media economy multimedia photography

Media disruption (1): The primacy of the screen and mobile

What are the key features of the media economy in 2015? And how do those features effect the work of visual storytellers?

Two years on from the publication of Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism, I want to update – in a series of articles – some of the central findings of that research. That report was the summation of the World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project, which was designed to review issues around, and map the global emergence of, multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism.

The research examined the transformation of the media economy so we could better understand how information is being produced, published, consumed, and funded. This is something I have been writing about since my five-part series on the revolutions in the media economy posted in 2009, and three posts on the new media landscape in 2011.

I believe understanding the nature and scale of the on-going disruption in the media economy is essential for anyone involved in documentary, news and non-fiction narratives. While I would argue the analysis in Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism still holds, some things are now even more significant.

First, the primacy of the screen and the rise of mobile.

[Source: Screen Fiends]

This year, for the first time, individuals around the world will spend more time online than with any other media platform. There are regional variations, some of this activity will take place concurrently, and given the rise of internet streaming the boundary between online and television is blurred. We have to recognise that internet access is unequally distributed (note the absence of Africa, where only one-quarter of the population use the internet, from the above data). But what is indisputable is that the screen has become the primary access point globally for information and entertainment.

[Source: This Isn’t Happiness]

The primacy of the screen is closely tied to the growth in mobile devices. The 2 billion iOS and Android devices currently in use will soon grow to 3 billion, easily surpassing the 1.6 billion PC’s in existence. Mobile phone ownership has grown dramatically in all the world’s regions.

The smartphone – a touchscreen device with internet access – is becoming supreme. Smartphone ownership in the US has grown from 35% of adults in 2011 to 64% in 2014, and nearly three-quarters of American teenagers have smartphones. In the UK it is up from 30% in 2010 to 66% in 2014, and the level of smartphone penetration is similar in Western Europe. Global smartphone penetration shows wide regional variations, although growth is universal.

[Source: Paul Adams, Why ‘mobile first’ may already be outdated, Inside Intercom]

Mobile devices are not really mobile, at least in the conventional view that they are mostly glanced at when on the move. Yes, touchscreen devices – tablets and smartphones – are handheld and used outside the home, but two-thirds of people use them in both the home and beyond. In fact, they have become the way most of us regularly access the internet, accounting for nearly 60% of the time spent online in the UK.

Rather than regarding mobile devices as just a scaled down version of the internet, we should appreciate that each device is an entire internet platform that exceeds the browser version of the web available on PC’s. The smartphone is itself a social platform where apps are networked through contacts, images and notifications. And we know it has eaten the stand-alone camera, with the number of iPhones and Android devices exceeding the total of Japanese cameras ever sold.

This means “mobile” is the wrong frame of reference – it is not about the status of small devices, but the way in which information is produced, published and consumed via the screen. Indeed, the size of device is secondary. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, regards televisions as “just glass-panelled displays connected to the internet” rather than unique devices.

It has become a cultural cliche that smartphones are “ruining our lives” by making us distracted, isolated and stupid (humorously presented in these 27 cartoons). The ever growing number of US users have a different view, however, with the vast majority seeing them as “freeing, connecting, helpful.” This is part of their overwhelmingly positive view of the internet’s impact on society and their lives, with at least three-quarters saying it has been a good thing that improves their ability to learn things and be better informed. Nor do they complain of “information overload” – a majority of internet users (72%) enjoy having so much information at their fingertips, while just 26% find it overwhelming.

All this has important implications for thinking about how information is structured and stories presented. The audience is engaged, and “mobile” can no longer be a subset of digital experience. While some offerings will be for those with little time while in transit, overall the mobile experience for readers and viewers needs to be comprehensive as it might be the only touchpoint between you and your audience. This is especially so given the willingness of users to access immersive, long-form stories via their small screens – as in the case of serious 6,000 word BuzzFeed report that had half its views on mobile with people reading for 12-25 minutes.

