REFLECTIONS on FOREIGN REPORTING
The following collection of essays and photo theses is the result of the n-ost media conference that took place: NOVEMBER 19th-21st, 2015 in BERLIN, GERMANY.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A CALL FOR DEBATE
Theses on Foreign Reporting
Distorted Reality BY GEMMA PÖRZGEN Under Tremendous Pressure BY DAYA THUSSU Building Trust in a Fragmented World BY ANGELA PHILLIPS Cost-effective Reporting BY BEKTOUR ISKENDER The Now-less Now BY DONALD WEBER
12 16 20 24 28
We Need Change BY DARIO BOSIO Narrative 2.0:From Obvious to Sublime BY KAVEH ROSTAMKHANI Avoid the Trap BY FRANCESCO GIUSTI A New Narrative BY DELIZIA FLACCAVENTO Bending Visibility BY NILS BRÖER Team Up! BY CHRIS GRODOTZSKI Make a Difference BY ANNA ZEKRIA
36 38 40 42 44 46 48
A CALL FOR DEBATE
A CALL FOR DEBATE
kraine, refugees, IS: the simultaneous and overlapping crises shaking Europe show that our so-called "rendezvous with globalization" is no longer predominantly economic, or even dominated by the West, but now has to do with conflict, migration, and shifting power centers. Social media is the catalyst for, and multiplier of, these ever deepening interconnections: Suddenly, world views from other regions breach our own. For the first time, we can see the impact of our own narratives and the reaction it elicits. These dynamics challenge the content and structure of established journalism and undermine the previous hegemony of the Western perspective. These changes inevitably influence the way in which reporting across the borders of language and culture takes place and should look like. In order to reflect on the role of foreign reporting in a new (media) world, we need the time and space for an ongoing and cross-cultural discussion among journalists, from both the center and the periphery of Europe. This was the conviction behind TRANSLATING WORLDS, a conference held by n-ost in November 2015 in Berlin. We will continue this dialogue in Moscow in the fall. In the meantime, we want to move the debate online and invite journalists, media critics, photographers and readers to join in. Stay informed, share thoughts and follow the debate on our Facebook group dedicated to foreign reporting, TRANSLATING WORLDS. We hope to kick off the discussion with this dossier, produced after the Berlin conference. This dossier includes essays from five participants, photos theses and a set of observations and questions that arose during our conference.
A CALL FOR DEBATE
7 theses on
FOREIGN REPORTING 4. COMPLEXITY & CONTEXT 1. FRAMES & PRECONDITIONS
Every reporter has an individual point of view informed by cultural factors, religious affiliation, language, etc. Being aware of this does not harm solid, fact-based journalism. Rather, it is a precondition to obtaining objectivity and to gaining and keeping readers’ trust. Journalists have to be aware of bias arising from their background and their preconceived notions as they approach their work. They should be open about them. This transparency shows professionalism and should be adhered to – even if it might be used against them at times.
2. FINANCES & SECURITY
In order to provide continuous and independent international reporting, media outlets need to provide stable working conditions for their correspondents. News outlets have to ensure fair wages and take care of correspondents’ security – for example, in the case of conflict reporting, they must provide insurance, training, equipment and psychological treatment, if necessary. While new sources of funding need to be explored, transparency is necessary if content is paid for by any source other than the news outlet.
3. FACTS & FAKES
As digitization makes information more vulnerable to manipulation, and social media provides information channels that don’t differentiate between fact and fiction, journalists must insist on sticking to the facts, even if these contradict the desired narrative. In particular, this means thorough fact-checking, being open about mistakes and enabling readers to access primary sources.
Foreign reporting means journalists must provide even more context in their work in order to enable readers to understand the material. This is especially true during a major news event, when readers are inundated with information. While staying true to the information in all its complexity, journalists should use digital tools to hyperlink to background information and provide access to primary sources.
5. PLURALITY & VOICES
In order to counterbalance the Western narrative, foreign correspondents’ work should be complemented by the voices of local journalists. Media outlets can provide truly global perspectives by illustrating public debates in other countries and making foreign content accessible to readers vis-à-vis translation. A transnational public space for debate for the exchange of perspectives transcending borders and languages is an ambitious but worthwhile goal.
6. CRISES & HUMAN STORIES
Despite the fact that journalism is event-driven, foreign reporting has to avoid always focusing on problems and conflicts and instead also depict the ordinary. While the label “constructive journalism“ might lead to just another biased perspective, foreign reporting still needs to include depictions of people’s normal existence in order to convey a realistic and complete picture.
7. JOURNALISM & SOCIETY
To maintain trust, the relationship between journalists and their audience needs to be reexplored. New forms of interaction between journalists and readers should reflect changing roles due to social media. Credibility plays a key role in this. To ensure this, it is the media’s responsibility to get the facts right and admit mistakes openly.
How can foreign correspondents overcome sensationalism in a media market governed by shares and likes? Can we illuminate global blind spots in foreign reporting? Is this even possible for non-Western outlets operating on a particularly low-budget? Based on their own personal experiences, selected panelists and participants of the Translating Worlds media conference consider answers to these questions in a series of five essays.
The German media has trust-issues with its audience. The remedy may lie in alternative approaches, new priorities and more diverse views in journalistic media.
