Teaching Examples

Multimedia for beginners
March 9, 2007, 2:57 pm
Filed under: education, journalism, multimedia, online, teaching, training

If you are the person sitting in the newsroom and thinking, “I’ve got to learn this multimedia stuff!” — your big question is, “Where do I begin?”

This post is designed to help you make a decision and get started.

First, what is your main skillset? Are you a print reporter, a print photographer or a news graphic artist? (I have to admit, I don’t know enough about TV journalism jobs to help you if that’s where you are. Maybe I’ll interview some folks and put that in a later post.)

Reporters and Photojournalists

Both reporters and photojournalists should begin with audio.

Step 1: First get yourself an inexpensive kit. Then take it out and practice. You don’t have to put your first efforts online for the whole world to hear. Just practice.

Step 2: Open up any audio editing program and start editing that audio. Save it in the MP3 file format. Listen to it with headphones.

Step 3: Take your kit out again and bring back something better! Repeat.

The Video Question

Why not start with video? Maybe you don’t have the choice where you work — someone shoved a video camera into your hand and said, “Take this and use it!”

Well, if that’s what you’ve got to do, make the best of it by learning something about what makes good video online and why. I think the best way to do that would be to put a couple of blogs on your daily must-read list: Angela Grant’s In the Circle and Cyndy Green’s VideoJournalism. You will learn a ton if you do.

If you’re already a photographer, you will be shooting interesting video pretty quickly. If you’re a reporter with no photo background, you really need to do some homework so that you understand the grammar of the medium and are able to improve the visual content of your work.

What About Editing the Video?

The photojournalists should start editing immediately. For them, it will enhance the experience and improve their work in ways that make the time spent very worthwhile.

The reporters might never edit their own video. Why? Because if they are not visually adept to begin with, the outcome will be lots of time spent and very little gained. The bottom line: Stories that should have been covered did not get covered, because the reporter wasted hours cursing at an editing program when he or she could have been out in the field.

However — and this is an important “however”! — anyone who shoots video should sit down with an editor and watch (and listen to the complaints) to learn how to shoot better video next time.

Of course, some reporters will take to video editing — but most reporters should not be required to edit video. In most cases, it is an inefficient allocation of resources.

Soundslides or Flash?

The photojournalists should start using Soundslides either simultaneously with audio gathering or very soon afterward. Soundslides is incredibly simple to learn and to use — anyone can do it.

There’s been a bit of talk about bad Soundslides. I agree, there’s a lot of mediocre and boring work out there right now. But people are still learning. Don’t let the negativity stop you. Soundslides is your easiest entry into online storytelling. You’re working with a photo story, which you already understand. Now you will add audio and learn a new form of pacing.

If you have been using Soundslides for a while and you’re starting to feel constrained by the limitations, then it’s time to start learning Flash to enhance your own storytelling.

But not before that.

Should reporters learn Soundslides? I think they ought to at least try it. But don’t make your photographers angry by allowing a non-visual person to ruin their work in a bad Soundslides, okay? Be nice to one another. You’re blazing a new trail together.

The News Graphic Artist

This is the person who has the least time to learn Flash and the biggest reason to learn it. If this is you, stop putting it off and start now. You don’t need to learn audio, and you don’t need to ever touch Soundslides — the very first thing you need to do is start using the one program that can animate, enhance and expand your own special journalism work.

The good news is, it will take only a couple of days to teach yourself enough to do work like this Boston homicides graphic. Make that your No. 1 goal — a simple collection of information graphics that uses buttons for navigation. You need to learn (a) the drawing tools in Flash; (b) how to put a stop() action on the Timeline and use frame labels; and (c) how to make and script a button.

I know you can do this, because I see a new crop of journalism students do it every year — it takes them two weeks (or less) to get to the point where they can make exactly that type of online graphic on their own. (It’s not going to take you two weeks — because you don’t have homework due in three other courses!) Yes, my students do use my book — but there are plenty of other resources too.


There is absolutely no reason to sit around being afraid you’re going to get fired because you’re “not an online person.”

You can start learning on your own. Take charge of your own skills and the direction of your career. Quit waiting for somebody to write you a check so you can go to a workshop. Everything you need is online already. Open up Google and just look for what you need.

The most important advice I can offer: You don’t have to know everything. Pick something manageable and practical, and just go ahead and learn it.

That’s the first step.

Have fun!

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1 Comment so far
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Heya! Thanks for the shout out … I feel flattered.

Comment by Angela Grant

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