Dr. Marie Elisabeth Mueller on the Making the Media podcast

Making the Media S1E12: New Media Mindset

June 14, 2021

One of the most exciting (and, frankly, challenging) opportunities for broadcast news organizations is adjusting to platform fragmentation. Emerging digital platforms can unlock innovative new ways of approaching storytelling and reaching new audiences.

In this episode, we ask: What emerging platforms are ripe for innovation? How can legacy broadcasters learn from and embrace new forms of storytelling? And how can they turn this into new audiences and revenue streams?

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Listen to Hear:

  • Why journalists should approach storytelling on social media as "story guides"
  • Examples of journalists using innovative approaches to storytelling on emerging media platforms
  • Why the platform or technology matters less than using those technologies to build and engage with communities

 

Our Guest This Episode

Dr. Marie Elisabeth Mueller is an award-winning professional, new media educator, trainer, and news futurist who guides teams in newsrooms, NGOs, and small and medium-sized businesses to reach a new professional level with smart technologies and digital workflows. Dr. Mueller, who holds a Ph.D. in media science on digital storytelling from the University of Constance, has in-depth experience as a journalist, writer, and creative director at public broadcaster SWR and as a professor of digital journalism and online media management at the Stuttgart Media University.

I think in media, evolution in media technology was always driving innovation. And the threat is that it's so disruptive now because it's so fast, disrupting business models and workflows. And so you really have to have a very open and agile mindset.

Dr. Marie Elisabeth Mueller, News Futurist, Author of Social Storytelling

Mentioned in This Episode

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Philip Bromwell featured on the Making the Media podcast
Making the Media S1E03: Mr. Mojo Risin'

Philip Bromwell of RTÉ joins the Making the Media podcast to discuss how mobile journalism has thrived through, and perhaps because of, the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Episode Transcript

Craig Wilson: Hi, and welcome to the latest episode of the Making the Media podcast. My name's Craig Wilson and thanks a lot for joining me.

This time we're talking TikTok, we're talking Snapchat, Instagram, Youtube, and others. But not just that: we are looking at how to innovate and deliver original stories in new ways to these platforms, including how you might use techniques like 360 video or even gaming engines in the production process.

And in addition, we're also discussing about whether news storytellers can be a force for good in a challenging and rapidly changing world and the journalist's role as a trusted partner for their audience.

To do this, I'm joined by the new media trainer and news futurist Dr. Marie Elisabeth Mueller, or Liz, as she's known. She has recently co-authored a book called Social Storytelling along with her colleague Devadas Rajaram. In it they describe how they aim to provide journalists and others with a new toolbox on telling stories.

So let's start with the way that media gets made and consumed. And where does that begin? With mobile phones.

Marie Elisabeth Mueller: Now, we are working with smartphones, for example. I think in a mobile-first world, we have to work with smartphones because users work with smartphones.

And when we start thinking about storytelling and also distribution of stories with the use of smartphones, when we have to think about that, the smartphone has multiple use cases. It's a screen, it's a distribution platform, so to speak, and it's a creation and and editing and shooting platform, yeah? So that's very interesting. And that is maybe why people underestimate the professional quality of content and conversation and also business management which smartphones enable you to have in just one device everyone has in the pocket today.

And I'm very aware that we are privileged in the Western world, and in many other regions people depend much more than we [do] on smartphones, so it's really a way also to open the political space or the economic space for people who are poor and to open it for more participation and [to] give them voices.

CW: One of the things about that is something which I think news teams globally look for now much more than they did before is a connection to the audience and a way of talking to the audience. So do you think the fact that you can do this on these smaller devices actually means that what you're serving out is more intimate and more relevant to users?

MEM: Yes, definitely. And it doesn't—it was disrupted through corona[virus], because we were less mobile for the last two years here, less mobile.

But still I have the experience, for example, when I train people in smartphone content creation and I join a training session by my smartphone screen, they are immediately immersed into the application. They see the workflow, they see everything right there in the screen.

I think the smartphone, if you go to someone with only your smartphone (and maybe a little bit of equipment when you are more advanced), or you work remotely with smartphones, you always create a much more intimate situation. We have, actually, data will tell us that people open up much more. They don't feel it's the official formal situation, it's more informal. And it's more like you really give them their voice. You don't take it away, you know you don't take it away and put it into a big production.

And 20 years ago in Germany it was standard that the storyteller, the reporter, is not in the picture. You even have to engage voiceover and you don't speak the comments yourself. That was always weird for me, because I think today, in this noisy environment, in the problem with fake [news] that we face everywhere, it's very important that you show your face.

And what I tell people, and which is also what our book's about, is we don't talk about heroes any longer. It's not the hero's journey which is the best matrix for our stories, it's guides. We talk about, and we talk with, and we empower a very colorful crowd. And what you have to be as a journalist and a storyteller is a guide, who can guide this knowledge, this learning, together.

Stories are about other people. We like to listen to stories about other people, from other people, to learn from them, to distract ourselves, to identify, and then also to learn. And that is why, for example, TikTok learning is so powerful and so successful. Because all ages like this pattern of stories, learning in an entertaining way.

And that is the chance that we have when we show our face: We are guides. We guarantee the credibility of our stories. We connect with people in a personal sense, be it remotely or be it physically—this really doesn't matter a lot.

CW: Do you find that's quite a change for some people, for some reporters? Who perhaps have always been taught in the past about, you are this neutral voice in what's going on, it's not about you, to an extent. Whereas effectively what you're saying is that the reporters themselves should be in the middle of the story as this guide. Is that something you find when you speak to journalists is quite a change from what the traditional approach has been?

MEM: Today, our users, as journalists, we have really to build communities. Because they are not naturally there. We have so many fragmentations, niche communities. And that can be also an advantage, but it's also challenging in terms of revenue from listeners, because of course you have to make some money with these stories, if you want to live from it.

So, yeah, it's a challenge, but I think for the quality of the news and for the quality of content, it's an advantage. I'm very fond of it, and I think schools and educational systems and newsrooms and companies, we have an obligation to upskill people, to upskill journalists and people, and then we can really make a very positive use of it.

CW: So we talked a little bit there, Liz, about people going out and shooting on smartphones and the quality of the footage that's coming now from phones. The cameras continue to get better, the lenses continue to get better.

What about certain things that maybe come and go? So 360 video, for example, seems to kind of wax and wane. Sometimes it's popular, sometimes it's not. There are some apps I know of for your mobile phone where you can shoot front and back camera at the same time. Do you see those kind of techniques as something that could also be used to to engage audiences more as well?

MEM: I think it's not about the the cutting-edge technology. We have big newsrooms like The New York Times, The Guardian, they do brilliant jobs—also BBC—in exploring how storytellers and journalists can use these technologies and they build really interesting and great stories with it.

But I am absolutely, really in, "What can users do with it?" For me, it's not like a landmark, not like an exclusive project. And that is very wrong, I think that the approach is wrong, because you have these exclusive teams. They do something, and then you know, multimedia, long-form stories, and 360, they don't even have have a large reach. Because [for] people, it takes too much time, it's too exotic, maybe.

It's not what we have now, because of the different habits of people, that we have less polished content. What you need is a lot of content, a lot of content, and you have to be able to do it on top [of] or without affecting your daily work, which is already a lot. And I think these are key skills.

And the emerging technology will come anyways, and we are already working with it. In every smartphone of the newest generation, you can use a partner and you have all kinds of stuff, but these are more like gimmicks for people. But we are really talking about everyday life.

And it's good to look beyond Europe to really learn from other regions what you can do and how you can really reach and and improve the lives of people.

One example that was also very inspiring for me comes from a former BBC journalist who worked in Delhi, Shivanshu Sudairi, like 15 years ago. So he went back from New Delhi to central India, to his home region, and started a newsroom for the rural populations there, only by audio. And they often don't have smartphones. So you can, for some people, record or do messages, then on the phone it will be brought to the next city where Internet is, and then by Bluetooth it will be exported. And then there's a radio show by the people, and they talk about real problems that they have. And the radio stations and journalists and people all through the community then come together and solve these problems. And they have statistics showing you over the years, plenty—thousands!—of solutions were brought to the people.

So that is the kind of community and service journalism that is very inspiring, I think. And the way to go and find the workflow and find the methods which you can really apply to your community, to the community you have identified you can work with.

CW: So technology is one thing, and technology can enable lots and lots of things. But I guess, to an extent, it's about having the idea in the first place. So how do you think people come to have the idea and the thoughts? Is it down to local experience? Is it down to things that you can teach them? How do you come up with those ideas and innovative ways of doing it? Because I guess that's what everyone's trying to do, is to be innovative and find new methods of delivering news.

