“My remit, as a journalist for the BBC, is to reach new and underserved audiences”
The BBC World Service is innovating. The English-language channel released its first Instagram documentary, part of a new push to attract and engage younger audiences. The 10-minute vertical video, titled The Instagram witches of Brooklyn, takes us on a journey through the spiritual movement of "brujeria" (an Afro-Latina term meaning witchcraft) that has gained additional visibility thanks to Instagram. BBC director and journalist Sophia Smith Galer discusses the appeal of the platform. With a big following on TikTok (78,000 subscribers), she also tells us about the growing importance of the Chinese app in disseminating information.
Where did the idea for a documentary adapted to Instagram for the BBC come from? What was your objective?Sophia Smith Galer – My remit as a journalist for the BBC is to reach new and underserved audiences – Instagram is a brilliant vehicle for us to put out stories that engage with younger demographics. This is, of course, in addition to the fact that the documentary itself was also about how these women use Instagram.
What feedback have you had? What are the advantages of Instagram for this type of content? Since it went online on April 1, the report has been viewed more than 10,000 times...S.S.G. – Given the bruja community is very active on Instagram, I knew that it would be guaranteed healthy engagement from the audience, many of whom have never seen themselves or their religious practices reflected back to them in mainstream media. It was very successful for us in terms of our usual IGTV figures and I was particularly impressed by the number of users who saved the video to their collections or sent it privately to a friend. These are hidden interactions which, as a film-maker, are the most important analytics to measure – they really show that the film had enough impact to make lots of people want to share it with their private circles.
You said in one of your interviews, "the gatekeeper of mainstream media tend to keep online videos quite secular." What did you mean by that?S.S.G. – It has traditionally been quite difficult for religion reporters, particularly in the British media space which is very secular, to convince editors of the relevance and importance of religion stories. Fortunately, I work somewhere that has a specific remit to cater for diverse religious communities.
Are there any sources of inspiration influencing your videos on Instagram? What are your tips for creating an effective video for social networks such as Instagram?S.S.G. – A big inspiration for me is Olivia le Poidevin, an excellent digital film-maker for BBC Minute, another BBC World Service Instagram account that makes brilliant content for young audiences. I also really like the films that the BBC Gender and Identity correspondent Megha Mohan makes with Yousef Eldin – they bring in YouTubey elements without losing BBC house style or authority and that's exactly the sort of style I want to mirror.
My advice is for it to be well-paced, hashtag-sourced and unafraid to play with user-generated content.