Teaching Examples

Three good things I read this week
June 29, 2007, 1:15 pm
Filed under: blogging, journalism, maps, online, video

Google Maps Is Changing the Way We See the World
Evan Ratliff, June 26, Wired magazine

Since Google relaunched the software in June 2005, the stand-alone Google Earth program has been downloaded more than 250 million times. The program’s seamless zoom-in feature has become ubiquitous on television news shows. And there are dedicated sites — such as Google Sightseeing and Virtual Globetrotting — built for scouring and saving odd and interesting finds from not only Google Earth but also competing 3-D globes like NASA’s World Wind and Microsoft’s Live Search Maps. Scientists, students, and government agencies use Google Earth layers to display their data to the public … (via Journerdism)

Quest for Maps, in which intrepid multimedia reporter Ron Sylvester relates his newsrooms forays into use of maps.

‘Get to a Newspaper,’ at Gangrey.com:

Dicker: “… You can take a look at these newspapers blogs. The bloggers seem to me, Pete, to be basically opinionated stenographers, writing basically for shut-ins. I can’t imagine who would spend their time reading these things except a very rarefied, small group of people.”

Hamill: “I don’t read them, because life is too short. But I advise the young journalist, don’t waste your talent on blogs. Get to a newspaper, no matter how small, where there’s an editor who will look at your copy and say this will be better if you do this. Go somewhere where you learn the craft. Most blogs are therapy. But they’re not journalism. People who write them, except for the professional propaganda blogs, are there for therapy.

“Writing for shut-ins”? Wow, where does that come from? So the 80-year-olds reading the printed newspaper — they are the vibrant lifeblood of society? And all you blog readers out there — you’re a bunch of lumps on a log, do-nothings, hardly worth consideration.

Just last week, I was e-mailing some student I’ve never met and telling him to start a blog rather than waste his time trying to sell his travelogues to established online media. It would be great to have the tutelage of a good editor, no doubt about it. But I have to wonder what your chances are, nowadays, of getting a good editor at a newspaper. Maybe there is a good editor, but will he or she have any time to work with you?

Plus, one really great list of resources and sites (from Mashable.com): Video Toolbox: 150+ Online Video Tools and Resources — I love/hate lists like this, because it will take me some time to explore all the leads! Lots of stuff here I haven’t seen before.

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Three ideas to improve your motion video
June 22, 2007, 7:41 pm
Filed under: photography, storytelling, video

A really nice column by my friend Regina McCombs: Meaning in Motion: Ken Burns and His “Effect.”

Burns believes the photograph is still the core of visual storytelling, that “the still image is still the essential building block, the DNA, at least photographically speaking, of visual creation.” From that foundation emerge three concepts to consider when working with movement and photography.

Yes, she interviewed Ken Burns about the Ken Burns Effect!

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The right tool, the right approach, for video
June 19, 2007, 11:28 am
Filed under: journalism, newspapers, online, video

Chuck Fadely, who shoots video for the Miami Herald, posted a long rant about boneheaded attitudes toward video:

The internet audience is growing and you want your staff — from the janitor all the way up to the M.E. — to contribute to the web product. Video! Let’s do lots of video! There was some guy at the publisher’s association meeting who said all you need is a point-n-shoot; let’s get ’em for everyone. How ’bout the photogs? Nahhh, they care about silly quality…. we won’t ask them about doing video… We’ll get the web people and reporters to do video.

So the reporters start doing video. All of a sudden the story they used to be able to write blindfolded, in five minutes while doing the office football pool, takes ’em six hours of work to get the video into their computers, figure out why Movie Maker keeps crashing — I’ve got 128 megs of ram, fer krissake! — and finally re-compress the file into the right size on the third try.

Now, to be fair about this, Chuck is a newspaper photographer. And he’s got a lot of experience, so you ought to listen to what he says. But he’s also lumping all those reporters who shoot video into one mushy basket. And that’s NOT fair.

The truth here is that video has a heck of a lot of facets. It’s like TV — you gotcher Planet Earth (pure awesomeness) on one channel, and on another channel, you have Cops, from that bastion of quality journalism, Fox.

Newspaper publishers, editors and owners who think video online has one easy solution are totally kidding themselves. Wishful thinking — that’s all it is. And simplistic. Fatally simplistic.

It’s exactly the same mistake so many newspapers made on the Internet when they started out, whether that was in 1993 or 2003. Looking for a cheap fix, a turnkey solution, listening to some consultant who’s just blowing smoke out of a place far south of his mouth.

Link via Angela Grant at News Videographer.

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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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A dose of reality: Video editing
June 10, 2007, 9:23 pm
Filed under: journalism, newspapers, online, video

Angela Grant tells us:

When I first started in my position about one year ago, it took me a complete 8-hour shift or longer to produce one video. Through a lot of mistakes and learning, I decreased my production time. On average, I’ll shoot for 1-2 hours and edit for 2-3 hours. Plus drive time. So my start-to-finish production time is six hours or less. That’s for multi-source, complete visual story types of videos. Nowadays, I can shoot for two videos and then edit for one video in an 8-hour shift. However, less involved pieces take much less time (maybe two hours including driving, shooting and editing).

Print this out, and leave it on desks and chairs and taped to computer monitors around your newsroom.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do video. Just don’t expect your fresh new shooters and editors to churn the stuff out at lightning speed, please.

Related post: Who shoots, who edits?

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An instant classic in online journalism
June 8, 2007, 1:34 am
Filed under: design, journalism, online, storytelling, video

Destined to be one of the great online projects —

6 Billion Others

The site has a very beautiful design. What a pleasure it is to explore.

(Link poached from Fabian Mohr.)

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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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