How the smartphone changed the general election

It's not just live-streaming and rolling news where mobile made its mark in the latest general election.

The BBC has developed its own mobile journalism app for iPhone that can be used by BBC staff to capture video, stills and audio ready to be edited into broadcast news packages. PNg, or Portable Newsgathering, is a 'journalist-proof' app for shooting and securely uploading news back to BBC newsrooms.

"An iPhone is essentially a mobile newsroom in your pocket, so if you understand how to use it and the PNg app properly then wherever and wherever you are you can record content that can be available for broadcast on air and online within minutes," explains Marc Settle, mobile journalism and social media trainer for the BBC College of Journalism.

As well as ensuring that all uploaded content is tagged to assist editors building a broadcast package, it also prompts journalists to make sure their phone is held horizontally to avoid broadcast professionals' pet hate, vertical video.


"If you try to impose vertical screen footage onto a landscape device the two do not match at all. You either have these two nasty black bars either side of the footage, or you have to blur it and fudge the fact that you haven't been able to fill the whole screen."

Of the 3,000 iOS devices with PNg deployed across the BBC,1,000 staff use it regularly to file between 300 and 400 pieces of content every week day. That's a lot of coverage. Interestingly, uploads might not come exclusively from journalists or traditional BBC newsgatherers.

"I have had BBC people on my course who are in legal affairs or publicity but want to understand how they could use their iPhone to a professional near-broadcast standard such that if a news story happens in front of their nose, they would be able to contribute to the BBC's news machine more quickly and also as easily as a properly-trained journalist."

With an army of staff trained in and equipped with the necessary tools for smartphone newsgathering the BBC ensured it remained a formidable media force during the election.

The world of User Generated Content

Of course, newsgathering is no longer limited just to professional journalists and reporters. Almost anybody with a smartphone is capable of capturing a piece of audio or video that can change the course of an election campaign.

Newsflare is an app for both iOS and Android that's dedicated to helping you sell potentially newsworthy smartphone footage to media outlets such as the BBC and Sky News.

"People submit newsworthy video for a variety of reasons," says Newsflare co-founder Jon Cornwell. "The excitement of filming a story unfolding in front of you, followed by the excitement of seeing that footage picked up and broadcast/published with the world's media."

Not to forget the pretty penny you could stand to make should your video get sold and make it onto the news.

But how seriously do news organisations take citizen journalist footage? Very, it turns out: "Rarely these days do you see a story about a breaking event which doesn't feature some footage captured on a mobile phone, dash-cam or Go-Pro," adds Cornwell.

The general election in no exception. Already Newsflare has seen video submitted of a parliamentary candidate forgetting her party manifesto, a party rep put on the spot about awkward personal air travel, and (our favourite so far) a fishing boat full of kippers.


The Newsflare app

As broadcasting budgets become increasingly stretched, services such as Newsflare, GuardianWitness or FirstOnSiteNews look set to play an increasingly important role in connecting newsrooms with newsgatherers.

Whether it's to form a coalition with a newsroom's existing newsgathering capabilities, to win over marginal seats unreachable by traditional camera kit and crews, or to spin the reporter as a one-man live-streaming news-gathering machine, smartphones and tablets look set for a long term in traditional media as well as social media.

So, this mobile general election night we predict a large turnout for livestreaming, a party revolt against crackly telephone lines, and a big swing to Periscopes featuring both happy and humiliated MPs.