Getting to grips with the new vids on the blog

In 20 years as a television reporter, I have never seen it as my job to hold the camera, rather to stare into it, checking my hair from time to time. But perhaps that is changing. Now that most of us carry mobile phones which can double as video cameras, will it become the TV reporter’s job to shoot as well as shout questions at passing politicians?

For the past month, I have been involved in an experiment which has involved shooting video, not for broadcast but for a blog. In January, after tiring of our constant nagging, the BBC allowed me and my colleague Darren Waters, who edits the technology pages on the BBC website, to start publishing Dot Life, a daily blog with our musings about gadgets, games, and other aspects of technology. It quickly attracted plenty of readers and responses – a few of them complimentary – but we decided our audience might like to see some of what we were talking about.

Our experiment started, appropriately enough, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I was covering this event with an excellent cameraman and editor, Peter Page, for a whole array of BBC television and radio outlets. But I also took with me two mobile phones with good video capture capabilities – the Nokia N95 and the LG Viewty, although the battery life on the LG phone was so poor that it was soon abandoned. Between compiling some beautifully shot and edited reports, I shot half a dozen very wobbly clips on my phone for inclusion on the blog.

I talked to the actress and film-maker Isabella Rossellini about her three-minute films for mobile phones about, I kid you not, the sex lives of insects. More prosaically, I interviewed senior figures from Nokia, Microsoft and Google, and filmed a demo of the new Android operating system for mobile phones which Google is launching later this year.

The upside of this experiment was speed and convenience. I was able to knock off a quick clip while my cameraman was gathering other material. I could then transfer it to my laptop, do a rough edit, upload it on to a video-sharing site, and paste it into a blog entry within an hour.

The downside was the quality of the video – shaky pictures and poor sound. The audience were not that impressed by my efforts. One blog reader wrote: ‘If you can’t find the time to create a steady and properly edited video clip, I’d rather you concentrated on the words.’Another asked: ‘Is the camera strapped to his head?’But a few weighed in for the defence: ‘I think that for the mobile conference, using that sort of style was completely relevant,’one said.

Darren Waters then picked up the baton, taking a mobile phone to the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco. His video clips included a shot of a broken Xbox 360 console on Microsoft’s own stand at the show. This clip spread like wildfire around the web once it had been posted on the blog. For a very specialist and knowledgeable audience, the video material gave an extra dimension to our coverage of this event, which was never going to feature on mainstream news bulletins.

We still need to work on the quality of our video, perhaps adding a mini-tripod and an external microphone to our kit. We are also trying out two services – qik.com and Flixwagon – which allow you to broadcast live from a mobile once you have installed their application on your phone. I am less sure about the value of this for the BBC, but we have to be aware that any news event is now likely to be broadcast live on the internet by an army of bloggers, and we need to work out how we react to this phenomenon.

It is important to emphasise that video from a mobile phone cannot – and should not – replace the work of a professional camera operator. But for reporters who may not always have a crew to hand when they come across something newsworthy, a mobile phone can now be a useful addition to the professional toolkit. All I need to learn now is how to hold it steady.In 20 years as a television reporter, I have never seen it as my job to hold the camera, rather to stare into it, checking my hair from time to time. But perhaps that is changing. Now that most of us carry mobile phones which can double as video cameras, will it become the TV reporter’s job to shoot as well as shout questions at passing politicians?

For the past month, I have been involved in an experiment which has involved shooting video, not for broadcast but for a blog. In January, after tiring of our constant nagging, the BBC allowed me and my colleague Darren Waters, who edits the technology pages on the BBC website, to start publishing Dot Life, a daily blog with our musings about gadgets, games, and other aspects of technology. It quickly attracted plenty of readers and responses – a few of them complimentary – but we decided our audience might like to see some of what we were talking about.

Our experiment started, appropriately enough, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I was covering this event with an excellent cameraman and editor, Peter Page, for a whole array of BBC television and radio outlets. But I also took with me two mobile phones with good video capture capabilities – the Nokia N95 and the LG Viewty, although the battery life on the LG phone was so poor that it was soon abandoned. Between compiling some beautifully shot and edited reports, I shot half a dozen very wobbly clips on my phone for inclusion on the blog.

I talked to the actress and film-maker Isabella Rossellini about her three-minute films for mobile phones about, I kid you not, the sex lives of insects. More prosaically, I interviewed senior figures from Nokia, Microsoft and Google, and filmed a demo of the new Android operating system for mobile phones which Google is launching later this year.

The upside of this experiment was speed and convenience. I was able to knock off a quick clip while my cameraman was gathering other material. I could then transfer it to my laptop, do a rough edit, upload it on to a video-sharing site, and paste it into a blog entry within an hour.

The downside was the quality of the video – shaky pictures and poor sound. The audience were not that impressed by my efforts. One blog reader wrote: ‘If you can’t find the time to create a steady and properly edited video clip, I’d rather you concentrated on the words.’Another asked: ‘Is the camera strapped to his head?’But a few weighed in for the defence: ‘I think that for the mobile conference, using that sort of style was completely relevant,’one said.

Darren Waters then picked up the baton, taking a mobile phone to the Games Developers Conference in San Francisco. His video clips included a shot of a broken Xbox 360 console on Microsoft’s own stand at the show. This clip spread like wildfire around the web once it had been posted on the blog. For a very specialist and knowledgeable audience, the video material gave an extra dimension to our coverage of this event, which was never going to feature on mainstream news bulletins.

We still need to work on the quality of our video, perhaps adding a mini-tripod and an external microphone to our kit. We are also trying out two services – qik.com and Flixwagon – which allow you to broadcast live from a mobile once you have installed their application on your phone. I am less sure about the value of this for the BBC, but we have to be aware that any news event is now likely to be broadcast live on the internet by an army of bloggers, and we need to work out how we react to this phenomenon.

It is important to emphasise that video from a mobile phone cannot – and should not – replace the work of a professional camera operator. But for reporters who may not always have a crew to hand when they come across something newsworthy, a mobile phone can now be a useful addition to the professional toolkit. All I need to learn now is how to hold it steady.

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