Multimedia Journalism is a Team Sport

Anna Barseghyan


Oksana Silantieva is head of the Center of Multimedia Production at the Faculty of Media Communications in Russia’s Higher School of Economics and also teaches practical multimedia journalism courses at the Department of New Media and Social Communications at the same institution.

Has the role of journalists changed in multimedia journalism?

Journalists look for stories which touch the public and which are current issues, and journalists’ main work is to work with information, to write stories — it doesn’t matter if it’s for a newspaper, television or the Internet. Multimedia journalism doesn’t change that, and nothing has changed, in principal, in the work of journalists. The only thing that has changed is how you tell the story you’ve found to people. If you are preparing that story for a newspaper, you write text, select photos, add a headline and publish it in the paper. If you’re preparing that same story for television, you go with your camera operator to film that which will tell the story with a moving image. Radio has its criteria too. In multimedia journalism, we can tell an interactive story, give people the opportunity to correct the facts, offer new experts, comment, vote, mark a map, watch a video, listen to audio, read text, include links, watch a slideshow. But journalists still have to find information, check facts and look for speakers and stories.

Multimedia journalists differ in the sense that they develop all their sensory organs: all their senses are sharpened — from hearing to touch.  In multimedia journalism, journalists think in many ways. In terms of their activities, they are closer to directors — when directors walk down the street, they watch and think from which angle it’ll be better to film. Seeing things this way is the skill of multimedia journalists. They don’t think only in terms of text, audio or a television image. Multimedia journalists can divide a story into parts and tell each part in a different way.

Does multimedia journalism affect media production? Have the content and quality of production changed?

For a majority of editorial offices, multimedia journalism is a game. I know of few editorial offices that are serious about how they provide information and don’t say, “Let’s put a video next to the text; let it be a multimedia product.” You can’t just put a video next to the text and say that it’s a multimedia website. The quality of the product depends on the quality and speed of the story and the different perspectives inherent in the story. Having an infographic doesn’t increase quality if the graph is not on a current issue, has unconfirmed information and is ugly. That is to say, the meaning is the story itself — it has more value than all the formats combined.

What are the most common errors that journalists make in preparing multimedia stories?

First, you can’t do multimedia journalism alone: this is the most serious and most inaccurate assumption. Journalists see multimedia journalists’ work who’ve gone out into the field and say I shot, edited and published all at once. But once they try to do that on their own, they see that to prepare an infographic, an audio and a slideshow takes a week. Multimedia journalism is a team sport. Behind every journalist out in the field is an analyst, designer, editor and translator and other professionals.

The second mistake is what we’ve been taught: “First comes the text then the image.” In multimedia journalism, the principal is different: first is the moving or still image, then what’s not possible to show visually is added through text.

The third mistake is the practice of fitting multimedia in everywhere. Multimedia journalism makes sense for long stories, for those issues that have more than a single step, points, periods — when there’s time and meaning in investing money into developing long stories, which over a certain period of time will have not 200 visitors, as does regular news, but half a million.

And from this stems the fourth mistake: multimedia journalists cannot yet develop stories; we still think within the scope of a single subject. That is, we wrote the piece and forgot about it. Multimedia journalism begins from the core then the opinions, comments, infographics are added: it’s a ball that gets bigger and which has to be pursued, added to, its information corrected. You have to work with users who know that subject well and ensure interaction.

The fifth mistake is neglecting users. Journalists still think that they know the subject they’re writing about better than anyone else. The biggest lesson of the Internet is whatever you write about, you will always find a user that knows the subject better than you. There are two strategies here: either to say that all users are stupid, which many journalists maintain when their mistakes are pointed out in the comments, or to structure the piece in such a way that allows users to add to it, to explain and to do so in a civilized manner. In the latter approach, readers no longer point out mistakes — they try to help. And this interaction is a true media interaction. We still live under [the influence of] Soviet propaganda, in the concept of mass media ideology: the journalist wrote, everyone read it and went away. But media is an interaction; it’s people sitting around a round table and respecting one another.

Who are multimedia editorial staff and how do they differ from traditional editorial staff?

There are divisions in multimedia editorial staff: people who work on content and people who work on publication, on delivery. Those editorial staff who work on content are divided thematically: politics, education and so on. Every journalist, more or less, can present his piece through video, photos, text, audio and on Twitter. Then the team of journalists, camera operators and designers presents it to a certain audience.

Responsibility is very clearly divided here. Those who work on content are obliged to know everything that is happening on the given topic in the given area and so on. People on the publication side are responsible for circulation, ratings and the amount of users who prefer your site to others. It changes the management system, offers different criteria of success and loss, and makes traditional ways of motivating journalists ineffective. You need to be a very strong manager to begin such big changes in your company. Some people are. They create the future of mass communications.

Interview by Anna Barseghyan

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