Global/Mobile Journalism

MoJo Challenge: When a smartphone wins in Covid-19 coverage

Posted by Ewen MacAskill

Lebanon-based Nisrine Ajab has won the Thomson Foundation mobile journalism challenge and five others have been commended. 

Nisrine, a journalist-reporter/producer from Mount Lebanon, along with others on the competition’s final shortlist, discarded planned videos because of the coronavirus lockdown and shifted instead to filming the impact of the pandemic on their communities. 

The course had been due to be completed by the end of March but Thomson Foundation extended the deadline into April because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It also issued new guidelines, recommending participants work from home and to make coronavirus the theme of their videos.

"Rather than abandon the programme because of the lockdowns, we thought it important to highlight how mobile journalism was even more an essential tool for journalism in the circumstances,” says Hosam El Nagar, director of inovation and learning at the foundation. "The majority of journalists have a phone with them and it is the one tool that will combine multimedia with connectivity.”  

A simple life under lockdown

Now in its sixth year, the challenge, run in partnership with MojoFest, the world’s longest running smartphone content creators festival, is aimed at helping journalists around the world make better use of their smart phones. Participants completed a series of free online courses and, for their final assignment, made a film entirely on their smartphones.

For her final assignment, Nisrine interviewed a neighbour to produce an outstanding, elegiac film about growing lavender in the mountains above Beirut.

As well as tips on how to grow lavender, her erudite neighbour had a wider message about how the coronavirus should encourage people to recognise the value of a simpler life.
“The story was editorially and visually engaging, the variety of shots was dynamic and very well filmed, the editing had good pacing and was very well executed, and technically the piece stood out among the competing entries,” says Glen Mulcahy, the foundation’s in-house expert on mobile journalism and founder of MojoFest. 


Nisrine was one of six finalists in the Mobile Journalism Challenge.

The other finalists were:


Marina Milad - A digitial investigative journalist from Cairo. For her final assignment completed before lockdown, Marina produced a dramatic, newsy film on the consequences of flooding in Egypt.  


Maksuda Aziz - a multimedia journalist from Dhaka, Bangladesh. Her engaging and sympathetic film centred on the impact of the lockdown on a family during the Covid-19 pandemic


Lika Toloraia - A journalist from Dnipro, Ukraine. Her video shot during lockdown in the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the confusion over restrictions imposed during the lockdown.


Christophe Hitayezu - A news correspondent for the news platform Down to Earth India in Kigali, Rwanda. His enterprising piece stitched together items about Covid-19 from social media.



Daria Smetanko - A journalist working for the television channel Ukraine based in Kyiv in Ukraine. Her film catalogued a day in her life as a journalist under lockdown.


Nisrine won an all-expenses-paid trip to MojoFest in London. MojoFest was originally scheduled for May but has been postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The other five shortlisted have been commended for outstanding content. All who completed the course receive certificates of achievement.

“Overall, I felt the quality was well above average,” says judge Glen Mulcahy. “And clearly demonstrated that going through the free Foundation Mojo course on Journalism Now paid dividends in quality and approach of the storytelling.”

The judges were: Glen, who is a former head of innovation with RTE, Ireland’s national public broadcaster:  Hosam El Nagar, who is leading Thomson Foundation’s drive into e-learning; Berna Namata,  journalist and the foundation’s Africa specialist; and Ewen MacAskill, the foundation’s mentor and  award-winning former Guardian journalist.

Glen Mulcahy - Covering the Covid-19 Pandemic - Smartphones
Smartphones to cover Covid-19


“For over a decade, the mantra among mobile photographers and mobile journalists has been ‘the best camera is the one you have with you. In these unprecedented times of social distancing and working from home that device, the smartphone, can – and has – empowered a vast array of journalism and storytelling.
“To be able to leverage it to even a fraction of its full potential requires knowledge and understanding of the best apps, accessories, workflows and hacks available.

“Now, more than ever, journalists need to be able to competently utilise the tools they already own. It’s not just a phone. It’s a HD/4k video camera, a diverse photography device, a complete video and/or audio editing tool, a broadcast live streaming too that can also make phone calls. Learn to use it.”

Glen Mulcahy, founder Mojofest & international mobile journalism trainer.

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Ewen MacAskill

Ewen MacAskill

Investigative journalism

Ewen MacAskill is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former defence and intelligence correspondent for The Guardian who acts as a mentor for Thomson Foundation trainees.

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