People are consuming more media, and doing it principally through screens of various sizes connected to the internet. Other platforms like print will persist, but in new and more limited ways. This is the media infrastructure producers need to know and work with.

Next in this series…how the audience consumes news in the digital space

media economy multimedia

World Press Photo multimedia research project: video interview

A year ago I delivered and presented the World Press Photo multimedia research project report entitled Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism

In this interview with D.J. Clark for the World Press Photo Connected Learning project (which we did in the CCTV studios in Beijing where we teach on the MA in International Multimedia Journalism) I talked about the major themes of the multimedia research report,  which I think are more relevant than ever.

media economy multimedia photography

Shaul Schwarz: A photographer finds a new world of expression in film

Reel Peek Films

“Magazines are hungry for video,” says Shaul Schwarz, a still photographer who has been interested in film since 2006. Schwarz — who recently directed both Rise, Red Border Films’ story of the people who built One World Trade Center, and Narco Cultura, the 2013 full-length documentary that grew out of his photojournalistic account of the drug culture on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border — is fascinated by the notion that photos can do more than merely illustrate a story. Schwarz is attracted to the way film can provide image-makers with a voice and, in the editing, a level of control over the narrative that’s rarely found in still photography.

In light of the growing demand for quality visual storytelling from media organizations, Schwarz has set up Reel Peak Films, a production company combining photojournalists and filmmakers. With photographers and directors like Maisie Crow, Uriel Sinai, Christina Clusiau, Gillian Laub, Yoni Brook, Leeor Kaufman and Jared Moossy — along with editors Jay Sterrenberg and Bryan Chang and sound specialist Juan Bertran — Reel Peak Films is a network of highly skilled freelancers formed with the aim of producing high-quality films of around 10 minutes in length (for example, Schwarz’s film Ashes to Ashes, Peter van Agtmael’s piece on Bobby Henline, a badly wounded Iraq veteran-turned-stand-up comedian, both of which featured on LightBox, and Christina Clusiau’s Black Rush Life).

“We’re not just taking pictures and doing audio,” says Schwarz, while also acknowledging that Reel Peak is not inventing a new visual form. Reel Peak’s priority, he says, is focusing on the film component around which a larger story and presentation can be built. Schwarz’s hope is to connect the collaborative model that large film projects demand with the journalistic ethos of his partners’ photography backgrounds. “We can go further and deeper into the story,” Schwarz maintains, combining “old school journalism’s hard-hitting perspective and great access” with strong, cinematic aesthetics — an approach very different from, say, that of TV crews.

Schwarz works in the field with a small footprint: no rigs, just a DSLR, and occasionally a sound person. This intimacy, Schwarz says, means “most people don’t even realise I’m doing video.” Reel Peak Films is emblematic of a major shift in the media, as disparate organisations increase their online presence and produce more programs and stories. The past year has seen broadcasters and magazines set up documentary film units, including TIME’s Red Border Films. The Atlantic started three video series, the New York Times expanded its output, placing its videos outside their pay wall; and the Washington Post opened a political channel.

As we concluded in the World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project I directed, the intersection of broadcasters, magazines and newspapers in digital space means there is no such thing as traditional media any longer. While there will continue to be print platforms, the screen has become the primary access point for most news and information, and media outlets have to be cross-platform. An encouraging feature of this new media economy is users’ demand for compelling stories. Ooyala, a company that runs 1 billion video streams per month for media organisations, including The Daily Telegraph in the UK, analysed the viewing habits of nearly 200 million unique viewers in 130 countries, and found long-form video (i.e., more than 10 minutes) very popular. MediaStorm reports very large audiences for their stories, with users viewing them years after the original release date, demonstrating that quality storytelling enjoys a long life online.

With distribution partnerships in place, Walter Astrada’s Undesired attracted a six-figure audience in the first week of its release. The online audience for a story like Danny Wilcox Frazier’s Driftless can quickly be 20 times as large as for a print publication, and has the potential to replicate print run numbers on a daily basis. More than half, and often two thirds, of those viewing MediaStorm pieces online stay with them to the end, even with running lengths up to 20 minutes or more.

