If you read this blog regularly, you know I have a problem with long multimedia segments. It’s my problem — I have no attention span. Well, here’s a switch: When the War Comes Home, a purpose-built photo slideshow with audio, is almost 7 minutes long. Aiyeee! (I screamed silently when it had finally finished loading and the Start Slideshow button appeared.)
I’m recommending that you close the door, sit down, and settle in to watch this right now. It’s exceptional. Great content, awesome photo editing, and one of the best audio tracks I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. The intermingling of multiple voices (without ever becoming unintelligible) reaches the heights of art, and yet still perfectly serves the story.
Producer and audio editor: Alexandra Garcia. Photographer and audio gathering: Andrea Bruce. Photo editing: Alexandra Garcia and Tom Kennedy. Text editor: Tanya N. Ballard. Design: Nelson Hsu. Kudos to all.
When you approach an online project, you have a lot of tools and opportunities at your disposal. How do you decide what to do, what to use, how to tell the story?
There are exactly five media types for you to consider:
Text How much will a person read on a Web page? Is there a limit? Maybe. My informal analyses have shown that a typical long-form print journalism story “switches gears” after 300-400 words, then again after 600-800, etc. (See my Web writing tips.)
Photos Even one relevant, quality photo might make the story more interesting to the onlineuser. Don’t forget to get pictures! Standard mug shots are not interesting. Posed photo ops are not interesting. Make it big enough to see! (Tiny photos are hardly worth it!) Some online photos are saved improperly; this makes the file size over-large and the download slow. (Do gaudy ads on the page diminish the impact of the photo?)
Graphics Can you illustrate any part of the story? Can you use a geographical map? A diagram? A bar chart or pie chart to compare numbers? Users can understand better and faster when certain kinds of information are presented visually. Plan ahead and get the graphic artists involved early in your story. For each graphic opportunity, consider whether animation would help tell the story, and whether 3-D is warranted or practical.
Audio If you can get people in your story to speak, the user will get more out of hearing their real voices. Let them tell their own story. It only takes a little practice to gather good audio. If the photographer can’t or won’t do it, then send someone else along. All reporters should invest in a decent, sturdy, omni-directional microphone, such as the Electro-Voice 635 series. Check out my page of audio links if all this is new to you.
Video When is video justified? When does it complement or enhance the story? Video always requires a big download. This is becoming much less burdensome as more people get broadband Internet connections, but most video online still makes the user wait. After the video begins to play, how long will the user sit and watch before getting a twitchy mouse finger? As online video becomes easier to produce, we are seeing more junk video on journalism Web sites. Don’t put up junk. (See a few more video tips.)
Everything you put online should be accurate, interesting, short and well edited.
Katie Ratcliffe, a graphics editor with Agence France-Presse, interviewed multimedia journalism educators Alberto Cairo, Laura Ruel and me about some major Flash packages that covered U.S. election topics. The interview (complete with links to the Flash graphics) is at The Editors Weblog.
I like this comment by Laura in particular:
What those who create presentations need to do is think more critically about the strengths/weakness of all storytelling options available. The value of Web-based storytelling is that the reporter/designer/producer is not limited by any one storytelling method. Immersive experiences use the best medium for each part of the message and wrap that into a integrated, seamless multimedia experience.
And Alberto pointed out:
You need to train and specialize people. Forget about doing interactive presentations without any investment. Convince yourself that the Internet is not a threat, but a huge opportunity.
My advice is to get the print information graphics desk involved and make at least a couple of hires that would work for the website full time. One of them would be an information graphics artist with animation, 3D and interaction design skills. The other one would be a journalist/designer (an artist might be my choice) with deep Actionscript, XML and PHP knowledge. You cannot survive without someone that has those kinds of skills. Online presentations are not about ‘translating’ your print infographics to the Web, that never works. It’s about understanding what the languages (and the limitations) of the Web are.
One of the first steps is NOT to start learning a new software program but rather to understand usability and information design. A great place to begin is with the very short, very readable book Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug.
In a four-day online auction, MSNBC.com won the exclusive Internet rights for a feature about Iraqi Kurdistan by photographer Ed Kashi. The feature was produced by MediaStorm. We’ll see the premiere on Nov. 13.
Kashi originally shot the pictures on assignment for National Geographic.
The piece produced by [Brian] Storm [president of MediaStorm] uses virtually every frame that Kashi shot for the project. “It’s probably somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 frames,” Storm estimates. The frames run in order, quickly, like old-fashioned flipbook animation, to create a hybrid between still and moving pictures.
Jacob Hannah made this Soundslides about the World Cup of Freestyle Kayaking for the Watertown (N.Y.) Daily Times. First, the action shots are awesome! I just love looking at these. Second, the audio track is very interesting — Hannah intercut one-on-one interviews with a radio announcer calling the competition. The photo editing really works — I like the shots of the spectators, and the Japanese announcer.
The only thing that disappointed me was the lack of captions. I’m assuming that all the competitors could be ID’d, and it would be nice to see that information along with some of these gorgeous shots.
Call today “TV News Day” at my blog, because here is an informative inside look at the job of a TV news Web producer from Mike McGuff, a Web producer for KTRK-TV in Houston, Texas. Here’s part of what his interview subject, Amanda Norwig of KPRC-TV, also in Houston, had to say:
The pace is incredibly fast. Many times news makes it to the web site before it appears on TV. People want to know what’s happening when it’s happening. In my case, I have found that being able to decipher scanner traffic has been a huge asset. While I do not use the information [from] the scanners for my stories, I am able to mentally prepare for a breaking story while the assignments editors are confirming information.
McGuff has been interviewing lots of folks, it turns out, about Breaking into Journalism. As a TV guy, he does very short interviews, which is really nice!
Here’s some of what Carlo Cecchetto of KFMB-TV in San Diego told McGuff about TV reporting, for example:
I think the biggest key to success for me, when it comes to being live, is a lack of fear. I try not to worry about being embarrassed, or making a mistake. It’s live TV, strange things happen. Accept that, and you can just focus on what you’re saying. As much as possible, try to talk to the audience, be conversational. Other than that, have others watch your airchecks and tell you what they think.
Live television is also brimming with potential technical gotchas and you have to learn to maneuver around them. Sometimes the lead story doesn’t make it in time for the top of the newscast. A live shot isn’t strong enough to take to air. Tapes break. Equipment malfunctions. Again, you have to keep your cool and have a backup plan — and perhaps a backup to the backup plan and communicate it to your anchors and crew. You are the captain of this ship. If you sail in rough waters, everybody needs fair warning, and they’ll be depending on you for steering.
You know, sometimes people with a print news background get really snarky about our fellow journalists working in TV news. Well, that’s not fair. They have different working conditions and different demands from their bosses, but they’re out there trying to report the news, just like the print and online folks are.