MEM: In my experience, it really has to do with doing things. You have to do it. You can't observe [from] up here. In a situation where people talk from screen to screen, from camera to camera, we live as cameras. Our conversation is from camera to camera. If you think about it or not, that is the way we produce content. We have conversations.

And we also from science know that multimedia content, video content, visuals, reach the brain of people like 60,000 times faster than text. And I always highlight that text is not going away. Media are not dying. Media formats, media technology is not dying, but transformation is very dynamic these days. And these things we have to experiment with, really there is no rule book today, and to experiment you have to experiment. So that is why I think it's good to look into also cutting-edge technology, game engines, 360-degree videos, virtual reality.

But that is only one part. The most important part is to get feeling how people have a conversation on social media. What is the tonality? What are the questions they have?

In our book, for example, we have one influencer lawyer, a young lawyer who is now an influencer on TikTok. And then like it's always happened, TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube is like a triangle. If you are successful on one of these three, you will also achieve at least a large reach on the other platforms, I mentioned. And for example, he told me that he is still—now, he has followers in the millions—and still he communicates in the comments. He really gives advice to like 14-, 15-, 16-year-old people, young people in schools and their problems with their parents, with their teachers. And so that is why he became a guide. And he became really a guide, and it's not like he is now delegating it to an assistant. He likes, he replies, he quotes the questions of his audience in his videos, and that's a very nice way to understand what people need. And then from your knowledge you can share with them, help them, and the conversation will go on and on.

CW: So I guess that comes down to being that guide as a way of proving to someone that you are that sort of trusted partner that can actually provide them with the information. And I guess actually from a business perspective, that's also what newsrooms are trying to do. They're trying to be a trusted partner. Do you think that's how it's seen from the audience side, that this is someone I trust, and that's why I want to follow them on any of these platforms?

MEM: For journalism to survive as this fourth estate, we need so much—and in Germany we have this beautiful constitution protecting journalism—but journalists need to live up to and have a better understanding of how can they serve. How can we serve communities? How can we reach out people where they are? We can't pull them into our product, our into our thinking. We have to go to them and be found.

And we have the strategy. That is why social media matters. You can't ignore [it] and say social media is just for gossip and hate and we don't want it. You have to transform it into something positive.

And on social media, starting the conversation is very important. Because it's like what they have in business is [the] customer journey; we have a user journey in journalism as well. We know it from ourselves. Everyone spends sometime on different platforms every day or over a week. And we have to be found everywhere, and then if an Insta Story, very short and snappy, is relevant and interesting, people will also come to YouTube, or they will come to the web and follow the long form as well, maybe then at the weekend when they have more time. So all of it is connected and you have to have a holistic approach, really a strategy from the beginning.

CW: So we talked there about TikTok and Instagram and YouTube and how they can play a different part in the journey. But I'm also wondering about things like WhatsApp and things like Snapchat and other forms of community. Is that something that you also see that you know broadcasters, newsrooms, are trying to take advantage of?

MEM: Yeah. I am a big Snapchat fan. When my students often ask me, "What is your favorite platform?" I have to say, "It's hard for you maybe to believe, but my soft spot is Snapchat." Because Snapchat is so innovative!

Yusuf Omar in I think 2015 or so, he showed as a first journalist how you can use the Snapchat filter, the augmented reality filters, to protect the identity of a source, of women who suffered violence in India. So he did interviews with them, and each woman would choose their own filter and use it. And Snapchat, that is only one thing, and that's even many years old.

But Snapchat is driven by very, very exclusive—in a positive sense—community and friendship. You hardly can use any game and filter in there without someone else who has really to have friendships, conversations going on. It's built and designed for more than one person. It's built for conversations and for friendship.

You have to come up with a genuine Snapchat strategy. You can't handle all the platforms like each other. They're not similar. They are different and you have to customize your content a little bit at least. You don't have time always to do it genuinely, but I think for TikTok and Snapchat you really have to come up with a genuine strategy.

And all these platforms are interesting for revenue, especially Snapchat, where [there] are revenue models also for creators. Lenses, there's a large creator community for lenses to navigate on Snapchat. And yeah, it depends on your goals, the audience you want to connect to, and where can you find them. You have to find that out. By doing it, you learn and learn and you get better and better and faster and faster.

