Tag Archives: multimedia

3 reasons why 2014 was the year news organisations finally ‘got’ web-native production

obama multimedia story

This Independent story includes two embedded YouTube videos and a Flickr photo gallery

Something remarkable happened this year. Something I’ve been waiting for for a long time.

News reports on the web finally started to look more and more like… well, web-native articles.

Not print articles online, not broadcast journalism online, but online journalism, online. I’m talking about journalism which isn’t just text: whether that means linking and embedding or mixing text with images, video or audio.

So what changed in 2014? Here are three factors I’ve noticed growing in influence over the last 12 months. Continue reading

How do you cost your work as a freelance multimedia/data/community journalist? 3 questions to ask

Money and dice on scales

Dice and Money on Scales image by Images Money

Costing up your work as a freelance in multimedia, liveblogging, data journalism, community management or SEO isn’t straightforward. There’s no simple answer to ‘How much should I charge for this particular work?’ because the field isn’t standardised enough to have reliable rates.

But there are three questions you can ask yourself which can help you set a price or feel comfortable with the decision you make about taking or turning down work.

Question 1: What are your costs?

The basic cost is your time. How much time do you realistically think the work will take? And how much do you value that time, e.g. per hour? Journalism often takes more time than anticipated: contacts take more chasing; case studies fall through. Editors ask for new versions.

Travel is another cost, and accommodation and food for some work too. It may be worth negotiating on these costs separately, rather than including it in the fee, so the two can be distinguished.

Then there are equipment costs if you are working in multimedia. These are generally not specific to the project so shouldn’t have a big impact – but they do have an impact on question 3 below.

Question 2: What value does the work add to you?

How much value do you get from the work, for example:

  • Will it add to your CV in areas that it lacks (rather than areas you already have)?
  • Will it build your reputation?
  • Does it give you an opportunity to learn new skills that you couldn’t learn otherwise?
  • Does it give you an opportunity to meet people or gain access to places you wouldn’t otherwise – and what will add value to you in some way?

Question 3: What supply and demand exists for your skills?

Like any market, prices in journalism are significantly shaped by supply and demand.

For example, if there are very few people offering the skills that you have, and – crucially – a lot of clients demanding your skills, then you can ask for more.

 

Multimedia is one area where an investment in equipment can narrow the pool of those able to offer similar services – but not always.

It should be a judgement based on experience, not ego. You may think your skills are valuable, but if you’re not getting a lot of approaches for work then the demand is not there at this time. But if you’re getting more offers than you have time to do, then try increasing your price.

If the market is flooded by people with particular skills, prices drop. This is why freelance print journalism is so poorly paid: work that might take you two weeks to produce might only command £100, or £50, or zero, because there are enough people competing to do it for that price.

But it’s worth remembering that they might be competing to do it for that price because they a) think it will take them less time than you (rightly or wrongly); and/or b) get more value from the work than you. In other words, they have different answers to questions 1 and 2 above.

Upping the price: gathering an evidence base

One of the reasons why you may be offered less money than you expect is because publishers often don’t know the value of content themselves. Liveblogging, multimedia, and other new formats are still establishing their worth, while journalism as a whole continues to depreciate.

So collect evidence on effectiveness and make a case for the value your work has.

For example, liveblogging is known to drive traffic; there is evidence that data journalism tends to have much higher dwell times than other journalism. Multimedia generates higher engagement metrics. Good community management can increase conversion rates.

video-viewing-length-by-device-2012-ooyala

Showing the value of longform video – image from Ooyala 2012 end of year index report

 

Simple tools like bit.ly allow you to measure things like clickthrough on links; asking for analytics from employers – or even negotiating extra payments based on performance can encourage clients to look at metrics they might otherwise be ignorant of.

Do you have any other factors you consider when pricing up work? 

Online video and audio – a multimedia introduction

Here are a series of videos, audio slideshows and podcasts that demonstrate some key lessons in producing audio and video for the web – and how that is different from broadcast.

Here are a series of videos, audio slideshows and podcasts that demonstrate some key lessons in producing audio and video for the web – and how that is different from broadcast.

http://storify.com/paulbradshaw/online-video-and-audio-a-multimedia-introduction/

How to get started as a multimedia journalist

I’ve now covered almost all of the 5 roles in an investigations team I posted about earlier this year – apart from the multimedia journalist role. So here’s how to get started in that role.

Multimedia journalism is a pretty nebulous term. As a result, in my experience, when students try to adopt the role two main problems recur: 1) having a narrow assumption of what multimedia means (i.e. video) and 2) not being able to see the multimedia possibilities of your work.

Multimedia journalism is a very different beast to broadcast journalism. In broadcast journalism your role was comparatively simple: you had one medium to use, and a well-worn format to employ.

Put another way: in broadcast journalism the medium was imposed on the story; in multimedia journalism, the story imposes the medium.

Multimedia also has to deal with the style challenge I’ve written about previously:

“Not only must they be able to adapt their style for different types of reporting; not only must they be able to adapt for different brands; not only must they be able to adapt their style within different brands across multiple media; but they must also be able to adapt their style within a single medium, across multiple platforms: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Flickr, YouTube, or anywhere else that their audiences gather.”

