Looking for multimedia journalists to lead the way

The Richmond Times Dispatch is a paper with a long history – it’s been around in one form or another for more than 100 years.  But this newspaper, like so many other news organizations, is trying to re-invent itself in the digital age.  

Glenn Proctor is the executive editor of the paper.  He says these days, “Our philolosphy is Web first.”  You’ll hear that in a lot of newsrooms, and sometimes the person saying it actually means it!  But how do you change a newsroom culture that has always been geared to produce a printed publication or a nightly newscast?  Proctor recently laid out his plan of attack before a small group at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Mass Communications.

He says his newsroom is now made up of 3 teams:  Information, Now and Creative.  The Now team is responsible for the Web, with a goal of having 10 new things posted to the Web by 7 a.m. every morning – that’s 10 new things that a print-only reader would not see in the morning newspaper. 

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TV still the main news source

Ratings may be dropping, but local television remains Americans’ number one source of news, according to a new survey sponsored by Hearst Argyle Television.   The preliminary results: 55% of respondents cited TV as their primary source of news information, ahead of the Web (26%) and print newspapers (14%).  The survey found that local TV wins online too–after search engines, local TV Web sites are the most frequently used sources of local news and weather.  And that’s not all:

Online video viewing of local TV news content is higher than that for any other genre — 37% for local news vs. 31% each for cable news and primetime programming, 24% for reality TV video and 23% for broadcast network news.

A survey sponsored by a company that owns local TV stations might be considered suspect, but these results are in line with other studies.  And the new research doesn’t sugar coat the problems local TV faces online.

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Live from everywhere

livenewscams.jpgYou can find live video feeds on many TV news Web site these days, but only one site that we know of offers more than 50 live feeds from sources all over the country. LiveNewsCameras.com was launched the day of the Super Tuesday primaries by Fox News Chicago. Most of the feeds are from Fox stations, but the site also offers raw video from ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates, as well as C-SPAN and NASA.

A lot of the content comes from tower cameras and weather radar–not exactly riveting. But on any given day, your choices might include a campaign rally, a sentencing hearing or a news conference of local interest. And there’s always a chance you’ll catch breaking news. As I watched a short time ago, the live moderator in the Fox Chicago newsroom announced that one Los Angeles feed had switched to video of an “apparent” emergency landing at LAX airport.

What’s most interesting about this experiment is its potential. While it’s still in Beta form and a little buggy (my Firefox browser crashed multiple times as I tried to navigate between feeds), the possibilities are intriguing. What if every news crew in the field could stream live video of whatever they’re covering to one central site that could organize it, promote it and share it? Now imagine every citizen armed with a camera doing the same thing. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? Stay tuned.

50 years of scoops

How does he do it? Bob “Scoop” Phillips has spent half a century chasing breaking news in Dayton, Ohio, and he’s still going strong. Featured on the cover of this month’s News Photographer magazine, Bob is a reporter/videographer at WDTN-TV. He works alone and tells writer Julie Washington that he never goes to the station, because “there’s no news in the newsroom.”

Bob covers courts, cops and City Hall. He shoots and does his own interviews. He’s persistent but never pushy, Washington writes. He talks to everyone, not just the bosses. “He leans out his car window and calls out ‘Any news?’ to policemen in squad cars or a city attorney crossing the street.” And he has access almost everywhere. How does he do it?

One word–trust,” said retired common pleas court judge John Kessler. “We trust Bob and have, because he understands the system. He knows the people and we know him. His word is good.”

Take a tip from Bob. Show that you can be trusted, and you’ll build relationships with sources that pay off over time.

New jobs in a restructured newsroom

The recent reorganization of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution gave online news a new prominence.  In the latest Nieman Reports, Shawn McIntosh, director of culture and change at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and ajc.com, says the system is now much leaner:

Two new content departments, News & Information and Enterprise, focus on producing unique local content for print and online. Our two production departments, Print and Digital, take the content and decide how best to offer it in distinct ways for those who will consume it.

The change has required more collaborative decision-making and created some new job categories.  Among them:

  • information specialists charged with gathering and editing informational content such as city guides, calendars and consumer tips
  • interactivity editors, designed to keep the conversation going with the audience
  • digital managers, who think strategically about how to grow audience in such key areas as high school sports and entertainment

Some jobs have been eliminated. The paper no longer has a national movie critic.  It scrapped a “roving regional beat.”  And with fewer newsroom resources, McIntosh says, many people are now working harder.  That’s a fact in almost every newsroom today–restructured or not.