None of this new and compelling information, of course, should be used to shore up simplistic arguments or proclamations about the imminent “death” of photography. Schwarz continues to shoot stills, and has recently completed a National Geographic assignment. In fact, paradoxically, he finds that he is now able to take more time with his still work — producing book projects, for example — now that he no longer looks to print media exclusively to make a living. Schwarz describes his photographic work as both “solitary and fun,” but when he wants to tell a complex story, he turns to film.

This post was originally published on TIME LightboxMarch 2014.

media economy multimedia

Scarcity, abundance and value: the economics of digital culture


Understanding the changing relationship between scarcity and abundance – and how they affect value – is essential for visual storytellers seeking to operate in the new ecology of information.

The foundation for this changing relationship is the fact that the web is built on a structurally open system.

Open doesn’t mean all is equal and free of from power.

There are, for example, obvious international inequalities in terms of geographic and class access to the Internet.

It is also true that commercial interests (whether that be Amazon, Facebook, Google, Twitter or individual corporations) are able to exercise great power on the web.

Nonetheless, because the founders of the web took the historic decision not to patent and thereby privatise its invention we can all have our own piece of digital space.

So the system remains structurally open because anyone can, for very low cost, broadcast, publish and distribute information. Anyone can establish a web presence from which to attract and reach audiences. This simple fact, combined with other changes in digital technology, has altered the parameters of the media economy from scarcity to abundance. This has been well described by Nicholas Carr:

As the Internet becomes our universal medium, it is reshaping what might be called the economics of culture.  Because most common cultural goods consist of words, images, or sounds, which all can be expressed in digital form, they are becoming as cheap to reproduce and distribute as any other information product. Many of them are also becoming easier to create, thanks to the software and storage services provided through the Net and inexpensive production tools like camcorders, microphones, digital cameras, and scanners….The shift from scarcity to abundance in media means that, when it comes to deciding what to read, watch, and listen to, we have far more choices than our parents or grandparents did.

Of course, this doesn’t itself address issues of quality amidst abundance, but social recommendation, the filtering done by trusted sources, delivers a rich stream of information. I can avoid cheesy cat videos on the web just as easily as I can bypass tabloid newspapers in the shop. But I can get unexpected reports and stories much more easily now than when I had to rely on either the physical library or the newsagent.

The great challenge is how to financially support good stories in this era of information abundance. Approaching that question requires us to appreciate three things:

  1. Good journalism has always been indirectly subsidised and never paid for directly, and this is complicated by the way the artificial scarcity prices of print advertising have collapsed since 2000;
  2. We cannot confuse or conflate value and price: people value quality information and stories for their utility or experience, but the price that can be charged is driven more by issues of access and availability than content worth;
  3. Being able to charge scarcity prices depends on having something unique, long-lasting, easy to access and easy to pay for.

This is the eighth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

media economy multimedia

Digital and the the desire for long form journalism

The world is at her fingertips

The disruption of the Internet, the turn to online news sources, and the global spread of mobile technology are sometimes seen as producing a new age of distraction and superficiality.[1. This position draws on the likes of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows and crops up in articles such as “Smart readers are too distracted to read smart content.” There are two problems with these claims. First is that the science on the impact of technology on thinking is contested, as the arguments reviewed her make clear. Second is that the claims are very absolutist, giving a sense there is a general social-psychological condition that automatically affects all. The New York Times ran a good series on brains and computers in 2010 but its opening character revealed that “distraction” might be a conscious choice. While 17 year old Vishal Singh was used as example of one whose love of computers and the Internet meant he couldn’t focus on school homework, he had no trouble concentrating unreservedly on his true passion – film making – spending hours editing short sequences and getting an A in his film studies class. As such, he is hardly “wired for distraction.”]

Without claiming that these are in fact the best of times for visual storytellers, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that contemporary developments are building on and encouraging a healthy appetite for engagement with news and information.