BY GEMMA PÖRZGEN
atching the world through a news-media prism can create the impression that our planet is trapped in a permanent state of crisis. Foreign coverage in German media has focused on the financial crisis, the Greek crisis, the Ukrainian crisis and, until recently, the refugee crisis. Until last summer, readers might have gotten the feeling there were crises everywhere, except at home in Germany. All that changed when refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and elsewhere started arriving en masse in Germany. Suddenly, friends abroad began asking us about the migrant crisis in Germany and how we were dealing with it. Foreign reporting about the incident on New Year’s Eve in Cologne painted a picture of criminal migrants threatening the country. Recently, I've been forced to explain—and not only to Russian and Ukrainian colleagues and friends—despite 1.1 million refugees having come to Germany in 2015, that most parts of Germany have not undergone dramatic changes. Even in Berlin, you can travel on public transport across the city without seeing a refugee. I've had to explain to them how the situation in Germany is really much more complex than this misconceived, crisis-driven image. It reminded me of Indians who had once explained to me that rape
does not characterize their country, or Mexicans, angered their homeland is only seen through the lenses of drugs and criminality.
Exaggeration and sensationalism run rampant The media, especially in these digital times, tends to exaggerate, sensationalize and blow developments out of proportion. The traditional barriers between serious reporting and tabloid excess have fallen, even in foreign reporting. Space and interest for stories detailing normal life in foreign countries have been constricted by news of catastrophes and states of emergency. I remember my surprise when I first went to work in Gaza and passed the day without seeing anybody with their face hidden behind a mask. On my second trip, I only saw a small group of about 10 fighters in the street. They were immediately surrounded by news photographers. These are the moments when one begins to understand just how journalists tend to create a caricature of life when working abroad as a reporter. Many news consumers realize there is something wrong with the picture of the world they are presented. As a result, skepticism about foreign reporting is growing. Travelers know from experience how surprising arriving in a new country can be. It looks and smells different, and people behave differently from what may have been expected from reading media reports. They experience the
normal everyday life, a scene mostly absent from foreign reporting, rejected as too boring. The well-known German historian, Karl SchlĂśgel, visited Ukraine in the spring of 2014 and was surprised that things seemed to function normally despite the crisis. People went to work, children went to school and trains continued to arrive on time. The Ukrainian crisis was not everywhere in Ukraine as news outlets had led us to believe. Life goes on, even during war.
Losing continuity Several factors have diminished the quality of news reporting. Foreign correspondence is expensive; high costs have forced outlets to reduce their network of staff journalists abroad. Many countries are reported on exclusively by roaming journalists, mostly freelancers, sent in from time to time to report on specific stories, rather than to follow long-term developments. Often they do not speak the local language and have only a small network of contacts. This is very different from the situation of staff correspondents who live in the country and develop a long-term understanding of what is really going on there. At the same time, newspapers have reduced space for foreign reporting. Competition is steeper, and stories need to be more dramatic to be published. There is a greater focus on war, crisis and natural catastropheâ€”these stories win the competition for attention. If one story tops the agenda, media outlets single-mindedly neglect other issues. We seldom read
about the Greek economy or Ukraine anymore – or at least we won't until they erupt into crisis again. We are losing the continuity we need in foreign reporting. And even the refugee crisis—ubiquitous in German media for months – is seeing less coverage since the Balkan route was blocked and refugees became stuck in Greece. Attention has moved on. And certain regions are blind spots for the German media, including the Gulf, Central Asia and the Caucasus, even India. They need to be continuously reported on—before a future crisis turns them into sudden areas of interest for our readers. Simone Schlindwein, a freelance correspondent working for the German newspaper Tageszeitung in East Africa, says it has become nearly impossible to sell stories from Africa that don’t have something to do with murder, war, hunger, or refugees. Yet there are more than 50 African countries, and most are not at war—the diversity of life there is completely neglected.
More responsible approaches needed Living in a globalized world means that German media needs to take a more responsible approach to foreign reporting. It should not merely copy the US media’s mistakes by becoming more provincial. Instead, German media should promote alternative approaches, new priorities and more diverse views. Refreshing new online media around the world attempts this. Unfortunately, many are niche products and lack the impact of more established outlets. But their ideas are inspiring and heading in the right direction. The web portal, Journafrica, for example, features African writers and scientists in its content in order to present a refreshingly different mix of information about the continent. Dekoder offers interesting articles from the Russian press trans-
lated into German with contextual information and explanations of differing perspectives. Recently integrated into Public Radio International, the American digital news site, GlobalPost, offers a fascinating focus on world news coverage and, at one time, even employed an impressive network of correspondents and freelancers around the world.
A constructive approach The debate surrounding “constructive journalism,” started by Danish journalist Ulrik Haagerup, has become a resource in searching for new methods in foreign reporting. Haagerup says negative reporting is a dead end. He suggests more coverage for constructive ideas and the search for solutions. Following this idea, German digital outlets, including Spiegel Online, invite readers to comment on some of the stories they’ve produced. One of their stories was about police reform in Los Angeles helping to reduce crime rates and build new relationships between the police and citizens. The story stood in contrast to the prevailing picture of police racism in the United States following scandals in Ferguson, Baltimore and Cleveland. Another story focused on Syrian refugees in eastern Germany. The magazine revisited the same family its reporter had met when they first arrived the previous year. Now they have an apartment, speak fluent German, and the father is beginning training as a nurse. Stories like these are good examples of constructive journalism that debunks prejudices by telling a story differently. Journalism should be critical. But it does not have to focus on negative or present issues as black or white. This could be a valid approach for improving the balance of foreign reporting and regaining the interest and trust of our readers.
emma Pörzgen is a German journalist based in Berlin specializing in foreign policy and Eastern Europe. She grew up in Moscow and Bonn, studied political science in Munich and later joined the German daily, Frankfurter Rundschau. She has been a foreign correspondent based in Belgrade, and she later covered Israel and the Palestinian territories for various German newspapers. Pörzgen is a co-founder of “Reporters without Borders Germany,” and serves today as a board member.
