What options do smartphone journalists have if the 3G/4G network is down? #journalism

A smartphone is a fantastic multimedia device, but it relies on connectivity. What can a journalist do if congestion on the data network prevents them sending content?


  1. EDIT 3rd October 2014:

    Someone asked me about this subject on a training course recently, so I thought it was worth revisiting what I wrote. Most of it still applies from the original piece 18 months ago. Please take "3G" to also refer to 4G. 


    The tragic events of the Boston marathon bombing are covered in depth elsewhere; I want to address a particular issue which I hope won't seem inappropriate but instead could prove useful to journalists at future major news stories, and by extension could help those who rely on the news they provide.

    The issue was brought to my mind in a tweet by @jamescridland, who's a big name within the UK radio industry:

  2. He was making the broad point that while anyone in Boston would still have been able to find out what was going on by listening to an FM radio, or using a smartphone with an inbuilt FM radio, they would have been stuck if they relied on a streaming app such as Tune-In Radio. James Cridland later expanded on his tweet on his blog:

  3. The issue was taken a step further, by my BBC colleague @stuartdhughes

  4. He was raising the following: not only did the congestion of the 3G network prevent people using their smartphones to listen to radio via an app, if the devices can't take advantage of the data network to transmit or (even broadcast live) the audio, video or photos gathered by a reporter, then what?. 

    What are the options for the growing number of mobile journalists, smartphone journalists or even "mojos"?

    I tweeted the question to a small but perfectly formed community of mobile journalists: Neal Augenstein of WTOP in Washington DC @augensteinwtop; Nick Garnett of BBC Five Live in the UK @nicholasgarnett; and Glen Mulcahy of RTE in Ireland @glenbmulcahy
  5. If the 3G network is down, then a journalist can indeed still rely on text messages to help them do their job,as confirmed by the experts at @opensignal, who know a lot about this sort of thing:

  6. On a basic level, texts are more likely to get through to their intended recipient with a short piece of content included. The quality won't be great but it should arrive.
  7. So your audio or video could be received by your newsroom via text message. Remember to keep the clips short or they'll take a very long time to send.

    You can also send a text message which will appear on Twitter (and Facebook!) as long as your phone is configured to do so. It's something another BBC colleague @hughsykes regularly does when he's reporting from around the world
  8. The code will differ depending on where your home mobile network is, but it's a reliable system and can work wonders if the 3g or wifi network is clogged up. 

  9. A little bit of testing though reveals you CAN'T tweet-to-Twitter if there's audio or video in the text message
  10. "Jpeg", "png" and "gif" indicate you can send images by text message on to Twitter, but audio and video aren't yet supported. If Twitter could add this functionality, that'd be a great step forward. (EDIT: my attempt to send a photo attached to a text message failed as of October 2014)

    Remember though that SMS-to-Twitter works both ways: again, as long as you've sorted this out before you're at that major news story, you can receive text messages which are in fact the tweets sent out by your newsroom, other journalists, the emergency services or whoever. You could attempt to sign up while you're at that big story, but good luck with that.

    Beyond this, what other options are there? Over to Glen from RTE who had a few ideas, ranging from option 1 below to the "quite technical and expensive" option!

  11. Yes, this is fine if you have your laptop with you but many smartphone journalists - by definition - rarely do, relying on their smartphone. Next:
  12. Again, this could be a viable option for some. The next works for everyone:

  13. If the 3G signal is down, wifi is a very good call. It can often be a better bet on "normal" occasions, as wifi can be faster than 3G...although not always. 

    Glen's next suggestion might seem a throwback to 20th century journalism, but again it's an option worth considering if needs be: