Today, Skribe features mobile journalist, virtual reality filmmaker, and snapchat storyteller, Yusuf Omar from Hindustan Times to take the stage on Podium. He recently joined Hindustan Times as Mobile Editor, aiming to make HT a success on small screens. He has earlier worked with eNCA, Al Ansaar, Grocott’s Mail, Creative Activation, and Collection House. Yusuf talks to Priyanka Mogul from IBTimes UK about using Snapchat to report on sexual abuse and undercover drug searches.
“It’s about experimenting with every platform and not taking them at face value. If you take Snapchat at face value, it’s for teenagers sharing nudies. You’ve got to look beyond that, you’ve got to look at how you can apply that technology for journalistic storytelling.”
These are the words of 27-year-old journalist Yusuf Omar. On 14 July, his work went viral after he used Snapchat to interview survivors of sexual abuse through a powerful and unique technique – Snapchat filters. The filters allowed the women to shield their identities and tell their stories for the first time without fear of being subject to the societal stigma surrounding rape.
But the power of Snapchat as a storytelling tool goes far beyond this. Speaking exclusively to IBTimes UK, Omar told us about the rise of “selfie journalism” and explained how he and his team at the Hindustan Times are using it to report on sensitive stories and conduct undercover investigations, as well as spread inspiring tales from across India.
“Mobile journalism has given us access to places that we would never have had before and has allowed us to tell stories in a far more discrete and intimate manner,” Omar said. “Nobody who has experienced that kind of horror wants to have a big boom mix and huge lights and a camera waving in their face. It has to be far more subtle.”
Snapchat to empower sexual abuse victims
Omar’s Snapchat coverage of the sexual abuse survivors’ stories was covered by media outlets across the world. Many marvelled in amazement at how seemingly juvenile filters had been used in such a meaningful and impactful way, forever changing the way they view Snapchat.
“Broadcasters have been blurring out faces, using silhouettes, and I just feel like you lose so much information. Facial expressions are critical when trying to understand. For the first time, we got to see somebody whose identity was hidden, but eyes were visible. You could see the drop of the jaw, the expressions on her forehead. It’s so much more intimate for a viewer trying to relate to the story.”
Watch Yusuf helping sexual abuse victims tell their story through Snapchat in the video here.
Omar hopes that in the future him and his interviewees will be able to create their own filters and not have to be restricted to a few pre-composed ones from Snapchat. He said: “If Snapchat open up their APIs and allow people to experiment with those algorithms, there’s no knowing where we could take this technology.”
Despite not being able to create their own filters, the women were definitely empowered during the interview. Omar explained that the women automatically gained trust in him because they could see with their own eyes how their identities would be concealed and they didn’t have to rely on it being done in a studio away from them. They also had the choice to choose which filter they used, deciding how much of their face they wanted to conceal and in which way. Then, they were left to themselves to narrate their own story, rather than be interviewed.
“They flicked until they found a filter that they thought best covered their faces,” said Omar. “That made them feel empowered – it made them feel part of narrative. They were telling their own story. Even more so in the way they directed their attention at that camera. This was a selfie; they were holding the phone. I didn’t even press the record button, I walked away. This was them looking at themselves in the eye and telling the most horrific story they could possibly recount.”
Read the entire article for more on going undercover in search of drugs and the future of ‘selfie journalism’ in India.