelist Benjamin Lowy was using his own camera phone to cover the Republican convention in New York when I first met him in 2004. It’s like they say: There really is nothing new in photography.

Thank you, and I look forward to the debate. My apologies for not being able to participate in person.

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >What role do Hipstamatic and similar apps have in photojournalism?</a> Read more

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Tackable works with San Jose Mercury News on crowdsourced photojournalism app

A private company is working in close collaboration with The San Jose Mercury News to build a smart phone app that could put newspapers at the center of a social network focused on photography.

The app, called Tackable, enables people to share photographs tagged with their location and gives editors a way to solicit photos in connection with news events and assignments.

Spartan Daily Tackable app

An early version of the Tackable app is being tested by the Spartan Daily at San Jose State University.

Tackable’s developers are sharing offices with the Mercury News interactive group as they work on features and figure out how the app would fit into the paper’s workflow.

In return, Tackable is building a modified version of the app for the 20 papers of MediaNews’ Bay Area News Group, which includes the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune. (Tackable is working with other newspapers, too.)

One of Tackable’s cofounders, Luke Stangel, said the app is being developed specifically for news organizations. Newspapers are “perfectly poised to run social networks,” he said. “We are excited that journalists are at the core” of this project.

Stangel told me on Thursday that he expects MediaNews to start using the app within two months, with a consumer version available soon after. A beta version of Tackable is available for the iPhone, with an Android version in the works.

How it works

The Tackable team is also working with San Jose State University’s student newspaper, the Spartan Daily, to test a similar version of the app. That one works like this:

  • A news editor or reporter makes a photo assignment that is published to the app.
  • People using the app can accept assignments and submit images via their iPhones. They get “karma” points for completing assignments.
  • Users can submit and share images without an assignment, too.
  • News editors can select photos shared via the app — assignments and others — for use online or in print.
  • Submitted images are geotagged and presented on a map within the app and on the Web.
  • Users can share the photos on their other social networks and comment on them within the app.

In some ways, the concept is similar to Intersect, a Seattle-based social storytelling service. Intersect enables users to organize their stories into story lines that they can tag with a place and time to create an “intersection.” Users can then scroll through other users’ story lines and see if their stories intersect.

Intersect uses an iPhone app too, although the service isn’t mobile-only.

How Tackable could fit into newsgathering

Stangel said newsrooms could use the app to request photos for everything from parades to holiday events to breaking news.

For readers and editors, the advantage of Tackable’s social network, he said, is that it’s based on location, not relationships.

He pointed to the potential for a live stream of images to emerge for a news story such as the uprising in Egypt. “There are certain events [for which] you need to connect with people who are actually there,” not just those commenting on Twitter or Facebook, he said.

So far, the Spartan Daily has based most of its assignments on campus landmarks and events. Each assignment is worth a specific karma score. This week, students who make the app’s leaderboard are eligible for a free doughnut from Psycho Donuts.

Rewards foster participation

Rewards and game mechanics are important because users, especially early adopters, need an incentive to stay engaged with the app. The key to any user-generated-content project is attracting enough of an audience to make the effort self-perpetuating.

“It is a classic problem,” Stangel said. “You need to have content to get users and you need users to get content.”

That challenge is one reason Tackable decided to partner with newspapers. Local newspapers come with built-in audiences, as well as a platform to publish reader-submitted photos — another incentive for participation.

Shared photos can be reproduced anywhere

Readers will be able to follow participating news outlets — or even individual reporters and editors at several different newspapers. Readers can also follow friends and other contributors to monitor the photos and comments they submit.

Once the MediaNews app is rolled out, Tackable will be made available, for free, to any media outlet. And like Twitter, all of the activity on the network will be public, including assignments and photo submissions.

That may pose a concern for editors, considering that anyone could publish photos submitted for a news org’s assignment. But Stangel said the Tackable team believes openness is the only way to make the app’s social network viable.

That openness also raises some legal challenges, as contributors will need to release their photography for editorial use. Stangel said those details are still being ironed out.

The Tackable team believes their app could reshape newsgathering. Imagine, Stangel said, “you can connect instantly with anyone, anywhere on the planet, over something you can see live” on your phone or computer.

“If we can replicate this globally, you will never have to wait for news,” he suggested, “because a citizen journalist [will have] already created it” and posted it to Tackable.

Here’s a video demo of the app:

CORRECTION: The original version of this post misspelled Luke Stangel’s name. It has been corrected. Read more


Chat replay: What role do image apps like Hipstamatic have in photojournalism?

New York Times photographer Damon Winter’s third place award in the Pictures of the Year International contest has caused some controversy among photojournalists — not because of the images, but because he captured them with the Hipstamatic app on his iPhone.

The company that makes Hipstamatic says it “brings back the look, feel, unpredictable beauty, and fun of plastic toy cameras of the past. … Characterized by vignettes, blurring, over saturation, discolored images, Hipstaprints have a casual and seemingly accidental snapshot feel.”

Some of those effects are evident in Winter’s series of photographs, called “A Grunt’s Life,” which was part of an ongoing Times series.

Hipstamatic is the second-most paid popular photography app on iTunes. But does it belong in a photojournalist’s camera bag?

According to Chip Litherland, it doesn’t:

“The fact it was shot on a phone isn’t relevant at all and fair game, but what is relevant is the fact it was processed through an app that changes what was there when he shot them. It’s now no longer photojournalism, but photography.”

Zach Wise, a multimedia producer at the Times, responded on Twitter, “SLRs have picture styles, can vignette, over/under saturate etc, Is hipstamatic ethically different re: #photojournalism?”

