Award-winning multimedia

The Online News Association has once again released its nominees for the annual Online Journalism Awards.  The complete list can be found on the ONA site, but we’ve included links to the finalists’ entries for breaking news, overall excellence, multimedia features, online video presentation and student journalism.

For broadcasters, it’s disturbing to note how few radio or TV news outlets are represented on the list.  Just five of the entries included below were created in broadcast newsrooms, and just one of those at the local level (WRAL-TV).  What’s wrong here when there are no TV news operations nominated in the online video presentation category?

Still, it’s worth browsing all the entries to see some of the best in multimedia storytelling.

 Breaking News, Large Site

Breaking News, Medium Site

 General Excellence, Large Site

 General Excellence, Medium Site

 General Excellence, Small Site

Multimedia Feature, Large Site

 Multimedia Feature, Medium Site

 Multimedia Feature, Small Site

Online Video Presentation

Student Journalism

Web story airs on NBC

A quiet revolution is underway at NBC News. Earlier this month, a story about a baby penguin that was created originally for the Web aired on the weekend Nightly News. Tim Peek, executive producer for new media at NBC’s Peacock Productions, calls it “one of those small events that may well mark a watershed toward a truly cross-platform world.”

We’ve already noted the work of NBC’s “digital correspondent” Mara Schiavocampo, who files stories both online and on the air.  What’s different now is that NBC has aired a story that was shot, edited and voiced by a Nightly News producer, Clare Duffy. That may not sound like such a big deal, but it’s a radical change for a network news division.

In a post at MediaShift, Peek says NBC has been “pushing the digital journalism agenda as a way to cast a broader newsgathering net and lower production costs.”  Many long-time journalists at NBC have been wary of the effort, he says, worrying that it may compromise quality.  As Peek himself notes, the digital journalist method is efficient but “something’s got to give.”

Not even the best digital journalists can shoot, edit, write and report as well as the dedicated teams of experts who still dominate TV news production. The biggest compromise comes in technical quality. The video from DV cameras is softer than beta; the sound is not a sharp. Producer editing on low-end systems is a stripped-down affair; straight cuts and dissolves. Stand-ups and tracking from producers also can suffer. And time pressure puts everything under the gun — even though the DJ model is more efficient, it still often takes more time to get it all done well.

But in many cases, Peek argues, none of these compromises make much of a difference, and the result is a story that’s plenty good enough for any medium.

This has the potential to dramatically alter the economics of network news production by allowing much broader use of these web-oriented stories. It also means that news organizations can more easily use their content on whatever platform makes the most sense, without recutting, revoicing or repackaging to meet the quality standards of the high-end platforms (stories can now just as easily travel up the quality stream from web to broadcast as down it).

I can hear some VJ advocates now, saying “Duh!” and “About time!”  But even Duffy, the producer/reporter of the NBC penguin story, has concerns about a wholesale move to “solo” journalism:

What I do worry about is the loss of the collaborative nature of what we do…There’s a reason the best TV has been made that way since its inception and it’s something that should not be chucked out wholesale as irredeemably ‘old media’ simply because people are overly entranced by the idea of saving money. Losing that will yield a product that’s not worth very much.

There’s truth is, they’re both right. Some stories are best told by a solo journalist with a small camera; other stories turn out better when developed by a collaborative team.  But the “digital journalist” revolution is already well underway, and it’s good to see some recognition of that at the network level.

Small newsroom, big results

Coincidence or Cluster,” an investigation by the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Illinois, proves you don’t have to be a big news organization to make an online splash. The small-circulation daily put together a meaty online version of its six-part series on a suspected brain cancer cluster in nearby McCullom Lake, including videos, an interactive map, timelines, documents and background information on the disease and chemicals involved.

The series itself is thoroughly reported and told through the experience of people most directly involved in the story. The online package takes a bit of a risk by having videos default to play automatically and at full-screen size. Didn’t work for me when I was traveling, but on a high-speed connection the video quality is outstanding. One of my favorite design elements is the drop-down menu for “related content,” which tells users exactly what they’ll get if they click on “documents” or “more information.” Nicely done.

Source of multimedia examples

The Online News Association is behind the re-launch of a site devoted to showcasing multimedia journalism.  According to ONA president Jonathan Dube, Interactive Narratives is worth checking out.

The new Interactive Narratives is designed to capture the best of online visual storytelling around the country and the world. The goal is to highlight rich-media content, engaging storytelling and eye-popping design in an environment that fosters interaction, discussion and learning.