Here is what we found in the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie multimedia research project (see section 2 of the report for details and sources):

  • Over the last two decades – and consistent throughout that period – American data shows people enjoy reading (51% say they enjoyed it a lot), and there has been no decrease in the number reading a book on a typical day (c. 30%). Now, though, the proportion (currently 20%) reading those books via electronic devices is growing
  • In Europe and the US there is a strong appetite for news, with 75% or more of people accessing news daily
  • International news is a topic of interest for 44%+ in Europe and the US
  • At least two-thirds of the 16-24 age group in Europe and the US are interested in news, so the future is not so bleak as sometimes feared.

Significantly mobile technology is helping to cultivate this appetite for news:

  • accessing news is one of top things mobile consumers do
  • it increases the amount of news they consume
  • it increases the number of longer stories they read
  • organisations like the Wall Street Journal report people spend at least as much time (40-50 mins) on their tablet app as they did with the printed paper.

Web video is the subject of current debate, with some producers questioning its value. That argument makes some good creative points that need to be examined in more detail, although there is wide variation in what counts as “web video.” But it is clear that news consumers like linear video. Media organisations we surveyed repeatedly said it was one of the two most popular formats for people coming to their sites. As a result many media organisations (especially those formerly known as newspapers) are investing heavily in video production. All this makes online video the fastest growing multimedia format, with encouraging audience behaviour for those producing stories:

  • News is a popular category on YouTube (it was the most searched for item in four out of 12 months in 2011)
  • There is no strict correlation between length of video and popularity – one-third of popular videos were 2-5 minutes in length, and nearly one fifth were longer than 5 mins
  • Oyala, a large video streaming platform, reported that long form videos of 10 minutes+ accounted for 57% of viewing time on tablets they served
  • Multimedia completion rates can also be good: MediaStorm says that more than half, and often two-thirds, of those viewing their stories online stay with them to the end, even when stories run up to 20 or more minutes.

We can also point to studies commissioned by the Associated Press demonstrating that audiences desire breadth, context and depth – news consumers feel they have the headlines and what they want is the background. To that end, they value the depth visuals (both still and moving) can bring.

This shows the audience is out there, they have an appetite for visual stories, and are consuming long form journalism and video. This does not mean the audience for visual stories can be easily found or quickly engaged. It still takes a good story, and one that is accessible to as many as possible. But both audience desire and our ability to reach them is being encouraged by the digital transformations many feared would have a negative effect on the future of visual stories.

This is the seventh in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.


media economy multimedia

The global spread of mobile technology and what it means for visual storytelling


The global spread of mobile technology is reshaping the media economy.

By 2017 there will be 5.2 billion mobile users worldwide, up from 4.3 billion currently, and the number of mobile Internet connections will exceed the number of people on the planet (albeit with a different distribution). The proliferation of smartphones, laptops and tablets has made the screen the primary access point for much information and is helping to drive the growth in online news sources. In the US, smartphones have outpaced almost every other technology in the speed of mainstream adoption, and are the backbone of most media interactions.

Instead of one technology killing off and totally replacing another, people are now getting their news through a combination of different new devices and sources. Nearly all media organisations produce mobile content, and those like The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal are seeing one-third of their readers coming in via mobile devices and the number is growing rapidly. The proliferation of devices for accessing the web enables and encourages multiplatform consumption.

The visual is at the heart of these developments. According to a Cisco executive, the “dramatic adoption” of mobile technology means “we are rapidly approaching the time when nearly every network experience will be a mobile one and, more often than not, a visual one as well.” That is because mobile video is the biggest single component of mobile data traffic – it now accounts for 51% of this traffic and will rise to 66% in 2017.

Mobile feeds social. The growth in mobile is fuelling the number of Americans – not just the young – who access news via social networks, which increased from 9% in 2010 to 19% in 2012. In the UK, social networks are equally important, with the Reuters Institute reporting that they provide the gateway to news for 20% of users.

