MoJo insights: ‘Thumb engaging’ stories and the importance of citizen journalism

Mobile storytelling expert and co-founder of #HashtagOurStories, Yusuf Omar talks about his favourite platforms for mobile journalism, and shares insights into the latest trends and challenges. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t mention Snapchat once.

by Simone Flueckiger | February 28, 2018

A former CNN social media reporter and mobile editor at the Hindustan Times, Yusuf Omar is the co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, an initiative aimed at  building a global multichannel news network. With citizen journalism at the core of the project, he and his wife and co-founder Sumaiya Omar travelled to more than 20 countries to equip different communities with mobile storytelling skills.

WAN-IFRA caught up with Omar ahead of his appearance at this year’s World News Media Congress, 6-8 June in Estoril, Portugal, to hear his thoughts on trends and challenges in mobile journalism.

WAN-IFRA: What are your favourite platforms to use for mobile storytelling and why?

Yusuf Omar: Facebook Spaces is the greatest revolution in storytelling platforms in the last decade. It allows us to produce live, 360 degree virtual environments, but it’s also social and the audience can join the experience.

With regards to visual journalism and mobile storytelling in particular, what do you think news organisations are doing right, and in which areas can they improve?

News organisations are quick to dismiss new technologies as being gimmicky or frivolous, without seeing the potential to do better journalism. For example, as a standalone product, live streaming hasn’t been a golden goose that transformed the media. Neither did virtual reality and 360 degree videos. But history has always given us building blocks.

At the intersection of these technologies, coupled with 5G internet, totally immersive platforms are becoming available like Facebook Spaces. Media organisations need to master all the ‘building block’ technologies and invest in innovation. Because when it all comes together and a critical mass is reached, be prepared. Because the whole space will move very fast.

What are the challenges of mobile journalism now and what do you expect them to be in the future?

Mobile journalism is increasingly becoming the realm of citizens and verification is the biggest challenge for news organisations. Technologies are improving to spot the fakes, but so are tools which make it even easier to manipulate videos. Since 9/11, the most memorable stories of our time have been broadcast by people with phones, so the role of the media has moved to curating and aggregating, fact checking and verifying.

However, this can’t be the primary role of the media in the future. If we are all fishing in the same social media ponds and verifying the same content, all the media houses end up publishing the same stories. So we need to go further and dig deeper. Provide insights, commentary. Give people experiences and show them original stories that aren’t bubbling to the top of social media timelines.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest trends in visual storytelling and mobile journalism right now?

Storytelling is becoming interactive. We’ve spent the longest of time trying to create thumb stopping content so people didn’t scroll past our videos on crowded social media timelines. Now it’s about creating thumb engaging stories. If we look at the Stories format on Instagram, Snapchat and more, it’s all about getting the audience to click to skip 10 seconds ahead, or click backwards. The audience is now in control of the narrative.

With Hashtag Our Stories, you aim to enable communities around the world to tell their own stories. Where does that leave news organisations and how (if that’s the case) do you expect their role to evolve in the future?

Hashtag Our Stories has trained communities in 26 countries to tell stories with their phones and we curate those videos into shows. That’s the journalism! Good journalism has always been about a variety of sources. And citizen storytelling simply means more angles, more perspectives and that means more truth.

News organisations must get better at listening to the voices of people on the ground and curating that information into meaningful insights so they can understand the present and better predict the future. We missed the big trends like Brexit and Trump because the media listened to experts and pundits and commentators, instead of real voices and real people.

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