People have almost stopped watching the news on TV screens, getting informed and following world events on their mobiles, tablets, twitter accounts, websites and Facebook instead. In “developing countries”, those that can afford it prefer to buy smart phones, not televisions. Online news, social media, multimedia and online video are no longer a thing of the future. They are the reality of the here and now. Our world is developing and changing at high speed. The Media is transforming and trying to adapt, and in so many cases trying to survive.
How we consume news today is already very different from how we watched TV and read newspapers last year, and how we will be watching and reading the news in 2015. The Internet, new technologies, global political changes, power shifts and economic crisis, are all transforming the mass media and the alternative media for better and for worse. Greater access to information and increased awareness are changing how viewers perceive and value journalism. More ways of manipulating and censoring are jeopardizing and threatening the freedom of information.
As a video journalist and filmmaker I always ask myself: how, on this high speed train without brakes, with so much content and so many different formats, would it be possible to provide the right kind of TV journalism that will capture people’s interests, be compelling, and stand out in this massive ocean of global information in a way that would also make me feel socially useful, possibly bring about change, no matter how small or big, and somehow touch people?
In recent years I have been hearing discouraging views from friends and people that I have encountered through my work. The subjects of my stories often ask: ‘’why should I give you an interview? You will have your story, then you will leave, and nothing will change.” Others are just bored with news altogether: “To be honest I am tired of watching the news,’’ they often say. “When I see images of war, children suffering, dead people, I just change the channel.’’ Still others are outright suspicious of our trade all together: “Are you a journalist? You must be paparazzi!’’ “So how much do your bosses cut or censor your story?’’ “Why do reporters keep talking about themselves instead of talking about what actually happened?”
Another interesting observation is that the constant bombardment of news, in its current format and style, often superficial in its explanation of what is happening and why it’s happening, has transformed the majority of viewers into bored and indifferent observers.
Audiences have become numb to the atrocities, tragedies and suffering in the world today. People are often moved to tears while watching a movie, but hardly flinch when they see real-life dramas unfold in the news, munching on a sandwich at lunch as screens flash images of death and destruction. And if it’s too much to bear, they just change the channel without a second thought. But despite this depressing panorama, people today are more attune to the world we live in, more visually aware and more knowledgeable about how media, politics and economics interact together.
Concerned with all these challenges but wanting to keep my work competitive and motivated by the right reasons, I became obsessed with finding new ways of storytelling, new ways to get the attention of the viewer. The online video platform was a great place to experiment knowing that I may be able to reach more people. I focused on how to package the story in different ways, using music for hard news stories for example, narration by those interviewed rather than voice-overs in an attempt to make the story more personal and more introspective. I tried a more cinematographic approach to shooting and editing, sometimes even making it look like a movie trailer, long format but divided by chapters, mixing black and white with color, and so on and so forth.
At some point I figured out one thing: All these approaches have been tried and tested. I wasn’t doing much of anything new. It’s all been done before. The only really important point could be summed up in one word: Quality. If I am considered a successful video journalist, if my stories have value, or if my work receives awards, it is not because I tried something new. It is because I care, because I get involved and try to produce quality work in all aspects: shooting, editing, content and story telling.
With fast moving technology changes, economic crisis and sometimes, bad management in the media, the quality of many TV news programs has started to deteriorate. Nowadays, media outlets often broadcast stories that 15 years ago would never have made it on-air because of the poor quality of shooting, editing and reporting that back then would have been considered below minimum standards. Media companies are offering stories that, years ago, a news director would have thrown into the garbage and kicked the reporter, cameraman or editor out of the newsroom forever.
The bottom line is, quantity has surpassed quality. The mass media industry has become much like a fast food factory where quality news gathering and reporting loses out to a focus on finding more innovative ways of telling a story, and even worse, on prioritizing advertisers’ needs and spending fortunes on marketing analysts who try to predict what audiences want to see and hear.
But precisely because of this “feed the beast” style of news, the viewers are bored. Perhaps most worrisome is that many of those that oversee, produce and offer this low quality TV news and film are themselves not aware of the poor quality journalism they are offering.
There is some good news however: With the transformation of the television industry, things will have to change, and are already changing. Alternative media outlets are becoming increasingly popular, and some are already providing high standards of journalism. We already watch most of our news online and we have an endless variety of sources to choose from. Today more than ever, people have the power to decide what they want to watch and when they want to watch it, and they can choose to spread stories as they see fit using social media.
Quality and high standards in all aspects of the production process will dictate if viewers go back for more or forward the stories on twitter and Facebook. When television and the Internet are totally integrated, there will be space for both, one minute breaking news stories shot by shaky mobile phones, as well as long format, in-depth features.
Maybe, when quality journalism is valued, we can once again be touched by reality, and entertained by fiction.