Thursday, November 18, 2010

MediaStorm Continued: Controversial & Consequential

By Reshma Kirpalani

One of the principal elements that enhance MediaStorm's photo reportage is the use of audio. In fact, founder Brian Storm says that he always tries to encourage photojournalists to start by using audio only. “The biggest challenge is, as a photojournalist, we’re taught to be a fly on the wall…But at some point along that arc of reporting, a photojournalist needs to break that wall and say, “I know I’ve told you that I’m not here…but I really want to sit down and ask you some very specific questions. And that’s a different kind of journalistic experience than I think photojournalists are used to having.” (Nieman Reports 2010)

Among the benefits of audio, Storm includes giving the subject a voice, augmenting communication via the visceral qualities of a first-person interview or even, music, and providing a narrative spine for the story. (The Digital Journalist 2005)

But others in the news industry argue that the use of music in the field of journalism is not always appropriate. "The problem is not that music doesn't work, it's that it works too well," said Al Tompkins, Poynter's broadcast and online group leader. (Poynter Online 2009) In other words, music can amp up the emotionality of a piece, or otherwise disguise technical or narrative flaws. Others argue that it can hurt a journalist’s credibility.

News organizations such as the BBC have decided against using music in news stories. Fiona Anderson, assistant editor of training and development at BBC News gathering, said, "You are changing what you're representing, and if you're changing it, it shouldn't be there. I think this whole issue of enhancement is really dodgy." (Poynter Online 2009)

Ultimately, Storm explains his choice to music in multimedia stories by saying that music is often unnecessary and is always secondary to a tight narrative. However, in the case of the Mediastorm feature, Iraq, Kurdistan, where no narration is present, one wonders if that is journalism?

Regadless of whether of not MediaStorm may not fit the bill of “hard news,” the relevancy of cinematic narratives is undeniable. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, MediaStorm has some 5,900 Twitter followers and 8,000 Facebook fans, 54 percent of whom are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four. (Drew 2010, September/October)

According to Storm, the future of multimedia journalism, or all online news, may rest in hinges of the social media revolution. “It’s almost like a social currency now to say, “Hey, I think this is great.” That social currency just didn’t exist before. Now you see something and immediately you curate that. Facebook is my new front page – its how I access information from around the world. My social network is shaping and curating for me what is important, and that is absolutely revolutionary.” (Nieman Reports 2010)

As a mini-experiment of my own to ascertain the impact of social media on MediaStorm products, I posted a link to one of their new multimedia stories, Undesired, to my Facebook profile.

In India, all women must confront the cultural pressure to bear a son. The consequences of this preference is a disregard for the lives of women and girls. From birth until death they face a constant threat of violence. See the project at

Overnight, I received 6 friend responses to the link. Two people thanked me for sharing the story, and two even shared the link to this story on their own Facebook walls. To me, this result confirmed Storm’s theory on why this style of storytelling is so successful.

Storm says, “When you think about it, it goes back to quality. The only reason they’re watching it is because it’s just a great story. We develop the character in a way that you start to care for him, you see yourself in the character, and you’re hooked. You have to know: does he make it?” (Neiman Reports 2009)

1. Drew, Jill. “See It Now! Video journalism is dying. Long live video journalism.” 2010. Columbia Journalism Review. September/October: 38 – 43.
2. Nieman Reports. 2010. “A Different Approach to Storytelling.” Accessed September 30.
3. Nieman Reports. 2009. Long-Form Multimedia Journalism: Quality Is the Key Ingredient.” Accessed September 30.
4. Neiman Reports. 2001. “Photojournalism and Documentary Photography.” Accessed October 2.
5. The Digital Journalist. 2005. “Why Photojournalists Should Gather Audio.” Accessed October 2.
6. Poynter Online. 2009. “Music in Multimedia: Add Sparingly, Not as a Crutch.” Accessed October 2.

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