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Seminar report: Reuters: innovating to stay ahead - from pigeons to multimedia

By Heini Maksimainen

“Multimedia is not a project. Multimedia is not an add-on. It’s the way we work and tell stories”, says Jane Barrett, the global head of multimedia for Reuters, explaining how the news agency is responding to the new digital challenges.

Reuters was founded in 1851, when Julius Reuter opened an office In London in order to deliver stock market information via the Calais-Dover cable between London and Paris. Reuter was an innovator of his own time: for a short period, he was using carrier pigeons for news delivery. Later on, the telegraph network expanded, and so did his business.

The early history of the news agency shows that changes in technology have always been a part of the news business. From the time of the pigeons, the agency has ended up being challenged by the emergence of smart phones and social media.

“We are no longer fighting only against AP and Bloomberg. Now everyone can be a journalist by telling a story from their smartphone. I am sure that our founder would be quite delighted by it, probably rubbing his hands and asking ‘what can we do next?’ ” Barrett says.

Part of Reuters’ answer to the competition are new innovations and multimedia-skilled journalists. The text writers are trained to take photos and shoot videos, and in some cases, the photographers have recorded quotes from the field using their phones.

According to Barrett, this kind of multi-tasking doesn’t mean sacrificing the expertise. If a writer can take the first quick snap, a photojournalist can concentrate on the actual art of photojournalism. Barrett quotes one of their photographers:

“I train [you] to take the photographs you can, so I can take the photographs I should.”

The agency produces information in multiple forms many of which are designed to work on mobile platforms. As more and more people are consuming news on their phones, the content has to be visual, easy and fast to use. Reuters produces for example interactive graphics, data visualisations and short caption videos.

In addition, Reuters is experimenting with new technologies. One specific area of interest is ‘immersive journalism’ that can be produced by using 360-degree cameras and virtual reality technology.

Despite all the new formats, the principles of the agency still date back to the 1850s.

“Reuters is still built on the axiom of speed and truth”, Barrett is keen to remind her audience.

Jane Barrett, global head of multimedia, Reuters, spoke at a seminar on Wednesday November 16, 2016.