As global electronic superhighways are choking with traffic, it is too early to fully understand the ramifications for journalism in an age where copying, remixing and sharing are common.
BY DAYA THUSSU
oday's globalized and networked communication environment has transformed the world of journalism. Anyone equipped with a basic digital device has the ability to create and disseminate news with a hashtag that can go viral within seconds. This has undermined traditional, rules-based journalism with its well-defined editorial gatekeeping, fact-checking and professional standards. Citizen journalism and user-generated news vie for attention with fake tweets and doctored videos, animated gifs and auto-play videos, â€˜hacktivismâ€™ and trolling. Global electronic superhighways are choking with traffic as ever-more people get online. In 2015, there were over 7 billion mobile subscriptions, 2.3 billion people on smart phones and nearly 3.2 billion people connected to the Internet. Who can sift fact from fiction and separate half- and quarter-truths from the truth?
A frenzied free-for-all The digital deluge is leading to an information overload where those who shout loudest get heard.
It is leading to sensationalist reporting devoid of sober analysis. Politicians and corporations hire trolls to propagate their views on social media. The media ecosystem has become a frenzied free-forall where exclamation-ridden copy redefines the boundaries of debate and discussion. While the power of journalists and editors has eroded, marketing gurus now promote news as a commodified and branded product. Polemical debate has become a hallmark of many news outlets seeking higher ratings or more traffic for news sites. Journalism's role as the fourth-estate is increasingly undermined by commercial interests and political sponsorship. The world-wide reach of this form of journalism is growing given the dominance of US-based global news media: traditional news and current affairs outlets like CNN, the New York Times International, or Time; financial news such as Bloomberg, CNBC, Fortune, or the Wall Street Journal; online portals including Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and VICE; as well as the social media like Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, which are used to distribute them globally.
Greater diversity, greater polarity At the same time, there is a greater diversity of global media voices thanks to international news broadcasters such as Qatarâ€™s Al Jazeera English, which claims to restore balance in its reporting on the global South. To its critics, however, the network's coverage of events in Libya, Egypt and Syria
show it to be a supplement to Western reporting, rather than a real alternative. More conflictual to mainstream Western media is the Kremlin mouthpiece, RT (formerly Russia Today). Launched in 2005, its increasingly vocal criticism of Western foreign policy is reminiscent of Cold War propaganda. Apart from English, RT broadcasts in Spanish and Arabic, claiming a global reach of over 550 million viewers. It also appears to have a sizeable following for its critical, controversial and anti-Western sentiments aired on YouTube. There are, of course, questions of trust affecting information and analysis emanating from a traditionally authoritarian media system such as Russia's. Yet trust also remains a great challenge for media organizations in the Western world, where worries over resources and ways to monetize digital media afflict journalism.
Deadlines every second Information which was previously collected, collated and edited by professionals is now distributed on social media for free by unqualified bloggers and trolls, both paid and voluntary. News organizations have to find new audiences in the digital era, even as they struggle to cling on to their core readers, listeners and viewers. Increasingly, we are seeing a more conversational style, an unabashedly opinionated and visually-driven journalism in a 24/7 environment where the audience expects instantaneous information. Journalists
who used to get flak for failing to provide contextual background now face ‘deadlines every second’ and expectations to blog and tweet, and upload video. They must be multi-skilled to survive in a mobile, multi-media age. Journalism as a business is in decline. In 2015, newspaper publishers in the United States had total revenues of $27 billion, a decline of 44 percent from 2007, according to figures released in March by the US Census Bureau.
Clickbait News is being replaced by sensationalist ‘clickbait’ to draw visitors to websites. Rather than employing journalists, media organizations hire young digital natives to monitor and count clicks and monetize page views. Readers are reduced to consumers seduced into clicking on ever-growing listicles. This is now the standard practice for most media organizations. The reason is straightforward: to generate traffic and increase—or at least retain—the advertising revenues that form the foundations of commercial media edifices. This business model is being put under tremendous pressure itself as more consumers use ad-blocking tools. In 2015, 198 million users worldwide actively deployed such software. This has forced news organizations to ‘invest’ in promoting ‘branded content’ in what is described, without a trace of irony, as ‘native advertising’, identified only in small print as being ‘sponsored’ or ‘paid-for’ material. Since this blurs boundaries between advertising and editorial content, the widespread and not-always-scrupulous use of such practices can compromise journalistic integrity and credibility. As journalism becomes increasingly routine, it raises questions about the susceptibility of news consumers to manipulation and malpractice.
