Mobile Storytelling

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If the pen was mightier than the sword, mobile phones are our atomic agent of change.

In the past decade, mobile journalism exploded across the world following an increase in smartphone processing power and camera quality. The shift began when the first iPhone was released in 2007. Since then, Apple sold more than 1.5 billion iPhones. Android actually surpassed Apple. There are now more than 2 billion Android users worldwide.

What is a mojo?

A mojo is a new term for a journalist who uses a mobile device to tell stories. Mojos use their phones to record video and audio interviews. Some of them edit the media using apps like Videolicious and Adobe Rush. Others will edit on PCs.

Mojos use phones to publish content to social media platforms and websites through apps like WordPress. Mojos can stream live. They can share 360 videos and photos using their phones and tablets.

Why Mojo?

Phones aren’t the only cameras improving in recent years. With fancy new cameras on the market, why would a journalist prefer using a cell phone?


Shooting and editing on a smartphone can take a fraction of the time. Many auto functions quickly reduce common errors like white balance, exposure and focus.

If a photographer shoots a story on a traditional TV camera or a DSLR, it takes more time to set up. Then, the photographer usually has to eject an SD card and import the media onto a laptop. This process can eat up time in a breaking news situation where immediacy is key.


If you think your new iPhone is expensive, try buying a brand new camera and a lens. Nice cameras are expensive. Smartphones now record video in 4K so journalists on a budget don’t need to waste money on all the bells and whistles.


Traditional TV news cameras and tripods are super heavy. You shouldn’t have to be in the best shape of your life to be a videographer. A cell phone is so lightweight that it doesn’t require a heavy tripod. Being a mojo means you can more easily travel and make your way around events like crowded rallies.


It’s not easy to create intimacy on demand with a huge camera in your face. Interviews with traditional video setups are intimidating and can make it more difficult for people to open up. A smartphone is less obtrusive and people are more familiar with them so they feel more comfortable in front of a cell phone.

People feel so comfortable in front of cell phones that according to Rawhide, 93 million selfies are posted every day. That’s 1,000 selfies a second on Instagram.

Video Example

This is the first video created by a student who just learned how to shoot with her iPhone.

Here’s another video created by a student:

A student was able to tell this story from inside a march since she only had to carry a small cell phone.

Professional MOJO Story Examples

Mojo Leaders

My favorite mojo leader is Yusuf Omar.

A journalist working for Al Jazeera used a cell phone to discreetly shoot a documentary in Syria.

NDTV recently swapped out all of their reporting and studio cameras for Samsung phones.

The BBC is one of the biggest leaders of mobile journalism. They often offer tutorials for how others can join the mojo movement.

Aspect Ratios

Your cell phone may be set to capture photos in 4:3. But, you may want to switch it to 16:9 so it fills up the entire frame when the phone is held horizontally. Here’s what 4:3 looks like:

4:3 ratio

When someone looks at this with their phone turned horizontally, the phone will add black bars on the side like this:


Here is that same image in 16:9. This is best for broadcasting on TV, YouTube, Facebook posts and Twitter posts.

16:9 ratio

You should adjust your aspect ratio to fit the platform. For example, vertical videos are best for Snapchat, Facebook stories and Instagram stories.


To read more click here: How to View & Take Photos in Widescreen (16:9) on iPhone


During an interview, you want to give your subject proper lead room. This means they’re looking across the screen at the reporter. A reporter should maintain eye contact with the person they’re interviewing so they should stand on either side of the camera, not behind it.


The following image does not have propper lead room. The negative space on the left creates awkward composition and makes the viewer feel disconnected with the person who’s speaking.


This lead room isn’t bad, but there’s way too much headroom.


Avoid shooting a profile of the person who’s talking because it’s hard for viewers to connect with a speaker if they can’t see their face. Make sure you can see both eyes of the person you’re interviewing to increase intimacy with your viewers.



If you’re interviewing someone outside in the space below, you want to consider where the sunlight is shining to use the light to your benefit.


You may be tempted to put the person you’re interviewing in the sun. Here’s why that’s a bad idea:

  • Direct sunlight makes people squint. The smaller the person’s eyes appear, the harder it is for your viewers to connect. They may also appear angry.
  • Direct sunlight casts harsh shadows under people’s noses. If they wear glasses, you’ll also create distracting shadows on their face.

Think putting them in the shadow of a tree will help? It won’t.


Instead, move the person into the shadow of the building to let your camera iris open up and absorb more detail of the person’s evenly lit face.


Just make sure there’s no overexposed lit area behind them, or you will backlight your subject like this:


Another common space to record interviews is in a room with a window. The window can offer a fantastic source of diffused natural light. But, you have to make sure the light hits the person’s face, not the back of their head or you will have too much backlight.


If the window is behind the person you’re interviewing, the shot could end up looking like this:


To avoid an overexposed background and an underexposed interview, just turn the person around so they’re facing the window like this:



Your interview or reporter standup is considered a-roll. Supplemental footage to help tell your story is called b-roll. When shooting b-roll, variety is key. Get a wide variety of shots to show your story from different distances, heights and angles.

Establishing or extreme wide shot
Wide shot
Close up
Extreme close up
Reflection shot
Reflection shot
Reflection shot

When shooting b-roll or photos of people, try to get shots of eye contact, emotion, action and reaction.

Reaction shot
Action shot
Over the shoulder shot


In addition to a cell phone that shoots HD video, here are a few pieces of equipment I suggest investing in.

