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The MJ-school evolves with the industry by using smartphones for video assignments

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Two UNC students film a video against an bustling Franklin Street using an iPhone camera for a photo illustration on Sunday, Aug. 25 2019.

MEJO majors – say hello to your newest tool for videography and digital storytelling that the UNC School of Media and Journalism is implementing into your curriculum: your smartphone.

It's no longer necessary to carry around an old video camera around campus in order to digitally capture an inspiring moment that could happen at any time. Instead, students will be using smartphones for the same purpose. 

Laura Ruel, the UNC director of journalism, said smartphones are becoming widely used in the industry because the video quality is just as good as many video cameras that are out there now, if not better. They are becoming an essential journalistic tool not only for filming, but also for audio recording, quick note-taking and much more, Ruel said.

And smartphones have not only changed how people collect information. They have also changed how they consume it, she said.

“We want everyone in the School of Media and Journalism to have experience in filming from their phones,” Ruel said. “It is a trend that is happening and it is just going to get bigger and bigger.” 

One required core class for Media and Journalism majors, MEJO 121: Introduction to Digital Storytelling, will teach students the ins and outs of how to properly utilize their phones to best tell a story through film. iPods and iPads are available to check out from the equipment room in Carroll Hall for students who don’t own smartphones. 

Ruel said MEJO 121 students download the smartphone app called Filmic Pro, which contains the advanced features of a video camera and gives the creator a lot of control over the video. It contains high-quality image capture, adjustable lighting and focus, frame rates, audio control, motion FX and more.

“As a former TV reporter, I could definitely see how a news director these days would ask them to record something using their phones,” Heather Stevenson, a professor in the School of Media and Journalism, said. “And if a reporter had that skillset, that would be amazing.”

Justin Kavlie, Ph.D. student and instructor of MEJO 121, said there are pressing times in the journalism field when there could be things happening, such as protests, where reporters don't have large cameras on hand. In these cases, the phone also provides the elements of timeliness and convenience.

“A point specifically that a lot of people know about right now is the protests happening in Hong Kong,” Kavlie said. “A lot of people in the journalism field could easily get in and out of areas they need to report on with a smartphone rather than with a large camera.”

Some students agree that using their phones is much easier to capture film when needed and better fits their lifestyle. 

“All the professors in the MEJO school are willing and wanting to streamline their classes with new technology in order for their students to succeed,” Ava Eucker, a sophomore Media and Journalism major and a Daily Tar Heel staff writer, said. 

Kavlie also pointed out that the type of tool that you use is less important than the story that you tell.

“The most important thing that we are going to be trying to teach students in this class is good storytelling techniques,” Kavlie said. “We are hoping that they not only come out of it with the best understanding of how a camera works, but it’s more so how to make a good story using the tools that they have.”

Five years ago, students were spending a lot of time learning how to use outdated cameras that they may never use again outside the journalism field, Ruel said. Now, she said that students are learning how to use a tool that is applicable for any career. 

Ruel said the School of Media and Journalism evolves with the time, which is why it is widely acclaimed as one of the best programs in the nation.

" 10 years many media futurists say smartphones (the way we know them now) will not be around," Ruel wrote in an email. “We want our students to be on the cutting edge with technology tools, and we also want them on the cutting edge of effective, engaging storytelling.”


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