Growth of image-makers In a data-driven information system which increasingly depends on algorithms and news apps, media organizations have yet to master the art of dealing with rapidly changing technology and its capacity to circulate rumors and false information. Beyond the major state-based media outlets and commercial entities, the growth of image-makers and propagandists from non-state actors is also important; for example, the extremists who use Hollywood-inspired political and cultural messaging as a recruitment tool via social media and the Internet. We have yet to fully comprehend the political ramifications for journalism in an age where copying, remixing and sharing are common.
aya Thussu is Professor of International Communication, Founder and Co-Director of the India Media Centre, and a research advisor to the ChinaMedia Centre at the University of Westminster in London. Author or editor of 18 books, his latest publication is Communicating India’s Soft Power: Buddha to Bollywood (Sage India, 2016). He is the founder and managing editor of the Sage Journal Global Media and Communication and Editor-in-Chief of the new Sage Journal Global Media and China. In 2014, he was honored with a ‘Distinguished Scholar Award’ by the International Studies Association.
BUILDING TRUST in a FRAGMENTED WORLD BY ANGELA PHILLIPS
ike dessert after a balanced meal, foreign news reporting has always depended on a judicious mix of lighter material to draw in a wide audience. That mix used to be organized by editors who ensured that the stories they considered important were always on the front page. Now new gatekeepers are challenging that hegemony. While television is still the most popular news platform, aggregators, search engines and social media are increasingly interposing themselves between editors and audiences. Professional journalists produce the vast bulk of the news, but they no longer have so much control over the way in which it is viewed. The new social editors are sometimes the audience members themselves. Social blogging sites like Tumblr and news aggregators tailored to the preferences of their readers allow a degree of control that ensures, for example, that those who are interested in a specific foreign news story will be able to follow it obsessively. But specificity is also a problem. If your news feeds are all about Syria or Ukraine, you might not find out about the closure of your local hospital. Conversely, if you are mainly interested in sports or music, you may not even realize that there is a war in Ukraine. Selected feeds are deep but narrow.
News outlets that resist the temptation to polarize and focus on building up trust are likely to do better in the long run. And that means taking risks.
Reported, but rarely seen Algorithm-based news feeds of the kind used by Facebook are also very selective. Although more and more news organizations are distributing stories via Facebook, a report on the Monday Note in February this year found that, on average, Facebook members actually see only about 6 percent of the posts available to them. Determining which of the thousands of news stories they read stems from a computerized best-guess about their preferences, based on their friends and the subjects they follow. In a 2013 study by researchers Pablo Boczkowski and Eugenia Mitchelstein, it was found that people are typically most likely to click on “non-public-affairs stories told in a straight news style.” Facebook follows such preferences and serves the majority of users relatively soft news alongside pictures of family and friends. This is not good news for journalists who are trying to build audiences for serious foreign stories via social media. The chances are your work will never make it unless there is a significant local or personal angle. So, for example, the Paris attacks in November 2015 were soon trending online, whereas attacks in Beirut and Kenya were reported but rarely seen in other countries. Boczkowski and Mitchelstein also found that people are most likely to comment on stories they consider controversial. So active users who post, share and comment get news that is inflected to their particular prejudices. A study by Oxford statistician Emma Pearson found that the conversations about rioting in Ferguson, Missouri—which became a massive international story on Twitter—
were completely divided between conservative pro-police and liberal pro-protest supporters with virtually no overlap. On Facebook, Ferguson barely showed up at all. Social media’s tendency to reflect and amplify behavior is contributing to the growing polarization between news junkies and news avoiders that has been observed by researchers. It may also be contributing to growing political polarization between political parties and between interpretations of events viewed by different groups of people.
‘Social editing,’ and building trust In countries where levels of trust in the news media are low and the use of social media as a news source is high, this form of ‘social editing’ is likely to be more widespread. In the most recent research by the Oxford Reuters Institute, the number of people saying they trust the news media was below 50 percent in eight out of the 18 countries surveyed. For journalists reporting on stories they consider to be of public or international importance, this fragmented landscape presents challenges. No longer are journalists simply trying to find stories, research and then write them. They have to consider who will be reading them and in what context. Many journalists are encouraged to ‘sell’ their stories on social media to try and increase audiences. The temptation is to play to the commercial requirements of this complex and changing news field by ramping up the controversial nature of the subject matter in a bid for hits. While this has
short-term benefits (it is satisfying when your story is trending), it may also be further eroding trust. Without trust, it is very difficult to encourage audiences to read beyond their prejudices and perhaps change their minds. The good news is that in high-trust countries with established public broadcasters and high-quality newspapers, the traditional news media seem to be holding their own against the platform intermediaries. Here, the traditional news media have adapted well to online delivery and seem to be maintaining their audiences online alongside TV and social media. In low-trust countries, like the USA, newspapers are losing their audiences both online and off-line. Broadcasters are doing better, but lag behind the audience loyalty in high-trust countries. The lesson here seems to be that news outlets that resist the temptation to polarize and instead focus on building up levels of trust, are likely to do best in the long run. Building up trust means taking a risk and demonstrating to your readers that there are many different opinions on any given subject. The Internet provides the opportunity to link to anything, and news organizations that are prepared to connect readers to the source documents for their stories are the ones who are most likely to build trust. Few news organizations do link away from their own material for fear of losing their audiences. But the ones they lose today may well become the people who come back to them tomorrow. When trust is at a premium, it becomes something worth banking on.
ngela Phillips is Professor of Journalism at Goldsmiths, University of London. She was a working journalist for many years before moving into teaching and research. She is interested in how journalism will survive in the new world of distributed news and how audiences will find a broad diet of news when everything is sliced, diced and personalized to amuse them. But she is still an optimist. She believes that democracy needs public interest journalism and will find a way to support it.
