Thursday, May 24, 2007

Slide shows: they're not just for photographers

Fellow multimedia reporter Stan Finger was already grinning, when I walked into work this morning. He’d just found a slide show waiting in his in-box.

A teenager had fallen into a river outside Wichita, and emergency crews staged a daring rescue amid a raging undertow, worsened by the high waters from this spring’s notorious Kansas storms. An alert member of the emergency crew documented the rescue and sent the photos to us.

Stan grabbed a digital recorder and sat at my desk, which has a $17 phone recorder I’d picked up last year sometime. Stan called the director of pubic safety in Augusta, KS. He then passed me the recorder, like a baton in the multimedia relay, and headed out the door for the morning police briefing. Stan files more on-line stories before noon than most people in a day.

I used Audacity to edit the interview, trying to match up the descriptions with the pictures we had, and loaded it into Soundslides.

We had the slide show posted with Stan’s story by afternoon. Stan watched the show before he wrote, so he produce a story with minimal repeats that complemented the slide show. Once again, multimedia became the layers for the news.

Before we became what my editor Nick Jungman calls “multimedia operatives,” Soundslides had been loaded on the photographers’ individual Mac laptops and on a desktop over in Photo, which we now call Visuals. Since it only costs $40, our managing editor didn’t blink at buying another copy for a reporters’ projects computer.

Soundslides takes about 10 seconds to learn. I fiddled with it for a couple of months, before January rolled around before Richard Koci Hernandez provided this outstanding tutorial. After watching this, I had photographers asking me “How’d you get side captions?”

Writer’s tip: Launch side captions, bump up the point size to 18 and you can use it as a text block to provide additional details. Just don’t overuse it. Let the audio and pictures tell the story. Make title slides on a blank canvas in Photoshop. Soundslides recognizes “jpg” and “mp3” files.

Of course, as with traditional print, it’s best to team a photographer’s artistic eye and reporter’s interview skills. But when photographers are pressed for time, or numbers, be creative.

If there’s good audio, dig for visuals as vigorously as you would the mayor’s emails. I’ve experimented with slideshows by taking matieral from our photo archives and sources’ scrap books. I’ve even used computer screen shots - once, for a story I did on prisoners looking for dates on the Internet. I've used maps. I thought I was stretching on the screen shots, but I felt better, when our market’s leading television station picked up the story the next night and used similar visuals. You never know what will work.

Maybe there’s a gem waiting in your in-box.

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