Yusuf Omar is a Mobile Journalist. Using just his smartphone and Snapchat, he has been able to uncover stories that could not make it to main-stream media, but are very important and that must be told.
Yusuf and Darrell Stern CEO of Stern Inbound Marketing met in person at Snaphappen, the world’s first Global Snapchat Event.
Here is the interview.
Darrell: When you were, when you were growing up, how did you discover, you know, that journalism and then, and then the deeper issue that you said, well, “Not only am I, am I just gonna be a journalist,” but how did that journey start where you said, “I-I want to tell these…I want to get…I want people to know this.” Tell me a little bit about that.
Yusuf: I think sharing the truth is quite a powerful thing, and there’s no more powerful way to do it than using a mobile device. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent my whole life. I wanted to cover natural disasters, wars, parachute into those really difficult-to-reach places, but I wasn’t the smartest journalist in the room. I wasn’t the most experienced.
I was simply the cheapest, so you could send me out to Syria, for example, and, using a little device, I prepared to give you so much, ph-photos, videos, GIFs, memes, tweets, that complete ecosystem. Uh, and I think that’s how I got into it, by-by virtue of being that one-man-band storyteller, um, which nowadays is-is-is, I think, the future. This idea of selfie journalism, that you can send somebody out there with a singular device and bring back lots of stuff.
Darrell: That’s amazing. So it was kind of like, you know, everything happens at the right time, right? These mobile devices come along. You seem to be [crosstalk][01:35] the guys….
Darrell: “You know what? Why can’t I just be a roving reporter and just take this thing with me and go to these places and cover them for a stand?” Now there’s been that kind of stuff, where amateur people just go out and do it, but it’s a little bit different with you, because you-you studied this, right?
I mean, you wanted to be a journalist from the very beginning, so I-I…talk about this. So-so I’ve heard that we’re-we’re-we’re having this fear that journalism, real journalism, right, is-is going, is dying because of so much of this live recording and everyone’s [crosstalk][02:07] opinions and everyone’s just broadcasting.
Darrell: But there’s a danger in that, because to be a journalist…define for a minute what you think telling the truth means rather than you know what other people are…you know. They’re putting out their opinions and their, you know….
Darrell: They’re causing trouble and they’re causing hysteria and even separation in our society by broadcasting things and-and-and all of that. Talk about what you consider to be, you know, your responsibility as a journalist doing this rather than someone else who’s just out there on social media, you know, broadcasting.
Yusuf: So, I think everybody in the world today that has a mobile phone in their pocket is a reporter.
Yusuf: But I think there’s quite a big difference between being a reporter and being a journalist.
Yusuf: I would call them citizen reporters, not citizen journalists. I think journalism comes with a certain sense of ethics and principles that define what we do and-and-and how we do it. And, interestingly enough, you can post something on Facebook or on Twitter, and it can’t be hate speech. It can’t be racist. But there’s no criteria that it has to be real or that it has to be factual.
Yusuf: Uh, I think that’s why you’re getting so much nonsensical stuff ending up in your timeline. Uh, I think the journalist’s role is changing. It’s now the ability to decipher between all that noise that’s coming through and to find voices that are important. Uh, I think there are more truths than ever before, by virtue of there being more perspectives, more people talking and more angles, uh, on particular stories.
But the role of-of a journalist nowadays is to use a mix of algorithms and technology to work out what’s real and what isn’t based on the amount of people saying something in any given time. And editorial judgment, to know what stories are important, not just what’s popular. I-if we knew what’s popular, your-your newsfeed would be filled with cat videos and probably Star Wars.
Darrell: [laughs] There you go. So what, so what do you think, so what do you think is really an important story? I mean, you’re looking out there to the world, and you’ve said, “Well, I want to go and cover natural disasters, or this or that or-or….” You’ve done some really powerful social issues.
How did those come into your life? How did migrate through there? What’s important to you? If I was…you know, obviously some people want to do serious journalism about politics. Some want to do it about this. So wha-wha-what type of stories really a-attract you and say, “You know what? This is a cause that I believe in. I really want to show people this.”
Yusuf: I think for me it’s often being the people on the fringes of society that haven’t been receiving enough attention from the mainstream media, [crosstalk][04:35] uh, for whatever reason, because they, uh, don’t have the voice to be amplified.
Yusuf: So literally being able to use the immense power of social media to bring a voice to the voiceless. Um, to-to-to amplify their voices. And the selection of their stories, it-it-it’s quite difficulty to say. I-I think they often just come about in travel, to be honest. I think when you travel enough and you have enough experiences, you sort of become a magnet for-for interesting stories and interesting people. And that seems a-a recipe that-that served me for the last few years.
Darrell: Awesome. So, so a lot of people don’t quite understand. Let’s get into a little bit of this Snapchat business. I’m-I’m writing 10-second things? What? You know. They-they don’t at all understand how this would begin. So that platform in particular.
Darrell: Why that? Where it goes away in a day and all of this kind of stuff. Wha…how…how and why do you think that this is, that this is a great way, a great tool for a journalist?
Yusuf: Yeah, I mean Snapchat is on…. The very like façade is a very frivolous app. It was famous for teenagers sharing nudies.
