Judge the NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest

Just a quick reminder to all NPPA members to please log in and help judge the monthly multimedia contest by midnight EST Thursday. For non-members, you can view all the entries from around the country here.

There is a lot of inspiring work enter this month. As always, if you don’t have a lot of time to judge the whole contest, then just do a category or two. This contest depends on NPPA members to be successful.

 Disclaimer: I am the NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest Chairman

A breaking news Google Map


Last Sunday, Spokane, Wash., received a record 12 inches of snowfall. It paralyzed the city. What’s an online developer to do when faced with a breaking news event that’s spread out over a large region? If you’re Ryan Pitts, online director with my newspaper’s website Spokesmanreview.com, you whip up a Google Map and solicit viewers to send in their snow stories and photos.

Using addresses from the submissions, the Google Map’s geo code (latitude and longitude settings) plots out where the photo or story originated. On day two, Pitts added functionality to the map by adding better navigation and embedded links to staff produced video. Google maps are not new, but using them for a breaking news event is not as common. This is a great way to allow viewers to contribute and interact with your website. We promoted the map from the front page of the morning newspaper. Though the flood of submissions has yet to come (49 so far), I think an interactive map like this will take off as more viewers begin to discover it.

Good video should connect emotionally to your viewer


 In order for video storytelling to be effective, I believe it has to connect with viewers on an emotional level. The hardest part about my job as multimedia editor is that I have to be the “no” man.  I get lots of requests from reporters  to shoot video to go with their stories. Many of these requests are turned away because they don’t meet a threshold for good visual storytelling.

I come from a still background and have lots of experience shooting picture stories. Because of that, I am able to quickly identify whether video would work as a story. Word people don’t always approach video the same way I do. They see the sum of all the facts they’ve gathered as being the story. What they fail to understand is without strong visual components, you can’t tell a video story very well. I tell them: “If there is nothing to show, it is not a video.”

As I think about some of videos that my visual co-workers and I have produced, the most successful of these have always been the ones that connected to viewers emotionally rather than on just the facts. Don’t get me wrong; fact videos do have their place. We do a lot of breaking news videos based mostly on what the police or fire public information officers say. Those videos serve their purpose—to disseminate information quickly.

When I cruise through the story budgets, I’m always searching for that elusive emotional gem. When we package a daily video with a print story, I look for ways to tell the story a little differently then what the reporter is doing. Instead of thinking broad, I think defined. That can mean focusing on just one or two subjects out six the reporter might have talked to.

I have a self imposed “No Epics” rule. That means when I am out shooting, I try not to go off on tangents. I force myself to define my story by distilling it down to its simplest form. At the Platypus Video Workshop, before we could start shooting our final projects, we were forced to state what our story was in one sentence. It is an exercise I use to this day.

With a short focused story, it’s important to have something that people will care about as they watch. Asking the right questions of subjects becomes incredibly important. One of our MoJo reporters was jesting the other day that TV news reporters always ask the “How do you feel question?” I now understand why. When people share their feelings, it can paint a stronger picture than with words alone.

One of the greatest benefits that newspapers online sites have over TV news is that we have the ability to go deep with the facts with our writing, then give viewers a different approach to the same story with video. When the stories, photos and video are combined in to one neat package, no other media can match us for depth of information. 

Mountain Workshop’s Killer Website





Last fall, I was a multimedia coach at the Western Kentucky University sponsored Mountain Workshops. The workshop, now in it 32 year, hosted more than 70 photographers, multimedia journalists and picture editors as they visually documented the small town of Danville, Kentucky. This was the first year that multimedia storytelling was added to the workshop. There were three multimedia instructors, Chad Stevens with MediaStorm, Joe Weiss, a multimedia producer and developer of Soundslides, and myself. We each had four students to coach for five days.

It was a thoroughly exhausting, but incredible rewarding week, as students expanded their knowledge of how the tell a story with more that just photos. The website was supposed to go live during the workshop, but technical problems kept that from happening. It is up now and looks incredible. A truly inspirational website.

Here are just a few of my favorite student multimedia projects: (go to: Menu/Multimedia Participants)

Holding up the Memories by Jonathan Young. This is one of my all-time favorite audio slideshows. It has great narration that builds emotionally and ends with a song. Joe Weiss was Young’s coach and did a great jog of helping Young craft a powerful narrative. Weiss made Young go out and sleep on the woman’s couch overnight so he’d be there when she made coffee in the morning. It paid off. Listen to the narration closely. When the owner of the store sighs, the story comes right into sharp focus. If only every Soundslides production could be this good.

My Customers, My Friends by James Patterson. I really impressed upon Patterson to use his time at the Ace Billiards pool hall to gather lots of little nat sounds that he could then layer into his production. Listen to for those subtle sounds he sprinkled throughout this production. I love the way the narration weaves back and forth, between and over the nat sounds. I think James learned something at the workshop because he won 1st place in Individual Audio Slideshow category last month in the NPPA monthly Multimedia Contest.  Nice job James!

Gettin’ Her Hands Dirty by M.K. Smith. Smith, a graduate student, was my challenge. She was headstrong, self-assured, and talented beyond her years. “I goggled you,” was Smith’s introduction to me. Over the five days of the workshop, Smith crafted a story on a woman dairy farmer that was a mix of still photography and video. It was probably the toughest technical challenge that any of the multimedia students faced. She pulled it off with grace and grit. Her show received the loudest cheer at the workshop’s final show-and-tell night.

Make sure you check out the other multimedia and photojournalism produced students and workshop staff. Nice work all.

Do You Have a Video Strategy?

Having a strong video strategy for your newspaper is important, By Defining who is going to shoot the video, who is going to edit it and ultimately, the method of how to serve it out to the viewers, you will begin to set in motion a roadmap for change in the newsroom.

There have been a lot of blogoshere conversations going on about where video fits into the new reality of web-based newspaper publishing. There are two divergent views banging around the industry. One, supported by the GateHouse Media’s, Howard Owens, puts the video cameras in the hands of mostly reporters. Viewers come to your site, as the theory goes, because there is lots of video to look at. Quality of the production is really secondary. Quick turnaround is the driving force. Hour to shoot, an hour to edit is the bar to reach here. Cheap point-and-shoot cameras, with video mode enabled, allows everyone in the newsroom, with a little training, to start producing video content.

The second web video strategy is one that I have embraced since I started my transition to video storytelling four years ago. It is driven by quality production values, with in-depth storytelling that is shot  and edited by people with strong visual sensibilities.

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Goosebumps On My Eyeballs



Every so often a multimedia project comes along that just gives me goose bumps on my eyeballs.

“Twenty days. Twenty thousand still images. A single message. Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk captures the issue of global warming in a video created entirely by using still images.”

I have noticed more and more photographers using the intervolometers in their cameras to do time-lapse photography. It is a wonderful alternative way to tell a story that seems to be gaining momentum with multimedia producers. With this project it was executed flawlessly. It held my attention the whole time. Nice work Lucus and your producers. It’s projects like Oleniuks that help make newspaper multimedia storytelling soar above the dreck that is produced on TV. You lead Lucus and I will follow. High Five. 

via MultimediaShooter.com 


Random Final Cut Pro Tip

I am a serial unlinker.  Being able to move audio and video separately is one of the great benefits of professional video editors like Final Cut Pro. I was constantly mousing over to the button bar to click the link icon. That motion is a time waster. 

I had recently transitioned to using the keyboard shortcut of shift-L to turn linking on and off. But a another way I found is, with linking turned on, to just hold my option key down and click, lets say the end of a audio clip, then right click the highlight to add a cross fade. Or I can option click between two video clips to highlight then right click to add a cross dissolve. I’ve read a lot of Final cut books, done Lynda.com to death, but somehow missed this little time saver.  


Becoming one with the pod


Today I shot a news video (better quality version here) of a storage unit building going up in flames. As I was busting a move to get to the fire, I heard the words of Lenslinger echoing between my ears. 

From his recent comment in “Taking me To Task” post:

“As for tripods, any (TV news) shooter who doesn’t use one is a rank amateur. Why? Mostly because they extrapolate the amount of long shots possible as well as the number of STEADY close-ups you can get.” 

Rank amateur. Ouch. Ok, I’m not a TV news shooter, but I still got the message. I’ve always tried to avoid tripod use whenever possible. I’m pretty adept at hand-holding my Sony HVR Z1U–or at least that is the excuse I used to delude myself into thinking that I don’t need the sticks. It is a pain to drag my Sachlter around. It’s bigger than it needs to be for my small camera. Invariable at a shoot, when I’ve gone off-pod, the cameraless sticks ends up in my shot. Every time.

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The Social Networking Universe and why it is important for the survival of newspapers




When I get in front of a crowd, I become a whole different person. I’m kind of shy in real life, but I explode with passion when I get to talk about things that I believe are important, like multimedia. 

Today was a multimedia training day at The Spokesman-Review. A photographer, two web producers and two mobile journalists got to hear me pontificate about where I see multimedia headed in the future. They also got an in-depth tutorial on the fundamentals of video storytelling. It was a lot for people to digest in only three hours. I’m essentially taking the nine-day Platypus Workshop and condensing it into two, three-hour days. Tomorrow, my co-workers take what they learned and apply it to editing their videos with Final Cut Express 4.

As multimedia editor, I will need everyone I train to quickly start producing video. If we are to build any synergy with our video initiatives, then I need content, and not just any content. Quality video storytelling, well thought out, creatively shot, and expertly edited. It’s a high bar for sure, but I think we can get there. We have some pretty smart people at The Spokesman-Review who are up for the challenge. I am not adverse to failure either. I told my co-workers that you don’t become an expert in video storytelling overnight. You will grow from your failures as long as you strive to make each video you produce a little better than the next.

There was an open invitation to the rest of the newsroom–for anyone interested in learning about video, and video production–to come and sit in. I was happy to see a decent turnout, but it was less than I had hoped for. I started my presentation explaining how the web, with the rise of social networking sites, is drawing away readers from the traditional outlets like TV and newspapers. I told them that our readers of the newspaper are changing and so should we.

I created two graphic slides for my presentation. The first one showed the logos of a dozen social networks—You Tube, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, etc. I explained that within these networks, people are not only socializing, but they are creating digital content. Lots of it. Video, music and photography. Many former readers of my newspaper are now content producers in a big way. And with the Web 2.0 tools (RSS feeds, tagging, commenting, embedding) at their disposal, they are sharing their content, not only within their own networks, but with other social networks as well. YouTube videos are being embedded in WordPress blogs and photo slideshows from Flickr are passed from one network to another I explained. My second slide showed connecting arrows running between all the icons of these social networks. “It is not about an individual social network anymore,” I said. “It’s about the social networking universe and we desperately need to tap this.” My final slide showed The Spokesman-Review Logo with an arrow pointed up towards this expanding web universe.

The problem I see in my newsroom, or any newsroom for that matter, is a lack of understanding of how the Web is rapidly evolving. If many of the readers who have bolted from newspaper are now creating their own multimedia content, how can we, with our focus still on text based thinking, ever hope to be apart of that visual conversation? That, I told my small audience, is why video storytelling is so important. Video speaks the universal language of the social networking universe. We talk a lot about being web-centric at my paper. But unless you are tapped into the social networking universe, I don’t believe you can really understand what being web-centric means.

I will be honest with you, until I started this blog, I barely understood the concept myself. I was shocked by how many people Mastering Multimedia has reached in such a short amount of time. But what really opened my eyes was how people are finding this blog. RSS feeds, tags, Goggle Reader, blog rolls, and links from other social networks. It’s about sharing. It’s about a conversation. It’s about Web 2.0.

I now understand. I have been a producer of web content for years on a creaky CMS that only partially takes advantage of the Web 2.0 tools available on any WordPress blog. I just didn’t see the big picture of why this is important for all of us in the newspaper industry to grasp. If I didn’t get it, then how will my non-blogging co-workers, who are already apprehensive about change, ever understand?

If you haven’t already, my advice is to get an education in Web 2.0. Start a blog. Feed it. Share it. Our very survival as an industry will be predicated on how well we interface with this expanding social networking universe.   

NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest



 NPPA members don’t forget to enter your multimedia videos, slideshows and projects by 11:59 p.m. on the 15th of Jan. The contest locks down and transitions into judging mode for the rest of the month. Make sure to log in and help judge after the 15th. For non-NPPA members, you can still view what everyone else has entered. A lot of people tell me that they don’t have time to judge so many entries in the contest.

My advice is to just judge a category that you feel comfortable with or have time to look at. Remember, you have 15 days to judge and as you view the entries you can click “Save as Pick” to mark the one’s you like. When you log back in later your favorites are still there. It is a great time saving feature. Brian Immel and I are working on the next upgrade to the contest, so if you have any ideas or suggestions, send them my way at colinm [at] spokesman [dot] com. Good Luck. 

Disclaimer: I am the NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest chairman