Smartphone Storytelling: Be Church and Bring Church

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My 2nd entry in my series, “Smartphone Storytelling,” was made with the desire to tell a different kind of story from my previous one. I wanted to work on a NATS package and try to pull it off with only a phone and laptop.

The story of, “Be Church and Bring Church,” arose out of my own personal experiences with church planting and missions and my father’s work as a church planter catalyst for the North American Mission Board. I set out to shed light on the challenges faced by church planters and the lack of support by believers. The call to the Great Commission is shared by every Christian but it is the Church’s apathy that has led to many frustrations and failures.

The hardest part of any NATS package is making sure your interviews go correctly. Its like a house of cards. Without solid interviews, the whole thing collapses. Interviewing with a smartphone is a even more complicated than what most backpack journalists deal with. The constant camera shake and limitations of the phone are coupled with the already consuming effort of conducting an interview.

The first interview with John Draper had a lot of issues. Wanting a more relaxed backdrop, we went to a cafe. However, the cafe ground its own beans and caused a lot of noise. Smartphones have omnidirectional microphones which will pick up any background noise. While I want to limit myself to only a phone and computer, I did want to test out a magnetic mini tripod I purchased for $40. It holds the weight of my Galaxy S5 nicely and can stick to any magnetized metal surface. I toyed with it only in this interview and may occassionally utilize it in the future.

The interview with Elie had to be recorded with my computer as I was using my phone to interview the church planter. While using it, I realized the possibility of doing a two camera shoot when combining the two. Set the laptop up for a wide shot and go closer with the smartphone. Synchronize to one audio source. I don’t know. Something to play around with someday.

The smartphone proved to be an excellent candid camera when recording in the church service and in public. A larger set of equipment would have not allowed me to, as freely, move where I wanted to. Almost everyone ignored me and I was able to snag some decent shots. However, capturing the worship leaders on stage led to the struggle with the limited zoom ability on smartphones.

Overall, I feel that I was able to tell a compelling NATS package. Checking off audio storytelling on my list of to-do’s, I hope to do a very visually striking piece in the near future. Stay tuned!

Smartphone Storytelling: Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City

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This is the beginning of an ongoing series I call, “Smartphone Storytelling,” an exploration of how smartphones can play new roles in journalism. Throughout the series, I will limit myself strictly to a smartphone (Galaxy S5) and a laptop (Macbook Pro). I will not use tripods, external microphones, car mounts, or any accessories beyond the built-in features of these two devices (excluding charging and transfer cables). This allows me to work solely with the tools that even the average highshool student would have access to. My hopes is to discover new approaches towards how journalists can use these devices and encourage everyone that, should they have these two basic tools, they have all the power to make their voice heard around the world.

PREVENTING BALTIMORE IN OKLAHOMA CITY

The story I worked on is titled, “Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City.” Previously living in Baltimore, I currently reside in Oklahoma City. I was drawn to the coverage of April’s protests that shook Baltimore. Having seen police-involved deaths here in Oklahoma, I wanted to see what changes were being made and needed to be made to prevent the events of Baltimore from happening here. Speaking with both police and community leaders, I crafted my story. However, anyone in journalism can say how a story changes at a moment’s notice. One moment of breaking news drastically changed everything.

STORYTELLING WITH A SMARTPHONE

This story, being the first, was really meant to be with my technical comfort zone. I did not envision any difficult shots or recording challenges when I started. In fact, the work was made very easy as the phone served a critical part in the story’s development. I conducted research on my phone, made calls, used it’s GPS to get me to the various locations, monitored social media (which is how I discovered the in-custody death), logged my recordings, and was even considering downloading a police scanner app. The combination of the built-in features and apps allow for a great deal of innovation.

Both interior interviews were straightforward. I sat down, supported my elbows with the desktop, and held the phone with both hands (always shooting horizontally). I made sure both the interviews were in a quiet space. Smartphones ‘ microphones act omnidirectionally and will pick up a lot noise. It was imperative to get my phone very close to my subjects (3-4 feet). This shortcoming was what prevented me from getting any useful audio during the press talk by the police at the scene of the in-custody death. Having arrived in the middle of it, I couldn’t get any closer and kept at a distance that picked up too much traffic noise. Recording my own track was perhaps the easiest and I was happy with the quality of the recording.

Broll became considerable harder to film due to the lack of a worthwhile zoom on the camera. The phone did a satisfactory job in capturing wide shots but limited my angles and ability to focus on specific subjects. The medium shots of the police cars suffered both from quality and camera shake. This would be the primary reason why a smartphone would face challenges in reporting on sports and other stories that require the ability to zoom in on the action. To get those great closeups, you physically will need to get closer (which can’t always happen).

At many points in the story, I used video and pictures from other sources. A quick search of “Baltimore protests 2015” under a creative commons filter on Youtube turned up solid video. I also got permission from Mr. Washington to use his videos and images on Facebook. Some online download tools, such as keepvid.com, allowed me to easily get what I needed. With just the one phone, I utilized my laptop’s camera to record my conversations with the OKC media. Additionally, I used Quicktime’s screen capture ability to get the broll of the OKC PD social media sites. All of it allowed me to have many more elements in crafting my story.

For this story, I can’t say I really pushed the boundaries of smartphone use. I did however demonstrate that a complex story can be told with simple tools. I look forward in future entries to have more opportunities to getting up close to subjects and seeing what I can really do.