I just got done reading the Newspaper Association of America’s report on newspaper video. What struck me most is how many newspapers are making video storytelling a priority on their websites. Four years ago, when I started shooting video for my newspaper’s website, I felt like actor Will Smith in the movie “I am Legend”—alone in the world, with no one to talk to. There were few resources for newspaper video journalists like me to turn to in those early days. I spent a good parcel of my time with my nose in Final Cut Pro manuals. I look back on those days with fondness. It was just me and my video camera looking for interesting stories to shoot.
I had been getting away with that gig for about three years when suddenly everything changed. A queasy feeling hit me the day Gary Graham, my managing editor showed up in the doorway of my photo department video editing cave. He asked if I could come to his office for a chat. My first thought was, “oh god, what did I do?” As I headed to my fate, I kind of knew what I was going to be asked to do. Long story short, I moved out of the photo department and became my newspapers first multimedia editor.
Last year, multimedia was really starting to expand in the Spokesman’s newsroom. Former multimedia producer, Joe Barrentine had been training newsroom reporters to shoot video with point and shoot cameras. There became a urgent need to manage this sudden surge of multimedia. Word editors had begun assigning video without really understanding what made a good video story. To them, press conferences and talking head interviews were fair game. Also, a lack of understanding of how much time a video takes to produce, created tension with the visual staff.
It was all a bit daunting for the first few months I was a manager. I had never managed anyone, let alone wanted to manage anyone. I was assigned a desk on what is called the Death Star– a pentagon of desks filled with assignment editors and online producers.
What struck me first about my new desk was how bright it was where I sat. Two large florescent grids of light reflected off my desk, through my eyeballs and directly into the dark corners of my brain. You have to understand; I came from four years in a darkened editing cave. I felt like I had entered cubical hell—and then the layoffs hit.
Like most newspapers across the U.S., downsizing came to the Spokesman last October. I had two online producers move on to other jobs, and a third was laid off. For about two months I had no one to manage. The newsroom was an emotional wreck and I, for a just a moment, wanted to ask if I could PLEASE HAVE MY OLD JOB BACK!
Twenty-Six people took buyouts or were laid off. When things calmed down, I was quietly told to be patient. As senior management started to reconfigure the newsroom, the online department came back to life in a big way. Andrew Zahler, a former copy editor, moved into one of the online producer positions. Laid off online producer Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen, was called back to work. I got to make my first hire for a multimedia producer. I only had to look south of Spokane about ninety miles to find Brian Immel, a wiz-kid who just happened to graduate from Washington State University the week we offered him the job.
Because our newsroom shrank, in personnel, an office with a two windows opened up. Immel and I moved in before anyone else could lay claim to it. Since January 1st of this year, things have pretty much settled down. Our newsroom is becoming more focused on what is important. There is not a lot of room for fluff and filler, so every story and photo has to be good. The same goes for multimedia. I slowly moved away from the idea that every reporter in the newsroom needed to learn how to shoot video. The early results of reporter driven video were not very pretty. Instead, I started to move to a model of finding people that really wanted to learn to shoot video, then give them the proper tools and training to be successful. We have a ways to go, but I am beginning to see the video seeds begin to germinate around the newsroom.
The next big push is figuring out how to spend a sizeable amount of capital money to equip mobile journalists and online producers with the best tools to do their jobs. Hi-def tapeless cameras, that allow faster edit times are first on my list to deploy. Training is next with a continuing strengthening of core video shooting and editing skills. The one great thing I’ve noticed lately is that photojournalist Dan Pelle is starting to train some of his fellow photographers how to shoot and edit video. Pelle, like me, is a graduate of the Platypus Video Workshop. He’s a hell of a video storyteller and a great teacher. I find when you allow people to share what they know it is a morale booster for everyone.
The next half of this year is going to be great. I have learned to stop looking back over my shoulder at the way things used to be. Instead it is nothing but blue skies and a video camera in front of me now.