Recommended Reading: Three New Multimedia Journalism Books

If you are a multimedia journalist, teacher or student, here are three recently released books I recommend adding to your summer reading list.

Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling by Kenneth Kobre
I recently reviewed half a dozen new multimedia journalism textbooks, and this one by renowned photojournalist and author Kenneth Kobre is my favorite. In addition to techniques for shooting still images and video, gathering audio, and writing scripts, it provides strategies for identifying, evaluating and structuring various kinds of stories. Unlike many text-heavy textbooks, this book is visual and uses stunning photos, graphics and illustrations. And unlike some textbooks that charge extra for online resources or require that you adopt the book for access, this one has an open website with dozens of multimedia examples and resources.

The Data Journalism Handbook by Liliana Bounegru, Lucy Chambers and Jonathan Gray
Data journalism is an emerging field of reporting focused on gathering, sorting, analyzing and presenting vast amounts of electronic information. This open-source book is a collaboration of 50 journalists and programmers and offers data journalism case studies from news organizations like The New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian, and Chicago Tribune. The print version ($24.99) is scheduled to come out in July 2012, but there is a free beta version online.

Inside the Story: A Masterclass in Digital Storytelling by the People Who Do It Best by Adam Westbrook
In this book, 20 successful digital storytellers like Brian Storm, Amy O’Leary, Bob Sacha, Andrew DeVigal and Richard Koci Hernandez share the secrets of their craft in 200 words entries. It isn’t a traditional “how-to” book; it is designed to inspire and challenge and all of the proceeds go to the microloan organization Kiva. The 45-page book, which was sold online for just a few weeks, is not currently available. But the project’s organizer and editor Adam Westbrook wrote in an email that he plans to re-release it again later this summer. See for updates.

My Journalism and Technology Summer Reading List

The Atlantic’s Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism – I’m starting with this great list of articles and radio shows compiled by Conor Friedersdorf. It’s still about reporting and storytelling.

The Big Thaw: Charting a New Future for Journalism by Tony Deifell – This report commissioned by the Media Consortium asks: “Can media producers adapt and lead, or will they disappear with journalism’s ice age?”

Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers – A group of journalism scholars look at how national newspapers in ten Western democracies approach content generated by the people once viewed as “the audience.”

Breaking Journalism Down: Work, Authority, and Networking Local News by C.W. Anderson – An analysis of Philadelphia’s news eco-system from 1997 to 2009. It isn’t published yet, but Anderson was kind enough to send me a draft.

Mediactive by Dan Gillmor – How to become a more active and informed media consumer and creator.

Radio: An Illustrated Guide by Jessica Abel and Ira Glass – From the folks at This American Life, a $5 comic book on how to make a radio show.

You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto by Jaron Lenier – This best-selling book begins with the line: “It’s early in the twenty-first century, and that means that these words will mostly be read by nonpersons – automatons or numb mobs composed of people who are no longer acting as individuals.”

History of News by Mitchell Stephens – Because the original news platform was a drum.

Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality – I’m finally getting around to this “required reading” on multimedia.

Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide by Andy Bull – I’m checking out this college textbook and looking for new resources and approaches for the classroom.

The Bang Bang Club by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva – I have to read the book before I see the movie.

Recommended Reading: Multimedia Journal

multimediajournI recently picked up a copy of Multimedia Journal by Richard Koci Hernandez. The book came out in 2008, but I couldn’t find a review of it, so I thought I’d write about it here.

Multimedia Journal is not the typical online journalism book. It is only 60 pages long, measures 7” x 7”, and contains no HTML tutorials or manifestos about the future of journalism.

In the introduction, Hernandez, who worked at the The San Jose Mercury News and is now a fellow the University of California, Berkeley, writes:

“If you are looking for answers to journalism’s big questions put this book down. Trying to answer or even ponder the questions on the future of journalism are a huge waste of time and stop you from doing what you’re good at: being creative.”

Multimedia Journal, which was self-published using Blurb, is a series of exercises aimed at tapping into the creative process. Each chapter contains a series of activities (i.e. keep a visual journal, start a vlog, use a flip-book, take a picture every day for a year, collect audio sounds from daily life) and lists of inspiring online resources and books. One of my favorite exercises is called “Document Something You Think Is Boring.”

