Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It may be a bad name, but Reuter's "Mojo" initiative gets it right

It's hard to endorse something with such a terrible name, but Reuters Mobile Journalist initiative--that's MoJo for short folks, sorry--is a brilliant concept. The essential idea was to equip journalists with a do-everything mobile phone (Nokia's N95, which has a 5 megapixel camera stuck on the back), a bluetooth keyboard (so you're not typing everything out on the multi-tap keypad), a mini tripod (for easy video blogging), a little mic, and even a solar charger. This small collection of tools is powerful enough to accomplish most of the tasks a one-man-band journalist may need. If a journalist can shoot video, take photos, and even write and file stories using equipment that probably weighs less than three pounds combined, it means that that journalist can be quicker and more agile, able to adapt faster to a changing situation and get needed information out.

It also means that more people can be journalists. With one exception (an adapter to plug the mic in), all of this stuff is off-the-shelf equipment. And once you get past the phone, it's all pretty secondary. With the sheer volume and ubiquity of mobile phones across the world today suddenly the ability for everyone to be a journalist is within reach. Scary for journalists, yes, but amazing for empowering a multitude of voices.

While the collection of examples on the Reuters site is underwhelming (they mostly equipped tech journalists with the equipment, so you get the usual collection of trade-show handjobs), the possibilities are endless. I'd love to see them give 100 of these kits to youth media creators or 100 to farmers in developing nations or 100 to soldiers in the front lines (dare to dream--there's no way the Army would allow it) and see what happens. In the right hands, it has the potential to be a wildly disruptive technology, especially when paired with a backend designed for it (still waiting on that one though).