Leading Millennials: Yusuf Omar, Hindustan Times

Yusuf Omar’s job is to help drive mobile innovation at Hindustan Times. He works on prototyping new ways to drive engagement and storytelling.

He appears here as part of our stories to identify the evolving generation of professionals in the service of journalism. Yusuf can be reached at journalisminaction@gmail.com.


How did you get into this role at HT?

After six years of experimenting with selfie journalism, I joined Hindustan Times to teach others how to do the same. My one-man-band storytelling started in Cairo during Egypt’s (first) Arab Spring and has spanned from the frontlines of the Syrian civil war to protests in South Africa. I was never the most experienced journalist, nor the best writer, but simply the cheapest correspondent in the newsroom. Being able to capture photos, videos, gifs, memes and more with just a mobile phone became a cost effective way to scale multimedia.

I help newsrooms find their Mojo — Mobile Journalism — I built a Mojo team of 12 millennial at eNews Channel Africa (eNCA) in South Africa.

But everything’s bigger in India. The opportunity at Hindustan Times was to scale Mojo training up to 750 storytellers. If they produce just one story a month each, that’s 25 videos a day! India is the world’s biggest video market (besides the media-censored China). Today, half India’s internet traffic is video and by 2020 it’ll be 75%. That’s a lot of eyeballs to share our videos.

What do you love about what you do?

If you’ve got a powerful story to tell, it can go viral and no one can stop you sharing it with the world. Enabling journalists to see the potential of their phones is rewarding, not just as a communication tool but the most powerful weapon they’ll ever own.

As a journalist I can tell one or maybe two stories a day. As the Mobile Editor, I empower hundreds of journalists with video skills and help shape dozens of their videos daily. The impact of my storytelling is amplified.

Where do you struggle most?

Fragmentation is the ‘F word’ for mobile journalism trainers. We have 75 different types of mobile devices in our newsroom, from a $4 Freedom 251 to an iPhone 7. Finding apps and hardware that work across all devices is a nightmare. Maintaining quality is even harder.

Teaching print journos to think visually is another teething problem. We encourage good habits from day one; storyboarding and writing to visuals. A print journalist can come back to the office and fill in the gaps with their memory, but with mobile video, we need the shots!

Convincing old hacks to adopt new tricks hasn’t been that hard. They see the world is moving towards robo-journalism, where every story that can be automated will be automated. To survive, they need the skills to be ‘RoboCop journos’, armed with lots of storytelling skills.

What’s one thing you would like to do better?

Communicating changes in our workflow is something we’re continually improving on. Mobile apps are moving so quickly that our processes are evolving daily as we find faster and more efficient ways to repackage content. But rapid innovation is also confusing to newbies. Today I’ll tell you Snapchat is the best linear storytelling app. Next week it’s something else. We’re ok with constant change and people tend to go with the flow. But the flow must be communicated, rationalized and justified.

My mojo days are numbered because user generated content is looking more and more like the videos I shoot on an iPhone. Ironically, I don’t see a future of journalists going out and capturing footage with their phones.

What do you think the next 3 years look like for you in terms of learnings and growth?

My mojo days are numbered because user generated content is looking more and more like the videos I shoot on an iPhone. Ironically, I don’t see a future of journalists going out and capturing footage with their phones. I shoot on an iPhone and so does our audience and the gap in our output image quality is closing. Even 360 cameras and virtual reality technology is now within a consumer’s grasp. So progress must come from our story formats, quality of narratives and providing more than just the images. It’s going to be about insights, commentary and wisdom.

Platforms will win the breaking news game. I believe Snapchat and Facebook are already the world’s biggest breaking news channels.

By 2020, I hope to be working at the intersection of aggregation, artificial intelligence and mixed reality. I’d explain further but I don’t really understand them yet!

What is the biggest thing you know today that you didn’t know a year ago?

Don’t write off any social media platform as being too childish, frivolous or not designed for news. Try them all and look for the potential behind the gimmicks.

That’s why we used Snapchat to hide the faces of sexual abuse survivors. Because we saw the storytelling tool, not the toy. I want to know how we can do news with Pokemon Go. Drawing people to capture events with their cameras by placing Pokeballs strategically. Why not?

What are the top 3 things that would motivate you in a job?

1. People, working with passionate people who live for this.

2. Impact, we are hopeless romantics who still believe we can change the world. I want to work on stories that have a positive impact and use social media for social good. That’s constructive journalism.

3. Freedom, I need the broadest creative mandate to drive innovation in news, experiment with new storytelling forms and technologies.

Where do you find inspiration?

The kids in the room bring new ideas. I’m 27 but already feel old when trying to understand the addictive nature of Musically, Pokemon Go and Kik. Watch how they use apps and merge their virtual and real world lifestyles.

What are some of the attributes you most admire in the people you currently work with?

In Hindi they call it ‘Jugaad’ or frugal innovations. My team in India do everything with nothing. You can halve the budget yet they’ll double the output, that’s creativity!

Young people value experiences, travel and social media capital. The last one is important.

What you do know about managing young talent in newsrooms that most managers probably don’t get?

Money isn’t our only motivation. Young people value experiences, travel and social media capital. The last one is important. Tag young people’s social media handles to publicly credit their work. While followers, likes and retweets don’t pay the bills, social street credit means the world to them.

What kind of a boss would bring out the best in you?

The best editors I’ve worked with never said ‘no.’ They only improve on bad ideas and make good pitches great. Great bosses create an environment where you can move quickly and aren’t afraid to get it wrong. They don’t tell you to walk before you run, but instead help you fly. That starts with trust, getting junior staff around boardroom meetings to help make big decisions.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a boss?

“Do simple ideas, get complex results” — Nicholas Dawes (former Chief Content Officer at HT).

Your greatest journalism skill today is the ability to acquire new skills… It’s a lifestyle choice.

If someone came up to you seeking advice on whether he or she should get into journalism, what would you say?

Your greatest journalism skill today is the ability to acquire new skills. You need to love media, technology and people because at that intersection you’ll find journalism. This is not a career. It’s a lifestyle choice.


Leading Millennials

We’re looking for people with an elasticity in their views of media and journalism. It’s rare.

The faces of people in the service of journalism are often found on stage. They are often the heads of their newsrooms. They are often men. There’s little space on stage for the younger people sitting further down the hierarchy of these newsrooms. I want to tell their stories because some of them could one day redefine this industry.

So if you want to be featured here (or know of someone who should), drop me an email. I’m alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com.