Mobile Journalists Thrive, Credibility May Suffer

At the Associated Collegiate Press convention in Austin, TX last weekend, I learned a new vocab word in a citizen journalism session: MoJo.Chuck Myers - mojo

Some of you are probably familiar with the term – it’s been around for a couple of years now. It’s a hybrid word that’s short for mobile journalist. These field-only reporters work mostly from their cars or coffee shops with internet access and have equipment that allows them to upload copy, shoot and edit video and photos and upload all of these components to the web version of the publication straight from their cars. Click here to read a first-hand account from a working mojo.

The story describes mojo Chuck Myron’s job working for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla. In the article, Myers writes, “We can’t do journalism the way we’ve been doing it unless we want to become irrelevant. Millions of readers have already left us behind and are wondering why we haven’t kept up with them. Professional journalism has its place online, and it’s high time we take it.”

Most industry professionals have absorbed this same attitude, but it may have gone too far. The lack of fact-checking and copy editing in some publications’ content is crippling the credibility of journalism. As our professor has stressed many times, it only takes one mistake to lose credibility.

This Monday, The Washington Post felt the burn of a lack of copy editing in its publication of a world series column riddled with errors.

This mojo phenomenon brings up a few questions.

1. Is the mobile journalist the answer to curb the public’s voracious hunger for 24-hour news coverage? Is it the future of news-internet journalism?

2. Or does the idea of uploading without an edit pose more problems than benefits?

3. Finally, as journalists in the making, would you consider this fast-paced, grass-roots position? It sure isn’t glamorous, but it’s a job that pays.

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9 responses to “Mobile Journalists Thrive, Credibility May Suffer

  1. Like most innovative ideas, this has good intentions with obvious kinks to work out. In the competitive world of 24-hour news, it’s too easy to skip essential steps. What journalists must realize is that delay of a couple extra steps may be worth a lifetime of lost credibility.

    • I agree with you, Ari. In theory, best intentions are outlined here, but sometimes the reality of the situation lags. It’s kind of a rat race out there, and with everyone jumping to be the first to have breaking news, some of the most basic (but important) steps are missed. Misspelling names or misquoting people is embarrassing, not properly fact checking makes you and the publication you represent seem less credible, and some issues get blown out of proportion when they’re flagged as “Breaking News” before enough of the story is known.

    • Credibility would be a big concern if you never have any sort of buffer before your work goes to the web. Especially in situations where libel could be an issue, this could get ugly.

      But plus side of being a mojo- if you get fired, there’s no desk to clean out…

  2. marybessbolling

    I agree with both Ari and Allison. The business is all about striking a balance.

    If you were an editor, what would you stress more? Or how would you fix the disconnect between timeliness and accuracy?

  3. I think that it would be an excellent way to expedite the process of producing, then editing stories. If you’ve got connections in the field perpetually, they can work just like police – have a journalist and a photographer working as “partners”, and the nearest car to transpiring event covers it, uploads it in the field, and sends it directly to an editor/s for a quick fact check and edit session, then on to online.

  4. This entire time I just thought MoJo was part of the “Austin Powers” terminology! You learn something new every day.

    To address the questions–I think this type of journalism could definitely play a huge role with the Internet. It’s an intriguing concept. If you’re a good enough journalist, and can turn in good copy, then I don’t see why this wouldn’t work. And forget being glamorous–this is the type of job I would love to do. Constantly being busy and always being on the run. Workaholics anonymous, sign me up!

  5. I agree, Matt. As a mojo, you’d always be on the move, tracking down the latest story, chasing after the best interviews, and no cubicle! It sounds like the sort of exciting, fast-paced journalistic work they make movies about.

    It also sounds like burn-out and editing disasters lurking around every corner. Personally, I don’t know if I could be a year-round, 24/7 mojo. ODing on caffeine and not being home enough to make my rent worth it are already big enough worries for me. But for things like election coverage, natural disasters, and breaking stories, this is by far the best way to effectively cover the news in a world centered around the internet.

    • I know for sure that I would not be able to be a mojo. When Ann brought up election coverage, it reminded me of “Boys on the Bus,” a book I read for J54 last year about journalists following the 1976 presidential election. After reading it, I knew I did not want to do on-the-go coverage. As exciting as I know it would be to be in the action, I know the stress would get to me.

      I also feel that mojos are probably taking us in a direction toward less-reliable news. I like that editors can provide fresh eyes to a story. Plus, I know that, for me as a writer, I rely on the “cool off” time after reporting to process a little bit, something I know I would miss as a mojo.

      I think it’s appropriate to tweet about a breaking news story and let readers know you’ll publish a story as soon as the facts are clear, but I think writers probably publish a lot of unsubstantiated information when they become so obsessed with the race against the clock.

      (Also, not to be a prima donna, but writing madly on a laptop in the car does not sound like a ton of fun…)

  6. I would hate to be a MoJo. First of all, I don’t want to look stupid. It’s as easy as that. I don’t want my content to be published without being edited by my editor.

    The think there’s a way to preserve the integrity of the news media by making it clear that content uploaded by MoJos aren’t edited. That way, they look more like blogs than actual news article.

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