media update’s Aisling McCarthy looks at what multimedia journalism encompasses.

What is multimedia journalism?

Freelance multimedia journalist, Shaun Swingler says that multimedia journalism is defined by the use of different mediums – such as text, photos, video, sound, and/or graphics – in a single piece to tell a more compelling, well-rounded story.

In recent years, there has been a rapid decrease in the price of digital video and audio equipment and an increase in visual and audio platforms. This means that single-medium journalists have had to become proficient in numerous forms of media.

Multimedia platforms have given reporters a better means to communicate with their audiences; print and broadcast platforms only allow for a limited amount of information to be conveyed, whereas multimedia tools are beginning to break down the barriers of storytelling.

Defining multimedia journalism can be tricky, though, says freelance journalist Jason Boswell, as technology advances, the more multimedia reporting develops and changes.

“It’s a journalism which disseminates its story on a multitude of platforms … In an online space, it can be using a number of different media elements to tell a specific story – a single story – but using video, infographics, or still images to tell different elements of the same piece.”

Are two mediums better than one?

Having more than one medium can be both a blessing and a curse – you do have more ways of getting elements of your story across, but this means it will take much longer to produce a story.

Boswell says that having multiple mediums can make stories highly innovative.

“Sometimes, elements of stories can be lost when trying to convey them in only one medium. Approaching stories from a multimedia perspective allows journalists to use more innovative ways of telling these stories and bringing in readers.”

When it comes to reporting, having numerous medium options can allow a journalist to be far more creative with the final package than with a single medium alone.

Using various types of media also allows journalists a lot of flexibility in their work, says Swingler.

“You’re able to adapt your storytelling devices depending on the story. For instance, sometimes a single photograph can convey the feeling of a crowd at a demonstration, but a short video could convey more of a sense of why the demonstrations are taking place. So, it’s being able to use a variety of different tools for different situations.”

These pros are balanced out by the fact that working with various types of media demands more skills and more time to put the final piece together.

Boswell says that this demand of skills in various areas can be challenging, as journalists are now required to do everything well.

“If you only have 100% to give – that 100% is now being split across a number of difference roles, so it’s really difficult to maintain the standards expected when the same product was [previously] being produced by a team of four, each with their own, specialised roles. It’s not to say it can’t be done, however, it is really difficult.”

What stories lend themselves to multimedia journalism?

One of the biggest differences between traditional and multimedia journalism is that in single source journalism, the medium is imposed upon the story, whereas in multimedia, the story imposes the medium.

The first and most important decision is to select the appropriate storytelling platform, says journalist Omid Memarian in an article on his blog.

“Consider the story’s main component. For instance, a story best told through print might be complemented by pictures and audio. In a more visual story, pictures may be the main focus.”

Often, the story can define the medium to be used and Swingler tells media update that sometimes adding multimedia can make a story clumsy, if it just unnecessarily tacked on.

“A general rule of thumb is that if something feels like it’s missing from the story when told through only one medium, then it may benefit from a more multimedia approach. [A story is really successful] when the different mediums used in the piece are used to better the story, rather than as a flashy, added extra.”

Although multimedia has other demands that traditional journalism does not, Boswell says that there are certain elements that are necessary in both types of storytelling.

“As with any other type of journalism, it’s key to have a good story or character – and to bring that character or story home to the audience in the best way, with the tools at your disposal.”

Is this the future for journalism?

In a blog post, multimedia journalist Emily Sweeny says that these days, it is imperative for journalists to be familiar with a little bit of everything.

“Editing audio, doing radio interviews, shooting and editing video, it’s all very important to know how to do.”

With the cost of digital equipment going down and the prevalence of online publications, multimedia does appear to be the natural progression, says Boswell.

“I think almost all media houses are expecting their staff to produce multimedia already, [although I’m not sure about the] investment into training and equipment for specific multimedia newsrooms.”

This means that journalists are having to upskill in order to keep their jobs and, in order to create good quality multimedia pieces, are having to become more than just ‘proficient’ in numerous types of news gathering.

Although it may sound obvious, the ability to multitask is key, Swingler says.

“Having an eye for photo and video helps a lot. If the photo and video are shot well, it’s less likely to feel like a tacked on extra.”

Boswell tells media update that having good photography and videography skills is imperative.

“We live in a visual age – everything from print to online stories, live videos, Instagram updates or Twitter. It’s a visual world, so I think journalists should definitely try and develop their photographic and video skills in addition to writing or other story-telling devices.”

Although there are new elements involved in good multimedia journalism, Memarian says that good quality journalism is paramount.

“Good writing is still a very important element of any multimedia report. In many cases, stories are based on text and complemented with photos, slideshows or audio files.

“More and more, journalists are using multimedia primarily, assessing various platforms for telling different aspects of a story. In many multimedia stories, text is used only to provide a brief background, leaving visual and audio elements to tell the story.”

Interested in how award-winning multi-platform journalism is created? Read more in our article, Elsabe Brits wins big with a multi-platform approach to Homo naledi.