What if you had a website like this?

What if all your multimedia were instantly findable on your newspaper’s website? What if the video player on your site was built for speed, incorporating the latest Adobe Flash technology?  What if that player was large enough to showcase your video and had a full-screen mode that actually worked without stuttering? What if all your multimedia and stories had tags to help viewers narrow and refine their searches? What if your newspaper website didn’t have 300 links on the home page, but instead offered a better way to get to the content inside? What if, on a story page, you could instantly see how many photos, videos, audio clips and documents were associated with the story? What if all your stories and photos were geo-coded and you had the ability to build Google-style maps on the fly? What if you let viewers embed your videos into their blogs and websites knowing that the player will call back allowing you to track and count the clicks as your own?

Has a newspaper website like this ever been built? Why not? Anybody who produces multimedia for newspapers knows the dirty little secret of low viewership on video and audio slideshows. Could it be that most of these websites hide their multimedia content in a sea of story links? And when the link is discovered, it takes you to a crappy 320 pixels wide video player that doesn’t support full screen.  Is it any wonder why many viewers don’t bother with multimedia?

As newspapers transition to producing more multimedia, they need to address these shortcomings.  I have heard too many horror stories from dedicated online producers whose audience is severely limited by bad website content management systems. I should know. I’m one of them. In a month, all this will change with the debut of our ground up redesign. As the finishing touches on our new Spokesman.com website are applied, the usability roadblocks viewers face accessing multimedia will be removed for good.

Richard Koci Hernandez resurrects Multimediashooter.com

A news item on the National Press Photographers Association’s website took me by surprise.

Richard Koci Hernandez has left his deputy director of multimedia job at the San Jose Mercury News to accept a Ford Foundation multimedia fellowship at the University of California in Berkeley. He says the goal of his fellowship is to develop digital news sites for under-served communities. Hernandez, who has been an instructor at NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion workshops, has also brought his popular Web site, www.multimediashooter.com, back to life again.

Good for Koci. He’s been an inspirational leader of multimedia development at newspapers and has tirelessly given his time by sharing what he knows with other multimedia producers. Mercurynewsphoto.com has been a daily stop for me to see what innovative storytelling his staff at the Merc. have been doing. It’s sad to see what has happened to that once great paper. I know Koci fought the good fight. I’m glad he has resurrected MulitmediaShooter.com. All the best Koci in your future endeavors.

Free Video editing tutorial

For anybody who has edited video in Final Cut Pro, you know that there are many different ways to perform the same tasks. Recently I watched this free Apple seminar on how to rapidly edit news and sports packages. This tutorial is geared primarily for TV shooters and editors transitioning from tape-tape and into the world of non-linear editing.  The video seminar is taught by long-time TV news shooter and editor Joe Torelli, who really knows his stuff.

I found the most useful information comes in the second video where Torelli shows an interesting way to edit clips on the timeline verses setting in and out points in the viewer. His techniques, geared for deadline productions, are something I will try when I need to edit something in a hurry. As newspaper websites use more and more video, learning to edit efficiently will only become more important.

Dog Days have me feeling verklempt

The dog days of summer have got me feeling a bit verklempt lately. Staring at this blank page for the last half hour has left me wondering if I have said all I’m going to say about my journey into multimedia storytelling. I know every blogger eventually hits that brick wall where words fail to flow and thoughts and actions turn to things more important, like spending time with family and friends.

Maybe my lack of blog ideas stem from all the uncertainty gripping my chosen profession. We’re all being asked to be more innovative. To reinvent, to change what and how we do our jobs. At the same time, the guillotine blade hangs precariously above our heads. Over 6000 journalists have been forced to leave the profession in the last year. I’m certain more will follow. Conglomerate journalism has left many newspapers in such dire financial straights that next year, I believe, we will begin to see the shuttering of some of these publications.

On the bright side, I work for one of the few family-run newspapers left in the country. Unlike the leveraged, debt-ridden gray ladies like the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, The Spokesman-Review is on solid financial ground. We are shrinking our footprint, staff, and expenses like most newspapers, but outright panic, thankfully, is nowhere in sight.

