As the airliner tires leave the tarmac of the Louisville Airport, my fatigued body is too tired to sleep. My mind is ablaze with memories of the past week. I was honored to be a coach again at this year’s NPPA Multimedia Immersion Program. Over four very long days, Forty-nine students crammed a small hotel ballroom in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. What raised my eyebrow about this sold out audio slideshow and video storytelling workshop was who was in attendance. Yes the requisite photojournalists made up a good portion of the attendees. My surprise was in how many of the chairs were filled by newspaper editors, educators and freelancers–many who paid their own way. Last year’s workshop was attended mostly photojournalists who had little experience behind a video camera. This year, of five students I coached, four were already shooting video for their respective newspapers. The challenge for me was to help them sharpen the storytelling skills they already have.
With the newspaper industry wallowing in a vat of uncertainty, it was remarkable that the “Paper Doom” vibe was pretty much non-existent. This group of media professionals had a collective agenda. They all wanted to learn effective multimedia storytelling skills that they could bring back to their publications.
I was also struck by this year’s speakers at not only the Immersion Program, but at the NPPA’s companion Convergence 08 conference being held in an adjacent ballroom. UNC new-media professor Rich Beckman talked about improving not only multimedia storytelling, but advocating for visual storytellers to step it up. “There is a history of visual journalists leading the way in times of upheaval,” said Beckman. He believes in the manage up vs. manage down approach in newsrooms; where multimedia journalists with new skills help inform and enlighten management to the unique challenges of doing quality multimedia storytelling. Beckman really hit the point that if the people who manage you don’t understand what you do, how can they make informed decisions about workflow, staffing and equipment purchases?
I sat in on a presentation by Brian Storm, owner of the multimedia production studio called MediaStorm. During the Q&A, I asked him how newspapers could improve their multimedia? Slow down was Storm’s answer. He said that meaningful storytelling with strong journalism and production values will trump bad video for hits over time– every time. I mostly agree with Storm on this to a point. Still, I believe there is room for both projects and quality short form video on newsroom websites.
Finally, I think the best advice given at the Immersion workshop was from Richard Koci Hernandez, Deputy Director of Photography and Multimedia at the San Jose Mercury News. “It is ok to fail,” he told the workshop attendees. Hernandez might be on to something here. What keeps people in newsrooms from learning new media skills? If it is fear of failure then it needs to be quickly addressed by newsroom management.
For me, failure is just a learning opportunity. Most everything I’ve learned about multimedia and photojournalism is steeped in my failures as a visual journalist. I’m ok with that. Really.
Planes landing soon and I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.