Stand and fight!

As my restless vacation continues into its second week, my mind reels with the prospects of an uncertain future. Like most newspapers across the country, steep revenue declines are disrupting any semblance of job security for print journalists. Media companies seem to be in a race to tear down their brick and mortar operations and reinvent themselves as digitally delivered platforms. In my own newsroom, a large radio production studio has been built where hourly news broadcasts are being produced.

In September, our new modern website will debut. With it will come cutting edge tools for social media integration, an enhanced navigation that will break paradigms and a clean, airy, low-contrast design that will forever free us from our stodgy past.

The Spokesman-Review, like most newspapers, has begun to fully embrace change. The 700-pound gorilla on everyone’s back is the, “is it too late?” question.

Under the duress of a deepening recession, media companies are making rapid changes to their organizations. We are now in a war of transition, where the bodies of thousands of laid-off journalists line the road leading to their former newspaper’s digital future. The diminishing relevance of the print product, for some, relegated to the status of niche; weigh heavily on the minds of many.

At a Spokesman-Review newsroom staff meeting last week, my editor, Steve Smith, laid out the sobering facts of how far and fast our decline has been. There were lots of charts with graph arrows pointing toward the carpet. Smith’s voice, tinged with emotion, filtered through the room with a heavy cast of “this is it folks.” “I want to save everyone’s job, including my own,” said Smith.

He and everyone in the room understood that his statement comes with no guarantees. The truth is there will soon be less of us to carry on the battle. Unless. Unless we quickly build out our digital platforms in a way that they can begin to generate a potential for steady revenue growth.

For this to work, Smith says a lot of mindsets have to change. The focus on the print product will be diminished. Instead a web-centric approach will be strengthened. A new newsroom structure is being conceived, one that is vastly different from the one in place now.

For all of these changes to be successful, I believe innovation, a catch phrase of the new millennium, will have to become the new DNA that drives the reimagined newsroom. Creative ideas will need to be rewarded. Grassroots innovation is where, I believe, that one brilliant idea that saves us all will emerge.

For many in journalism, the future doesn’t seem too bright. It is hard to be innovative without having job security. Many of us wonder what our futures would be like if we cannot be storytellers anymore. To be relegated to some job as a PR flack or a wedding photographer dealing with the bridezillas of the world would be sad indeed.

Instead, how about we all stand and fight for the profession we’re passionate about? Our jobs are already hanging by a thread, so what have we got to lose? This is a unique time to be in journalism. Yes, it is changing, but now we all have a chance to shape what those changes will be. The focus now needs to be on the future, not on the past. Accept the changes that have already occurred and then find a better way to implement the changes the future holds. The failed strategies of the past need to fall away.

Yes, it is time to stand and fight. Fight for the journalism values ingrained to our core. Stand and fight for our role as watchdogs and muckrakers. Stand and fight to hold those in power accountable. Stand and fight against the tide of backlash–because new thinking is sometimes perceived as a threat to our comfort zone. The reality is there are no comfort zones left. From now on, it is survival of the fittest. Game on.

Creatures from the Heart


I posted this project in Video Journal  called Creatures from the Heart. It is about sculpture artist Bill Sanders whose failing heart is preventing him from doing his art. During the interview, I asked the question, “Is it hard for you to not to be able to do your art?” He paused; his chin started to quiver and then he abruptly ended the interview. “I have to go lie down,” said Sanders.

Bill Sanders is somewhat of a recluse who has not granted many interviews. He had a heart transplant 10 years ago, which has progressively slowed him down. Realizing that Sanders may not be around much longer, a friend talked him into letting the newspaper come and interview him about his art. I usually schedule a video interview separate from the print interview, but because of the nature of the story, reporter Paula Davenport and I teamed up. Everything during the 40-minute interview was fine until I asked the “how do you feel?” question.

I hung around Sander’s farm for a while taking b-roll of the dozens of animal sculptures displayed in his yard. Back at the paper, I downloaded my clips thinking I had enough to put something together. In the end, I just didn’t have it. I went home that night depressed about how I made Sanders feel. That question weighed heavily in my thoughts. I also wondered how I could tell this story better. What I had was video of a 40 minute interview and a bunch of disconnected b-roll shots of sculptures in a farmyard.