I have read so much industry news about the plight of newspapers, that none of it really makes much sense to me anymore. It has really just become a blame game, where fingers point in all directions. Where talk of would of, should of, could of, trail off into the abyss. This talk really doesn’t solve the problem at hand, which is how do we recapture all those former readers that have moved on with their lives? Some have headed into cyberspace, while others have given up reading all together.

The biggest challenge is finding a way for newspaper websites to generate enough income to offset the staggering losses facing traditional newspapers. I know there is an answer out there; it just hasn’t been discovered yet.  Newspapers are notorious for their lack of true innovation. It really hasn’t been part of their DNA –until now.

If we are going to make it through this digital news revolution, then we need to start fostering innovation at the grass-roots level. Innovation at newspapers tends to be top heavy, always looking to executive and senior managements to come up with new and better ways to do things. Trouble is, most of these ideas have failed to stem the tide. At my own paper, I am surrounded with incredible smart co-workers, many who have innovative ideas of their own. The challenge for management, if they are willing, is to tap this mindshare and see what it will spawn. If we are to succeed, we need to start acting like a startup business and less like, well, a newspaper.

Somewhere, in some newsroom, someone has already figured it out. A spark of an idea that will lead to the disruption of the status quo, It will make other innovators smack their craniums wishing they would have thought of something so simple, yet so industry changing. The Holy Grail that saves journalism is out there. I, and a lot of other people have a lot of innovative thinking to do. The clocks ticking folks…

Get creative with your video camera

As newspaper still photographers transition to shooting more video, they can get overwhelmed by all the non-creative tasks they have to do. With white balancing, audio monitoring and sequencing chores at hand, many new videographers forget to be creative with their video cameras. Here are some of the techniques I use to add a little visual variety to my videos:

  • Get on your knees or climb a tree. Take the viewer to a place they wouldn’t normally go. I love putting the camera on the ground to get that unique perspective. The ground also serves as a decent tripod. Shooting high will give you that overall establishing shot that you know you need, but like me, sometimes forget.
  • Don’t just shoot a tight shot. Instead, go super tight–as tight as your lens can focus tight. These shots are gold because they are as visually jarring as they are visually interesting. They also make for excellent transitions between scenes. I learned this from master TV news shooter Dave Werthelmer. His favorite line is: “Don’t shoot the donut, shoot the donut hole.” I try to remember that line each time I start shooting.
  • Look for that subject perspective shot. An example of this would be a shot following the feet of a mailman trudging through snow, or following a toddler around from their low perspective. I think too much of what we shoot tends to be tripod or eye-level. You just have to anticipate when to drop the pod and move with the action.
  • Which brings me to rule number 134 from the manual of good video shooting. Let the action leave or enter your frame. Doing so allows you to compress time in your video.  You can quickly transition to a different scene after the subject leaves the frame. It also helps you with sequencing, allowing you to edit together a wide, medium and tight shot of your action.
  • Turn off your autofocus and try a manual shift-focus shot. Try starting with a blurry shot, and then quickly bring your subject into focus. Or try racking your focus from a foreground subject to a background subject. It is pretty effective when done right. Just make sure you are rock solid on a tripod!
  • Layer your shots with foreground elements, just like you would as a still shooter. They are more complex to see, but done well, they  really ratchet up the visual variety of your video.
  • I don’t do this often, but at times it can be effective. Use a slow shutter speed to blur movement. I’ve used it on people dancing and it gave the video clip an interesting romantic look, especially if I followed the action in time like a pan shot with a still camera.
  • Try speeding up the action or slowing it down either in camera or in your video editing program. Here, I am careful how I use this. Like the slow shutter shot, it has to be done for a reason. Don’t speed up the action just because it is cool. Do it because it adds something to your story such as compressing time. Over and under cranking your video is already overused, so be selective.
  • Shoot more telephoto shots. One thing I’ve learned since I got the tripod religion is that a solid, tight telephoto shot will fill your frame with intimacy. Because video cameras have so much depth of field, anytime you can make the background go soft so that our subject pops, you should do it. While tight on your subject, don’t forget to pull out and shoot a medium and wide shot. It’s an instant three shot sequence.

What do you do to get creative with your video camera? Please share.