Apps for the Paps


By Thomas Lowe

It could have made no sense.

But with a gently-gently approach to explaining new apps and why they exist, the gap between the journo geeks and the journo technophobes was momentarily bridged – with a little help from the BBC’s technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.


Former photographer for the dailies, Christian Payne, went on vacation in 2005 to spend time with the Kurdish Peshmerga. Here he says how new technology at the time allowed him to “bypass the mainstream media.”

“I was a photographer for the dailies and I got frustrated with the amount of editors between my images and the final piece of work. So I decided to go to Iraq for a holiday.

“Every time I was blindfolded and taken to a new place I would look down and write secret base 1… I had a dumb phone, but by texting my coordinates home I knew that my last position would always be noted.”

So, technology can empower journalists in far off places where it can provide some form of security. But what about when it comes to daily, non-stop use of social media? Tom Barfield, site editor and community manager at Demotix, a citizen journalism new wire, says new technology is a journalist’s bread and butter:

“I think this is absolutely what [they] should be doing and what [they] have always done is develop contacts and developed relationships and trusted sources of information.”

Yet apps, and the technology that goes with them, are not just the preserve of journalists. Ryan Schlief, program manager for Witness says the important issue is practical application:

“it’s not about hi-fi or low-fi, it’s about ‘wow’ this is a really great tool that’s going to help someone out with the specific purpose they have in mind.”

He nodded to an example in Cairo where Witness trained some members of a community living in a slum there how to use cameras. This, he says, allowed them to take their message “into their own hands.”


The panel agreed on the need to protect sensitive or personal information.  Payne says risks come with the benefits of using new methods of communication:

“I think technology’s moving faster than peoples’ awareness of how valuable and dangerous it can be… It only took the regime in Syria to upload pictures of protestors on Facebook for people to start tagging their friends.”

Sam Carlisle, developer of the Sukey app, a tool for protestors following demonstrations in real time, says the basic fault lies with the phone manufacturers:

“The makers of these [phone] devices haven’t necessarily considered your privacy or empowerment through setting up their devices – it’s not a concern for them.”

“They want to create profit… It’s really people jail-breaking and working to create after-market community tools that are allowing you to do something different with the platform other than what it was originally created for.”


To the question you can always rely on: whereto for professional journalists in these hyper-connected times? Payne again:

“…If they can’t get their stories out there quicker than the man on the street… with their phone in their pocket, they should be sitting to receive it going “ok, let’s do something long form around it and let’s add some credibility to [it].”

A positive note to end on with no mention of the moderator’s famous pink socks.