Smartphone video: You can’t live with it, you can’t live without it

September 8, 2015 01:30

By Simon Perez, RTDNA Contributor
More on the “you can’t live with them” in a minute. The “you can’t live without them” part is pretty obvious. Today’s television reporters and videographers – and especially MMJs who both report and shoot – know a smartphone can work ably as a second camera to provide hard-to-get angles or, in a pinch, to provide video that would otherwise be missed.
Every year, during my breaks from teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, I return to KPIX TV in San Francisco to work as an MMJ. On several stories, I’ve whipped out my smartphone to capture video I just couldn’t get with my professional video camera. Here are three occasions where my smartphone, shooting HD video, helped to make a professional TV story look better:
1. When the big camera isn’t an option
A story about new rules re-routing tour buses through Sausalito meant I needed video of tour buses. On the way to the story, I found myself behind a tour bus on the Golden Gate Bridge. Obviously, pulling over right then and there to set up the camera on the tripod wasn’t an option. But, leaning over to the passenger seat and firing up the smartphone was. Here’s some of the video included in the story. Shooting as I was driving over the iconic bridge made the story look better. Here is the clip as edited into the story:

2. When the big camera’s too cumbersome
A story on a new trend in restaurants to replace service staff with tablets got me thinking about an interactive standup, where I’d show what it was like to order off the device, from the perspective of the device. Trying to interact with a full-size video camera and make it look as though I was manipulating a tablet was difficult. But by putting the smartphone on top of the tablet, I was able to add in a different angle that made the story more interesting. Here's how it was edited in to the final piece:

3. When there’s no time for the big camera
A story about a home invasion led me to some smart phone video the homeowner shot of the police dragging the suspect out of the home. I was about 45 minutes to a live shot when I saw the video, which I had to include in the story. The video was too big to email, so, instead, I pulled out my smartphone and recorded the video playing on the homeowner’s smartphone. Rudimentary, but quick, and it added an element of urgency to the story; the viewers got to see how the tense moment ended. Here is how it appeared in the story on the air:

Now back to the part about smartphones and how “you can’t live with them.” When I’m teaching broadcast journalism at Newhouse, it seems smartphones are physical appendages of my students. The minute there’s a break in class, they are immediately checking their phones. Some even think I can’t tell when they’re using them during my lectures.
While I want to encourage my students to take advantage of this journalism tool as they report their stories, I’ll readily admit, I’m afraid to. I fear the minute I say “you can use your phones to shoot video,” they won’t ever pick up the professional cameras we provide them. There are a couple of problems with this:
1. While smartphone video might approximate professional camera video, it doesn’t come close when it comes to audio. Professional cameras capture better quality audio without having to add a slew of accoutrements;

2. Professional cameras are still what the majority of local TV newsrooms use to gather video and sound bites. Our job as journalism educators is to prepare students for the workplace. If we don’t teach students to master the ins and outs of a professional video camera, we’re failing our students.
So, this fall, I plan to require the students in my TV reporting class to use their smartphones to capture one shot per package. One shot that would be more creative. One shot from an angle that would otherwise be impossible to get. One shot that needed to be taken immediately or would have been missed.
It’ll only be one shot per story, but goodness knows, they’ll be spending plenty of time on their smart phones outside of class, anyway.
Simon Perez is an assistant professor in the Broadcast and Digital Journalism Department at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Before teaching, he spent 25 years reporting for newspapers, magazines and TV stations across the United States and in Spain. In the summers of 2012, 2014 and 2015 he returned to his former job as reporter for KPIX TV in San Francisco. He has chronicled his newsroom experiences and the lessons he hopes to bring back to the classroom at