Monday, June 4, 2007

Bringing it into autofocus

Angela Grant alertly saw where I was heading with this thread, and as usual is a step or two ahead of me, aptly asking: “But what were you thinking of using that audio for?”

I have been harping on audio from the outset of this young blog, because I was most comfortable wading into multimedia by collecting source documents and audio. Reporters have been recording interviews for years, and with some attention to detail and extra equipment can begin doing that almost immediately.

But Angela is correct: we can’t live by audio alone. Sooner or later, everyone is going to have to pick up a camera – still, video, all of the above.

The Invisible Inkling, Ryan Sholin, explains why in “10 Obvious Things About The Future Of Newspapers You Need To Get Through Your Head.” As Mindy McAdams says, “I agree with Ryan that they are, in fact, "obvious," that doesn't mean that everyone in journalism knows these. Sad but true.”

Pay attention to No. 6:

· “Reporters need to do more than write. The new world calls for a new skillset, and you and Mr. Notebook need to make some new friends, like Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point & Shoot.”

In the accompanying link: the Inkling tells us what exactly we will need to keep working in the ever-shrinking newsrooms of the future:

“If I were in a position to hire a reporter, I’d be looking for a solid writer with Web skills.

  • “I would want someone who knows enough HTML to write their own Web update into a content management system without needing training.
  • “I would want someone who has no fear of a digital camera, a video camera, or an audio recorder.
  • “I would want someone interested in using databases, maps, and public records as source material.
  • “I would want someone who knows how to tell a story.”

I still think that whatever our future is our best work will be done in collaboration by people who can gather documents and interviews, artists who create graphics and visual artists, whether photography or videography.

But as Ryan points out, we're going to be asked to do more, and on the daily grind of a beat, we need to have a point-and-shoot camera in our bags. We need to learn how to use it. We need to learn how to compose a photo and set a white balance. And then take a bunch of pictures.

Ask your friends in the photo department for help. Be prepared. I’ve been accused of creating slide shows so bad they to drive traffic from our web site that would never return. But you learn from criticism.

My friend Jaime Oppenheimer has encouraged and given me courage to spread out and try new things that I would have been terrified of a year ago. Brian Corn, our editor of visuals, now happily hands me a point-and-shoot and tells me to go forth and multimedia..

I’ve started taking a point-and-shoot still camera and video camcorder on every assignment. I’ve even received a couple of photo credits in our paper from frame grabs off the video. Granted, they were static and ran just slightly larger than a postage stamp, but it's a satisfying baby step. I’m betting the overworked photographers in most newsrooms will go out of their way to help you, just because you’re a reporter who’s not afraid of a camera.

I know I’ll never shoot photos like Jaime. But I’m gaining confidence that I can, on a good day, give a feel of what it was like to be at an event. If you shoot enough, you can create some cool, stop-action effects in slide shows. And I’m learning that people are less likely to notice the crappy pictures if you don’t leave them on the screen very long.

I also have something to go along with the audio. And even in a changing world, I can still conduct a killer interview.

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