These developments mean being mobile and social is essential for every visual storyteller. That does not mean every story has to be designed for mobile only. It does mean that to have the chance of reaching the largest and widest possible audience, at least some element of every story, or some version of every story, needs to be readily accessible on mobile devices and easily shareable on social networks. Storytellers need to find their audiences, and audiences in the new media economy are increasingly found, at least in the first instance, through mobile and social.

This is the sixth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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The primacy of the screen

Google screen study


The screen has become the primary access point for much information.

The shift to online news sources, the growth of mobile platforms, and the expansion of video output are both cause and effect of the screen’s increasing dominance.

The above graphic comes from a 2012 study commissioned by Google and conducted by Sterling Brands and Ipsos. They concluded that 90% of media interactions by Americans were now screen based. This could well be an overstatement, despite the good mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, because the research sample was 1,611 people aged 18-64 in Los Angeles, Boston and Austin, three connected cities. Nonetheless, because of the many intersecting factors contributing to the dominance of the screen, it shows at least a clear trend.

This study reported that screens were employed both sequentially and simultaneously. Sequentially meant people would use different devices individually in different contexts and at different times. simultaneously refers to “the second screen experience”, where viewing on one device is accompanied by another. While mobile devices enable access anywhere anytime (assuming network connections), Pew found they are most often used for news in the home. And whether sequential or simultaneous, the study concluded that smartphones were the backbone of daily media interactions, the most common starting point for activities, and the most common companions in sequential use.

The main thrust of the Google/Sterling Brands/Ipsos findings are supported by a 2013 BBC study of global multiscreen news consumption:Multiplatform news consumption infographic

Jim Egan, CEO of BBC Global News Ltd, drew an interesting conclusion from this study:

Avid news consumers are hungry for information wherever they are and expect to stay in touch on all the devices they now own. There’s been speculation for years that mainstream uptake of smartphones, laptops and tablets will have a negative impact on television viewing, but this study has found that the four devices actually work well together, resulting in greater overall consumption rather than having a cannibalising effect.

The primacy of the screen is good news for visual storytellers. Increased access to, and consumption of, information is being enabled by these devices. The challenge will be how to make stories work on, and across, different screens, especially smartphones. The challenge will also be how to link print and other platforms with screens in this new ecology of information.

This is the fifth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

media economy multimedia

Newspapers, advertising and the Internet: How journalism has always been subsidised


The disruptive power of the Internet changed everything in media. But it did not cause everything.

The decline of newspapers, so long the editorial paymaster for photojournalism, is a trend dating back six decades.

Globally there are mixed signals concerning newspaper circulation, with some reporting growth in Asia offsetting falls in Europe and the US, while other sources reveal “printed newspaper readership is now declining in almost all major economies,” including China and India.

In the US, UK and Canada, the data is clear and dramatic. The Communications Management Inc. study on Sixty Years of Daily Newspaper Circulation Trends shows newspaper circulation has been falling since 1950:

CM2011 newspaper circulation comparison

Because the defining characteristic of the new media economy is “the separation of information from its means of distribution” we cannot conclude that the decline in newspapers means the demise of journalism, visual or otherwise. The reverse is in fact true – journalism has many homes and benefits from the freedom of circulation and distribution that the Internet makes possible – the Pulitzer Prize winning InsideClimate News is a great example.

The problem is that the traditional homes of journalism have seen their already parlous financial health further undercut. However, we have to remember that most media organisations are in business, but not primarily the business of journalism. Legacy organisations (including great ones like The New York Times) spend no more than 20% of their budget on news content (in fact, in the US the industry average is 12.7%). The rest goes on the management and operation of the distribution model.

Media organisations are in the business of advertising, advertising has accounted for 80% of their revenue, and that revenue has subsidised the journalism that provides the content that draws the readers/views in to see the advertisements. Above all else it is the collapse in advertising revenue for print media that has been the single largest cause of journalism’s financial crisis, as this graph from Mark Perry shows dramatically:

Newspaper ad revenue 1950-2012

The disruption of the Internet has put added pressure on print advertising and online advertising has not replaced print losses.