With that in mind, then, here are 4 steps to get started in multimedia journalism:

Step 1: Look for multimedia opportunities in your journalism

The style challenge outlined above means starting from a position of having to decide what medium to use – and the type of multimedia which is produced in this role will depend largely on the nature of the stories and investigations being pursued. Here are some typical examples of where multimedia can bring an extra dimension to a story:

  • Case studies: video or audio interviews with someone at the heart of the story: affected by the issue or working at the coalface
  • Reaction: video or audio interview with the person responsible: capturing their attempts to explain their role
  • Clarity: charts, maps or infographic turning data into something that users can understand more quickly. Tools useful here include Google Charts and Gadgets (in Google Docs), Many Eyes and Tableau for charts; Tagxedo, Wordle or Many Eyes for word clouds; Google Maps and BatchGeo for maps; and Infogr.am for infographics.
  • Explanation: taking something complex and making it accessible to a wider audience – this might be done through a graphic, or through a video or audio interview with an expert who can explain it clearly – including a member of the team
  • Conflict and chemistry: staging a podcast discussion to flesh out the key themes in the issue being explored. This can be done in an entertaining way if your presenters have chemistry, or it can be done in an engaging way if you have two camps in conflict (make sure you can add clarity and expertise into the noise)
  • Interactivity: producing something that users can interact with. Freedive is a useful tool for doing this with spreadsheets. There are also timeline tools like Dipity and Meograph, and charts and maps can be interactive too.
  • Curation: bringing together multimedia content by users in a way that adds value

The multimedia journalist needs to be able to spot those opportunities for multimedia to play a role – and develop the skills to see them through. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the story involve complex concepts that might be better illustrated through visual or aural means?
  • Does the story require a response from someone, or a description of an event, where non-verbal cues such as their tone of voice or facial expression may be key?
  • Are there different positions which would suit a discussion to flesh them out?
  • Is there so much information involved that users might want to explore it themselves to pull out the bits directly relevant to them?
  • Does the story involve figures or data that work better visually than in text?
  • Is there user generated content related to the issue – online or in offline archives, or individuals’ possession – which could be brought together and highlighted?

Looking at plenty of examples of online multimedia is very important here. For the reasons explained above, broadcast journalism is not always the best example to follow. Look at David McCandless’s visualisation work or the discussions about best practice on Flowing Data. Look at the video work of Travis Fox and Michael Rosenblum’s students. Watch The Guardian’s video and the documentary channel on Vimeo. Listen to the most popular podcasts and micropodcasts; soak in audio slideshows – and ask yourself what makes them so effective.

The technical quality – and I know people will disagree with this – can wait.

Step 2: Plan and practise

The reason that I place technical skills second here is this: if you don’t have a story to tell, you are going to have neither the means nor the motive to develop your technical skills.

Furthermore, because there are now so many technical options available to the journalist, learning them all before going out to report is not the most efficient option.

So: story first, technicalities second.

Once you have a story, you have to decide how best to tell it. If it’s video, you will need to learn that. If maps, then look at that.

Don’t wait for someone to show you how: there are thousands of resources online to get you started, from Vimeo’s Video School and YouTube’s Playbook to the BBC College’s resources andMindy McAdams’s collection on audio and video production.

YouTube has tons of tutorials on pretty much any skill you might want to tackle, but there are also text resources such as The Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Handbook Part 1 (PDF) and Part 2 which cover mapping and data visualisation, among other useful techniques, and the Knight Digital Media Center’s extensive tutorials.

For photography there’s this free book on DSLR Cinematography, while videographers can choose between this ebook (PDF) by Adam Westbrook on multimedia production and ImageJunkies’s free ebook on news and documentary filmmaking.

If you’re struggling for a reason to use multimedia, liveblogging is a particularly good opportunity to practise your skills: when there’s lots going on, what are the multimedia opportunities:

  • Do you need to be in position for when something visually or aurally striking happens?
  • Or do you need to interview the people taking part, for colour?
  • Do you capture the atmosphere somehow?
  • Do you map it?
  • Do you attempt to flesh out rumours with some actuality?

Every choice counts – be prepared to make a lot of wrong ones, or at least to accept that part of the journalist’s job is deciding what to leave out.

Your first attempts will be crude and frustrating – but they will point you to the key issues, and provide the motivation for learning the techniques.

For example, your video may have poor audio, or be too shaky. There may be too much of you in it. Your map may have too little information. Your audio drones on for too long, then sputters out.

Largely this is about planning: checking out the location and picking a place where background audio isn’t too loud. Briefing the interviewee and getting in close. Researching your subject and knowing the right questions to ask – and when not to accept an answer.

So practise. Learn how to edit your work, just as you would edit your words. Learn how to film closely, or with a microphone, or both to get clearer sound. Learn how to kick off and wrap up audio succinctly. Practise.