COST-EFFECTIVE REPORTING BY BEKTOUR ISKENDER
n February 2014, I became the first journalist from Kyrgyzstan to travel to Ukraine to cover Euromaidan, a series of opposition protests that resulted in deadly clashes between security forces and pro-European protesters, which eventually led to the ouster of Russian-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych. Three months later, I was back in Ukraine – the first journalist from my country to report from the East on the developing military conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists. Why did I go? I felt I had no choice. So many people in Kyrgyzstan had such a distorted understanding of what was going on in Ukraine due to the one-sided coverage provided by the most popular media outlets. My country was – and still is – very much under the influence of Russian state TV channels. They are accessible to almost everybody who owns a television; they regularly breached journalistic standards while covering Euromaidan and the ensuing military conflict. News outlets from other countries are not popular in Kyrgyzstan. This is mostly because of the language barrier—English-speaking people are a tiny minority. So regardless of the good work foreign outlets produce, they don’t reach most people
There are many tools available to connect the world, but these tools are chronically underexploited for international news coverage. It doesn’t have to be that way.
in my country. There is high-quality, Russian-language journalism, too, but mostly by independent newspapers rather than broadcasters; their websites are not popular in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyz media was either silent or would re-broadcast stories from Russia. I knew I had to do something about the situation. I felt there was no other way than to go there, see with my own eyes and publish on my own website, Kloop, which by then was already one of the five most-popular news websites in the country. I wanted to provide my readers with stories that would adhere to fair reporting standards and offer an alternative to TV. Although Kloop was not as popular as Russian television, I hope that I helped the tens of thousands of people who read my Ukrainian stories to better understand what was happening there.
If the tools exist, why not exploit them? Kyrgyzstan is clearly not the only country with journalists who rarely—or never—travel abroad. This fact has become the norm in most countries. There is a very visible top-down approach to foreign reporting, and, obviously, the main reason is economic. Often, only media outlets from rich countries can afford to send journalists abroad. That leaves most of the global population relying on a relatively small number of outlets for their access to the world's most important stories.
The English-speaking world is luckier – there is competition between America's biggest media outlets and some British ones. There are also alternative online outlets emerging—a positive development, although most remain concentrated in the United States. The Spanish-speaking world has much less choice, while Russian- and Chinese-speaking media are dominated by state-owned giants. There are so many new voices on the Internet and on social media that generate opportunities for diversity in reporting—we have built so many tools to connect diverse parts of the world. But the fact remains that these tools go unexploited, especially for international news coverage.
High-quality, low-budget The first priority is developing, promoting and teaching cost-effective foreign reporting in poorer countries. Before traveling to Ukraine, I often heard complaints that foreign reporting is just too expensive for Kyrgyz media outlets. There's no denying that costs are a barrier, but I managed to overcome them. Kloop is run by a non-profit; it’s safe to say that it’s definitely not the richest outlet in Kyrgyzstan. At the time of the Euromaidan protests, we certainly did not have "unexpected trips abroad to cover revolution and conflict" earmarked in our budget. But I worked out how to travel cheaply. My first trip to Kyiv, which lasted slightly less than a week, cost me about 500 Euros, which I paid for
out-of-pocket. This included round-trip airfare, accommodations, meals and transportation within the Ukrainian capital. Most media outlets—even in poorer countries like Kyrgyzstan—can afford a 500 Euro expenditure. Journalists can couch surf (which I did later in eastern Ukraine), for instance, and they can travel inexpensively by bus within Europe. It’s true that cutting costs might affect their work; for example, they might be slower than colleagues from rich outlets. But they are working for a different target audience and at least this way they’re able to get something published.
Making technology journalists
The second solution is to exploit already existing tools in order to cooperate with colleagues abroad. I’m actually working on this at the moment — my next start-up involves connecting journalists from all over the world to make it much easier to collaborate on stories. Technology makes this possible. Even in many poorer countries, 3G networks are widespread, enabling journalists thousands of miles apart to work together in real-time. And innovative online money transfer systems can facilitate international payments for journalists. Technology has been quickening the pace of global decentralization for a while now. It's about time the same processes were applied to the world of journalism.
ektour Iskender is one of the founders of kloop. kg, a Kyrgyz news website, and the Kloop Journalism School. Kloop.kg is one of the leading news outlets in Kyrgyzstan today, best-known for its coverage of politics, human rights and civil society, and also for introducing innovative methods of news-telling by way of live-streaming and effectively exploiting social media. It is also one of the few websites in the country that has begun exclusive reporting about events happening outside Kyrgyzstan, with their coverage of the war in Ukraine being the most well-known example.
