Friday, 21 September

՛՛We communicate more via the visual՛՛ - Leslie Thornton

Leslie Thorton is an Associate Professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The theme of her talk at the Digital Storytelling Conference held in Yerevan on May 28 was “Journalistic Stories in Today’s Digital World”.  On May 30, as part of BarCamp 2015, Thorton spoke about telling visual stories via the social network. Hetq spoke to Thorton about issues related to transformations in the field of journalism, their relation to social , and media literacy.

 - What new ways of telling stories have emerged recently?

I think, partly in reaction to the huge amounts of informationon that come everybody's way these days, they are recognizing a real need for journalists to sift through everything and make sense of something and really do what journalists have set out to do for quite some time, which is distil the important staff from the not so important staff. And I think for quite a while, for a couple of decades we have been awash in celebrating trivial things perhaps, we've been eager for readership for very good reasons but perhaps there has been too much coverage of celebrities and light stories at the detriment of covering art news and I think that's where digital reporting is serving a very real purpose. It's making it more interesting again. And through interactivity or just looking better, easier to read, we understand more about how people take information in. And I think that's having a very good effect on journalism.

- Do you think that visualization and data change something in our conception of information?

I do. The non journalist is used to reacting to visual information all the time. Not just in my part of the world, but I think your part of the world too, we communicate more via the visual. And so many journalists are learning to look for things that would have a visual communication to them and incorporate them into their stories. Even if they're not a photographer, they're thinking slightly differently in looking for things.

- Does this mean that textual content is less and less consumed?

Perhaps it's just my choice of what I look at and what I see, but I think context is beginning to come back. I hope so, because I think that's the difference between good journalism and shallow journalism which doesn't do anybody any good. This popularity of big data journalism, if done right, can certainly help contextualize things. My concern sometimes is that people will just look at the top numbers at the trends or the things that they think they understand but don't really. So once again, there's that need for a journalist to dig deep to really figure out what's important and what's not.

- Where is it useful to use social media as a source of information?

I think there are many hidden resources in social media. And so, learning how to be literate about how it's used is a very important thing for journalists even if they are not personally involved in using it. I think they need to experience it, so that they can understand what is to be trusted, what's not to be trusted, what are the signs of something that's likely to be trusted... I think this is a global thing that people seem to trust information more if it comes from someone they trust, which is what social media is all about. It's like an extended family that you get to know, and you know who's a good source and who's not a good source. But by seeing the people, seeing who the journalists are, I think it's a chance for people to trust journalism, to trust what they do a little bit more. So I think there's real value to social media, not because we need to share what we have for lunch with each other, but because underlying that is a dynamic that involves trust and the ability to communicate quickly in short messages.

- How to teach the readers to read the information that is designed with the help of interactive tools?

I think it's brilliant that you're thinking about this. What we're really talking about is media literacy. Perhaps a series of articles or maybe lots of short bits of information coming their way on how to know whether a website is fraudulent or whether you're being spoofed; how you can vet the information, test the information. And then there are also maybe explainers of people, like video, maybe little video scenes that you can put on your website that explain various parts of these things. I'm not really sure, but I think it has to come often and I think it has to be in fairly short bursts that are engaging and informative.

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