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Multimedia’s open frontiers: 21st-century reporting and storytelling

Jane Barrett  Global Head of Multimedia

Jane Barrett  Global Head of Multimedia

Social media, data visualization and new forms of finding and using content are making it possible for Reuters journalists to present stories in unexpected ways.

The way news is gathered, presented and consumed has been through an epochal change in the last decade.

As Global Multimedia Editor at Reuters, I have seen firsthand how the rise of smartphones and social media have radically altered consumer behavior and devastated traditional revenue models. In my role, I help clients use Reuters content to best serve their online, mobile and social needs, and work with our reporters and product designers to make sure we give them what they need, when and how they need it.

Here are just three areas where new technology will force news organizations to change the way we work, report and publish in the near future.

The impact of user-generated content (UGC)

Video and pictures shot by laypeople, rather than professional journalists, give viewers an unfiltered, real-life take on current events, whether in breaking news or amusing videos that go viral. The sense of authenticity and immediacy has lowered the bar on what people think is acceptable video quality – and in fact is often preferred to the “voice of God” television reports which have been the bread and butter of TV for many years.

That is raising interesting new opportunities for video content, including an increasing appetite for raw live video and sourcing more video from social media.

It also raises a host of ethical issues, such as:

  • Trustworthiness: When somebody posts a video on Twitter, there is no guarantee it is what it purports to be. It’s very tempting for news organizations to run with what appears to be a firsthand account of news, but many have been hoaxed. We need to use and develop new ways to verify the veracity of videos, and to do so at speed.
  • Legality: Copyright belongs to the person who shot the video or pictures, not the person who posted them. It is vital we get permission to use the content from the copyright holder themselves. In breaking news situations, it is a challenge not to bombard the person who posted a picture. As an industry we also have to make sure we treat “citizen journalists” with good duty of care, particularly when somebody might be traumatized or even still in danger.
  • Professionalism: Professional journalists have been trained with regard to best practices and what is acceptable editing. Most private citizens have not. A newsgathering organization that wants to use UGC has to check and double-check how the content was captured and if it has been manipulated at all.

Reuters has a 12-person team working 24 hours a day, seven days a week in multiple languages to find, verify and clear UGC for use. In an event like Hurricane Irma, some of the citizen-shot UGC was among the most-used video by our clients.

“Stop the thumb”

The social world is intensely visual. It is also a place of information overload. In such an environment, how do you get a user to stop scrolling past your story? What is your “thumb-stop”?

Some news organizations have played with different headlines to engage people beyond the infamous “clickbait” lures (“You won’t guess what happens next!”). Others have aimed at particular audience segments to get the clicks.

Those don’t fit with our Trust Principles and Reuters standards, but we have another answer – compelling, heart-rending and newsworthy photography shot by our network of photojournalists around the world. Clients will rarely take a text story without a picture to go with it. And more arresting the picture, the more clicks it will get.

Those photographs can be hard news, such as some of our pictures of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, or softer pictures that are simply beautiful, like the latte art created by a South Korean barista. Both have been used extensively by our clients on their sites and on social.

Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 27, 2017.  REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Data visualization

Most businesses don’t need convincing that data is a powerful tool. But how do you use it to tell a story?

Thomson Reuters has masses of data on companies, markets and economies, so we are investing in tools to allow our journalists to turn that data into graphics and data visualizations for our clients. Often the graphics tell a more powerful story than just words.

One great example was this set of graphics to tell the story of how the global economy has fared since the financial crisis. Thomson Reuters has some great shipping data which we used to see where the world’s oil tankers were, and how the oil glut was playing out in ocean traffic.

You can expect to see a lot more of this as we use data to tell stories visually and use all the multimedia tools at our disposal to tell stories in more innovative and compelling ways.

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