The Future(s) of Editorial: Meeting the Needs of Multi-Media Journalists & Global Audiences

The future of photography is difficult to predict, making the future of the editorial platforms where photography can live nearly impossible to pin down. As visual stories find more and more ways to live online, image-makers are navigating uncharted editorial territory. As multiple presenters addressed at PhotoEx, traditional media outlets can rarely capture the scope and breadth of the work they are producing, and in the final panel of the day, a trio of non-traditional editors explained how they envision stories unfolding in the future. 


Moderator Ivan Sigal of Global Voices

Led by moderator Ivan Sigal of Global Voices, Pamela Chen of Instagram, Olivia Koski of The Atavist/Creatavist, and Gabriel Dance of The Marshall Project dove into the platforms they’re working with and how they’re crafting new methods for visual storytellers to share their work.

Inspired by traditional media and a commitment to deeply reported, long form journalism, Koski said that The Atavist, and by extension, Creatavist software, was designed strictly for the thoughtful presentation of narrative non-fiction. “Our founders come from the print tradition, but wanted to expand the way stories are told, and provide a platform for reporters to tell incredible stories in a digital space,” she said. As a digital publication, The Atavist launched in 2011 with a mission to produce compelling multimedia journalism that could be custom designed to meet the needs of each individual story that was published. That desire for customization led to the launch of Creatavist, a content management system that was built with the growing needs of multi-media journalists and visual storytellers in mind. “If you look at any news website, there’s a lot going on, so I think what Creatavist does for a lot of these news organizations that are producing so much content so quickly is it gives them a place to breathe, and tell stories that are more in-depth and allow people to immerse themselves,” she said.


Creatavist software

Instagram is one platform that aims to tie together photographers and image-makers of all kinds. In just four years, the photo-sharing app has grown into a worldwide visual community. Pamela Chen, Instagram’s editorial director, said that the value in the sheer quantity of images uploaded to the feed each day is the unexpected connections people are making through the stories their images tell. “So much of what we do on our editorial channels is about discovery,” Chen said, explaining that the @instagram account acts as a curated feed that gives its 61 million followers a chance to be exposed to new projects and innovative work that’s being produced that they may not have found otherwise. “Instagram is where everyone is,” Chen said. “The question is, how can we get them to connect with each other?” By featuring individual photographers and projects daily, Chen said the @instagram account is driving traffic back to the photographers’ own feed, effectively supporting new work and helping individuals grow their network among a vast and varied audience.


Pamela Chen’s Instagram presentation

Gabriel Dance began his presentation by examining the early days of online multimedia storytelling, tracing a path from what he called “the infamous audio slideshow,” up through complex data visualization projects and interactive video. Dance spent five years at the New York Times and three years at The Guardian, producing large scale photo and video projects including, NSA Files: Decoded a massive, multi-platform, documentary project that dissected the leaked NSA files through photos, videos, text, graphics, maps, gifs, data and documents. “I think this is the culmination of where we’re heading in the future of editorial,” he said. “It’s medium-less storytelling, because it’s all the mediums. I don’t really care what medium we’re using as long as it’s the most effective medium for a specific part of the story.”


From The Guardian’s “NSA Files: Decoded”

In the Q&A that followed the presentations, Sigal opened the discussion with the observation that no matter which editorial territory each presenter was charting, the stories were still the primary factor in the way projects were produced. “What strikes me is the degree to which different kinds of technology are appropriate and adapted for specific kinds of stories,” he said. “You lead with the story and you lead with the idea and you find the form to fit it, rather than have strong distinctions between video or stills or audio, these are a tool set you’re constantly juggling.”


From left: Gabriel Dance, Pamela Chen and Olivia Koski

The continuation of quality journalism through cross-pollination of mediums requires collaboration across formats. “There’s a tendency these days to want to do everything as a journalist, and I look at these stories and they’re loaded, they’re chock-full of every media imaginable,” Koski said, “so maybe you have a toolset, but you don’t have to do everything if you can network with people you can rely on and want to collaborate with.”

From Dance’s experience, “its mostly just hard work that makes anything good.”

The future of editorial is driven not only by the creation of projects and the platforms they live on, but also by the communities that gather around those stories. “We’re starting to see people who have built projects, built a community around that project, and that community comes with them to the next project they do, because they trust the voice, they trust the person creating the work, and you’re following a creative process,” Chen said.

Instagram’s foundation is built on community and their curatorial approach of aggregating audience around existing content. The Atavist was founded on the creation of quality storytelling, and is now addressing the task of building community around such original stories. These varied approaches raise myriad questions about sustainability. Will Instagram remain open to public use for years to come? How do trained journalists distinguish themselves from a general, civic voice on these platforms? Are non-profit outlets curated with transparency, such as The Marshall Project, a more sustainable route for reporting than mainstream media?

Perhaps the most concrete vision of the future of editorial was proposed by an audience member asking about those communities whose access to these platforms is limited for cultural, generational, socio-economic or physical limitations. “Its on all of us,” said Dance, while he grappled with the technological, financial and logistical obstacles to making his work multi-lingual with subtitles for non-English speakers, or handicap accessible with larger-font size capabilities. “It is getting better and its only going to keep getting better if we keep asking ourselves and each other the questions.”

Those questions are at the center of Global Voices. “One of the things we always focus on is listening more” says Sigal, “its not necessarily a matter of creating a media outlet and pushing out content from a single source.” Media attention and equity are long standing issues and are more relevant than ever as platforms evolve to reach more and more people. Global Voices takes into constant consideration the stories privileged by the media to amplify and translate the stories coming from marginalized and misrepresented communities while also addressing access issues on a technical level.


Global Voices language menu

This is the fifth post in a series that will recap and reconsider the issues and ideas presented at PhotoEx. Our next post will feature the major takeaways from the weekend, with insights from the PhotoEx audience and Magnum Foundation president Susan Meiselas.

Written by Krystal Grow

Krystal Grow is an arts writer, photo editor and producer based in New York. She has written for TIME, the New York Times Lens BlogStranger Than Fiction, and the DOC NYC blog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kgreyscale.

Simone Salvo