Cellphone Journalism

Summer is on the way, and I will be once again in the classroom teaching. It’s been over a year, so I will have a lot of adjusting. I can’t just stop, and head in whatever direction I chose. Gotta stick with the syllabus to the end. Ha!

I have related this story several times over the years. When I was first asked to teach, I was honored because I hadn’t really thought much about teaching. I had my craft, and I was very focused on being the best graphic designer that I could be.

The double burden is that I hadn’t really studied graphic design in any type of formal way. The job that I was in had morphed because of need, and I sorta morphed along with it.

If there had been time I should have taken some coursework to prepare the way, but there wasn’t time, and the need was clamoring.

After a while I felt more confident and I suppose I had convinced some academics that I was at least qualified to teach my craft. This was a remarkable thing because I didn’t have to wander around looking for a school that would take a chance by hiring me. I wasn’t a teacher looking for a class. It was more a class looking for a teacher.

So I agreed, but I was terrified. I remember I had just seen an old Burt Reynolds movie where his character had just been hired to teach a community college class in English. A typical three hour class for eighteen weeks.

He showed up with his briefcase, handouts, a a brand new box of chalk, and then began his lecture. The camera faded out, time passed, and the camera came back as he was concluding the lecture with his assignments for the next week.

The camera panned to the class with the students looking very confused. Burt’s character asked if they didn’t understand the assignments. They replied that they did, but that they thought that there was still two hours left in tonight’s class.

Worst thing in the world is to run out of things to say, when you are paid to keep talking for another two hours.

For some it might have been just the fear of public speaking. I had that fear for years. There was nothing worse than having to present in class while I was in high school. But it was years later and I had discovered that I could speak in public.

So long as I had something to say…
My plan was to take a yellow legal pad and write down a timeline for every fifteen minutes for a three hour class. I repeated that for eighteen weeks. With that framework, I simply filled in the boxes. In the end I hoped that I had covered what was necessary. At least I knew what I was going to say for every fifteen minutes.
I kept that legal pad for several years. Very humbling.

This summer I will be bringing a brand new module to the photojournalism class. I will be introducing the smartphone as a tool to document social issues.

I can remember the time when it was common to say, “I can’t prove that it happened, you don’t always have a camera with you!” Well, that isn’t true anymore.

In 2017 there is expected to be 2.3 billion smartphones in use worldwide. Nine out of every ten Americans are on-line, and 77% are smartphone users. It is estimated that 27% of all photos taken last year were from smartphones. There has even been a full length Hollywood movie shot completely on a cellphone.

And yet, there hasn’t been a lot of academic focus in training users how to improve the images taken with a cellphone, or even the awareness that they have a camera with them.

Years ago I had considered teaching a class on all the possible uses of smartphone technology. I bought the idea to my curriculum committee and they were very enthusiastic. I developed a simple outline and presented it to a few of my students.
Nobody was interested, they all knew everything already. Then I realized that the curriculum committee were all people over 50 years old. They grew up with landline dial phones and party lines.

Maybe I could teach the class in Senior Centers.

Okay, maybe an academic class in smartphone use isn’t valid. But I’ve been watching very carefully the photographs taken with cellphones. There is is wide range in the quality of the image. I suspect that traditional photography skills were in the background of the better images.

And perhaps, some practical information will improve the 27% of all photos that are taken.

If I can also train people concerning the power of having a tool in their pocket in order to document social issues, then that would be a bonus.