The value of the book is not an argument, information or research; it offers a series of starting points and the reader must create the value for herself.

Hernandez also makes a case for being anonymous when posting online for the first time, arguing that criticism can stifle inspiration.

Anonymity isn’t something I’d advocate in a classroom, but Hernandez isn’t writing lesson plans. He is concerned about separating one’s ego from one’s creative work – which is a difficult task for anyone. In this context, I like Hernandez’s advice. A few years ago, I kept an anonymous blog about a subject I was passionate about. After a year, I deleted it. I enjoyed writing and posting photographs and sharing it online without worrying about reaction. I wasn’t doing it to advance my career or to build my online “brand.” It was fun. And the fun allowed me to be creative in ways I could not be on the job.

I had an idea of what I was getting when I ordered Multimedia Journal. The first 20 pages can be previewed online. I regularly read Hernandez’s blog Multimedia Shooter, (which is currently being revamped). And I’d seen some of the work Hernandez’s students have created.

If I have a complaint about the book, it is that I was left craving more of Hernandez’s advice and insight. I suggest that readers supplement the book with other resources. Watch some of his video pieces, which help illuminate  the exercises and offer concrete examples of how to break out of standard ways of thinking about presenting news.

Also The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University has a four-part video interview with Hernandez, which is worth watching:

Do We Need a New Journalism Vocabulary?

Recently, I’ve encountered some convincing arguments that we may need an entirely new language for understanding and practicing journalism.

A friend recommended I read a book called  The Little Book of Contemplative Photography by  Howard Zehr, a professor and documentary photographer who contends that the words and metaphors of photography – “taking a picture,” “shooting,” “aiming” – are predominately aggressive and predatory, but also inaccurate.

Zehr writes:

This metaphor of taking an image does not accurately reflect the photographic process itself. When we photograph, we do not actually reach out and take anything. A camera is basically a dark box with a receptor (film or digital sensor) on one side and a small opening on the other… When we do photography, we receive an image that is reflected from the subject. Instead of photography as taking, then we can envision it as receiving. Instead of a trophy that is hunted, an image is a gift.

Zehr goes on to suggest new ways of talking about photography. He sees:

  • Image as received vs. image taken
  • Image as ours vs. image as mine
  • Subject as co-creator, collaborator vs. subject as an object
  • Photography as revelation vs. photography as expose.

I found the idea compelling, but wondered if it could be translated to other forms of journalism.

For one, Zehr’s photography is deeply connected to his religious, philosophical, and personal beliefs. He is an advocate for restorative justice, a way of approaching crime that emphasizes repairing the harm done to the whole community, not just punishing the offender. This is evident in his portraits of  victims of crimes, as well as photographs of men and women serving life sentences in prison.

Many journalists, I thought, might be suspicious of such a value-laden approach and suspicious of the language shift as well.

A few days later I stumbled upon a Web site called Journalism That Matters founded by group of news editors who hope to save the industry by rethinking traditional newsroom culture, approaches, and metaphors.

Journalism That Matters argues that the news process should be defined as:

  • Conversation rather than a lecture
  • Many-to-many rather than one-to-many
  • Community connector rather than a central authority
  • Relationship-centric rather than knowledge-centric.

I find both of these vocab-lessons valuable in thinking about how journalism might be re-imagined.

In both of these paradigms, journalism education might be less about teaching students how to gather and distribute information and more about helping students engage with the people and communities they are covering.

Not How to Write, But Why

I’m finally reading The Soloist by Steve Lopez. I’ll see the movie when I’m done with the book. On p. 51, Lopez comments about his process of becoming a columnist:

I struggled with my first columns [at the Oakland Tribune], just as I did after moving on to the San Jose Mercury News and the Philadelphia Inquirer. It was in Philadelphia in the mid-1980s that I had an epiphany. The challenge isn’t to figure out how to write, I realized, but why. Without a mission and a sense of whom you write for, you aren’t worth reading.