GORT native Dr James Mahon has become one of the first doctors of mobile journalism after passing his examinations as a guest of Queens University Belfast in June, writes Conor Clohessy.
The broadcast journalist, author and lecturer conducted field research with newsrooms of STV (Scotland), NDTV (India), CBS, WDEF and News 12 (USA) and Lemen Bleu (Switzerland) as part of a pioneering study between 2018 and 2019.
James was looking into how digital technology is changing broadcasting around the world and found that in many situations these innovations in the workplace were cutting costs for the companies but also having an adverse effect on the older employees.
James explained: “I found that this is an economic thing. You can argue that audiences want mobile content, livestreaming and social media content, of course they do. But you can also argue that it saves newsrooms hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
While cost-cutting in most industries causes a stunt in innovation, James found that the opposite was true for journalism, with newsrooms in Switzerland and India switching their studio cameras for phones and even training citizen journalists in how to record videos they could use for their social media platforms.
James added that it was difficult to complete his study because, unlike in the fields of science and engineering, there were very few studies going before him on this particular topic.
James’ findings were presented at the World Journalism Conference in Paris in 2019 and the UK Media Education Summit this year, and James had to endure a three-hour defence of his thesis before he could be awarded his PhD.
He recalled, “It was scary, I was nervous. I’ve been shot at in Iraq when ISIS were there, and I’ve covered tornados in America, but I was more nervous in a room in Queens sitting in front of three people I didn’t know.
“You don’t know what they’re going to ask you, so all you can do is prepare. The hard part is you’re defending three years of your life, and all of the 31 people I interviewed as part of the study.”
James also made a documentary based on his findings called The Mojo Revolution, which went to film festivals all around the world, but he stressed that just because audiences enjoyed it did not mean he could gauge what his examiners might prefer.
The new doctor emphasised that the pandemic has allowed for innovations to accelerate rapidly where there was opportunity for them prior, meaning that older staff worried about having to upskill in the fields of virtual journalism have now been left behind completely.
He also stated that young journalists have also lost an avenue of impromptu education in their workplace, now that they are isolated to desks at home and the newsroom has all but disappeared for many.
A supervisor for James’ studies, Professor David McGillivray from the School of Business and Creative Industries at the University of the West of Scotland said: “James registered in October 2017, so has completed his PhD part-time in less than four years, which is an incredible achievement. I am a delighted Lead Supervisor.”
James is currently working with ITV News in Belfast as a reporter after some time spent in the Middle East and has previously reported for RnaG, RTÉ, Radio 1 and CBS and PBS affiliates in the US.