For example, "behind the scenes" is a format which can have a larger reach than the original story, and you can drive an interest on social media before the final product. Maybe it's a long documentary, or a cinema movie, or long-form interactive. Then weeks or months before the final product is published, you can build a community around the story.

CW: We're obviously talking here about the fact that technology, to an extent, is democratizing things, where you know everybody can be a creator. That poses challenges for newsrooms, but also I guess it's about opportunity. We've talked about the different platforms that they can now deliver on, so just wondering what your view is, there, from the point of view I guess of the news organizations, of how much of this is a threat, and how much of this is an opportunity?

MEM: Yeah, I think in media, evolution in media technology was always driving innovation. And the threat is that it's so disruptive now because it's so fast, disrupting business models and workflows. And so you really have to have a very open and agile mindset.

And that is also about upskilling people to have that and to develop that. And so the whole organization has to have that. That is what we know. It's not enough that a few people have it and the rest is doing what they always did.

And so we have to make sure that we understand how we can work together with people for good purposes, for really changing our lives and societies for the better. And I think that is the promise in this technology, because we have a critical situation all over the world, not only because of corona, but the climate situation, the fake and disinformation situation. All of that is very threatening our open and democratic societies.

CW: So Liz, one final question—this is a question I'm asking everyone who's on the podcast. When you look at the book you've written, when you look at the way that the industry is now, you worked in it, you've been in academia, you've traveled a lot. The one question I'm asking everyone, is what is it, if anything, that keeps you awake at night?

MEM: You know, when I worked at the broadcast station, when I worked as a professor at a university, I always said I wanted to make more impact. I really want to reach the people. It's like a cage, sometimes! You have the situation when you're working at the broadcast stations and it's very traditional and slow to change. You have the feeling you have done a wonderful feature reporting and nothing comes out of it. And so, I think it's so important today because I mentioned all the reasons before, the crisis situation we're in everywhere, we have to collaborate and find ways to build trust with communities. That keeps me up at night. How to do this in a very efficient way. Not just to talk about it—really to get that done.

CW: Thanks to Liz Mueller for joining us—collaboration really does extend out well beyond the newsroom or the edit suite, doesn't it? Lots of interesting stuff there.

Now next time on the podcast I'm joined by the CTO of the Swedish public broadcaster SVT, Adde Granberg. It's a wide-ranging chat, covering everything from changing workflows and staff attitudes, exploring the best ways to exploit the cloud, working remotely, and a recognition of the scale of radical change which the broadcast industry is going through right now. Here's just a short clip of what he had to say.

Adde Granberg: We have about 300 people working with production. They need to adapt to new technology. They need to understand what the technology in an iPhone can do for the television industry, not what the television industry can do for an iPhone. So we are changing everything.

And coming back to that, we all watching—or actually listening—to this feel that NAB in Las Vegas or IBC in Amsterdam is the big shows. And I love to go there and I love to be invited to cocktails and standing chatting about the TV industry. I love it. I was the star on that floor. Today, in the broadcast industry, I'm the smallest piece in the corner in the digitalization of the IT world, and that's a game changer—for the industry, for me in my role, for who I am, and what SVT are in the bigger complex. I think that's the biggest challenge we are facing. To accept that, to understand that, and to add up to that.

CW: Adde is very passionate, so it's a great episode you do not want to miss. To make sure you don't, then please subscribe on your podcast platform of choice, and don't forget to leave a review or share in your network.

For more information on some of the topics I discussed with Liz in this episode then check out the show notes. There you can find information on Avid's MediaCentral | Publisher app, enabling teams to distribute their stories to social media channels. You'll also find a link to the podcast episode featuring mobile journalism pioneer Philip Bromwell, who has lots of great advice on getting the most out of your smartphone.

That's all for this time on the podcast. Please feel free to get in touch either via email—we are makingthemedia@avid.com—or on social, my username on Twitter or Instagram is @craigaw1969. You can of course follow any of the Avid social media accounts, and I'll give a quick shout out to one—Avid MediaCentral—where there's lots of good information for media companies and a bit of fun too.

Thanks for listening. Thanks to Rachel Haberman for her production duties as usual. I'm Craig Wilson. Join me next time for more topical conversation about Making the Media.

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