Teach a little, learn a loT
Keywords: advising, multimedia, journalism
When I started advising a scholastic newspaper, I was pretty sure that if I learned how to write like a journalist, I would be well on my way to a successful program.
I wasn’t entirely wrong. Mastering news-writing skills is crucial for new journalists, and learning to write like a journalist means learning how to write well. As Tim Harrower points out in “Inside Reporting,” the lessons Hemingway learned during his time on the Kansas City Star “were the best rules [he] ever learned for the business of writing.”
But the days when narrow rows of text ruled journalism are past. Today’s journalists need more than words to engage and inform their readerships.
Still photography is perhaps the oldest journalistic multimedia tool, but it is still one of the best ways to tell a story. To introduce this format to students, watch LA-based Sean Hiller taking the viewer through a day in the life of a photojournalist for news coverage and Renée C. Byer giving voice to the voiceless through documentary photojournalism. Looking at this Q&A with the curator of a Pulitzer Prize-winning photography exhibit, which features 10 award-winning images, is another testament to the power of a still image.
When my students’ newspaper went to a digital-only platform five years ago, however, I knew we had to explore beyond the world of text and still photography to take advantage of the vast potential of multimedia journalism.
We’ve made progress as a publication since then, but we — and especially Gen-Xer me — still have a long way to go.
“Not all stories make good multimedia stories,” Jane Stevens writes, and that is perhaps the most important thing to remember on this techno-journey. Just because we can use multimedia doesn’t mean we always should.
News judgment used to mean determining whether an event was newsworthy, but it now also means judging how best to tell those newsworthy stories.
“With multimedia journalism, we choose the medium that best fits the story we are telling. If there aren’t any good pictures to be had, then we don’t have to use video or stills. If a story doesn’t lend itself to a pictorial treatment, then we can use text to tell it,” Andy Bull writes in “Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide.”
Each medium has strengths and weaknesses, from the power of text to explain and analyze to the immediacy of video in breaking news situations.
“The best multimedia stories are multi-dimensional,” Stevens writes. They involve “some combination of text, still photographs, video clips, audio, graphics and interactivity presented on a Web site in a nonlinear format in which the information in each medium is complementary, not redundant.”
In the past, my students have sometimes thrown in an audio clip sidebar of a source saying something they then quote directly in the text of the article. Multimedia? Well, technically, but not good multimedia. Redundant, not complementary.
One of the greatest challenges of multimedia journalism is the ever-changing nature of available tools and platforms. Storify used to be one of the most popular, but it will be shutting down in May. What will take its place? Tagboard? Norkon Live Center?
Because of the rapid pace of technology, my goal for the semester is to deepen my understanding of the underlying philosophies of multimedia journalism. Learning about tools is important, but I’m more interested in the mindset of a modern multimedia journalist. Regardless of whether they used SoundCloud or some other audio tool, I want my students to grasp why including two versions of the same quote in a story isn’t good journalism.
After all, “There’s no consensus among journalists about what the term multimedia means, or even whether to use it anymore,” according to digital journalism professor Mindy McAdams; it “continues to evolve as more journalists experiment with the possibilities opened up by new digital tools and techniques.”
So, as fellow Gen-Xer Ani Difranco once sang, that is my goal as a journalism adviser this semester: “I am trying to evolve / I'm just trying to evolve.”
“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream