Planning the multimedia project

Most journalists are already getting involved in multimedia storytelling on some level and a majority of them will tell you that time is their biggest enemy. In the daily crush of deadlines, it’s hard to do a great job on one media platform, let alone two or three.

But every once in awhile a journalist gets a chance to work on a long-term multimedia project. Media General’s Peter Howard is the VP of News & Content for the company’s Interactive Media Division. Speaking to a class of graduate students at Virginia Commonwealth University, Howard said that the best projects devote a good chunk of time to planning. He’s come up with a list of six steps to help insure a multimedia project’s success:

  1. Set goals. Howard says you have to ask, “What are you trying to achieve?” He suggests too many people skimp on this step, thinking the answer is obvious, but defining the goals of the project can clearly help shape the content.
  2. Collaborate. According to Howard, you have to talk extensively and often with others to determine how you can achieve your goals. Web developers, reporters, photojournalists and anyone else you might need on the project should be included in meetings from the get-go.
  3. Define the audience. This may or may not be a part of your goal-setting exercise, but it’s an important step in the planning process. Determining who you will target with the project will also have an impact on the content you gather and the way in which you present the information.
  4. Develop a timetable. Howard maintains that this step in the process is critical. “Set realistic deadlines for the collection of material, and be sure to factor in development time,” Howard says.
  5. Select tools. Think about what tools can be used to present the content most effectively and to invite audience participation – is a poll or a forum better – a slideshow or a video? “Page views shoot up for photo galleries,” says Howard. “But be aware that about half your audience won’t be able to hear an audio slideshow, so using audio plus captions is probably the best way to go.”
  6. Establish a presentation plan. Finally, you have to determine what your project will look like online. Howard suggests you start with a storyboard – sketching out what the audience will be presented with first, then the next scene and the next. “It will help you see gaps in your presentation a lot quicker, “says Howard.

Howard says project planners should also consider what they already know about their audiences and their sites. “One thing we’ve found is that a text story will get about five times more hits than a video story,” Howard says. He also pointed out that some forms of interactivity work better than others, for example, “it’s hard to get people to write, so polls may work better than forums at times.”

Howard wrapped up the discussion with a look at a couple of projects that serve as examples of what can be achieved through this planning process.

Hickory Daily Record (Hickory, NC), Sawmill Murder

Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, VA), Holocaust Survivor