"The future of Photojournalism? - It's on the web!" | Interview with Bombay Flying Club

February 18, 2014

Recent technological innovations have introduced enormous challenges in the field of visual communications. Visual storytelling is undergoing a deep and radical transformation due to the constant growth of the Internet and the spread of portable devices. Photographers are keen to embrace new and compelling ways to portray their subjects and approach their audiences. Presenting a unique and challenging workshop in Advanced Multimedia Storytelling, we’ve decided to discuss online journalism issues with the workshop tutors, award winning photojournalists and visual storytellers from Bombay Flying Club.

• What is the Bombay Flying Club?

BFC is a collective and an agency of three individual photojournalists. We produce our own stories, we work with bigger documentary setups like The ENERGY ACTION Project or World of Matter, we produce for third party photographers and we teach workshops.

• And what is multimedia storytelling?

Multimedia storytelling is a format. It’s a way of thinking online journalism. It’s the ability to access different pieces of information in a story at any given time. The web documentary in itself is – if the most vital – only one part of a larger setup, that tells a vital journalistic story.

• In which way a web-documentary is different from a film documentary?

Primarily the length. Usually it sits firmly between 4-8 minutes putting it somewhere between a longer piece in the evening news shows and a full blown TV documentary which usually runs for either 25- or 50 minutes. I like to call it ‘short format documentary’.

• Do you think that the future of photojournalism is on the web? Do you see Multimedia storytelling as a way that can help in-depth journalism to survive?

To be short: Yes and Yes! When New York Times succeeded in introducing their paywall it basically confirmed the evolution from paper to digital and sat it in stone which leads to the second answer. Until now online journalism has been considered of less importance, usually just being a watered down edition of the print version. But audience is sick of that. Now they get their quick news fix from their smartphones but for in-depth and comprehensive coverage they turn towards their tablets and laptops where that kind of journalism seems to be thriving.

• There’s a lot of talking about the editorial crisis and the fact that it’s becoming harder and harder to find funding for quality journalism. Is multimedia storytelling an alternative to the crisis?

To some degree. Maybe not an alternative, rather one of many possible solutions. If you look at the way for instance ProPublica and The ENERGY ACTION Project is being funded it’s through sponsorships and crowd funding, i.e. outside the normal Big Media outlets. I see this as a trend that will be growing in the coming years. And multimedia storytelling is quite suited for this.

• In recent years we’ve seen that all the major Photojournalistic contests included a Multimedia category. Why?

Because this is where visual journalism is heading. There are more and more of us and only a select few will be staffing on a regular basis for a media outlet. And all media outlets – even radio – have an online presence. All the competitions with multimedia category’s just reflects this.

• You also were part of the jury panel at World Press Photo in 2011, sat in the advisory conference to David Campbells’ dissertation with WPP in ’12 and took part in the jury at the Swedish, Danish and Norwegian POY. What can you say about the average level of multimedia journalism?

So far, for what I have seen, 80% is definitely below par in a professional media environment. 10% is acceptable but could be better. 10% is excellent, innovative and truly original.

• What are the possibilities offered by Multimedia that are not explored in conventional storytelling?

As a photographer, first of all sound and movement. We’re used to think within the narrow guides of a printed reportage. Now, all of a sudden we have to think about mood, pace, drive, the kind of audio we use and what it brings to a story. It’s a much more… holistic way to approach storytelling I would say.

• New distribution channels: tablets, smartphones? Are they a prospective? Technology is constantly evolving. How do you keep the pace with the improvements of the digital medium?

You should consider this under one ‘hat’: The internet is inherently a visual platform. No matter the device you choose to access it from. Acknowledge that and benefit from it. As a photojournalist you have never had access to a wider audience. But also consider how and when you ‘hit’ your target audience. How do you keep the pace? Well, same as always: stick with what you’re good at. In the beginning we did all the Flash programming ourselves, but then Flash evolved into something far more sophisticated. Now, we’re letting the programmers do the programming. We focus on what we’re good at: visual storytelling.

• What sort of skills does a photojournalist need to learn in order to move on Multimedia Storytelling?

Audio and video are basic requirements. But then there’s (motion) graphics, basic programming and an understanding of what neighbouring skills can do for your story.

• What makes a good Multimedia?

Story! If the story’s not any good, you can shoot the most beautiful pictures in the world and audience will click away anyway. The story has to be good. That’s what drives everything.

• Why do you focus on an online audience?

Because it offers much more in terms of storytelling. I became a photojournalist because I wanted to tell stories. I just happen to have a visual talent. And online is where the audience is. That’s just a matter of technological evolution.

• Has the fact that you use the internet as a publishing tool modified the way in which you build your narrative?

Absolutely! We’re thinking in ways of how to keep our audience watching given the limitations that this is journalism/reality – not fiction. Everything on the internet is just one click of a mouse away, so you have to engage your audience. And storytelling is the quintessential tool for this.

• What are the future possibilities of multimedia?

Nobody has really cracked the nut of “News” multimedia just yet. 95% of that you see has this aspect of being retrospective. We need to figure out to churn this thing out in a continuing news cycle.

• What do you teach to your students during the workshops?

I want them to think in a different way when it comes to telling a story. That implies specifically that you change your usual way of shooting and more generally the way you approach a subject. Hopefully everybody will have a story on the last day to show they have achieved just that.
Bombay Flying Club were interviewed by Dario Bosio (10b Photography)
and Yulia Tikhomirova (YarT Photography). ©All rights reserved


Bombay Flying Cub will teach an esclusive 6-day workshop at 10b Photography Gallery, in Rome. June 2014. Click here to learn more