Teaching Examples

Flash journalists: I need your help
June 22, 2007, 7:57 pm
Filed under: design, Flash, journalism, multimedia

I have been working for some time on ways to teach people how to manage bigger Flash projects. This is one of those cases where I’m finding it hard to figure out how to teach something I know how to do, because (a) the process is so holistic; and (b) every project is different.

So I wrote a document and posted it as a PDF:

Managing Large Story Packages in Flash (PDF file, 410 KB, illustrated, 6 pages)

It’s not hard to read, and there’s no code in it. What I need your help on: Is this what you need to know, when you’re at that stage of knowing enough Flash to build a little thing, but not sure where to go next? Am I on the right track to help you get to that next level?

E-mail or comments — either way, I’ll be grateful.

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Behind the scenes: Making multimedia journalism
June 13, 2007, 8:30 pm
Filed under: journalism, multimedia, online, video

After I had viewed this multimedia package (which was reported, shot, designed and programmed by Jerry Wolford, staff photographer for 20 years), I had to ask Jerry some questions about how he managed to get it done.

Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record
The Dragon and the G-Man

If you look at a lot of the journalism multimedia out there, such as the excellent St. Louis Blues package I linked yesterday, you’ll see a long list of names in the credits. This makes perfect sense, because these packages take time to produce, and usually a broad range of skill sets is required. But Jerry produced this package as a solo effort, working closely with one editor and pretty much no one else except a copy editor (always a good move).

Jerry works for the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record, which laid off 41 people last week (in news: 11 full-time, six part-time), with declining ad revenues as the reason given.

What goes into it

“I spent at least 60 hours programming, but I was learning,” Jerry wrote in e-mail. It wouldn’t take as long if he did it again, he noted. “I am really a hack programmer. Not a scratch of training. I am pretty slow at this. Stubborn enough to not give up, I guess.”

He estimated he put about 20 hours into the video. “Again, I was learning. I did more hours than I want to admit on my own time.” It would have gone a lot faster if he wasn’t running Final Cut Pro on a three-year-old Apple PowerBook.

Jerry’s description of how he got the work done echoes the stories I hear from a lot of the new multimedia journalists.

“I was given time on this, in part, as a training exercise,” he wrote. Greensboro’s director of photography, Rob Brown, supports “where my paper and the industry need to go with video and multimedia”; Jerry said Brown protected him from getting too many “print side” assignments while he was producing this project.

While editing, he worked with a Life section editor, Mike Kernels. “He was a natural,” Jerry said. “I tapped him for the job because he is so rounded and easy to work with. I knew I would need an editor’s help navigating the minefield of working on a Klan documentary. He had many good ideas, did storyboarding. Very unlike me to do that. He … helped shape the intro clip, pull the best quotes and heads. I sort of work solo and in a vacuum, so having a partner to give feedback was good…. We will work together again.”

That was my favorite thing in all that Jerry told me — the idea of the print editor working side-by-side with the photographer – turned – multimedia – journalist. That’s where we are headed, where we need to go. I don’t mean it always has to be a photographer, but rather that we need to get this kind of collaboration working for our newsrooms.

How he did the interviews

With minor edits, this is what Jerry wrote:

I interviewed the Klan guy once before. I knew the whole story and ended up not using any of it in the end. I did use some outdoor footage and the “tight” thumbnail videos from the first shoot.

I interviewed the FBI guy and then knew how to really get under the skin of the Klansman. The second interview with the Klan guy was the charm.

I spent about an hour on each interview. 15 minutes or more setting up. I use a Sony HDR-SR1 camera set to record at 720 x 404 pixels with MPEG2 files. [The HDR-SR1 saves directly to a hard disk. Video later sampled down to 480 x 269 for online.] Hoping for a real camera soon. Sennheiser G2 wireless lapel for audio.

I asked all the questions and shaped the interview. I had a reporter with me at the FBI interview. A couple of his questions may have made it into my piece. I am very controlling at that phase. You can’t do a traditional Q&A. In general, reporters don’t get how this has to be done. I basically have a subject refine their response to my questions. Most things are just live, but I ask them to insert names and dates, etc., when they talk about things. I ask them to go over things once, twice, or more to get them to clarify and condense. I let them tell their story, but I ask them to help shorten, or lengthen with details.

I thought the lighting was really good, so I asked Jerry about that too. I have no clue what most of this means:

The lighting set-up may be a little funny to some. I used a big photo soft box with a handful of those new compact fluorescent light bulbs. They are very bright and do not get hot. I have one with a “grid” and reflector rigged for feathered lighting that I use for a hair light. I bought the bulbs at the local hardware store for $60 — 90-watt bulbs with output at 5500K (color). I use the little cheap clamps. I can stick a strobe in there with them and shoot stills if needed. I actually did that. Not very elegant, but until I can figure out what I really want buy … I like those new LED light panels, but this is pretty easy and very flexible.

A good reporter should never repeat jargon, but I know all you PJs reading this will eat it up (smile).

