The importance of multi-modal reporting in the news industry’s digital shift

9 06 2011
Editor’s note: As a member of AAJA’s 2011 Voices Program, I’ll be covering their national journalism convention (this year in Detroit) come August. But before then, I’ll be partaking in some pre-convention training at Poynter’s News University. I figured sharing some of the jewels of wisdom I come across on my site will provide a great resource for others.

Thinking like a multimedia reporter (strengths and weaknesses in each platform). It goes beyond being able to write a story for print, and produce video and interactive maps online. A journalist fluent in multimedia should be able to create multiple platforms that play up to each medium’s strengths.

Regardless of platform, all reporting require the basics: the facts (who, what, when, where, why and how), sources and newsworthiness (a reason to listen/read/watch). But how these essentials are packaged will look differently to each platform. A short rundown:

For broadcasting, you want to use a strong visual or audio grab to get the viewer’s attention. And unlike print/text platforms, you want to convey one idea per sentence in a style that feels conversational. Using a video clip for television and audio piece for radio in your story will boost its credibility and make it more interesting. The biggest weakness for broadcasting is that complex issues can be extremely difficult to summarize or simplify in a 60 to 90 second spot.

For print, it’s all about the lede and inverted pyramid. When people pick up a newspaper, the photo (if you have one), headline, lede and nut graf will be the main factors considered when deciding whether or not to read the entire story. Using words that utilize vivid detail and the senses (sight, sound, touch, smell and taste) can sometimes create a much stronger visual than a picture or video can. The strength for this platform can also be its weakness. Often times, words sometimes fall short to completely explain something that a video or audio platform can do better at.

For online, two approaches are used: the short summary for scanners and the online exclusives for information diggers. The first option means, using the inverted pyramid approach for short bursts of info. Or if it’s a longer story, breaking it up into bolded subheads or bullets are the way to go. Scanners tend to just read headlines and the first graf of a story and move on. For online exclusives, news packages including interactive maps, links, Flash and audio-visual elements are commonly used. Technical aspects like content management systems and having an online package outlive changes in technology pose a challenge for this platform.

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How our digital society is changing storytelling

9 02 2010

I recently watched “digital_nation” a PBS special on the impact of digital technology on habits, behaviors, way of thinking and humanity. The more I watched, the more I realized: we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Via FRONTLINE's "digital_nation" special page

Much of my generation grew up right in the middle of the surge of the personal computer, Internet and digitization of our reality. And right now, everyone–not just news companies–is trying to understand what this means.

But an interesting aspect to look at is how the nature of storytelling is being molded by the digital age.

As technology further develops, more and more avenues for media are being created, allowing storytelling to be told in a dynamic and new way.

The art of storytelling has surpassed its oratory roots, and encompasses almost any outlet and tool that technology can provide.

There is no medium that has been untouched by humanity’s urge to tell and hear a story. In the same vein as Ray Kinsella played by Kevin Costner heard in the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams,” if you build it, they will come. If a new compelling way to communicate, connect and share information is created, people will utilize that medium.

But perhaps no other medium allows the flexibility and possibility for multimodal storytelling as the Internet so freely permits. One of the most visible effects of this recent phenomenon can be seen in the news industry.

News saturates every conceivable medium: print, radio, television and the Internet. Much of the news is driven by stories.

Whether it be about a community overcoming tragedy like the 1999 Columbine shooting or a country devastated by natural disaster like the recent deadly earthquakes that hit Haiti, it is not just the facts that people crave but it is always in the context of a person, community or society.
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