Multimedia for breaking news: Start doing it!

A lot of multimedia work is features work. Breaking news might be covered with video, but of course the imperative is to get it online ASAP. This breaking-news Soundslides about a protest in Kennebunkport, Maine, has a heck of a lot of good stuff in it. Why don’t we see more like this?

When a news site does not get a lot of viewers for its multimedia work, I look for two causes:

  1. Is it hard to find your multimedia? Is there a prominent, permanent link on the home page? A link in the text story? A link people can e-mail to their friends?
  2. Is there any news value in your multimedia?

Dan Limmer is a freelance photojournalist up in Maine, and he made the Kennebunkport slideshow while being paid at a daily rate by the York County Coast Star, a weekly newspaper that’s associated with the Web site Seacoast Online.

Dan wrote in e-mail:

I was there from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. I had about two hours of stills editing and four hours of multimedia editing. It was a solo gig for me, shooting, recording and editing. It was posted online the next morning. …

Getting good sound was most challenging when the protesters and counter-protesters clashed. I had to do sound and stills almost simultaneously. I try at all costs to keep camera shutter sounds out of multimedia.

Here’s what I would change in the slideshow:

  • References to “Sunday.” There’s no date on this piece. This is not a newspaper. Every multimedia package needs a full date, including the year, embedded in the text that is part of the package.
  • I would use less of the audio from the first woman — it’s good audio, but it’s just not worth that many seconds. I would like to hear more variety. After her audio, we do get that variety — but it’s possible that some people would have quit already. Likewise, there are too many photos of the same thing (a flag-draped casket) right there at the beginning.
  • I would like to see more than one of the “counter-protesters” and hear something from at least one of them. But Dan pointed out in e-mail that protesters outnumbered the counter-protesters about 100 to 1: “I wanted a balanced presentation, and while I was sent for the ‘local angle,’ the show wouldn’t have been complete without showing the scope of the protest both in numbers and conflict.”
  • The ending of the audio chops off too abruptly — and I do mean the sound, not the content. The closing quote is a good ending. What’s needed is a short fade-out in the audio track, which is very easy to do in almost every audio editing program.
  • The newspaper really needs to create a proper template for its Soundslides, with a nameplate and an “e-mail this” link.

What I do like — a lot  — about this package is the sense of being there, at the scene. Unlike the typical single photo in the newspaper, or the 90 seconds on TV, this package shows me that a variety of people came to this event (not just the weird-looking ones, which we are too likely to emphasize in photos). The sound also gives me a sense of location. Combined with the pictures that show a deep blue sky and a park with trees, the slideshow succeeds well at putting me in the place.

It becomes an experience. It involves me. It wraps me up and takes me somewhere.

It’s not full of facts and figures. I don’t know how long the event lasted. I don’t know how many people attended. I don’t know who the speakers were. I think that’s all okay. I think this piece works very well to inform me — not comprehensively, but in a way that helps me understand something that maybe I didn’t really know before: What was the protest like? What kind of people went there? What did they do?

Audio and still photos are great at conveying that kind of information.

Dan thinks it might be problematic if a package like this one were edited by someone who never went to the scene:

If a paper employed a producer, it would help overall in time/resource management. But in a news situation, I would want to be sure the multimedia was mixed in context to the photos and in accordance with ethical standards. That may be difficult for someone who wasn’t there.

The concept of editing audio and integrating still photos (the “vision” aspect of the multimedia) can’t be overlooked as challenging and time consuming. Going back to square one after already mixing sound once because it doesn’t flow or tell a story is a drag. Fortunately, this one came together on the first try.

It’s a very important question: Will a producer who was not on the scene tell the story accurately? Obviously, the photographer could sit down with the producer and ensure that the real story comes through. But in cases where that’s not possible, what will be done to ensure that the finished product is accurate and true?

8 Comments on “Multimedia for breaking news: Start doing it!

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  4. What I like best here is the deconstruction that Dan does on his own Soundslides presentation and he is not easy on himself, nor should he be. He obviously has the chops to turn out a top notch SS presentation; getting that quality of audio, while also shooting the stills is an art form.

    Still, he has the sense to go that extra step and do a full on critic of his own work, that makes him a better photojournalist and it makes for a better product in the future.

    The thousands of wannabe multimedia photographers out there slinging together a half-ass SS production (or worse, a cheesy video) would do well to just study Dan’s self-critic here.

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