To compete with social media, Nepal’s legacy papers need to prioritise visual storytelling
In the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, the iconic image of 5-month-old Sonish Awale being rescued after being buried for 22 hours under the rubble went viral. The baby caked in dust being lifted up by rescuers spoke to thousands affected by the earthquake and quickly became a symbol of hope to a country ravaged by destruction.
Front page cover of Nepali Times' earthquake issue
Yet, lack of exposure and training, weak design sense and poor motivation has meant that much of Nepal’s legacy journalism remains text-heavy and dull, making them unable to compete for eyeballs with the spread and impact of multimedia content online.
“Powerful visuals such as the earthquake baby evoke emotions and speak to your stomach,” says Thomas Borberg, photo editor-in-chief of Danish newspaper Politiken who was in Nepal last month for the Photo Kathmandu festival. “When we scan through a newspaper, images are the first thing to catch our attention. A good picture talks directly to our emotions and can be just as valuable in telling a story.”
All photos: Pawan Joshi/ Photo Kathmandu
International media outlets such as The New York Times, Reuters and Politiken have remained benchmarks in incorporating visuals in their storytelling online. Through their immensely popular photo blogs to long-form multimedia pieces, they have seamlessly transitioned into digital platforms and enhanced the art of photojournalism itself.
Borberg conducted a weeklong workshop in which he dissected Nepal’s broadsheet newspapers and critiqued their layout and design, use of images, and general aesthetics and readability. Needless to say, some of his comments were scathing. In most papers, the text does all the talking. Reporters ‘tell’, rather than ‘show’. The concept of white space is almost non-existent and pages are congested with grey text. Visuals are afterthoughts.
“There is a lack of priority for images in the Nepali media. Editors needs to stop using visuals as just hole fillers and photographers need to be able to communicate what they want to photograph and how it is used in newspapers,” Borberg told an attentive group of editors, reporters and designers.
The lack of disregard for visuals is clearly evident in the way images are either cropped or manipulated that its significance is lost to the readers. While visuals help bring readers into the story, the opposite is achieved in Nepal. Said Borberg: “Editors and photographers need to stop complaining about each other and take responsibilities. You need to learn to pick some fights for your work.”
Newspapers in Nepal are also notoriously predictable in their selection of images, making it difficult to differentiate one paper from the other. Borberg proved his point by spreading out the morning’s broadsheets on the carpet (with all of them using the same generic image of politicians meeting) to illustrate his point.
Photo: Ayesha Shakya
“Instead of having the politicians sitting in a line and staring straight at the camera, it would be more interesting if more candid shots could be captured,” Borberg added.
The concept of visual storytelling is still new in Nepal, both on paper and online. Traditional ways of journalism have held back media organisations from completely adopting the ‘digital first’ mantra. Despite the flexibility and space on digital platforms, visuals are still sparsely used and often just plopped together with the text, without much regard to the message the visuals are trying to convey. Changing this mindset will take time and, in Borberg’s own words, a ‘visual revolution’.
Borberg is the photo editor-in-chief of Politiken and part of the jury for next year’s World Press Photo Awards.
"If you have an activity in the picture, if you start like a vibrant interesting thing, a small story within the image, then it's much more fun to be a photographer", Thomas Borberg, Photo Editor of Politiken, shares experience of the workshop and his work back home.Posted by Photo Kathmandu on Friday, November 6, 2015
Video credit: Fuzz Factory Productions/Photo Kathmandu
The baby who lived, Sahina Shrestha