How the newspaper played it

The package was part of a Sunday centerpiece with a print promo to the Web feature. The project went online Sunday, with a promo image on the front that ran until Tuesday. Then the package went to the second slot on the home page, with only a text link.

Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record
Reaction from the public? None, really, “and not really big numbers,” Jerry wrote in e-mail. But he says management at his newspaper has noticed that good online work has legs. Projects such as Jerry’s Deeds of Discrimination from a year ago still get hits every day.

Critique of content, functionality

I wouldn’t call The Dragon and the G-Man a perfect package — my biggest complaint was that you were forced to sit through a very long video before you got to choose anything for yourself. It bothered me the first time I opened it, but on second and subsequent visits, it was maddening! Multimedia packages need to be designed for repeated viewings. They need to have a nonlinear structure so that people can skip around inside. (Jerry has since fixed this, adding a Skip Intro button. Whew.)

I give Jerry a heap of credit for making the package look awesomely good. He’s clearly one of those people who loves to tweak images in Photoshop (e.g., for photo illustrations, not dishonestly), and the results are beautiful. Jerry made all the cutouts and composite images. He wrote: “The gun pic had the mug shot dropped in. I added borders and cropped the historic images. The Klan and torches [image] was a file photo. I shot the other stuff. Clips were from our archives.”

Jerry also deserves a standing ovation for making all the video and the photo zooms work so smoothly. The functionality really stands out in this package, and that’s not an easy thing to get right.

I found the story very interesting. I liked the video interviews with both men. I loved the way the interviews were intercut. Don’t underestimate the quality of the on-camera interviews. They really are exceptional. You won’t see anything better on 60 Minutes or Frontline, in my opinion.

But I really, really yearned for shorter segments and more helpful text cues. The interviews are so good, I don’t blame Jerry at all for slicing them up and offering so much video. But I need more information before I click on the individual segments.

This is something I see in lots of online journalism. Packages are constructed as if the producer thinks people will just click everything, or maybe, will be content to click randomly. Well, journalism is not YouTube. I need a hint or a hook or a tease that’s informative enough — provocative enough — to make me think, yeah, I want to know more about that. Or, hey, what is the answer to that question?

I’m not ragging on this package, though. Take some time with it, and you’ll see why I feel so much admiration for it. Sure, it could be improved. But that’s for the next one. Well done, Jerry.

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Multimedia project: St. Louis Blues
June 12, 2007, 2:59 pm
Filed under: Flash, multimedia, music, online

Wowee! That’s my reaction to this sweet project from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

St. Louis Blues

I love the cigar box! And the “Roots” section: Wow! WOW!

This is the real American music, and St. Louis has a special stake in it.

Flash programming by Brian Williamson. Assistant programmer: Jacob Piercy.

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Basic kit: Gear for the multimedia reporter
June 7, 2007, 2:35 pm
Filed under: audio, journalism, journalists, multimedia, online, reporting, video

You’d think everyone would know this by now, for cryin’ out loud! But I see posts to Listservs and discussion forums from people who still haven’t figured it out (and who apparently don’t know how to do a Google search!).

Audio hardware:

  1. Audio recorder: Olympus WS-300M, or DS-2 (or the discontinued WS-200S) — these are less than $100 each.
  2. Microphone: Electro-Voice 635 A, A/B or N/DB (search B&H for these) — about $100.
  3. Microphone (cheaper): Nady SP-5 or SP-4C (search Musician’s Friend for these) — $10 to $20 each.
  4. You’re going to need a very specific cable to connect a proper microphone to an audio recorder — a female XLR to male mini, 3 to 4 feet long for face-to-face interviews (about $8). For meetings, panels, etc., you’ll like a longer cable.
  5. For a different type of microphone (shotgun), see this comparison. I have an Audio-Technica AT835b, and it’s great. Koci loves the Sennheiser ME-66. You should be able to find one of these for less than $200.
  6. A more expensive audio recorder (that you can use face-to-face without a mic): The Edirol R-09 can be found for about $350-$400.


I covered point-and-shoots in an earlier blog post here. Reporters can start shooting video with these, and in many cases, the quality will be BETTER than that of a cheap video camcorder. See for yourself.

Video gear:

Someone else will have to fill your ear with the looong debate about video cameras. Andy Dickinson recently summarized it — and offered sensible wisdom too.

Phone and laptop/notebook computer:

These are obvious, and there are too many models to discuss. If the laptop has wi-fi (and why wouldn’t it??) you can scoot into a Panera Bread and upload from there. Or buy an Internet-anywhere card from a mobile service provider.

The capabilities you need on the phone depend on the other stuff you’re carrying.

Some folks advocate ditching the computer and doing everything with a PDA phone. I never want to edit a Soundslides on a PDA, thank you very much. But I sure do love having the full Internet (Google Maps!) on my BlackBerry.