THE NOW-LESS NOW BY DONALD WEBER
‘Now-ness’ has jeopardized photojournalism. So we must find interruptions to the constant streams washing over our society and take photos that allow audiences to contemplate and question.
n 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote a radical book reimagining contemporary society called Future Shock. He essentially argued that the pace of technological and social change was moving so fast, we would soon lose the ability to cope. This accelerated pace of change would lead people to disconnect, a result of suffering from “shattering stress and disorientation.” He called this phenomenon “future shock.” But what is the relevance of Toffler’s thesis to today’s photojournalism? Everything. Toffler argued that we further disconnect from reality as the world accelerates towards an unknowable future. That’s not exactly the case today: we’re not so disconnected from the future as it may seem. Rather, we seem to suffer from the symptoms of what Douglas Rushkoff calls “present shock”: We are always, inexplicably, absorbed in the right now. But there’s no fixed present in this ‘now.’ In other words: Sure, we might be present— occupying a specific ‘now.’ But our present state is always in flux, a flow of information, images and knowledge that is not fixed, but rather passing. In today’s world, the ‘now’ flows right on by. This ‘now’ is actually ‘now-less.’ Living so deeply within ‘now-ness’ has jeopardized one of society’s most useful practices: photojournalism. It’s on the brink of a meltdown.
Photojournalism exists to communicate human understanding. Immanuel Kant said that one way that we declare ourselves as human is through sensory experience. In other words, we tell stories—we reach into unknown pools of events, people, places, ideas, etcetera and give them meaning. We find relevance for an audience. This relevance is why—as the world transfers from a mass-industrialized to a customized experiential world—photojournalism is more necessary than ever. But this isn’t happening. It isn’t happening because photojournalism has been commodified by corporate imagery, threatening our primary role as storytellers. These days, the ideal news photo is that of happenstance — but a happenstance typically dodged, burned, cropped and dramatized, with any ‘extraneous’ details within the frame excised as inconsequential. Happenstance is everywhere, of course. We live in a pot boiling-over with evident, fresh possibilities daily. But we don’t place those possibilities in context like journalists.
Paralyzed by the economics You can see it in the tropes and clichés paraded out yearly for photography contests, where image products have been reduced to one-off, glib
dramas. The dramatization of the immediate news event as an image has superseded the event itself. We are too accustomed to existing within the ‘nowless’ to allow an actual story to coalesce and act as mediator of an event. As photojournalists, we make sense of our world entirely within the present tense. Our devotion to the story, however, has been replaced by crass reality programming and timescales reduced to fit within short fragments of sellable time. The photographer still has a key function in this world, but we’re paralyzed by the economics of 21st Century news. Images need to be consumed—and they need to be consumed now. In an overflowing stream of Twitter feeds, Facebook updates and blog posts, the consumption of the picture takes place at a fervent pace. In order to have their images become prominent within these flows, photographers are resorting to amplifying technique over narrative. If it looks like it has value, it must have value. Thus, as noted in the World Press Photo Contest of 2015, some 20 percent of images in the final round were disqualified for excessive image manipulation and other distortions of standard journalistic practice. If you examine the same contest two years prior, you’ll see that the organization has since introduced a series of set rules that ostensibly try to curb the acceleration of manipulation. But this is what Hitchcock would call a MacGuffin: a red herring designed to deceive the audience into believing a false reality. It is completely unimportant to the overall plot. We may feel clever or satisfied, but the real story is being told elsewhere.
Taking pictures, telling stories Photojournalism needs to exist ‘elsewhere’; it can no longer subsist in the immediate, in the right now. For photojournalism to stay relevant, a return to basic storytelling values is necessary. By reconnecting to narrative, photojournalism reallocates itself not within the data streams of constantly flowing images, but rather it becomes a medium that can be fully consumed, like a book, an email, a painting or a film. If we can extricate ourselves from this split of making images versus telling stories, audiences will reengage, and the global issues so important to many of us will once again gain prominence in a global dialogue. Do we want to tell stories, or do we want to take pictures? Of course, making pictures is vital to our identity. It’s what we do. But we mustn’t be pressured by those who simply say “that’s how we do it,” and who restrain us from exploring the limits of visual representation. Why do we adhere to notions of objectivity in photography? Especially when it crushes creative storytelling from those who hold the camera? Photographers choose where their frame goes. They selectively choose what the audience will see, what they’ll believe. Right off the bat, any individual image is deceptive because there is no peripheral vision. Peripheries provide the greater context. Storytellers may be interested in the periphery, but technical image-making—and the newsfeeds they keep buzzing—are not. The periphery is where it’s at. Unfortunately,
as our world becomes entangled with greater access to other cultures, the professional world of photojournalism has remained fixated on an imaginary center, and the guidelines of what makes a good picture have remained intact. The focus remains an ideal, the holy grail of the perfect picture, one picture raised above all else. On our front pages, what we see are only facsimiles of 90-year-old Leica versions of photos.
Finding interruptions Back to present shock. If the traditional cathartic experience of watching a five-act play of Shakespeare is reduced to a series of glib reality-TV moments—or if shows ‘about nothing’ (i.e. Seinfeld) are the national conversation—what does this mean for the future of storytelling? As a profession, how do we remain relevant? We all have a natural tendency to be purposeful, proactive and participatory. As photojournalists, our role is to connect what we see with what the audience doesn’t, to provide the bigger picture through logical assumptions using contemplation and thought. What sort of value do we create for other people and for the world? The value of our stock lies in stories—not necessarily in how well we represent that story with technique, but rather how we project somebody’s story for others to contemplate.
A picture of New York New York City is built on a grid. This ultimate consumerist, capitalistic city uses this grid to promote the flow of money. Upon its founding, it was thought that a grid plan would allow workers easy-access to factories.
