A typical day on the job for a Primedia Broadcasting’s Eyewitness News (EWN) reporter might be something like this: she and her videographer are sent out to cover a violent service delivery protest. Not long ago, she would have been sent out armed with a notebook, a cellphone and a recorder. But, today, this reporter uses a smartphone and possibly needs a laptop to file a story or two, too. She does what reporters have always done: finding the story by building trust with the protesters, speaking to shocked eyewitnesses and police on the scene, and getting official comment.
But because this is 2013, she is giving news reports on air every half an hour for Primedia’s four radio stations, doing pieces to camera for the videographer, updating her Twitter feed and snapping photos with the smartphone for Facebook. Later she will write up the events of the day for her personal blog, combining the day’s reportage with analysis. She knows she is a brand in her own right with her own social media following.
The videographer accompanying her has a stills and a video camera, as well as a smartphone in his pocket. He takes photographs and video of the action, the interviewees and the reporter. He may also tweet the action. Later, he will create content for EWN’s website, editing his footage and stills to make slideshows or videos, complete with soundbites and interviews.
This is what being a journalist is about today: making sure one person can cater to the increasingly multi-skilled, multi-platform, multimedia. It’s evident worldwide that if journalists want to stay relevant, they must be proficient in the various methods of storytelling offered by the digital media.
EWN group editor Katy Katopodis says, “The reporter of today is no longer writing one story for one organisation on one platform.” She says that EWN reporters and videographers receive voice training, as is usual in broadcast, but are also trained to speak to the camera and think about how they look. They are expected to be savvy about social media and even edit video.
EWN is the news brand that developed to service Primedia Broadcasting’s radio stations. But, says Katopodis, “We don’t see ourselves as a newsroom that services radio anymore. Radio is just one arm.” Digital is the other. EWN has a website that features video bulletins, as you might see on TV, breaking news and video features. There is an EWN Twitter feed and each reporter has his or her own Twitter account.
The newsroom can produce edited video and radio broadcasts and has a studio where radio reporters give updates to camera after their on-air spots. Katopodis believes EWN is one of the first truly multimedia newsrooms in the country. She is also proud of the fact that they are the first radio newsroom to feature a cartoonist: Jeremy Nell (otherwise known as Jerm). Nell draws three cartoons a week for EWN, which are also shown to radio presenters to discuss on air.
When athlete Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February, EWN’s multi-platform coverage dramatically raised their international profile. Its coverage of the story included a Google ‘Hangout on Air’ (which enabled live streaming on Google+, YouTube or the website) with reporters Barry Bateman and Mandy Wiener, and they streamed Pistorius’s full hearing live. It received 114 000 hits. They weren’t allowed to film inside the courtroom, so they used still photos instead. EWN journalists’ Twitter followings, most notably Bateman’s, grew hugely and EWN was inundated with calls from radio stations and major news networks around the world, asking to interview their reporters.
So it’s plain that multimedia, when used well, can tell a story better and can be very good for the brand. However, integrated newsrooms have to be well organised and journalists need to be given proper training and briefing. This is of course the case in any newsroom, but the need for strong organisation increases as channels increase.
One journalist suggests that the demands of his job could compromise the quality of his work. The journalist (who wishes to remain anonymous) says he had to expand his repertoire, as multimedia is plainly the future of journalism. However, he has found the transition difficult. “My frustration as a multimedia journalist is that one person is required to do so many things on their own. It’s not like, this is your strength, so go out and produce your best in this, but while you are there you can get a bit of sound or a bit of video. You are sent into all kinds of environments and you’re required to do five things at once and somehow you’re also expected to do all of them very well. You’re expected to tweet, you’re expected to record voices, you’re expected to record video, you’re expected to take photos.
“If I’ve got a video camera around my neck, a stills camera on one side and my phone on the other side, which one do I use first? And at which point do I decide to stop doing one thing and start doing another? It doesn’t gel, it doesn’t work… It produces mediocre everything, instead of doing one thing well and having the other things as supporting acts to make that one thing shine,” he says.
The journalist also worries that because he is multi-tasking and because deadlines for the news website for which he makes video are so quick, he has less time to check his facts and sources. Also, he says, the sub-editors get little time to see what work he has done. Often he files content to the web without going through any quality checks at all.
Des Latham is Business Day TV news editor and has experience in taking newsrooms from legacy systems to digital. He agrees that most journalists find the transition to multimedia difficult. “Even younger journalists struggle and these are people who are used to using their smartphones to generate content in real time,” he says. Internationally, “the culture of news is changing… Deadlines are too quick. You take someone who has never used a camera before and you expect them to take video. On top of this they have to supply flashes for the wire services. Then they have to write a second story for the web and when they get back to the office they have to write a third story [for their newspaper]. Most people cannot do that.”
Journalists are working in an increasingly visual medium, he says, and must be receptive to that. Latham has encountered much opposition from entrenched journalists. “In journalism now we have this hiatus, a real hiatus, between the old guys and the new guys … and the old guys are hidebound and threatened by change,” he says. A large part of the problem is that established journalists need to learn a new lexicon. Latham says he has had to repeat explanations of a simple context like ‘unique browser’ to obviously reluctant participants at workshops and presentations.
Media organisations, too, fight change. Latham adds that there is a tendency in some organisations to adopt multimedia technology in a half-hearted sort of way, because it’s a fashionable buzzword. Corporate culture is too conservative, he says, adding, “There’s a problem with senior editors. They think multimedia is Smarties for the juveniles in the organisation.” Another problem he identifies is ad sales teams, who are used to selling, for example, 30-second radio spots and have no idea how to sell four- or five-second online ads.
However, he agrees that multimedia is the way of the future and journalists must learn to adapt, and there is only one way to learn: by doing. “If you want to learn the ropes, swing on them!” advises Latham.