Yusuf: Uh, uh, and you think, “What sort of journalistic or serious storytelling application does it have?” In actuality, those 10-second nuggets are just singular shots, which form part of a greater sequence, uh, which forms a story. For me, it is in its essence the very fastest way to broadcast anything that’s happening without going live.
Darrell: Hah. Right [crosstalk][05:56] there, right?
Yusuf: Uh, pop in, you straight away stream it up to this cloud that is Snapchat, and you can add these elements, uh, these layers on top of video, uh, which means that it’s not three-dimensional but it’s not 2D either. It’s like 2.5. It’s sort of in the middle.
Yusuf: Um, whether it’s adding the time or a Geofilter or whatever it may be. More and more information that helps us verify that what’s happening and-and-and provide people with more details. Uh, and then on top of that, it has such immense technology. The ability to map people’s faces and all of this kind of stuff is really quite complicated stuff, and it’s about looking beyond the gimmicks and seeing, “How can we use that same technology for-for journalistic applications?”
That’s what we did with the sexual abuse survivors, when we had their face. We covered that in some of your earlier coverage. And I think the same goes for any social media front. How can we use musical.ly to-to tell us, to-to get important information to young people?
Yusuf: Uh, how could we tell stories in Pokémon GO? Um, Pokémon GO is an interesting one, because imagine we are currently using imaginary Poké Balls to send people in particular directions. Imagine if we could do the same thing, but s-steer them in the direction of news stories. We know that something’s happening, breaking on the ground right now, and with the same Pokémon Go logic, [crosstalk][07:11] turn the camera on, and send them in that direction
Yusuf: It-it’s about looking for potential in these applications.
Darrell: Wow. So what’s coming up next for you? You’re in Chicago right now?
Darrell: What new stories are coming next? Or obviously we don’t know what’s going to be happening in the world, but do you have something planned? Is there something you wanted to follow up on? Is there a place that you’ve never been that you want to cover? Is it…you know, what’s next for you?
Yusuf: So, at the moment I’m fascinated by the coverage of ISIS in Tikrit, uh, in Mosul. I don’t know if you’ve been following the Snapchat stories, and-and [crosstalk][07:46] I’m fascinated by the way they are taking Snapchats on the ground from soldiers, the nurses to everyday people, and patching together sequences.
Darrell: A little bit.
Yusuf: I’m most interested in this aggregation of-of citizen reporters, of…I think the role of the journalist is going to be to sit back and look at thousands of screens and-and put together as a director, to-to put together a sequence of shots. I want to explore that more in the Indian context. Everybody’s got mobile phones. We’re effectively moving now from 3G to 4G. In 2020, we’re going to see 5G internet.
Yusuf: I think my generation are going to be people that are constantly live all the time. So, my next big project, and-and I think the big project on every journalist’s, uh, radar at the moment, should be how to make sense of those voices and put them together into cogent stories.
Darrell: Kay. That’s amazing. So what is — um, how do people contact you? In other words, if they want to work with you, if they want to contact you, obviously we’ll put up…you know, you’re on Snapchat and all that, but you know, where’s your website? Where are all the…? What’s the best way to get in touch with you [crosstalk][08:51] of all over?
Yusuf: My website is YusufOmar.com. Y-U-S-U-M-O-M-A-R dot com. Otherwise, on every social platform, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, it’s YusufOmarSA. Um, I-I think the messenger apps, and-and it’s the same for you, it-it, the fastest way to get through to somebody is infinitely quicker than an email or even a phone call nowadays. Um, it’s-it’s-it’s really becoming…I think, I think messenger apps are going to kill email, to be honest.
Darrell: I-I, we’re-we’re getting there. I mean, and it’s becoming funny how emojis and all this are becoming part of our vernacular, and I’m starting to see them in emails and-and everything else. You know, all these different kinds…it-it’s almost like hieroglyphics, you know. It’s like, almost like going back to this older type of, you know, communicating with symbols and all that kind of stuff. So anyway, to-to wrap up this interview part, I’m Derrell Stern, and I’m the CEO of Stern Inbound Marketing.
And Yusuf and I met because of Snapchat and because of Snaphappen and because of these connections. You open up an app, and boom. I know people all over the world. Like, you-you know, within a month or two, I-I decided to go London, sponsor the events and all that. Yusuf is amazing because he’s using this technology and understanding how it can be used for social good, which is…and he studies and understands the ethics behind being a great journalist, so we wish you luck [crosstalk][10:08] and yeah.
Yusuf: Thank you so much for the opportunity as always, and I’m so glad to see someone, yourself, who are the posterboy of television, is now on the very forefront of the latest technologies.
Darrell: Well, it-it-it…to me, there’s always, there’s always a-a benefit to what you do. And there…and marketing is theater, which is the art of starting meaningful conversations, so in the, in the same way, I mean that’s how I help a company, you know, market their business. Is, “What is their story?” and, “What? How can we tell these stories?” and then get the conversation going with them.
Darrell: In the same way, in this social thing, what you’re doing is getting people at least to talk about this, at least to start address it, which then starts the grassroots movement up to e-eventually what we would hope become laws, rules and regulations and changes in society, so….
Yusuf: That’s exactly right, especially around, like, sexual abuse in India. I mean, there’s only so many rape stories you can hear, but if you can tell it differently, if you can use technology, uh, to-to bring international attention to a local story, uh, that’s what’s important.
Darrell: Exactly. So great to talk to you.