There are some vital lessons flowing from this for the future of visual storytelling. We have to understand that:

  • journalism (reporting, stories, pictorial coverage) has never been a viable, stand-alone product. It has never paid for itself directly and its users have never directly paid for all of it. Journalism has always been subsidised by indirect sources, principally advertising;
  • the culture of “free” is originally a product, not of the Internet, but of the mass media model – it comes from “free to air” radio, “free to view” television (both financed indirectly by advertising) and newspapers with small subscription fees making up no more than one-fifth of their revenue, all of which enabled many generations of users to get their information for no charge at the point of consumption;
  • there will not be a one-size-fits-all, single business model for good journalism in the future, but it will continue to depend on sources of indirect subsidy;
  • successful journalism operations (of which there many good examples) are becoming sustainable not by discovering some untapped, secret pot of gold, but by diversifying income, making new connections between advertising, paying for content, selling data and technology, events, freelancing, consulting etc.;
  • photojournalists and visual storytellers should not pin their hopes on “paywalls” for established news sites as the single best solution, because even if they work on some measures these are not going to bring back a lost golden age of editorial assignments, as user subscriptions can never replace lost advertising revenue for legacy organisations.

This historical perspective challenges some important myths about what happened to media. None of this makes the present struggle for critical visual journalism easy. But it should re-set the terms of the debate about what is happening now, and re-frame some of the strategic options for the future.

This is the fourth in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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Disruption and the new ecology of information

What happens in an internet minute

The context for thinking about what is happening with visual storytelling is one of “disruption.” Yes, that term can be drained through overuse, but it is still vital in understanding the dynamics of the new media economy,

That is because disruption is more than just change through competition.

We have disruption because, as the Columbia University report Post-Industrial Journalism argued (p. 83),

the arrival of the internet did not herald a new entrant in the news ecosystem. It heralded a new ecosystem, full stop.

The Internet is not a competitor that stands separate from the traditional media institutions. Its dynamics have created something new that encompasses all who exist in the news ecosystem, including the traditional institutions. Even though there are still significant inequalities in Internet access within and between countries, the Intel graphic above makes clear the scale of the disruption the Internet produces for all.

The metaphor of the ecosystem and ecology is important here because it reflects the way the media economy is made up of networks through which news and information is produced, distributed and consumed. How can we understand the impact disruption has had on the ecology of news? Richard Stacy puts it best. The defining characteristic of the new media economy is “the separation of information from its means of distribution.”

This means (according to the Columbia study, p.1):

Everybody suddenly got a lot more freedom. The newsmakers, the advertisers, the startups, and, especially, the people formerly known as the audience have all been given new freedom to communicate, narrowly and broadly, outside the old strictures of the broadcast and publishing models. The past 15 years have seen an explosion of new tools and techniques, and, more importantly, new assumptions and expectations, and these changes have wrecked the old clarity.

As a result it no longer makes sense to speak of a traditional, print based media opposed to a digital competitor. There is no such thing as traditional media any longer, even if print remains a mode of distribution for some. When ‘newspapers’ are streaming more video on some services than broadcast stations, broadcast networks are competing on the web with everyone else, and public radio networks have multimedia producers for visual stories, you know the media world has changed forever. Everybody is implicated in the digital ecosystem, even if you think of yourself as a print producer, and that goes for individuals as well as organisations. We should therefore refer to the traditional distribution platforms for journalism as “the organisations formerly known as newspapers, radio and television.”

And if you want a sense of how we have come on the web, then find time to watch this 1995 PBS computer show introducing the Internet, and note how much more visual the web has become in its second decade:

This is the third in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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Learning to COPE: Multimedia freelancing in the new media economy

Guest post from D J Clark

How people make a living from ‘multimedia’ reporting and storytelling is one of the most pressing issues.

