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22 February, 2015

10 years of mobile journalism - an essay by Robb Montgomery

The presenters at the first #MOJOCON have been asked to contribute and an original essay for the the RTE International Mobile Journalism Conference, taking place March 27-28, in Dublin. 

Here’s mine . . .

10 years of mobile journalism

In 2006, I pitched a crazy idea to the director of the World Editors Forum.

I asked Bertrand Pecquerie if I could come to Moscow to file mobile journalism reports with small consumer video gear to show the potential for mobile journalism to the congress of assembled publishers and editors-in-chief. 

Surprisingly, he agreed. 

Over three days, his assistant, John Burke and I filmed Vox-Pops and short-form video packages during the conference and they were screened in near-real-time for the delegates in attendance. 

We filmed musicians in the Metro, Putin in the Kremlin and interviewed editors at every turn. 

MOSCOW 2006: John Burke filming sound bites with a pink Lumix FX-01 camera. (Photo by Robb Montgomery)

It was a watershed moment - the kind of ambitious project that instantly captured the zeitgeist of what could be done with mobile journalism.

The media chiefs were shocked when they saw that all of the videos they were being shown were made by two Americans using a little pink Lumix camera and an Apple iBook.

This was a time before any of us were using YouTube, before there was an iPhone, and before there was a thing called Twitter.

In the 10 years since, our cameras have become connected, they have better sensors and amazing storytelling apps on board. 

Mobile technology has grown exponentially in the capability for mobile storytelling and we all are struggling to keep up. There is still so much untapped potential.

In Moscow, I volunteered on the blogging desk and met a young guy named Tarek Atia. Within minutes of talking, Tarek had invited me to Cairo to teach several workshops.

Between 2006 and 2010, I made 14 trips to Egypt training journalists, journalism faculty and students how to produce mobile journalism, social media, video journalism and visual storytelling.

We brought in the amazing David Dunkley-Gyimah to partner on the video journalism training efforts with broadcasters and we filed news reports from in and around old Cairo with our small gear.

Tarek and David filming in the Khan el-Khalili in Old Cairo. (Photo by Robb Montgomery)

In 2011 I had the chance to take those lessons learned forward and design the world’s first media training center built entirely around mobile-first journalism. 

The Chief-of-party for the Egypt Media Development Program, Joe Raffelberg (whom I had worked with in Cairo), invited me to consult on the new IREX project in Georgia and contribute ideas for retooling a journalism school that needed new equipment and training space.

I contributed ideas about the equipment and we looked at spaces to rent. This experience allowed me to shared a vision for how mobile journalism was going to change journalism instruction and production.

I pitched the funders using a slide deck on my iPad (Which was new at the time) and the project really took off.

The first "Mobile-first" newsroom and media school. (Photo by Robb Montgomery)

The S.M.A.R.T. Media lab was built for less than $1 million in Tbilisi, Georgia to serve two journalism schools. It now now operates 12 hours a day and serves the students and faculty for four journalism schools. 

If I were building this mobile-first newsroom + classroom today, it would cost less and be able to do more. 

In 2012, I returned to Moscow to train Radio Free Europe reporters in mobile journalism, this time we were using the iPhone 4 and Android phones and the range of storytelling grew to include multimedia as well as video reporting. This training was part of a tour with stops in Tbilisi, Prague and Bishkek.

Radio Svoboda journalists learn to make smartphone video reports in Moscow. (Photo by Robb Montgomery)

The speed of change, the power in the tools and the improvements in training and mobile-first workflows are challenging all of us to stay on top of developments. 

Even for the Bertrands, Johns, Tareks, Davids, Joes, and myself who saw this MOJO future developing in front of our very eyes.

Today, I am working with the managers of large newsrooms and broadcast houses to build their own Mobile-first newsrooms and training programs in Singapore, Prague, Berlin, and across North America. 

It is an exciting time to be a mobile journalist and I feel privileged to be allowed to teach cutting-edge MOJO skills to the next generations of reporters and media students.

The first 10 years of mobile journalism have gone by in a blur and we are still, in many ways, just at the start of this revolution. 

Companies like Gannett are today launching ambitious programs to train all of their reporters in mobile-first techniques and I can sense a new wave of enthusiasm for MOJO. 

I just can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring.

How about you?

Robb Montgomery


Robb Montgomery will be presenting “10 Things I Learned About Teaching Mobile Journalism” at MOJOCon in Dublin.


Montgomery is a journalism professor and documentary filmmaker who has taught thousands of broadcast field reporters how to make incredible videos with mobile gear.

He has attracted more than 4,000 students to the Smart Film School.

From designing the world’s first mobile-first newsroom in Georgia to training Egyptian journalists on documentary film, Robb Montgomery has fully embraced the idea of video storytelling going mobile no matter the locale.

Montgomery has taught visual storytelling and mobile multimedia at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and at the International Academy of Journalism.

He founded the Smart Film School in 2014 to deliver high quality video training to every smartphone.