Step 3: Improve the technical side with an understanding of principles

An understanding of key principles is just as important as technical ability: you need to understand what works well in a chosen medium: being able to hold a camera is worthless if you point it at something dull. Being able to edit audio isn’t going to help if you don’t ask the right questions in the interview. As countless examples of citizen journalism have proved: people will forgive poor technical quality if the newsworthiness of the content is strong enough. Here are some key principles that come to mind – I’d welcome others:

  • Narrative: how to start, maintain interest, and end well.
  • Interviewing: what questions to ask, when and how.
  • Editing and composition: how to combine elements for maximum clarity and effect. Being ruthless in taking things out.
  • Visual design: how to compose an image for impact, or what is most effective in a chart

Just as the story provides a focus for the development of technical skills, so these core principles should refine those further. In particular, they should help you make choices quickly, including the difficult ones. What to start with and what to end with. When and what to cut away. How to be confident in what you’re doing, and push for the right result.

Step 4: Start simple, and go from there

With those three steps established, there may be a temptation to try something with multiple angles, cuts, sections, or layers. So the final step is to step back, and start simple.

Mobile video is a good discipline here: it prevents you from using cutaways and other techniques to disguise your content – and forces you to focus on core qualities: clear audio, good questions, and an engaging subject.

Maps and charts should focus on a few key data points, and link to the rest.

A short podcast, tightly edited, will develop your production skills much better than a flabby multi-section programme which pulls you in too many different directions.

If you’re already good at photography, an audio slideshow will stretch you a little further. Master one part, and then build on that.

Comments especially welcome

How to get started as a multimedia journalist

Investigations team flowchart

I’ve now covered almost all of the 5 roles in an investigations team I posted about earlier this year – apart from the multimedia journalist role. So here’s how to get started in that role.

Multimedia journalism is a pretty nebulous term. As a result, in my experience, when students try to adopt the role two main problems recur: 1) having a narrow assumption of what multimedia means (i.e. video) and 2) not being able to see the multimedia possibilities of your work.

Multimedia journalism is a very different beast to broadcast journalism. In broadcast journalism your role was comparatively simple: you had one medium to use, and a well-worn format to employ.

Put another way: in broadcast journalism the medium was imposed on the story; in multimedia journalism, the story imposes the medium.

Continue reading

‘Chunking’ online content? Don’t assume we start at the same point

Online multimedia production has for a few years now come with the guidance to ‘chunk’ content: instead of producing linear content, as you would for a space in a linear broadcast schedule, you split your content into specific chunks of material that each tackles a different aspect of the issue or story being covered. Interfaces like these show the idea in practice best:

Being a Black Man interactive

The concept is particularly well explained by Mindy McAdams (on text), and Andy Dickinson (on video, below): Continue reading

Bella Hurrell on data journalism and the BBC News Specials Team

BBC_Special_ReportsBella Hurrell is the Specials Editor with BBC News Online. I asked her how data journalism was affecting their work for a forthcoming article. Here is her response in full:

The BBC news specials team produces multimedia interactives, daily graphics as well as more complex data visualisations. The team consists of journalists, designers and developers all working closely together, sitting alongside each other.

We have found that proximity really important to the success of projects. Although we have done this for a while, increasingly other organisations are reorganising along these lines after coming to realise the benefits of breaking down silos and co-locating people with different skillsets can produce more innovative solutions at a faster pace.

As data visualisation has come into the zeitgeist, and we have started using it more regularly in our story-telling, journalists and designers on the specials team have become much more proficient at using basic spreadsheet applications like Excel or Google Docs. We’ve boosted these and other skills through in house training or external summer schools and conferences.

Data as a service, data as a story

There are two interrelated elements to data journalism: firstly data as a service, often involving publicly available data.  The school league tables which the BBC news website has produced every year for over a decade are an example here. We know they are hugely popular and they provide a valuable public service for users. More recently the government has started to get better at putting data / information  online, so we have adjusted our coverage. Instead of replicating what is done by government sites (such as providing individual school pages) we try to provide value by doing something extra, such as mini charts and the ability to select and compare schools – as well as news stories and analysis.

The second element is data as a story. The simple fact that loads of data has been published is not really very interesting to most people. Data is only useful if it is personal – I want to find out about schools in my area, restaurants near me and so on – or when it reveals something remarkable. The duck pond debacle from MPs expenses data or the Iraq civilian death records kept by the US revealed by Wikileaks’ release of the Iraq war documents are both examples of individual stories from big tranches of data that really resonated.

Dealing with large numbers of documents

With data stories that involve thousands of documents we face two challenges. Firstly deciding whether we can provide a platform or tool for people to look at the documents or data. This can be valuable but might involve significant technical resources and may not be worth doing if others are already providing this service.

Secondly we need to find the stories and then report them but clearly that can be tricky when there are thousands of documents to examine. Crowdsourcing is an obvious approach but we need to use what the crowd tells us. When readers told us about potential stories they spotted in the MPs expenses data we pulled in our whole politics team off normal duties to sift users’ questions and put them directly to the relevant MPs. Then we published their answers on our site. This is a very resource heavy approach and not sustainable over a long time.

Another model for reporting stories that involve large sets of data was Panorama’s public sector pay story, where the website partnered with the investigative unit to tell the story online. The Panorama team spent months collecting data and we provided simple visualisations and  a way for users to examine the data.