This infrastructure of straight lines catalyzed the Industrial Revolution. But New York was also planned with balance in mind, with an idea to impede the flow of capital. Central Park was designed to impede steady flows, forcing people to stop, breathe and wander. It is the antithesis of flow. Yet capital and consumption could not accelerate without this green rectangle nearly cutting off half the city. We, as photojournalists, must be Central Park; we must find interruptions to the constant streams washing over our society, allowing the audience to settle in, relax, contemplate, question and just simply stand still with an image in mind.
onald Weber is the author of three photography books. He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lange-Taylor Prize, the Duke and Duchess of York Prize, two World Press Photo Awards, and is shortlisted for the prestigious Scotiabank Photography Prize. His diverse photography projects have been exhibited as installations, exhibitions and screenings at festivals and galleries worldwide. He is a teacher of documentary photography at of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, the Netherlands. He is represented by Circuit Gallery in Toronto.
How can photojournalists step outside the frame of clichĂŠ depictions in foreign reporting? Can they challenge stereotypes using digital innovation, non-linear storytelling and new technologies? Can collaboration between photojournalists, artists, designers and programmers disrupt the status quo of homogeneous visual representation? According to their own experiences, seven image experts produced a series of written theses accompanied by visual examples that discusses current issues facing international photojournalism.
WE NEED CHANGE
Dario Bosio specializes in documentary photography. He also works as an editor and a curator. In 2015 he worked as a photo editor at Metrography, the first Iraqi photo agency. He co-produced the project, “Map of Displacement.”
BY DARIO BOSIO
Photojournalism needs to think beyond the frame.
The repetition of the same tropes, over and over again, has done nothing to foster a better understanding of the world. On the contrary, it has flattened the depiction of every crisis into a handful of clichés which are quickly forgotten, and the lack of uniqueness of the images fail to make a lasting impression on the audience. Instead, we should be open to working with techniques not traditionally part of photojournalism. Photographers should borrow from portraiture, still life, or even be willing to contaminate our images with external elements. Most importantly, though, we need more openness from the publications themselves. It is futile to bend the frame if nobody publishes the work. The powers that be must break the rules and try something different because the same old thing is not working in our magazines and newspapers anymore. We must be brave enough to jump into the void and experiment, to produce and publish that which breaks the mold.
Two images from the series, â€œOn the Identity of a Tomato Picker.â€? The complete series can be found here.
The immediate impact of classic photojournalism can reduce the
often complex socio-political issues behind the imagery. However, the development of Web 2.0 has enabled new presentation formats which allow for more nuanced visual narratives aiming at a broader and more engaged audience, beyond the limits of narration traditionally imposed by magazine layouts. The influence of visual media coverage on the current public debate on migration in Europe may serve as an example. Uniformly sensationalist media coverage does not question the wider socio-political factors within the migration debate, such as the legitimacy of borders, border policy and the structural hegemonies beyond them. The undifferentiated media coverage therefore legitimizes these factors, despite its claims to objectivity. Such coverage either criminalizes migrants as lawbreakers, without questioning the legitimacy of the law, or it romanticizes their flight as a â€œgreat adventureâ€? and reduces them to little more than victims, while constantly failing to question the causes of their misery. As a result, migrants become targets of racist, nationalist and islamophobic discourses. The challenge for photojournalists is to bring order to confusing situations and classify information by its significance instead of reproducing staged events arranged by powerful actors seeking to use the media for their own ends. Photojournalism should present different perspectives on socio-political events, empower the underprivileged and raise questions in readers' minds. This cannot be separated from presentation context since it is a substantial part of photojournalism. Web 2.0 scroll-essays can allow for a more dedicated visual auteur-narrative beyond the classic linear photojournalistic narratives. This can allow photojournalism to develop towards less obvious but more sublime aesthetics without losing its impact.
NARRATIVE 2.0: FROM OBVIOUS TO SUBLIME
Kaveh Rostamkhani is an independent photojournalist. Currently, he is working on personal documentary projects. He also produces work for various magazines and NGOs.
BY KAVEH ROSTAMKHANI
Thomas De Maizière offering an official press statement about refugees. This picture is from the project, “Rebordering Europe,” by Kaveh Rostamkhani. The full project can be seen here.
From the series, â€œThe Rescue,â€? about immigration to the Greek islands by Francesco Giusti. The project is still in progress.
AVOID THE TRAP BY FRANCESCO GIUSTI
Francesco Giusti works as a freelance documentary photographer and focuses on investigating contemporary topics, such as migration, labor conflicts and social tensions. His work has been widely published and exhibited. In addition to his work as a photographer, Francesco administers photo-workshops in different countries around the world. He is based in Milan.
During major news events – but not only – photographers often take a general-
ized, homogeneous and glamorized approach to their work. As a result, millions of very similar images appear, rapidly saturating and anesthetizing the public. Photographers should stay away from this trap, however. That’s because the deeper story is never revealed where it is most dramatic and spectacular. Rather, the story is found away from the hustle and chaos, where silence reigns, hidden in peripheral corners and folds, in the ravines where the dust settles, in everyday gestures, ordinary and intimate. It lies in the seemingly insignificant details. These unconventional images are capable of creating an emotional impact that goes far beyond what is usually depicted. For my series, “The Rescue,” about migrants arriving on Lesbos, I decided to step away from the pack. As I walked around the island every day, I began to stumble upon an incredible amount of family snapshots, passport photos, and personal belongings that were either lost or discarded by migrants after their arrival. These photographs and personal items allowed me to avoid falling into the trap.
