The intentional online journalism package

Ronald A. Yaros, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland and the director of the Lab For Communicating Complexity, contended in his 2009 article Mastering Multimedia 
that journalists need to find a way to keep readers engaged in online media packages.  He argues that a good package needs to be “contiguous”– that is, the process of adding multimedia elements and combining them with text at just the right place in a story.

Back in 2009, and still today, publications will throw print articles online, slap a video next to or underneath the article, and call it a multimedia package.  But Yaros argues that placement of multimedia components must be intentional and accommodate a reader’s instinct to think linearly on a non-linear webpage. 

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Yaros explains: “Text with one or two specific photos plus at least one brief (i.e., 10-second) video clip, combined with appropriately placed audience input and an explanatory graphic or brief animation addressed in the text, is more effective at extending the engagement of the general news audience than a dense page of text or a page with four- or five-minute videos.”

Readers need breaks in their reading or the writer will lose them.  But these breaks also have to make sense, and they can’t last for to long. Thus, a block of text and then a one or two minute video that further illustrates the text and stimulates the senses increases the reader’s time on the page.

 

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Is Twitter ruining journalism?

PBS Off Book, a web series that explores art and internet culture, produced a video that puts into perspective a question that many newspeople have been asking themselves lately: “Is Twitter ruining journalism or making it better?”

Analysts in the video charge that Twitter enables journalists to develop and share stories as they’re happening. At the same time, anyone with a Twitter account is able to do the same thing. Which information is valid? It’s hard to say– but that doesn’t mean journalism doesn’t have a place among the torrent of tweets.

Journalists have a responsibility to help bring news that matters to the surface.  Trending topics on Twitter can be dismal in terms of representing what people are most interested in– so news people need to try their hardest to not only let people know what’s going on in their world, but let them know why those things are relevant to their lives.

The video also makes the point that if the public determines what is news and what is not through what they read on the Twittersphere, which is traditionally the role of the news media, our society may become even more fragmented than many scholars say media has already caused it to become.

 

Here are some notable quotes from the video that may make you stop and think about Twitter’s role in journalism, and vice versa:

“Journalism is less about making a product and more about providing a service.”

Journalists who really excel at Twitter are those who recognize that it’s not just a promotional platform…it’s a global conversation.”

“We have to break out of this idea that news is a once-a-day platform.” 

Twitter indicated election 2012 outcome

HootSuite, an online dashboard that allows you to connect to multiple social networks from one website, delved into the tricky game of election analytics this election cycle and found out a few interesting things from their results.

By analyzing tweets and tweets only, the people at HootSuite were able to predict the nature of public sentiment toward both presidential candidates.

What they found was that tweets about Obama were around 20 percent negative, while tweets about Romney were 36 percent negative.

HootSuite started aggregating these statistics during the last few weeks of the race.

Additionally, many more people in general were tweeting about Obama than Romney, according to twitter stats. On Nov. 5, about 59,000 people tweeted @mittromney while more than 85,000 tweeted Barack Obama. When it became clear that Obama was going to sweep the election, the incumbent president’s twitter mentions became increasingly more common than those about Romney.

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On the flip side, Paul Ryan’s twitter account was much more popular than Biden’s during the election, but first lady Michelle Obama trumped Ann Romney’s popularity stats exponentially.

Obviously, these statistics are not demographically representative of the U.S. population. Twitter users tend to be younger, I would assume, and younger generations were more supportive of Obama’s camp than Romney’s.  Even still, HootSuite’s analysis offers an interesting glimpse into the public opinion that is thrown so freely into cyberspace and, in essence, is at the complete disposal of media scrutinization.

Online newspapers- what you’re actually paying for

I’ve heard lots of grumbling over the past couple of years whenever another newspaper puts a paywall up on their site.  People have become accustomed to surfing the web and digesting whatever information they’d like to freely, and many see paying for online news as antithetical to their basic right to roam on the world wide web.

But if you think about it, it makes sense.  Online newspapers offer what their print predecessors cannot-interactivity through engaging multimedia. If people paid for simple text and photos before (not to belittle the hard work that goes into producing a print product) why should they feel robbed when they’re charged for seeing/experiencing content that may have taken days, weeks, or even months to put together?

Not to mention, newspapers have to stay afloat somehow. And many aren’t because they haven’t figured out a web model of providing information that people might willingly pay for.

With all that in mind, I do believe that if a publication is to charge for their online content, it should have a quality multimedia value to it.  Online subscribers deserve to have a different experience than they do when they open up the paper every morning. I think that some papers have jumped the gun, believing they have to keep up with the Joneses, and they’re charging for material that lacks the interactive oomph that other publications make a point to supply.

Since I’ve been reading online news I’ve always appreciated the multimedia the New York Times provides with many of their stories. They usually have galleries and videos for articles that should have those accompanying elements.

To see what I mean, check out their coverage/videos/photos of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath here.

Audio editing on the go

The iTunes app store is teeming with  applications ready to be taken advantage of by multimedia-obsessed journalists. This, obviously, is a good thing. But since there are a lot of complicated tools out there that might trip up a reporter on deadline, it’s probably best to stick to the good and simple applications iTunes has to offer.

I stumbled upon the Hindenburg Field Recorder while researching such easy-to-use applications. 

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The general gist of the app:

1. You record your interviews through its interface

2. You edit the recording from your phone with a system similar to Audacity (this includes being able to layer sound clips, if you’d like)

3. Once edited, you can share the file straight from your phone via email, SoundCloud, iTunes, or load it onto an FTP server.

The “lite” version of Hindenburg is free (through this you can edit and export a maximum of one minute of audio), but the full application is $29.99. A little steep for a reporter’s pocketbook– but you can’t put a price on convenience, right?

Digestible multimedia journalism – what makes a project work

While perusing the Internet for good examples of multimedia journalism to model my upcoming projects after, I stumbled upon a package by the San Jose Mercury News  that chronicles the lives of people living in a soon-to-be torn-down trailer park in Sunnyvale, Calif. in 2007.

Marilyn Baker takes a rest while one of her grandsons Eric moves her belongings onto an U-Hall truck on May 30, 2007 at Flick’s Mobile Home Park in Sunnyvale. (Dai Sugano / Mercury News)

There were several things about the package’s composition that kept me watching.

  1. Dynamic alternation between still photos and video.
  2. Tasteful use of black and white and shadowy that seemed to match the sadness of the trailer park residents. Slow, minor-key background music was also present throughout the videos, but it didn’t distract from the message of the story.
  3. Whenever a question of detail came to mind, the pace of the video slowed and text materialized that explained why exactly the trailer park was being torn down, how long the residents had to move out, etc.  But the information wasn’t overburdening– it was concise.
  4. The video story’s sources showed contrast between the lives of a young family (even the family’s youngest daughter and how being uprooted from her area middle school and friends would be difficult at her age) and an elderly woman who didn’t have anywhere else to go.  The conflict and strife illustrated in this project spanned generations.

To take a look at this great example of multimedia journalism, click here.