Social Journalists

I’ve been following journalists Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Jenan Moussa and John Safran on Twitter. Twitter plays a big role in each of their respective practices. Whilst not claiming Twitter profiles to solely discuss their work – there are some personal opinions and interests being shared as well – they are all prolific tweeters who use Twitter to collect and share information, find sources and promote their own work as well as the work of other journalists.

When it comes to Facebook however, there is no professional profile for Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop. Jenan Moussa has a profile but you have to send a ‘friend request’, so it’s a private profile that isn’t openly accessible. John Safran is the only one of the 3 who has an openly-accessible Facebook presence. Ezra Klein of The Washington Post says journalists prefer Twitter to Facebook because of immediacy – often this is where news breaks first and where journalists report on news as it’s happening. John Safran’s focus is on documentary making and true crime stories. As such, there is great pop culture interest in his work and therefore a Facebook presence makes sense; it’s where a community of his fans can congregate and interact with him, and because of the nature of his exposés, there’s less urgency for him to get the facts needed for his work.

John Safran's eight-part comedy-documentary 'Race Relations' aired on ABC TV

John Safran’s eight-part comedy-documentary ‘Race Relations’ aired on ABC TV

I’ll show you what’s hidden

One of my great loves is the performing arts, both as an audience member and performer, but also as one who’s worked backstage to “make the magic happen”.

For my final JRNL102 assignment, I’d like to share the stories of people who work backstage at the theatre; sound and lighting technicians, directors, actors, stage and costume designers, stage managers and make-up artists. As well as exploring “what’s hidden” backstage, I hope to reveal something unexpected (hidden) about one (or more) of my interview subjects. It will give insight into the work they do, as well as their individual characters and unique, sometimes surprising, stories. Meta.

Local media capture photos and video of Bangarra in rehearsal at IPAC

Local media capture photos and video of Bangarra in rehearsal at IPAC

The story will take the form of a photo essay, with the addition of audio interviews with people who work backstage and ambient sounds of the theatre e.g. bump ins/outs, rehearsals, stage cues etc.

Playing Favourites

The convergent journalism stories listed below are all impressive in their own way; powerful, engaging and technically proficient.

Nuclear Nightmares: Twenty Years since Chernobyl
Marlboro Marine
Suspect America
Highrise
Goa Hippy Tribe
Starved for Attention
Firestorm
Tomato Can Blues

Even though it doesn’t incorporate as many elements that a convergent story of today would, the story that particularly impressed me is Nuclear Nightmares. This project was produced in the early days of convergent journalism, when those of us who were privileged enough to have internet access were beginning to migrate from dial-up to high-speed connections. Although interactive storytelling online was still in the experimental, slow and clunky stage – unlike today where we can immerse ourselves in highly-refined, viewer-intuitive and fast-loading packages – it meant it was feasible for journalists to consider adding more elements to stories, like video and audio, because page-loading speeds were becoming less of an issue.

It isn’t as “tricked up” as the convergent stories we get today, but I still like Nuclear Nightmares because the black-and-white images are striking; they tell a thousand words.


© Photograph: Robert Knoth 2006

Aside from the first and second last pages, the text isn’t too overwhelming, just enough to give context or background, and when you hover away from the image it disappears so you can appreciate the full photo.

To finish, it has links for you to get more information and viewer responses, so you can gauge the effect it’s had on others. I like that these links aren’t ‘forced’ on you – instead, you’re given the option of engaging further. There wasn’t much focus on sharing capabilities in 2006 when this work was produced, so you’re not inundated with heaps of share buttons at the end. Instead, people shared the link via email, online forums and on some websites, which was enough for it to go viral. There was virtually no focus on a project’s capacity to be viewable on a mobile device, but even so, it still looks good on an iPhone.

This work is a perfect example of “less is more”.

The work that was my least favourite in terms of looking at convergent journalism, or interactive storytelling, is Suspect America. My reasons are purely semantic, because if you take it out of the context of convergent journalism, it is a brilliant video animation that does well to both captivate and inform the viewer. Back in the convergent journalism context however, I feel it lacks interactivity, resulting in the viewer being subjected to a passive experience. This story only offers 2 hyperlinks to other web content and has a comments section that has only received 2 comments in 3 years.

Suspect America - only 2 comments in 3 years

The video works well on mobile devices and is clever, controversial and educative enough that it has the potential to go viral if pushed through the right channels. Clearly, the producer hasn’t taken advantage of social media as well as they could have.

A Critique

This is a short critique of this emotional history task by a fellow Journalism student.

You’re drawn into the story from the beginning, after listening to the first interviewee describe the moment they were informed of their friend’s death by drowning. You can hear the grief in their voices. In the beginning of the track, it’s a bit unclear what is being said. A small moment of silence before launching into the dialogue may be beneficial in giving the listener a moment to focus their attention.

The music conveys a solemness, although it a bit too saccharine for my taste and sometimes a bit distracting. I think perhaps an instrumental track may have been utilised more effectively. I thought the German drinking song was a great addition because it complemented what was being said and its rhythm allowed you to imagine the pace of the pallbearers, to picture them carrying the coffin.

One minute the second interviewee is crying because she’s scared she’s going to forget about her friend, and the next she’s laughing because she’s remembering things he did. This constrast was a bit too abrubt, so perhaps an brief anecdote about a funny thing he did could have smoothed the transition from crying to laughter. It was a good way to end the story though, on a higher note instead of a sad one.

Audio Story Vision

I chose to focus on Jeroen’s relationship to the rehearsal studio because writing and playing music is one of his passions, and where there’s passion there’s sure to be a good story.

I also like the musical element. We’re accustomed to listening to polished, produced music so I thought it would be interesting, something different, to highlight the rough sounds of a rehearsal studio. I wanted to link the rawness of the rehearsal space sounds to the rawness of some of the stories Jeroen has about the place by incorporating the sounds of unloading vehicles, setting up and soundchecking, unproduced songs being played and mucked up, laughter and chatter to evoke the social aspects of being in a band.

The 1-minute length of the piece is also akin to the short lengths of some of Jeroen’s band’s songs, so I wanted to create a story that flowed similarly – with an intro that draws you in, building to a crescendo, then a finale that gives resolution to the story. I envisioned Jeroen’s words being the main feature of the story, with the ambient sounds and music to carry it along.