In the converged newsroom, multimedia skills will be the key to your future career. In the first instalment of a new regular guide, Kimberly Porteous explains the basics of this powerful news technology.
What is news multimedia?
News multimedia is the use of multiple forms to cover a news event or issue in the most effective way, taking advantage of the strengths of text, photography, audio, graphics, interactivity and documentary film-making.
Each element complements the other without redundancy. For example, producing a video which tells exactly the same story as the original print report is needless doubling up; unless they complement each other this is not multimedia.
News websites have expanded their reporting to include many of these modes – and sophisticated packages combining them – whether their parent organisation is broadcast or print.
And they’re kicking goals. The Detroit Free Press and San Jose Mercury News have won Emmy Awards for their video efforts, taking on the broadcasters at their own game. In April The New York Times won a Peabody Award, the US radio and television industry’s prize for excellence, for “aggressively and imaginatively adding sound and moving images to the news that’s fit to print”. The judges anointed the newspaper “a leader in the emergence of new journalistic forms”.
Why should you bother?
- Multimedia empowers us to produce better journalism. We are no longer limited to one platform. Instead we can produce richer, deeper reports by exploiting the strengths of each. Another way to think of it: multimedia allows news providers to ensure their brand retains its quality or cachet when online.
- Mastering new storytelling forms is inspiring and exciting for journalists. Exploring multimedia reminds you of the thrills of this game – why you got into reporting in the first place.
- By innovating news delivery and storytelling, smart news websites stand out from the competitors. Audiences are digitally literate; faced with blandness or sites that look the same and run the same content, they need to be given a reason to stick around on yours.
- Making your publication look good makes you look good. Keeping skills current in our increasingly competitive marketplace makes us a lot more employable. Multimedia raises your marketability as newsrooms are shrinking by the day.
Multimedia cheatlist: when is each format the best?
Multimedia is a collaborative process bringing together strengths and expertise around the newsroom, but typically overseen by a multimedia editor or team. They assess a story and devise which combination would be the most effective to convey information and engage the audience, by weighing up the advantages of each format:
Text: When the power of words contributes to the narrative, or a story is analytical or otherwise difficult to tell visually, or when your subjects won’t speak on camera or onto tape. A computer screen isn’t the optimum way to digest lengthy slabs of text (although this may change with the next generation), so when creating a multimedia story it’s best to keep text short, or separated by bullet-points or sub-heads.
Photography: A potent way to tell a story using the magic of frozen moments. Use photography when you need to show the story to readers to capture them. Take advantage of the infinite space on the online platform and run a photo essay or slideshow with a narrative arc; don’t just dump a pile of images in random order. Make sure each image loads quickly, because nothing aggravates readers more than forcing them to wait for each photo to view.
Audio: When your audience needs to hear the voices involved, or a particular noise is the story’s subject. Sound adds authenticity and emotion and is extremely powerful when combined with still photography in an audio slideshow: a storytelling tool much greater than the sum of its parts. They’re a natural for newspapers with photojournalists on staff and easy access to images. Audio slideshows are much less expensive and faster to produce than video.
Graphics: When the audience needs to see a process to understand the story. Can be used to break down events over time and space step-by step, make comparisons or map complex data in new and visually absorbing ways.
Interactivity: Forums attached to talking stories promote a sense of community and compel readers to spend more time on your site to follow the discussion. Interactivity can also refer to a user-initiated graphic which allows readers to make decisions about navigating their own path, thereby developing their comprehension.
Video: When motion is important, e.g., a plane flying into a building, or a drunk high-jumper; or else emotion, e.g., revealing body language. Less effective as a “talking head” interview.
First steps to learning multimedia journalism
- Print reporters: Master audio interviewing to get broadcast-friendly standalone answers in response; learn to operate audio equipment such as digital recorders and the correct use of microphones.
- Radio reporters: Explore ways to add still images or video to your reports for publishing online.
- Graphic artists: Learn to convert print graphics to animated infographics using Flash and Actionscript.
- Photographers: Take the opportunity to shoot structured photo essays. Think like a cinematographer and shoot wide, medium, tight and extratight. Pick up an audio recorder and produce a soundtrack to your photo essay. Graduate to a video camera once you’ve got the knack of multimedia storytelling.
- All journalists: Suggest an online discussion forum to run with your story, and volunteer to moderate the comments yourself. Yes, it can be confronting, but readers will love the chance to speak with you directly and appreciate any responses you post. It’s also a good way to win over detractors.
Over the next few months we’ll go into tools, techniques and the most important element of them all, storytelling. Because while the technology is new, the principles remain the same: it is still about the story. Multimedia simply gives you new tools to expand your craft and produce even more powerful journalism.
Kimberley Porteous has a Walkley Award for her work as The Sydney Morning Herald’s multimedia editor
Jon Kudelka is a freelance cartoonist; view more of Jon's work