The next morning I made a call to see If Sanders wouldn’t mind me coming back for a few minutes to get a still photo of him for the print story. What I was really hoping is that he would take me on a tour of his art. He agreed to let me come over.

When I met him on his porch, he looked better than the day before. We walked the farm field, stopping for me to get cutaways and mini interviews of him with sculptures he was most proud of. In the barn, he showed me his final large sculpture, a 500 pound silverback gorilla, which he was putting the finishing touches on. He worked on it with a grinder that threw a cascade of sparks into my lens. After I said goodby, I spent another hour shooting everything I could think of that Sanders had mentioned in the interview or showed me on our tour. As I shot, I repeated in my head, “wide, medium, tight.” I used my tripod on almost everything I shot ( thanks Lenslinger). I was driven to do this shoot right. I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed to assemble a video that was complete.

I spent Thursday doing the edit and voiceover work. I am not one that feels comfortable writing a script yet. I would much rather edit sections of the video first, then write and record narrative bridges. I’m sure there is a better way to do this, but when I’m producing something on such a tight deadline, I do what works for me.

When I viewed the almost finished piece, I felt something was missing. I rarely use music in any of my feature pieces. My newspaper recently bought the entire 25-volume Digital Juice music library. I found several tracks that I ended up editing into my timeline. I was shocked at how it changed the feel of my video. Having decent music that doesn’t sound like a cheesy Garage Band loop, makes all the difference. When I watch other newspaper producer’s videos, I rarely like how the music is used. Many times the soundtrack overpowers the narrative. For my video, I tried to keep the music levels as low as possible. I found when I listened to my timeline in headphones the music seemed louder, but not so when played on my reference speakers. Hopefully I set the levels correctly.

There is a lot of discussion about the role of music soundtracks in news video. Some call it manipulating the viewer by enhancing the drama when none is present. In this case, I felt the music made my video livelier and helped me tell a better story. What do you think?

Improving the NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest

Angela Grant at has started a conversation about how to improve the NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest. As contest chairman, my co-worker Brian Immel and me are tasked with coming up with an update that will improve judging and allow people to give feedback on the entries.

I posted this reply over at that started from a conversation about updating the contest:

Commenting on winners has always been available–if you’re logged in. Hence the reason few ever add feedback on the winners. That feature will be improved with the coming update. I am toying with the idea of allowing comments during the entry and judging period. I think that is when most folks feel the need to give feedback. Many times when I’m judging, I wish I could leave a suggestion to help improve a person’s story. I know this is a risky. I’d probably have to moderate it closely to make sure it doesn’t descend into a flame war.

Angela, from your suggestions list that you emailed me… Yes on all accounts. Categories are something we all need to address. That discussion should start right now, right here. As it stands, you can enter three entries per category. If the contest continues to grow, limiting the entries will have to take place. You mentioned dual entries and slideshows entered in the wrong categories. Yes, this is a problem that will be addressed. Brian and I have asked the NPPA to give us access to parts of their servers so we can update the contest quickly and fix errors. Right now, if there is a problem, I have to ask the NPPA webmaster to fix it. Some things slip by and that is not acceptable. It will be fixed soon. Point tallies and a new ranking system will be implemented with the update.

Finally, I like to address the “what wins” discussion. We started this contest at a time when video was just starting to take hold at newspapers. Video continues to evolve as more producers learn and improve their storytelling fundamentals. For now, I believe this contest should be more about leaning and less about receiving some certificate. It should be a contest geared to give rapid feedback that will help us improve our craft. If I am wrong, I will step down and let someone else manage the contest. My point here is that this contest is for members of the NPPA. If it is to succeed, then it needs be a conversation contest built on user participation. The more people who log in and help judge, the better the results will be.

So let’s start this conversation. How can the NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest be improved?

For non-NPPA members, you can still view the entries. It is a great way to see what newspaper video producers are up to.  For people who use the NPPA Monthly Multimedia contest, please head to Angela’s blog and give suggestions on what you would like improved.  

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, 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.

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.