JUL 27 – Most of my journalist friends in Nepal seem to operate under the impression that multimedia journalism is a distant thing of the future, yet to make much of an impact in the country—a “passing trend”, they might even call it. But from what I’ve observed during the seven years that I’ve worked in journalism, and in my association with several international media organisations, it would be exceedingly foolish to underestimate the power of new media. So I ask disbelievers to look deeper, at the many instances one can find of how new multimedia tools are already being incorporated into not just professional but personal lives today, helping many of us connect with each other and the wider world. Multimedia is here, and it is staying.
Change is everywhere you look. From print to radio, television and online, the media is in a constant state of flux, adapting, evolving. The traditional newsroom no longer exists; the flow of information has increased by a million-fold, mostly thanks to social media. Not only does one now have more and more opportunities to find stories, but the means of telling these stories have changed irreversibly, not limited to text alone, or pictures, audio or video, but an amalgamation of all these, including infographics, that can be used to provide in-depth accounts on any particular topic. It also allows much more engagement and interaction with audiences compared to traditional media.
Among the many elements of journalism that have witnessed changes in the past decade or so is the relationship between storytellers and their mediums. Journalists who were, in the past, confined to simply typing up news reports and filing these are now being challenged to experiment in the ways they present their stories. Previously, when journalists were asked what they did, they would have generally responded by saying that they were either a print or TV journalist. But those distinctions have become more and more blurred in today’s dynamic media environment, where professionals are increasingly required to possess multiple-skills that span across different mediums.
What is exciting about this particular time in history is the multitude of apps and other tools that are now available in the market, which give rise to a whole host of possibilities for journalists. Skype is one such tool that can facilitate newsmaking, making it easier to connect with people and conduct interviews, as are video-enabled DSLR cameras, allowing just about anyone to shoot quality videos, edit them and upload them online. Most recently, the iPad has proven a great boon to journalists worldwide, and many major news organisations including BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera are now offering customised iPad applications, which incorporate news, photos, videos, interactive diagrams, 3D objects, and much more.
Social media has proven to be another popular contemporary tool, owing largely to the way it allows precious interaction between storytellers and readers, a luxury that wasn’t available before.
Converting the one-way flow of news to make it more democratic—in that readers are now able to have a say in what they would like to see being reported, and to critique information that they do not approve of—these new tools have demystified the journalistic profession to a degree, made it more accessible and transparent.
Journalists in developed countries are found mining social media to a great extent, both in digging up and sharing information, a trend that is growing in Nepal as well. According to research on ‘Journalists and Social Media’ done by the Center for Media Research, 97 percent of journalists in the country are on Facebook. Likewise, 40 percent of journalists use Twitter and 38 percent of them use YouTube, mostly for viewing purposes only. This might sound encouraging, but individual journalists aside, the Nepali media, as a whole, has been relatively slow to catch up on the latest offerings of technology. Although most media houses now have an online presence, and a Facebook page, these are largely treated as tag-ons, second in priority. In short, the platform hasn’t so far been engaged to its full potential.
When I was reporting on the April 2006 movement, social media was just beginning to rear its head in Nepal and had yet to catch on. But, as we’ve seen happen with political developments in these last few years, if something of that scale were to occur again, Twitter and Facebook would instantly be flooded with status updates, photos, videos, links, and extensive discussions. According to the Nepal Telecommunications Authority, 18.28 percent of Nepal’s population currently have access to or use the Internet, and SocialBakers.com reports that there are approximately 1.6 million Facebook users in the country. It is important for journalists today to have their finger on the pulse, and—although yet to be made accessible across the entire country—social media does represent a growing sphere where current affairs, trends, opinions and controversies are increasingly played out.
STORYTELLING IN THE FUTURE
Newsrooms today mustn’t think of multimedia skills as an added advantage when hiring professionals; they need to make these skills mandatory, and even train older journalists in emerging tools and techniques. After all, we can’t deny or aim to revert the evolution of the media; changes must be encouraged.
The Nepali media has, for long, laboured under a feeling of inferiority when compared to news organisations abroad, especially when it comes to technology, which would arrive here many years after being established elsewhere, thereby slowing down our ability to provide quality and competitive content.
But what the Internet, and the easy availability of recording and shooting equipment in the market, has given us, is a rare opportunity to attempt to level the playing-field. Media houses need to capitalise immediately on this small window of opportunity, because once left behind, we will forever be scrambling to catch up.
Bhandari is a multimedia journalist and multimedia team leader of ThinkBrigade, an online news magazine that is supported by the European Journalism Center