Examples of great multimedia

For a semester now, I’ve pointed my  multimedia introduction students towards a bunch of good multimedia sites and asked to  find and share in class something that they’ve really liked. It’s good for them because they have to look at multimedia in a critical way. It’s good for me because I find neat new things I haven’t come across before.

Highrise,” from the Canada’s National Film Board,  is an interesting way to present what is essentially a feature length documentary about “vertical suburbs” in a non linear way. Lots of opportunity for exploration here, lots of stills and animation. It’s so big that I haven’t had a chance to fully explore it.

Threat Theater,” from the Washington Post, is a nice little video about “threat assessment instructor,” a man who trains personal protects to identify and deal with threats. He does this by acting out the roles. No B-roll to speak of, but interesting and well edited.

As always there were several from MediaStorm, including “Driftless: Stories from Iowa,” “The Marlboro Marine” and “The Ninth Floor.” All good, photo-driven multimedia pieces. It must be the heft that so impresses students.

Several students selected part from The New York Times‘ “One in Eight Million” series. Each piece tells the story of a single New Yorker. The favorite was The Ladies’ Man, but I love how each story is introduced with a great audio clip from the subject.

“I speak restaurant HTML”

There was a Roger Ebert — yes that Roger Ebert — Twitter post the other day got me thinking: “I speak restaurant HTML.”

When I worked in restaurant kitchens, before launching into my current, glamorous career, I could speak what is commonly called “restaurant Spanish;” that is I knew some basic vocabulary and syntax that helped me communicate with the native Spanish speakers we employed.

It didn’t get me very far during the week or so I spent in Spain, but got the job done in the limited confines of a kitchen during the dinner rush.

Restaurant HTML, as Ebert coined, is the bare minimum journalists need to know to operate. Most don’t need to understand the difference between a <div> tag and a <span> tag, but they should be able to embed a video, place an image and hyperlink text. Basic stuff.

Are most journalists going to be whipping up Web pages from scratch? Of course not; most will be using CMSs that have be built by Web designers fluent in HTML. But they do need to understand enough basic vocabulary and syntax so that they can post their own images and videos in blog posts, or format text online, or add links. You know, those things that make the Web the Web?

If your school’s curriculum hasn’t found a way to incorporate this basic stuff into core classes, you’re doing your students a disservice.

What does “a place to hack” mean?

Robert Niles posted a list of 8 things journalism students should demand from their journalism schools. Included on that this was “a place to hack”

Online is becoming the dominant news publish medium. And online publishing will not look the way it does today 10 years from now, just as it looks little now like it did 10 years ago. Students need forums in which to explore and test their interactive publishing skills. They need sandboxes in which to play.

While traditional syllabi train students in established story forms, students must demand time and access to explore emerging forms, in social media and whatever else they might dream up. Hacking isn’t simply programming; it’s an attitude that encourages people to find new uses for old forms. That’s something journalism desperately needs. If a school doesn’t provide those opportunities for its students, they must demand it.

This is the tricky one on Niles’ list, but I think the most important one. Here’s the question: What does “a place to hack” mean to you?

For me, it means kindergarten-like unstructured time to play with journalism tools (new and old). Of course, because this is school, you have to justify what you’re doing somehow, maybe by narrating your work as you go and having some sort of reflection on whatever the final result is.


A suggested user list for Iowa’s j-school students

I usually cover social media generally — and Twitter specifically — as a reporting and audience-building tool the last day of my multimedia course. (Social media isn’t multimedia per se, but I worry that if I don’t cover it, it won’t come up at the j-school at all, though that’s changing.) This semester, I’ve moved it earlier, hoping I can provide more than a quick look before the class ends. Perhaps it will even become a tool to organize classes. We’ll see.

But one thing is certain: Twitter isn’t fun or interesting or useful unless you have interesting people to follow. I’ve tried to build a list of suggestions for my students that will be relevant, informative and interesting. These are all people I follow and enjoy. You might not; drop ’em and find new people.

Anyway, here are 10, in no particular order:

Steve Buttry, @stevebuttry, has had several titles at The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette, most recently 3C coach. He shares interesting journalism links and commentary.

Dr. Daily, @DrDaily, The Daily Iowan incarnate, at least on Twitter and Facebook. Driven by my former student Adam B. Sullivan, the DI‘s convergence editor.