Improving audio slideshows

It takes more than an interview and some pictures to create a good audio slideshow, but too many slideshows are built on those ingredients alone.  As a result, they seem to be slapped together rather than produced.  Multimedia editor Colin Mulvaney of the Spokesman Review says slideshows have become predictable and boring.  One of his pet peeves:

Stop having the subjects introduce themselves. Really, stop it! The biggest cliché in audio slideshows is the “Hi, my name is…” intro. Instead, use a lower thirds title.

Mulvaney has learned a thing or two about what it really takes to create a strong audio slideshow.  Check out his tips at Mastering Multimedia.

When blogging is a firing offense

A senior producer for CNN, Chez Pazienza, says he was fired last week for keeping a personal blog, Deus Ex Malcontent. The network won’t discuss the specifics, but a spokeswoman told the New York Times, “CNN has a policy that says employees must first get permission to write for a non-CNN outlet.” Pazienza says the policy is “staggeringly vague” and it never occurred to him that it covered blogging. His version of events suggests that CNN took action for two reasons. First, he blogged under his own name. While his blog doesn’t identify him as a CNN employee, his connection to the company would not have been a secret. And second, his blog entries express his views about politics and the media.

Whether a respected and loyal CNN producer of four years, like myself, could’ve gotten off with a warning had I chosen to write about, say, my favorite pasta sauce recipes, who knows. I’m dead sure though that my superiors never concerned themselves with my ability or inability to remain objective at work, given my strong opinions; they worried only about an appearance of bias (specifically, a liberal bias), and apparently they worried about it more than any potential fallout from firing a popular blogger with an audience that was already large and was sure to grow much larger when news of his firing put him in the national spotlight.

What this case really spotlights is the need for news organizations to have a clear policy about employees’ personal blogs. At a minimum, the policy should be explicit about whether the employer must be informed of all blogging activity; whether there are limits on the content of personal blogs; and what sanctions employees can face for violating the guidelines. If your news organization has a blogging policy, please share.

Mobile making a move?

One of the most thoughtful new media experts on the planet is a guy named Steve Shamp. Shamp directs the New Media Institute at the University of Georgia. He runs a listserv and sends out occasional email blasts that are almost always interesting, often funny and sometimes inspiring.

Shamp is just back from the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona and he’s on fire about all that’s happening in that new media arena. Here are just a few thoughts he shared in his latest email update:

There are roughly 6.6 billion people on the planet (to make this clear I am engaging in some liberal rounding up and down). And there are 3.3 billion wireless users world-wide. Yeah, half the planet has a cell phone. How does that compare with other media? About a billion have used the internet. Although estimates range, most agree there are probably about 1.6 billion TVs and slightly more radios worldwide.

His conclusion? “Mobile is the way to communicate with the world.”

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Another gaffe, another suspension

MSNBC’s David Shuster has been taken off the air for a comment he made about Chelsea Clinton being “pimped out” in her role on her mother’s campaign.  The network suspended Shuster for an undetermined period of time, calling the remark “irresponsible.”  Shuster apologized to viewers for what he called “inappropriate” language.

I apologize to the Clinton family, the Clinton campaign, and all of you who were justifiably offended. . . . I am particularly sorry that my language diminished the regard and respect she has earned from all of us and the respect her parents have earned in how they raised her.

Shuster’s suspension comes just a few weeks after two sports anchors were taken off the air for offensive comments.  But his case raises issues theirs did not.  Shuster is a reporter who’s been out covering the Clinton campaign.  I worked with him at CNN, and I’m confident he would never have made a remark like that that in a news story, or even in a live shot during a newscast.  But he said what he said while playing a different role, filling in for talk show host Tucker Carlson.  It’s an awkward position for any journalist to be in.  MSNBC’s hosts, like Carlson, Joe Scarborough and Keith Olbermann, are flippant, edgy and opinionated.  Shuster was trying to fit the mold.  He crossed the line, and no doubt learned a lesson.  The question is whether MSNBC has learned that it should stop pushing reporters to be hosts.

Multimedia journalists unite!

One of the things that I’ve noticed about the “online space” is that so many people are so willing to share their expertise.  And that’s the idea behind a relatively new site called Wired Journalists.  Here’s the mission statement:

WiredJournalists.com was created with self-motivated, eager-to-learn reporters, editors, executives, students and faculty in mind. Our goal is to help journalists who have few resources on hand other than their own desire to make a difference and help journalism grow into its new 21st Century role.

As of this afternoon, there were 1,287 members of the site.  Blog posts include such topics as “Using Google docs for reader feedback” and “Audacity track markers” (a post about how to use a Label Track to mark audio files for editing).   Other posts feature queries from journalists trying solve some new media puzzles with the comments providing answers and suggestions.

 I think I’ll join!