  • Audio: I linked to a two-part guide to Audacity, which is FREE, in an earlier post. Separately, I also wrote a rundown of all the options for audio editing. Practicing multimedia journalists left helpful comments on that post.
  • Photos: Of course this means Adobe Photoshop. I never thought I needed to say that, but a recent experience in training made me realize that some people are not aware that every photojournalist has and uses Photoshop. If you need a free photo editing program, look at Picasa or Gimpshop (thank you, Dave!). Be mindful, however, that professionals use Photoshop.
  • Slideshows (with audio): Soundslides, of course. There is no debate.
  • Video editing: To start with, use iMovie if you’ve got Mac, and Windows Movie Maker if you have Windows. These are the entry-level video editing programs. If you want to move up, and you have Mac, then Final Cut Pro is the obvious choice. But if you have Windows, you’ll get into another looong debate! Gannett, for example, is in love with Avid. (I think that’s a VERY expensive choice, but what do I know?) Other options include Adobe Premiere and the relatively cheap Sony Vegas product line. (Note that I have linked each software title to its entry in Wikipedia, for a succinct description in plain English.)

As for Flash — Flash is NOT BASIC. The first people in your newsroom who should be thinking about using Flash are the graphic designers, the news graphic artists — NOT the reporters!

One File to Rule Them All

Download my No-Fear Guide to Multimedia Skills (PDF, 735 KB) for a tidy illustrated package (five pages) of this information. It’s got audio recorders, mics, and point-and-shoot cameras.

Related posts:

PLEASE feel free to leave a comment that adds to, contradicts, questions or expands on this information.

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Jobs in a smart news organization
June 6, 2007, 4:39 pm
Filed under: jobs, journalism, multimedia, newspapers, online

Some newspapers reinvent themselves to ride the obvious wave in consumption of news and information in North America. Others retrench, diverting money and resources away from the online — or worse, leave the Web site in the hands of the marketing department.

Which kind of newspaper will survive and thrive, do you think?

The Las Vegas Sun appears to be pursuing the former strategy, according to David Domingo.

The Sun is seeking to fill four new jobs:

Flash designer … good at building Flash graphics and 3D motion graphics to go with analytical news stories written by our reporters … also work with photographers on enhancing their Flash graphics skills … with our artist and cartoonist on animating their work. (I want that job!!)

Videographer … has skills at shooting, editing and processing video news stories for the Web. I was hoping to find … help the Sun create a new video identity online.

Web content editor … work with reporters and editors at building deep, evergreen content sites that would contain granular content about specific Las Vegas area topics … a good writer … also have multimedia Web skills.

Web technician … have all the skills of a multimedia reporter, but would mostly do processing work at a desk … process video, audio and provide other assistance for the multimedia for our daily updates and for our deep content sites. Skills in editing video and audio clips, helping to create podcasts and vodcast will be essential.

The guy doing the looking for people to fill these positions: Dave Toplikar, until recently a multimedia reporter at LJWorld Online — you know, that wildly successful newspaper in Lawrence, Kanasas, that’s not only making money but also winning awards for great design and even better innovation projects. Just look at their multimedia page.

Update: The jobs are posted here.

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Cool tools for multimedia production
June 1, 2007, 1:18 pm
Filed under: multimedia, tools

Maybe you already read Multimediashooter.com, maybe you don’t, but you should read this post. It is a roundup of useful links shared by experts at the NPPA meetup.

I’d like to highlight these three:

The Levelator: Runs on Windows or Mac OS X. Adjusts the audio levels within your audio file. “Not a compressor, normalizer or limiter, although it contains all three. It’s much more than those tools, and it’s much simpler to use…. Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler’s application window, and a few moments later you’ll find a new version which just sounds better.” Cost: FREE.

VisualHub: I discovered this just last week when my colleague Lauren and I were playing with her shiny new tapeless video cameras (Sony DCR-SR300). The little buggers save in MPEG2 on a 40 GB hard drive. They come with proprietary Sony software (of course), but it won’t run on a Mac — and that’s what we had. VisualHub to the rescue. We were watching a lovely MPEG4 in no time. Mac only. Cost: $23.32 U.S.

Switch (Windows or Mac): I’ve mentioned this here before, but I just used it for the umpteenth time last night — it’s like having a Swiss Army Knife on your laptop. It converts a long list of audio file formats to all the formats you really need. I ripped a CD into iTunes and then converted one M4P file into a more user-friendly MP3. Cost: FREE. (Be careful not to install the “Plus” version if you want the free one.)

Extra video goodness (not in Richard’s post): Add more formats to your QuickTime player with Perian (free; requires Mac OS X 10.4.7 or later). Play Windows Media crap — er, files — in your QuickTime player with Flip4Mac (free). For Windows users (and Mac and Linux too!), there’s the VLC media player (free). VLC will play WMV, WMA and FLV files. The sole remaining thorn in my side is the Real format — and if only NPR would ditch that garbage, I would never have to think about it again!

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NPPA Multimedia Immersion
May 31, 2007, 7:40 pm
Filed under: multimedia, photojournalism

Everyone except me is at the NPPA Multimedia Immersion Summit. Good stuff there. Go look.

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