John Dickerson, @jdickerson, writes for Slate and CBS News and shares interesting observations. He pimps his own work as @johndickerson.

Mindy McAdams, @macloo, teaches online journalism at the University of Florida.

Mark Luckie, @10000words, is the author of the blog 10,000 Words, which focuses on digital and multimedia journalism, and the forthcoming book The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.

Jay Rosen, @jayrosen_nyu, teaches journalism at New York University.

Ryan Sholin, @ryansholin, is the director of news innovation at the journalism start-up Publish 2 and created ReportingOn and the Wired Journalists.

Mr. Tweet, @MrTweet, is a tool that helps find other people you might find interesting by analyzing who you follow and who they follow. Another option is @LocalTweeps.

Kottke.org, @kottke, is run by Jason Kottke, who curates the Web and shares the most interesting links on Twitter and his Web site.

Dave Winer, @davewiner, is, to oversimplify, a software developer who has a real interesting in news. He was a pioneer of blogging, podcasting and in the development RSS. He’s building RSScloud, which he hopes will be an open Twitter-like system. Don’t worry, lots of this stuff is over my head, too.

Like I said, these are people who tweet about things I’m interesting. Of course, you’ll want to add people who tweet about things you’re interested in: sports, food, narrative journalism, politics, public relations, or teh (often inappropriate) funny.

What “new-media journalism” skills do you need, anyway?

Combing through my RSS feeds earlier this week, I came across a post from Rob Curley looking for interns. I posted a link on Twitter, which then goes to FriendFeed and Facebook (which, sadly, still makes it impossible to find permalinks), since the Las Vegas Sun is doing really cool things and thought my students would do well to apply.

One of my current multimedia students shot me a message:

Read the description of his internship openings in his blog and I definitely feel like the student he’s talking about, that can write but has no other “new-media journalism” skills. In your opinion, aside from what we’re doing in your class, what more can I do to get up to speed with what’s going on in the profession currently and make myself more marketable after graduating? Any pointers would be appreciated!

It’s a good question, and one that a few years ago wouldn’t have been asked. (I think there are fewer students who go into journalism because they want to be “a writer” these days, but I have no hard evidence to back that up.) I though it would be worth posting my answer here.

This is a tricky question. A few years ago, knowing how to do a little bit of everything — writing, video, audio, photography, coding — could land you a job at a pretty plum news organization (I remember seeing a multimedia job at The Baltimore Sun a few years ago that was an entry-level position, for example), even if you weren’t great at any one thing. But multimedia production has become more specialized. Photographers tend to be the videographers and audio gatherers and SoundSlide producers. Lots of organizations have specialized data teams that include some heavyduty coders (and talented journalists in their own right). But there is no such thing as “just a writer” anymore, for better or for worse, except for people such as The New York Times‘s re-write man Robert D. McFadden.

I think you’ll want to practice, hone and refine the skills we’re teaching in multimedia introduction (a five-week, 1 credit-hour course required of all majors that touches on HTML, video and audio collection and editing, blogging, social media, writing for the Web and multimedia packaging). You’ll want to understand cross-platform news production, how to package and re-package news for different platforms and products. Knowing how to code HTML/CSS/JavaScript would be helpful, too, as would learning how to put together an audio slide show. Understanding social media and how to use tools like Twitter and Facebook to find sources and stories — as well as promote your own work  —  is important.

J-schools don’t have the resources to teach all the new media skills you’ll need, so willingness to learn on your own will be key. But much of what you learn in school will be obsolete in a few years, anyway. Things will continue to change as technology changes. The move to mobile phones as the main news delivery device is getting closer and with that will come more stuff to learn.

So keep learning. Read industry blogs and follow interesting journalists and professors and college students on Twitter (and maybe even the crazy ones). Read, watch and listen critically. Be hungry. If you want it, you’ll find a place in this new media landscape.

Of course, a lot of it depends on what, exactly, you want to do. Photographers don’t need to know how to code in ActionScript, but some do. And the more you know, the easier it will be to get a job that you actually want when you’re finished school. But don’t forget the basics, the foundations. You’ll still have to know how to report, how to interview and how write. That’s not going to change.