From the series, “Not only Boko Haram,” by Delizia Flaccavento.
A NEW NARRATIVE BY DELIZIA FLACCAVENTO
Delizia Flaccavento works as a freelance photographer, mainly focusing on social topics. She teaches documentary photography at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul and has collaborated with various NGOs.
Although there are more photojournalists than ever operating
across the globe today, images published in media outlets continue to pander to stereotypes, providing a monotonous narrative of suffering and destruction to the exclusion of all else. As prior World Press Photo jury secretary Stephen Mayes once noted, “The afflicted, the poor, the injured are photographed way in excess of their actual numbers… 90 percent of the pictures is about 10 percent of the world…From the infinity of human experience, the list of subjects covered by WPP entrants would fill a single page, and could be reduced even to three lines: the disposed and the powerless; the exotic; anywhere but home.” Take Nigeria, for example, which is usually only featured through the lens of corruption or Boko Haram, the terror group operating in the north. There is a lot more to Nigeria, though. With the project, “Not only Boko Haram,” I decided to feature a group of nuns running a school for 1,000 students of all ages. The school includes room and board for 100 girls too poor to be able to afford school otherwise, a clinic for the poor and a community service and home visitation program in what was once Biafra. I chose this school to show a side of Nigeria that is often ignored by international media: joyous, despite poverty; stubborn in the face of hardship; and embracing life through sports, music and dance.
From the series, â€œSilent Histories,â€? by Kazuma Obara. More images from this series can be found here.
Nils Bröer studied cultural sciences and media and mass communication sciences. He works as a photojournalist and reporter for various magazines and also keeps busy as an author, answering questions pertaining to photographic theory.
BY NILS BRÖER
The future of photojournalism will be driven by overcoming the
classic narrative techniques of linear storytelling to tell stories differently. By awarding Japanese photographer Kazuma Obara’s “Exposure” series first prize in the 2016 People stories category, the World Press Photo Jury made a point of supporting innovation – a hint as to what the future of photojournalism could look like. It also brings back an essential discussion: The question of how to integrate non-traditional and innovative layers to underscore the story visually. The series consists of eight frames shot on medium-format film found close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. It explores the life of a young woman who was one of the victims of the reactor accident. What makes this series special is the texture of the photo, which was created by merging different elements to create visual interdependency. The monochromatic images are grainy and bleached out. Radiation has put its stamp on the material – and the photo – both impairing and defining what the viewer sees – and sending an implicit message of the decay caused by radiation.
TEAM UP! BY CHRIS GRODOTZKI
Chris Grodotzki is a freelance multimedia journalist and founding member of the jib collective.
From the series, “Search and Rescue d.i.y.,” by Ruben Neugebauer, a colleague of Chris Grodotzki in the jib collective. Ruben Neugebauer works as photographer and activist supporting the rescue of refugees.
In a world heavily oversaturated with information, traditional
hunter-gatherer journalism has outlived its purpose. We don’t need so much more information. But we need people who are able to connect the dots in this overwhelming, fractured informational landscape. The Internet, with its nearly infinite multimedia possibilities, could offer a great opportunity for this. But without us questioning our own approaches, ideals and traditions, “multimedia storytelling” will be just another awkward attempt to ride a dead horse. “New media” needs a new media landscape, one not only based on traditional journalism. So let’s think out of the box, team up with programmers, thinkers, activists, social critics, hackers and artists – and make our stories matter again.
From the Instagram account of Dimitry Markov, who won a Getty Instagram grant with this photo for â€œdocumenting and sharing stories of underrepresented communities that otherwise rarely come into focus.â€?
MAKE A DIFFERENCE BY ANNA ZEKRIA
Anna Zekria is a photographer and multimedia producer and agent. Since 2011, as owner and director of Saltimages agency, Anna has been actively supporting documentary photographers in Russia, bringing numerous projects to worldwide recognition.
There is a lot of discussion on what photojournalism is today,
or rather what it should be. Most of it focuses on issues like digital image manipulation and other technical issues that are undeniably important, but are these topics really that decisive? Shouldn’t we be talking about professional integrity, ethics and the influence our work has? We should stop thinking in terms of labels like artists, reporters, or photojournalists. Rather, we should think about how to use our knowledge, experiences, and the visual language we “speak” to collaborate with each other and our communities and try to make a difference. Otherwise, how relevant is our work? In a documentary about his life and work Don McCullin, one of the greatest living war photographers, said: “I don’t just photograph, I think.” How true this is.
PUBLISHER: n-ost Network for Reporting on Eastern Europe Alexandrinnenstr. 2-3 (C) 10969 Berlin Tel +49 30 259 3283 0 Fax +49 30 259 3283 24 www.n-ost.org PROJECT MANAGER: Tamina Kutscher PROJECT COORDINATOR: Kristin Eichhorn PHOTO EDITOR: Stefan Günther
EDITORS: Tamina Kutscher Austin Davis FINAL EDITS: Jabeen Bhatti DESIGN: Austin Davis Stefan Günther
This dossier includes essays, photo theses, questions and observations that arose during the 2015 n-ost Media Conference, Translating Worlds...
Published on Jul 4, 2016
This dossier includes essays, photo theses, questions and observations that arose during the 2015 n-ost Media Conference, Translating Worlds...