The site is open to anyone wanting to post examples and it should be a terrific resource for anyone looking for ideas on how to produce strong multimedia content.

Tornado damage map

Des Moines Register tornado mapAfter a tornado wiped out a third of a nearby town on Memorial Day, the Des Moines Register created an interactive map on its Web site that lets users “see the breathtaking scope of the disaster house-by-house, with photos and stories from the survivors.” The map is color-coded to show the level of damage, and overlaid with icons that link to photos, video and stories.

The newspaper asked people in Parkersburg to submit stories and photos. Many sent in “before” pictures of what their homes looked like before the tornado hit. They’re posted alongside photos of what was left after the storm.

The stories are short vignettes–some from readers themselves–about how they survived the storm, how their neighbors helped, and what they plan to do now. As Angela Grant points out over at News Videographer, it’s an “awesome way to serve the community with multimedia.”

The full package goes even deeper, linking to slide shows, 360-degree panoramas and and existing features on the site.  The paper’s Iowa Tornado Tracker is a Google map mash-up showing the location of every tornado in Iowa since 1976.   Each pushpin on the map gives details on the storm and has a link inviting readers to “Click here to tell your story.”  There’s also a link to information on how to help tornado victims, but unfortunately, it’s not working at the moment.

UPDATE: The Register received an honorable mention for this project in the prestigious Knight-Batten award competition.  At a National Press Club symposium honoring the winners, managing editor Randy Brubaker said the multimedia feature was designed to “blend information with emotional impact.”

With TV news or still photos in the paper you see one or two houses, or aerials, but when you can look at before/after pictures, house by house, you can almost see your house. One of these houses is like yours and you can begin to understand what it does to your life.

One of the most riveting segments in the feature is a brief video from the surveillance cameras at First State Bank that somehow survived the storm.  You can see the tornado slam into the building; the exterior camera captured the storm peeling the roof off a neighboring house.

It’s not just amazing video; it’s a testament to how multimedia has changed the reporting process, especially for newspaper reporters.  Brubaker told me his 5-person reporting team was briefed in advance to make sure to ask everyone they met in Parkersburg if they had any video.  That preparation definitely paid off in a spectacular “get.”

So add this suggestion to your tool bag when you set off to cover a natural disaster: Don’t just ask for home video.  Go after footage from robo-cameras installed everywhere from banks to convenience stores to schools.  You never know what you might find.

Compelling newspaper video

The talented team at the Raleigh News & Observer has done it again. Their online multimedia companion to a five-part print series on mental health reform gives users multiple ways to explore the story. Photojournalist Travis Long’s video is compelling, Judson Drennan’s interactive map breaks down spending county-by-county and Valerie Aguirre’s flash graphics bring the data to life.

The splash screen does a pretty good job of letting users know what they’ll get when they click a selection (“play the movie,” for example, is clearer than the standard “video” link). My only quibbles: I’d like to know how long the video is before I commit to watching it. And I’d like to know what “tour state hospitals” gets you–turns out to be slide shows. I love the fact that they’ve integrated both the photos and graphics from the print series into the online presentation so you can browse through them as well.

The video is one of those stories that transcends a lack of “great video” by making excellent use of sound bites, full screen graphics in lieu of narration and original documents. The audio is excellent–something that’s often a weak point in online video. The opening montage is just the right length and uses music effectively, but the interviews are the heart of the 6-and-a-half minute piece. Best decision: letting the Q-and-A with the head of the state hospital system run for a full 50 seconds. Well worth watching.

Hidden cameras make a comeback

Did they ever really go away? SPJ’s Jon Marshall contends that hidden cameras fell out of favor in TV newsrooms after the ABC News-Food Lion case in 1992. On his NewsGems blog, Marshall writes, “Fortunately, it looks like they’ve made a strong comeback as part of some great stories.” His post highlights three recent stories that made extensive use of hidden cameras: D.C. Metal Detectors (Fox5, Washington); Juiced in the Valley (ABC15, Phoenix); and Aged Tires (ABC News). See if you think their use of undercover video follows these guidelines:

  • The story involves matters of vital public concern, prevention of profound harm, or system failure
  • Any harm caused by deception is outweighed by the harm prevented by the story
  • The undercover video is essential and brings real value

For more guidance on using hidden cameras, check these legal protocols and ethics standards from RTNDA and Poynter.