One of the best things to happen to me since I became The Spokesman-Review’s multimedia editor was that I finally got an office with a window. Being stuck in a windowless cave for three years editing video had me looking downright pasty.
Shortly after I was promoted, I was able to make my first hire for an open multimedia producer position. Luckily I didn’t have to look far. Brian Immel had just graduating from Washington State University when I offered him the job. Now Immel and I share a small office crammed with cool technology. Some newsroom smart aleck taped a sign on the our office door proclaiming us members of the “AV Club.” In a way the high school label fits. It’s just us two geeks talking none-stop about geeky things.
Before I was gifted the office, I was first assigned to the what many of us salt mine workers affectingly call the Death Star– a cluster of six desks that make up the universal assignment desk. My three-months on station there were tough. Nothing sucks the creativity out of you faster than having to listen to a city editor talk endlessly on the phone with angry readers who object to something published in the newspaper. During that dark time, I seriously thought about slinking back to the photo department to ask for my old job and dark edit cave back.
Now in the confines of my sunlit office, I feel reenergized. I am supervisor to three people in online who are wicked smart. They all know their jobs so well that I don’t have to supervise them much. That has left time for me to meddle in other areas like, oh I don’t know—the rest of the newsroom.
One of my longtime mantras has been that there can be no more “just photographers” or “just reporters.” Everyone now needs to be multimedia producers. That’s my story and I’ve been sticking to it. My goal is not to change the newsroom en masse, but to empower one person at a time with the multimedia tools and training that will allow them to be successful in producing content for online. I thought it would be a tough task, but in reality I find the S-R newsroom incredibly receptive.
Over time, I have asked a lot of people, including:
- Reporters to not only to write narrative scripts for videos, but also to voice them
- Reporters to gather audio to layer with their online stories
- Web producers to shoot and edit video
- Photographers to add video to their storytelling toolbox
- Photographers to gather audio and produce audio slideshows
- Editors to help identify and pass on multimedia possibilities quickly
All this has meant that Brian and me spend a lot of time making people in the newsroom feel comfortable with new technology like digital recorders and small video cameras.
If we give someone the multimedia tools they want, I’ve found they will do most of the heavy lifting themselves. Brian and me do a lot of demonstrating of technology to the rest of the newsroom. Every paper should have a Brian Immel on staff. He is the young demographics perfect storm– smart, Internet savvy; a person who searches out and uses all the online tools available. He understands more than anyone else at my newspaper the nuances of the Internet. He can shoot and edit a video, is photojournalist and he can write code, such as high-level Flash Action Script, to build online tools and content. Yet, he is personable and patient enough to teach technology to the rest of the newsroom.
I think many other newspapers probably have a Brain Immel on staff. Unfortunately, they are seen as having too little journalism experience to be taken seriously. You just have to peruse The Angry Journalist website to realize how this young generation of journalists are being ignored by newsroom management. Seeing little opportunity, they are fleeing newspapers just when they are needed most. I won’t let that happen to Brian.
What I’ve come to realize in my geeky discussions with Immel, is how little I really know about how his generation uses, shares and connects with information online. I think for newspapers to survive in this rapidly changing digital world, they will need to start listening more to the young people hired fresh out of college like Immel. Let them come to planning meetings with senior staff. Give them a voice and let them use it. If newspapers are ever going to make their online sites successful, then they’ll need to listen to the generation that is actually using the medium to it fullest.