Phones can shoot great video, but a simple lav microphone can really go a long way in elevating the quality. I like the Polsen MO-PL1 Lavalier Microphone for mobile. It’s $49.95 which is more affordable than most microphones but still produces great quality audio.

lav mic

Don’t have a headphone jack in your phone? A 3.5mm headphone jack adapter will run you about $16.


Shooting handheld can result in shaky video so try the lightweight Manfrotto tripod for $64.88.


To attach your phone to your tripod, you’ll need an adapter. I use the Vastar Universal Smartphone Tripod Adapter. You can buy it for $7.99.


An external battery pack is a lifesaver when you’re reporting from the field. The FosPower PowerActive Portable Battery Charger is water resistant and shockproof. You can pick one up on Amazon for $25.

external battery

You may also want to consider getting a gimbal to get stable shots on the move. You can get a Zhiyun Smooth Q on Amazon for $85.90.

The newer Smooth 4 is $119 and should better handle heavier phones.

How to record video stories on your cell phone

Put your camera on grid mode to help with your rule of thirds.

Using an iPhone:

  1. Click settings
  2. Click camera
  3. Slide grid to the right
file-1 (1).jpeg

If you’re using a newer iPhone, you may want to consider turning off Apple’s new HEVC format to record more compatible videos. Experts expect this format to become more common in the future, but there are still some issues editing high-efficiency video, specifically in Adobe Premiere Pro. HEVC is really meant for streaming video live, not editing it.

To maintain a traditional video format:

  1. Click settings
  2. Click camera
  3. Click format
  4. Click “most compatible”
file (1)

Put your phone in airplane mode to ensure your interview isn’t interrupted by an incoming call.

Make sure you have enough storage on your phone before you begin shooting. If you need more space, delete apps or videos that you don’t need. You can upload your content to the iCloud or get a free Google drive app to make more space on your phone.

Tap on your screen to tell the phone where to focus.

This will automatically adjust your camera’s iris to increase or decrease exposure.

Your camera’s iris kind of works like the iris of your eye. When it’s too sunny, your pupils will get smaller. When it’s dark out, your iris will open your pupils to let in more light so you can see more details. Auto iris works like your eye.

Tap and hold on the area of your screen that you want your viewers to focus on. This will lock your focus and exposure as you record.

Then you can scroll up to increase exposure, or scroll down to decrease exposure.


Zooming with your cell phone will lower the resolution of your shot. Instead of zooming in, just move closer to whatever you’re trying to record.

For the highest resolution, the person you’re interviewing should be no more than three feet away from the camera.

If you don’t have enough natural light, turn on your cell phone light by pushing on the lighting icon in your camera’s video app.

If you plan to be on camera for a reporter standup, avoid the urge to look at yourself. Instead, look directly into the front-facing camera lens.

Spit that gum out. Chewing gum creates distracting noises and it’s not a good look if you’re on camera.

Avoid plosives by moving the microphone away from your mouth. NPR has a great training guide to help you avoid common audio errors.

Practice time. Hold your hand up in front of your face and say the words “Peter Piper Pizza.” Each time you say a word with the letter “p” air will hit your hand. If air hits your microphone this way, it causes a plosive sound. To avoid plosives, move your mic away from the airflow.

Now what?

When you’re done recording your video, you’ll either want to edit it on your mobile device or move it to a computer.

Moving your video clips from your phone to a computer

  • If you have an iPhone and a Mac, I suggest airdrop or iCloud.
  • The free Google Drive app works great regardless of what type of cell phone or computer you’re using.
  • Just download the app on your phone, then upload all of your clips to your Google Drive.
  • You can download the clips from your Google Drive using a Chrome Browser.
  • After you download your videos, make sure you move them from the download folder into another folder where all of your clips will live before you import them into an editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro.


If you want to shoot and edit all of your videos on your phone, there are several helpful apps.

User Experience

Mobile journalism isn’t just about how a journalist creates content. It’s also about how people consume it. Here’s an example of a story that was created for a cell phone. The user’s experience watching the story on their cell phone is more powerful than watching it on a computer because it turns the user’s phone into a refugee’s phone.

Selfie Journalism

Before the rise in smartphones, the average person couldn’t afford to tell their own stories. They didn’t have the equipment or the platform. Now, they can document revolutions and expose corruptions with their cell phones and a YouTube account. The role of a journalist is changing to help the public tell their own stories. Enter selfie journalism.

We now need journalists more than ever. A journalist’s job is shifting toward curating, re-packaging and verifying content. Journalists can now tell more stories with the rise in user-generated content.

Here are some examples of mobile selfie journalism stories.

Extra Resources

Published by JeanetteAbrahamsen

I am an instructional designer and TV news instructor at the University of South Florida. My passion for innovating learning led me to pursue my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Instructional Technology. I love creating media to enhance eLearning and foster online engagement. I teach students to create multimedia stories for broadcast, web and social media platforms. I lead the Florida Focus class where students produce daily news shows that air on Tampa's PBS station. My reporting classes collaborated with Tampa's NPR station to produce award-winning stories. I am an Emmy Award-winning journalist. I produced thousands of hours of TV news in some of America's largest media markets at Tampa's NBC station, San Diego's ABC station and the San Diego Union-Tribune. I also produced immersive 360-degree virtual tours at the University of South Florida and reported for Hashtag Our Stories.

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