The Digital Journalist dedicates issue to video journalism

This month’s issue of The Digital Journalist is dedicated to newspaper video journalism. Publisher Dirck Halstead called me a month ago and asked me to write a story about how I transitioned from being a still photographer to becoming a multimedia producer at my newspaper. Writing about my journey, I’ve found, has been mildly therapeutic.  My last five years as a visual journalist have been an intense and challenging. Through it all, I remain confident that video storytelling at newspapers will survive and flourish.

hallway

This issue was guest edited by Ken Kobre and Jerry Lazar, who did  fantastic job of touching on all the video journalism bases. Stories include:  “How to Build an Emmy-Winning Videojournalism Department” by Kathy Kieliszewski of the Detroit Free Press, to a look at how Erik Olsen, a former ABC TV cameraman, transitioned to being a one-man band video journalist for The New York Times. Also check out “Ken Kobre’s 10 Tips for Dramatically Improving Your Videojournalism Stories.” Halstead also wanted me to upload about 30 of my favorite still photos I’ve taken over my career. You can check out that gallery here. This is one Digital Journalist issue you won’t want to miss.

Are newspapers losing their multimedia mojo?

Around the multimedia blogosphere, the January doldrums seem to have kicked in. My usual inspirational haunts like Newsvideographer.com, Teaching Online Journalism, Multimediashooter.com have all slowed their publishing cycles. Even my own blog is in need of a New Year’s kick-start. With all the newspaper layoffs last year, over 8,000 from one count, I’m sensing a definite decrease in the multimedia mojo I felt just a year ago. Even the NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest I run had the lowest amount of entries ever this month.

I’m not saying there’s not good work being produced. There is. I just feel the recession and layoffs have forced the pace of newsroom innovation to slow to a crawl. I fear the brain drain at many newspapers, including my own, has left them frozen in place. Many papers simply do not have the staff or resources left to be competitive on two, let alone, three platforms anymore.

In the last round of layoffs at my newspaper, we lost many of the multimedia journalists who embraced the idea that the web would eventually become our main publishing platform. Talk of innovation has pretty much ceased at the grass roots level. Now, most in editorial are waiting for direction from higher powers to see what comes next.

As I sit in my supply closet video editing suite, surrounded by shelves of unused gear from laid off former co-workers, I wonder if the last five years of training myself to break the chains of legacy storytelling was all for naught. If tomorrow, I stopped shooting video, stopped being a cheerleader for multimedia, stopped asking for new features on our website, would anybody at my paper care? Would it be more of a relief to some that I was not challenging them to try new ways of storytelling? Perhaps. I’m sure some acquaint our former push to be web-centric as a cancer that has gone into remission. Me? I am constantly fighting the forces of negativity from an industry that seems to be in an endless tailspin of turmoil. I don’t brandish terms like “the printed newspaper is dead,” anymore. That just gets me eye rolls.  Most in our newsroom have retreated to focusing on our traditional print product that thankfully, for now, still pays our salaries.

I went from being part of one of the most innovative, forward thinking newsrooms in the country, to now taking a back seat in my out-of-sight supply closet. I feel frustration that mine and most other newspapers are not doing more to prepare for their digital futures. When I started this blog a year ago, I was so full of hope. Now that hope too, has been forced into unwelcome remission. Not totally gone mind you. I’m just going to wait this downturn out. You see, if I can survive the next future round of layoffs, I believe the need for innovative people and ideas will flow once again.  If not, I’m sure what ever rises from the ashes will need a visual journalist who can do it all.

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.

Newsvideographer reviews S-R report

The buzz about the Gang of Eight, a group of young journalists who were tasked up finding a better way to streamline The Spokesman-Review newsroom structure, has been making its way around the blogoshere lately. Angela Grant with Newsvideographer.com has a thoughtful review of the report’s suggestions for handling multimedia better. You can view the Gang’s report here, or checkout the Nick Eaton’s blog for more info. He was on task force.