In the new World Press Photo Multimedia Research Project report (p. 44) is a colourful diagram. As an illustration of how indirect revenue can subsidise work, “Ways to make money blogging” sits in the midst of a discussion about how the old media system is now broken and how “in the new media economy all media is multimedia, social media, and it is increasingly mobile.” Examining the various income streams laid out in blue, yellow, red and green, I realized how similar this was to my freelance business as a photographer turned multimedia journalist.

The diagram below represents a quick email survey of five Beijing-based international freelance visual journalists, including myself, who have successfully made the transition from a single media (mainly photography) to delivering multiple media (mainly photography and video) to international clients.


While freelance assignments still make up the largest part of our income, surprisingly it is less than half. Of that half, the vast majority (78%) is for regular media clients rather than one-off assignments. As with TV news, multimedia not only requires the freelancer to be well versed in a particular style of shooting, it also needs the freelancer to understand complex workflows, compression settings, subtitling, transmitting etc., which together make it more likely the media companies will use the same people repeatedly.

Of the five of us surveyed, three had formal contracts with at least one media company, but this still made up only 10% of overall assignments. Commercial work was the next biggest earner, although two people said this takes up very little time and is undertaken to fund equipment and editorial assignments.

Teaching on university courses, conducting media company training, and running workshops all formed a reliable income source for most of us. Grants only made up 6% of income, although four out of five of us had received at least one. Funding projects with grants and crowd sourcing is often put forward as a potential substitute to publishers but much of the money is spent on travel and production costs with little going back to the journalist as income. My most recent grant ended up costing me money as the project went over budget by more than the amount allotted to my fee.

One other surprise was stock sales, which in the old system was a trustworthy form of income even when assignments were slow. At only 3% there seems little point in investing too heavily in the time it takes to organize media for stock agencies and send it off – maybe better to upload to YouTube, Vimeo or Flickr as a way of promoting yourself and generating sales?

There was one additional question I asked the group. How much time do you put into social media and/or online promotion? All except one explained they find it hard to separate social media/blogging from their work, and the individual who was not so engaged said she should be doing this. “This stuff is completely intertwined with my life,” explained one journalist. Yet all of us answered 0% when asked how much direct income we derived from these time-consuming activities. Indirect income is another matter, however.

Recently I discovered the world of COPE – ‘Create Once Publish Everywhere’, a concept first championed by NPR and now used extensively by media companies to get their content to where audiences are, rather than trying to bring audiences to them. For multimedia freelancers it is also important to spread your content on as many platforms and in as many ways as possible. Sharing photographs on Instagram while working an assignment, tweeting from behind the scenes, sharing links on Facebook, uploading (when permitted) stories to your YouTube and Vimeo accounts, and blogging all help promote the journalist effectively, if not more so than having a personal website you expect people to find. Learning how to separate the noise from the signal and using time-saving social apps like Hootsuite are also key skills to save getting bogged down in the social stream so you can concentrate on the story.

This short survey is by no means conclusive but it does demonstrate that developing strong relationships with a few media organisations, taking on a variety of income creating activities, and devoting a good amount of time to online engagement that is not directly paid, all form part of modern-day, successful freelancing in the new media economy.

This is a guest post from D J Clark, with whom I have worked in various capacities for more than ten years. You can find out more about D J Clark at The MA International Multimedia Journalism he directs (and to which I contribute) is now accepting applications for September 2013. D J Clark’s newly released, free, and co-authored multimedia training resource is at

This is the second in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

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‘Multimedia’, photojournalism and visual storytelling


What is “multimedia”?

Searching for a single definition in answer to this question is neither possible nor desirable. At its most basic, “multimedia” signifies some combination of images, sound, graphics, and text to produce a story. In different realms of practice people speak of “cross media,” “transmedia” or “mixed media.’ In photojournalism, “multimedia” has often been first understood as “photography, plus…”, principally the combination of still imagery with other content. Nowadays we see it in multiple forms ranging from online photo galleries where pictures are combined with text captions, to audio slideshows, linear video (both short-from and long-form), animated infographics, non-linear interactives, and full-scale web documentaries and broadcast films.

