Q&A with Viktorija Mickute, senior producer at AJ Contrast

Highlights from our IG Live with OWM Award winner, Viktorija Mickute, senior producer at AJ Contrast who won the Digital Media Award this year. Viktorija spoke to us about How to create immersive digital media. Interact with Viktorija’s award winning piece, Inaccessible Cities, here.


Q: How did you choose this particular story? 

A: People with disabilities are among some of the most excluded and isolated. We wanted to cover dive deeper into issues that are underrepresented in mainstream media. We wanted to focus specifically on women because disability is more prevalent amongst women – three quarters of people with disabilities in low income and middle income countries are women.

We also wanted to look at a specific issue which we decided was to look at the big cities – what happens for people with disabilities if they don’t have access, are the cities created equal for everyone?

Around 68% of people, of all people are gonna live in the urban cities by 2050. So it means the cities will gonna grow, more people will live there. How do we adjust those cities if they’re not accessible to the people who need to use them?

And so we decided to look at public transport, a system we all use. Then we wanted to go wider to showcase other systemic issues, social barriers, physical barriers, any laws that might create challenges for people with disabilities, navigating these cities, or just living in these places. 


Q: How did you develop the idea and format for the story? 

A: I’m a senior producer at AJ Contrast, which is Al Jazeera Digital’s Media Innovation Studio. It’s a very small studio and we’re focusing on using technology and innovative ways to tell stories about communities and with communities most impacted by conflict and injustice. So we focus on different communities and look to experiment, to add something new to the digital media world.

We wanted to do create an interactive website to be as accessible as possible, which includes a mobile version. It also brings up the discussion in journalism, in the digital media space – what can we incorporate into our everyday processes so that our products are more accessible to more people? It has subtitles and audio descriptions. It has alternative text, which describes images. We adjusted the design quite a bit. We made sure the titles for the buttons are descriptive enough but also informative. 

At AJ Contrast, we are very small team. So for every project we work on, we hire freelancers and find people we think would best fit the project. We had journalists and a photojournalist in each city. As a producer, it was very important for me to find the right people. We wanted to focus on one character in each city who could tell us a story about the city, tell us about the country, tell us what they do. And we wanted to find characters who are not only express the challenges they face but also use their activism towards change in their communities.


Q: Was there a learning that you didn’t expect or a particular challenge while working on this story? 

A: Disability intersects with plenty. For example, when we’re saying that unemployment rates are high, if a person cannot use public transport, they won’t be able to get to a job. These things are connected and it’s very important to always look at issues through the lens of gender, poverty, societal norms, cultural norms. 


Q: What did it mean to you to get the One World Media award? 

A: It’s a huge achievement. When working on the project, we don’t think about awards. You want to achieve awareness through the story because it needs to be told and then see how people respond to it. That’s very rewarding. And to see how exciting it was for the women who were part of the story. They put in so much effort and were so vulnerable. They really put themselves out there telling a story that would reach millions of people. It’s a very personal story  and they were very brave to do share it. For this to be acknowledged and for them to be the focus, knowing that their stories are read, people are talking about it, people are in tears and that it strikes a chord around the world. I think that’s a big achievement. 

We wanted from the very beginning to dedicate this to our character in Lagos who passed away after the project was published. These words, we are receiving are in her honour and for her activism. She dreamed of being a Paralympian one day and to create events for people with disabilities in Lagos and other parts of the world. Spaces where they can be celebrated and connect with each other. This Award is for her so that her words are being heard, these stories are being read and this project continues to grow.