Why Instagram is This Journalist’s Favorite Tool

by Sonia Narang
June 21, 2017

As I reported in the villages of rural Nepal after the earthquake, I posted iPhone photographs with short dispatches on my Instagram account (@sonianarang). I suddenly found my Instagram feed full of questions about the situation in Nepal, so I kept posting more and more. In my Instagram photos, I tried to showcase the life of regular people I was meeting everyday – women who had built makeshift shelters, young mothers in a tent with their babies, and schoolchildren trying to study despite the disastrous earthquake. For me, Instagram was the perfect tool to get real-time photographs out into the world about how the earthquake had changed people’s lives.

Everyday Instagram Feeds

With more than 700 million people on Instagram as of April 2017, this popular photo-sharing platform has become a powerful tool for journalists globally. The rise of fascinating, region-specific Instagram feeds curated by a wide range of photographers offer an insider’s look into the “everyday” lives of people around the world. Some of my favorite feeds allow me to discover stories, people, and photographers in the Middle East (@everydaymiddleeast), Latin America (@everydaylatinamerica) and Africa (@everydayafrica), right from the palm of my hands.

There are also city-specific Instagram feeds, like the one about the vibrant city of Mumbai, India. Named Everyday Mumbai (@everydaymumbai), this feed has garnered more than 117,000 followers and takes you inside crowded train stations in black & white to the world’s largest outdoor laundromat, the Dhobi Ghat.

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Chirag Wakaskar, the founder and curator of Everyday Mumbai, features photographers from all over the city on his feed. On his blog, Wakaskar writes that the Everyday Instagram feeds have “helped create a whole new generation of storytellers who understand the need and impact of a photograph.” He goes on to say, “nothing quite captures our lives and times like a photograph does. And it needn’t be just about despair and poverty, it could well be something that is part of our daily lives. We are photographing what will eventually be termed as history.”

 

Sonia Narang’s Instagram photo of a family in Fiji who lost their home and moved into a tent after a major cyclone hit the island. Photo by Sonia Narang

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Finding Story Ideas on Instagram

If you think about it, you’ll see that Instagram is a portal of photographs that define who we are as a society, selfies, food pics, and all. For us journalists and storytellers, the benefit of Instagram is two-fold: 1.) Instagram gives us an opportunity to share our view of the world we are documenting 2.) Instagram allows us to peek into the cultures and societies we are planning to cover, thereby offering a plethora of story ideas and potential interview subjects.

Thanks to the ease of searching for places, hashtags, and specific locations within the Instagram app, journalists can use it to look for ideas. In fact, a radio producer colleague at PRI’s The World was able to find and set up interviews with subjects in Iran just by searching for interesting stories on Instagram. She came across an Instagram feed called Studio On (@studio_on), run by two young Iranian women furniture designers. She set up interviews with these designers about their life and workshop in Tehran, resulting in a really lovely slice of life story by The World’s host Marco Werman, “These Iranian entrepreneurs are building a future out of wood.”

 

Sonia Narang’s Instagram photo of a Buddhist monk near Mandalay, Burma. Photo by Sonia Narang

Video Features and Photographers to Follow

In recent months, Instagram has added many new features, including Instagram Stories, which allows users to post a series of videos snippets for a 24-hour-window (a la Snapchat), and Live Video Streaming capability. This feature allows journalists to share live smartphone videos with their followers. Once a video ends, it’s no longer visible on Instagram, so I don’t have any links to share! I’ve seen photographers and journalists use this feature to document all kinds of things, from travel ban protests at major U.S. airports to international city walkabouts. It’s pretty cool when someone you’re following starts a live video feed in some far-flung part of the world and you can join in immediately.

While Instagram seems to be drowning in selfies and mediocre photographs at best, there are many gems if you know where to look. Some of my favorite Instagram accounts include National Geographic (@natgeo) for eye-opening photos ranging from Amazonian tribes to Arctic landscapes and The New York Times (@nytimes) for stunning feature photographs and portraits.

As for individual photographers, there are so many to choose from, and my favorites showcase the intricacies of a specific culture, place, or region. I follow a number of amazing women photojournalists, including Stephanie Sinclair (@stephsinclairpix) who has photographed child marriage worldwide, Nicole Tung (@nicoletung) who covers the Middle East, and Allison Joyce (@allisonsarahjoyce) who has documented the struggles of the Rohingya at the Bangladesh-Burma border. Here in the U.S., I am always intrigued by new Instagram posts in my feed from NYC-based photographers Nina Berman (@nina_berman) and Ruddy Roye (@ruddyroye).

 

Sonia Narang captured this iPhone photo of a large rally in front of a U.S. military base in Okinawa. Photo by Sonia Narang.

Unleash the Power of Instagram

You too can take advantage of the full range of features in Instagram with a little help from my online workshop on June 28, 2017. In my Webinar titled “How to Use Instagram as a Reporting Tool,” you’ll learn how to use Instagram to report and photograph stories in the field using your mobile phone.

This training will offer useful tips on taking creative photos, filming and editing video snippets, editing photos within the Instagram app, writing effective captions, and sparking discussions around your Instagram posts. You’ll also learn how to use the platform to find interview subjects or search for story ideas.

The training is open to anyone. If you’re a multimedia, print, radio, or video journalist who is beginning to experiment with Instagram, or even an editor who wants to encourage reporters to use Instagram, this will get you started on the right path. Maybe one day, you’ll be listed as one of the “Top Instagram Accounts to Follow!”

Sonia Narang is a multimedia journalist who covers social issues and international stories for PRI’s The World and News Deeply. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @sonianarang.

Tagged: instagram iphone Mobile Photography photography photos social media sonia narang webinar
  • DANIELLE LERMAN

    This is a great post. Very informative and interesting. Do you think that journalists will get the majority of their cover stories from Instagram? Do you think other social media websites such as Facebook will be able to be as helpful? It has a lot of the same features and a ton of people use Facebook, maybe more than they use Instagram