By Galen Schultz
Die Burger, the Mail & Guardian Online, Independent Online and, more recently, the Times Online have all dived deep into the process of multimedia story-telling, the Digital Citizen Indaba in Grahamstown heard on Sunday. But what potential does this form of story-telling offer? What challenges do online news sites face? And what does it all say about the state of journalism in South Africa?
Multimedia is the future
So what exactly makes multimedia content so deep? Just that: depth. An accompanying video, podcast, photo story or a photo gallery can offer viewers something a little extra to the all-important text. The major guideline to abide by is that multimedia content should not replicate the original copy. In other words, it needs to offer something that the parent publication cannot.
The Times has specifically found promotional pieces, the arts, action and music as the most popular beats that online consumers are after. Interestingly, online users seem to be generally grasping for stories that have a human-interest angle and deem news that is more entertaining as more appealing.
What’s holding us back?
A lack of resources — this does not necessarily refer to financial issues but rather a lack of staff and time. The multimedia industry in South Africa is still relatively young, as is a large portion of the multimedia staff. What’s more is that journalists in this field are been asked to do things that they may not be familiar with — learning the importance of multitasking. There is therefore a call for non-traditional training of today’s journalists.
Furthermore, the assumption that the younger generation can adapt more quickly to new news-gathering techniques and new-media software is opposed by an argument that they are less efficient reporters. Having said that, upcoming multimedia journalists should not give the old and experienced the cold shoulder — there is always something to be learnt from the old and wise.
Statistics of Independent Online’s most popular stories over the past seven years reveal that readers favour stories that have a shocking or bizarre value, involve sex, or are entertaining. However, the site’s Renee Moodie made it clear that these are more linked to people’s personal lives than we might make out. Sex, for example, can be linked to abuse and relationships. Thus, the old distinction of what constitutes an event or a human-interest piece has been broken. Journalists are now faced with the challenge of determining what constitutes as real news and how this can be given a human interest angle to grab audience attention
Fresh news is the currency of digital journalism. Once staffing shortages and training are sorted out, everything else should flow together like clockwork. That, coupled with pending broadband, could see South African news sites leading journalism in the country.
What multimedia news sites are perhaps not taking into account with regards to determining their online audience is the impact of Google. Vincent Maher reckons that online audiences are not necessarily loyal to a single online news site for their consumption of multimedia content. Rather, content is searched for using Google, which has the final say in what order associated stories are ranked and consequently selected for consumption. Which news sites these stories are found on, and thus consumed, depend on the labelling and tagging efficiency of the competing news sites.
Shultz is a student in the New Media Lab at Rhodes University