Why so many journalists are making the switch from BlackBerry to iPhone or Android

Photo credit: Dan_H / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

By Tracey Lindeman

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when BlackBerry ruled Canadian newsrooms. Its signature QWERTY keyboard sped up emailing, texting, and even article and script-writing.

Photo credit: Dan_H / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

By Tracey Lindeman

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when BlackBerry ruled Canadian newsrooms. Its signature QWERTY keyboard sped up emailing, texting, and even article and script-writing.

But when all CBC employees handed in their BlackBerry Torch and Bold phones for shiny, new iPhones and Samsung Galaxies last month, it was yet another nail in the coffin of the Waterloo-based Research in Motion that was once a telecommunications industry leader.

BlackBerry’s inability to keep up with the smartphone market is widely known and ridiculed; the BlackBerry 10, its newest model released earlier this year, was met with headlines like “Why BlackBerry 10 will be a stunning success—and an inevitable failure” and “BlackBerry failures that cost RIM its dominance.”

“BlackBerry was so revolutionary as work tool [back in the day]. I wish they’d moved quicker,” says Mike Le Couteur, a Global National correspondent based in Ottawa.

“I was kind of hoping when the Z10 was launched, that they’d come out with the equivalent in apps and user functionality as the iPhone,” he adds. “I’m pretty disappointed that they still don’t have the massive library of apps.”

This lack of apps was the main reason CBC made the jump to the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. “It’s not a very useful tool to do broadcasting or to pick up sound, because there are no apps made for this type of phone,” says Bruno Gaulin, operations manager for CBC TV in Montreal.

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Canadian newsrooms shift to iPhone

Of the mainstream Canadian media outlets surveyed for this article, the overwhelming majority had either switched over completely in recent years, or were at least supplying various smartphone options to their employees.

CTV uses Android, BlackBerry and iOS products depending on employee preference, says senior communications manager Renee Dupuis. Sun Media officially declined comment, but Winnipeg Sun online editor Tessa Vanderhart says her office is slowly moving to iPhones.

“When I arrived last January, I was asked if I wanted a BlackBerry or iPhone,” says Rob Granatstein, senior producer and director for Postmedia’s Canada.com. He chose the iPhone and uses it write stories on WordPress and check site metrics.

Joanna Smith, a political reporter in the Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau, says that while she has an iPhone, the Star has no particular device policy, whereas Global National’s Le Couteur says Shaw Media upgraded the newroom to an iPhone 5 from the iPhone 4.

At CBC Montreal, Gaulin says the switch happened over the course of four days in March, affecting about 100 people in the English newsroom and almost 900 people between the TV, radio and web news departments of Radio-Canada and CBC in Montreal. Radio field reporters got the iPhone because of the exclusively iTunes-sold Hindenburg field recorder app, while web and TV reporters had the choice between the iPhone and the Galaxy, which have an FTP program that allows them to quickly send video shot on their phones back to the newsroom.

iPhone essential in responding to online demands

In the race to get the story up on Twitter and news sites first, having a pocket-sized computer that can take photos, shoot videos, record interviews and act as a word-processing tool for articles and script-writing has become absolutely indispensable.

“Every newsroom is going web first really, really hard,” says Le Couteur.

Monique Muise, a general assignment reporter at the Montreal Gazette who is following the Charbonneau corruption inquiry, says she wouldn’t be able to do her job without her iPhone.

“When I started at the Gazette in 2009, this was just sort of cresting,” she says. She was given a BlackBerry and used it mostly for email, messaging and the occasional Twitter post. “But fast forward four years, and it’s a very different reality."

Muise, like many of her Gazette colleagues, is often asked to live-tweet stories she’s covering, from the Charbonneau commission to student demonstrations to Oprah’s recent tour stop in Montreal. “It was an unspoken expectation that I would do that,” she says.

And live-tweeting works. Through platforms like Storify and ScribbleLive, media outlets can plug their reporters into the site and get breaking news out at break-neck speeds, and most of the sources contacted for this article mentioned their iPhones simply work better at streamlining reporting tasks. The kind of immediate delivery readers have come to expect puts an exponentially increasing amount of pressure on reporters and outlets.

There are some downsides, Muise says. The appearance of looking distracted to sources, even when you're actually taking notes on your phone or using it to record, can dissuade them from talking. She adds journalists need to be smart about when to put the phone away, too — fiddling around with it while talking to a victim of a violent crime or women in a shelter is likely to appear insensitive.

Global National’s Le Couteur recounts using an iPhone to do a live TV hit at a crash site on the side of a Toronto highway when a satellite truck couldn’t get there quick enough. He plugged his mic into the iPhone and started rolling. “It was literally the cameraman with the phone,” he says.

No more a mere communication tool but, among other things, a fact-finder, GPS, word processor, voice recorder, radio piece editor and video and still camera, smartphones — and the iPhone in particular — have forced journalists to step up their game while freeing them from the confines of the newsroom. And so maybe being constantly tethered to smartphones and therefore editors, sources, email and social media profiles isn’t all that terrible.

“It’s nice to be able to move around and not be tied to a computer,” says Smith of the Toronto Star. “I think it makes me a faster reporter.”


Tracey Lindeman is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and a casual web reporter for CBC Montreal.