The digital revolution has been a defining development in the emergence of “multimedia” that blurs the boundary between still and moving images. But that boundary has long been blurred. Even a brief consideration of the history of image making shows considerable overlap between still and moving images. Close-ups and freeze frames are moments in which cinema employs the still image, and photo-stories and sequences testify to the influence of cinema on photography. Famous photographers like Man Ray, Paul Strand and Gordon Parks were all involved in filmmaking and films like Chris Marker’s “La Jetee” (1962) and Agnes Varda’s “Salut Les Cubains” (1963) were based on still photographs. Ken Burn’s creative use of archival pictures in “The Civil War” (1990) was so powerful it gave rise to an effect now immortalised in video editing software. Modern television is not averse to deploying stills in either opening credits (as in David Simon’s “Treme”) or in news broadcasts, when a slower pace is needed to underline the significance of the event (the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the invasion of Iraq being two such cases), or when video is unavailable.

The roots of “multimedia” go deeper still. In the media history of photographic images, prior to mass reproduction of images in print becoming possible, pictures were displayed to the public with the help of technological devices such as the magic lantern (as well as the gloriously named phenakistiscope, zoetrope, praxinoscope, mutoscope, etc.) that created the perception of moving images in theatrical settings.

Moving forward again, we can recall other photographic projects in which images were entwined with other forms of content. Nan Goldins’ famous “Ballad of Sexual Dependency” was originally shown in the early 1980s as a constantly evolving slideshow with music. Pedro Meyer’s “I Photograph to Remember” (1991), Rick Smolan’s “From Alice to Ocean” (1992) and “Passage to Vietnam” (1994), and Tim Hetherington’s “House of Pain” (1996) were all on CD-ROMs and it was speculated that CD-ROMs might replace books as the chosen platform for photographic presentation. Gilles Peress’ “Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace” (1996) was an interactive photo essay, while Ed Kashi’s “Iraqi Kurdistan” flipbook style production (2006) closed the circle by deploying a nineteenth century technique on a twenty-first century platform.

Photojournalism has always been influenced by technological changes, and the arrival of DSLR cameras with video capability – the Nikon D90 in August 2008 followed shortly thereafter by the Canon 5D Mark II – have again highlighted the relationship between still and moving images, providing practitioners with dual image capability in a single camera body.

What is the significance of this history? It confirms that any attempt to strictly define “multimedia” would exclude more than it includes. And it demonstrates that what we need is not a restrictive definition of one genre, but an expanded understanding of “the photographic,” especially the long-standing and complex relationship between still and moving images, possibly what Tim Hetherington meant when he spoke of a “post-photographic” world. This is not a world in which one visual form has died, but a world in which multiple visual forms are alive and stronger than ever.

This is why this study speaks of “visual storytelling”. It opens up the field to different communities who share a common purpose in image-oriented reportage. It is the zone in which photojournalism, videojournalism, documentary, cinema and interactive storytelling have the potential to intersect. This does not create a new visual genre, but it constitutes a space in which photojournalists can bring their aesthetic abilities and commitment to reporting, and learn from those operating outside of photography.

This is not the “convergence” of everything into one, nor a place where a single new form replaces all others – none of this leads to the conclusion that all forms of print are passé. Instead, we have arrived at a place where image making is important to storytelling, and storytelling encompasses many forms across many platforms.

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting the content of “Visual Storytelling in the Age of Post-Industrial Journalism“, the World Press Photo/Fotografen Federatie study of the global emergence and development of multimedia in visual storytelling, especially photojournalism. The posts are searchable with the ‘Multimedia Research Project’ tag.

Image credit: Magic lantern show, 1881. This engraving of a magic lantern show is from La Nature (vol 1, 1881), and is signed ‘Smeeton Tilly’. The image being projected depicts a castle at night. © Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library — All rights reserved. Used with permission.