On Friday at 3 p.m. ET we hosted a live chat here with noted conflict photographer Ben Lowy, who has used the iPhone in his work, and Kenny Irby, Poynter’s senior faculty for photojournalism and diversity. (Winter told me he couldn’t participate because he’s on assignment overseas; however he did sent me a statement that summarizes his approach and reaction to the controversy.)

“The blurring of the accuracy line in photojournalism is a real challenge,” Irby told me, “especially given levels of reporting experimentation and software development. It is not going away.”

If you aren’t able to participate here, you can tweet questions or comments using the #poynterchats hashtag. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat.

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >What role do image apps like Hipstamatic have in photojournalism?</a> Read more


RJI project tests and rates mobile journalism tools, from apps to hardware

The mobile landscape is changing fast, says Will Sullivan, and journalists need help keeping up.

Figuring out which apps to use can be a challenge, not to mention picking a phone. Aside from deciding between two iPhones (Verizon or AT&T) there are also dozens of Android models across multiple wireless carriers.

This environment demands that editors and managers become more informed and able to respond more quickly to new mobile technologies.

From his time as the interactive director of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sullivan understands the challenges of mobile reporting first-hand. He spent part of last summer visiting other newspapers in the Lee Enterprises chain and training staffers on mobile tools.

While working with those newsrooms, Sullivan said, he could not find a good, one-stop resource for journalists focused on mobile gear and apps. So when he became a fellow at the University of Missouri’s Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute last fall, his first project was to create that resource: the Mobile Journalism Reporting Tools Guide, which officially was launched in December.

Sullivan talked to me about the blog and the focus of his fellowship, the journalistic use of mobile tools.

Sullivan and a small group of student reviewers have so far tested and reviewed more than 75 apps, accessories and Web services — everything from audio editing tools to batteries to tripods. Each review includes the price, a rating and a short description focused on potential newsroom uses.

For instance, Andrew Dumas road tested the Blue Mikey external iPhone microphone, giving it a “recommended” rating:

“In a quiet room, this thing sounds clear as crystal. It’s light, it’s small, it’s fairly durable, you’re not going to break it by storing it in a pocket while you travel.”

Addressing the variety of photo editing apps available for the iPhone, Jennifer Elston picked Photogene as her favorite, writing:

“It is very simple, yet effective. It does everything that you would want to do to edit your photos in a journalistic function and then some.”

And testing out portable keyboards, Amanda Heisey found that the foldable Freedom Pro was not perfect, but it did beat trying to type on an iPhone or Android’s touch screen:

“The keyboard is a little cramped because of the folding, so it does take a little getting used to. It’s not a big problem, but it is annoying at first.”

Sullivan said he hopes the site, which has also been converted into a downloadable PDF, will be a useful guide for the industry.

Of course, identifying the tools is only the first step. The best way for journalists to learn is to actually use mobile devices in their reporting, he said. To do that, editors must get mobile technology into their newsrooms.

Journalists are “more engaged when they have [a smart phone] as their personal device,” Sullivan said. “Even if it is just a select few people – maybe the photographers or breaking news reporters” to start.

Looking ahead, Sullivan just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which he described as a “cornucopia” of Android tablets. Among the devices he’s watching this year are the newly announced Motorola Xoom tablet as well as the Motorola Atrix 4G smart phone.

A key part of making the guide relevant for newsrooms is identifying tools that not only function well, but fit specific job descriptions, Sullivan said. So this semester, reviewers will address the question, “Who would this tool be ideal for?” The answer is changing rapidly as smart phones and tablets evolve.

Reflecting on the devices he saw at CES, Sullivan said, “It was really amazing to see a demo and wrap your head around how these mobile phone devices are powerful enough to work as a desktop computer replacement, multimedia media center, as well as a mobile phone.” Read more


Lack of concurrent voice, data connections on Verizon an issue for journalists

The iPhone 4 will be available on Verizon Wireless within weeks, but what does that mean for media companies?

With many newsrooms using smart phones to gather news and report live from the field, the iPhone’s availability on Verizon may make it a more attractive choice than in the past. But, a few variables need to be factored into that decision.

In terms of technology, the two phones — on AT&T and Verizon — are almost identical. Verizon uses a different cellular technology, CDMA, which is probably of little note to the average consumer but of importance to journalists (more on that in a bit).

Cost is always an issue, and the phone itself starts at $199 with a two-year contract on either carrier. Individual voice plans are also identical at $70 a month for unlimited calling. However, for data, Verizon is offering an unlimited plan for $30, while AT&T’s top package allows 2GB of data for $25.

And the data plan is especially of interest to journalists, as Verizon has announced its iPhone can be used as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot for an additional fee. AT&T allows physical tethering — connecting the phone to a laptop for Internet connectivity — but Verizon’s solution will allow five devices to connect via the phone wirelessly.

This is similar to the MiFi technology already in use by many journalists. However, due to the limitations of CDMA, the Verizon iPhone cannot allow concurrent voice and data connections. So, if you have two laptops connected to the Internet via your phone, the Web connection will be cut if the phone rings.

For the average consumer, that may not be a major concern.  But it certainly is for journalists in the field. It is difficult to imagine a photographer on deadline being unable to make or receive phone calls while her images are being transmitted. A fix for this problem is in the works, but no official timetable has been announced by Verizon.

The CDMA issue is not necessarily a deal breaker for newsrooms; any smart phone sold by Verizon has the same limitation. But, until the problem is resolved, it does limit the usefulness of the device as a full-fledged reporting tool. Read more

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