Looking back at the state of newspaper multimedia in 2008


Looking back at this year’s highs and lows in newspaper multimedia, I find much to be excited about. My excitement is tempered by the growing layoffs that have affected many multimedia producers at U.S. newspapers– including my own. A year ago I would have said video storytellers were untouchable. In these challenging economic times, many newspapers have backtracked into full retrench mode as they prepare to make their final stand to save the traditional print product from extinction. This last year, online and photo departments got hit harder than expected. I lost seven of the 12 people I trained to shoot video. Other papers disbanded entire photo departments. For those left to carry on, I would say to hang tough. The need for quality multimedia storytelling is not going away. We will make it through this dark tunnel in time, so keep your video cameras and audio recorder held high. Here’s my look back at the state of newspaper multimedia in 2008.

  • Video at newspapers began to mature in 2008, as visual journalists became more proficient video storytellers. Though they’re beginning to master the basics of shooting and editing, there’s still much room for improvement. Tightening edits, writing better voiceovers and improving pacing and sequencing, should be on every newspaper video producer’s to-do list for the New Year.
  • Full screen video has finally arrived on many newspaper websites. Better compression algorithms (VP6 and H.264) and improved Internet bandwidth is allowing newspapers to provide decent looking full-screen video. At my newspaper, we built a video player that uses the latest Adobe Flash Player technology. Having hardware acceleration (player uses the computer’s GPU) and the ability to embed video anywhere on our new website adds up to a better user experience for all.
  • Video cameras are improving in both cost and features. Shooting HD video should be the norm now. It compresses better than standard def and looks stellar when played back on a hi-def monitor. But the big technology leap this year is the transition to shooting with tapeless video cameras. While most video producers are still shooting DV tape, a new breed of tapeless cameras is starting to make inroads. Canon’s entry level AVCHD format based HF-10 on the low end and the pro-based Sony XDCAM EX-1 on the high end, will soon make tape seem as dated a LP vinyl albums and Tri-X film.
  • Many newspaper websites have received redesigns that better showcase their multimedia. Unfortunately on many of these sites, multimedia is still considered an ugly stepchild to the word-driven content. Too many websites are not taking advantage of their growing video archives. Search on most newspaper websites is still an exercise in frustration.  Modern content management systems fix this by allowing tagging for all content. After a recent massive snowstorm last week in Spokane, we tagged all related content–stories, videos, photos and audio– with “Winter Storm 2008.” Click that tag on our Django based site and you’ll only get content related to that tag (way cool). On another front, most newspaper websites continue to be mostly shovelware sites for traditional newspaper stories. Their web-only content, like video and audio slideshows and database journalism is buried in a sea of links. Not getting the hits on multimedia? It’s probably because people can’t find it, and when they do, the player is crappy and the video compression sucks.
  • Audio slideshows have matured this year. Most newspaper photojournalists have become adept at gathering and editing audio. But many shows being produced seem lifeless and predicable. Deeper storytelling, better ambient audio, tighter photo and audio edits could help most audio slideshows. The Soundslides program went through a solid upgrade this year with the addition of a full-screen mode, but I am beginning to see people transition to producing audio slideshows in their video editing programs like Final Cut Pro.

Let’s hope 2009 has more highs then lows for you. I have had one hell of a year. I floated into and out of management, trained many in my newsroom to shoot and edit video, lived to see the long delayed Spokesman.com site launch. I said goodbye to two-dozen talented newsroom coworkers lost to layoffs. I found myself back behind a still camera for the first time in three years. Looking ahead, I have a strong set of multimedia goals I want to accomplish in 2009. I’m keeping my chin up–no matter what the future brings.

7 thoughts on “Looking back at the state of newspaper multimedia in 2008

  1. Just want to cast my vote against transitioning to video software for slideshows from something like Soundslides that pulls stills into Flash. Why tack on all the extra bandwidth overhead for video when you don’t need it?

  2. @Anthony
    Because slideshows built with Soundslides are just that: slideshows. They lack the sophistication that you can create with real video/audio (and a capable producer), and are inherently flat, boring, and not very gripping.

    That’s not to say that slideshows aren’t ok for some things….but if the goal is to tell a story, then a real video format is the way to go, even if you’re primarily using stills. Bandwidth is cheap as dirt these days, and connections are ever-fasted.

    For quantity over quality, sure, use Soundslides. But that’s a pretty sorry goal when the landscape already has so little quality amongst so much quantity.

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  4. @Tim

    I agree, slideshows can be flat and boring. What I was railing against are those would would create the exact same thing in video because that is the tool they are already comfortable with. In this scenario, they are needlessly adding bandwidth. Broadband penetration is not that great in the U.S.

    By all means, if the stills are truly made more dynamic and interesting through video effects, and it suits the subject matter, that is a great reason to go into After Effects, Motion or Final Cut.

    Video should not be the default “way to go” to achieve the goal of telling a story. All media are capable of telling a story. Video is generally more laborious or resource-intensive to produce. A “flat” slideshow with great photography and good audio can be far more compelling than video in the same budget-range. Both tools – and others – can and should be used in ways that are effective for the stories and schedules at hand.

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  6. Colin
    I have really appreciated your site. I am coming at multimedia from a different angle, elementary education, but find that there are two strong similarities: we have a small budget and we have to work quickly to produce our product. We publish our work to the web at Cayoosh Kidz http://www.cayooshkidz.net/ . We work tapeless, and we tell the stories that we see around us. Your reviews on techniques and tools provide an honest view of where multimedia storytelling is going. It allows me plan for the future and gives students goals to dream about. Thanks for you great work, and best of luck for the coming year.
    Ken

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