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:

Resources for Teaching Digital Journalism

A lot of resources on teaching interactive journalism have been circulating around the Web recently. Here are some I found valuable:

Multimedia Standards, a University of Miami class project on multimedia journalism standards

John Temple blogs the MediaStorm Methodology Workshop (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) and post-workshop reflection Ten steps news organizations should take to embrace a multimedia future.

Archived Chat: How Do You Involve Students in Multimedia Rather Than Just Teach It? (Poynter)

How to Use Digital Story Telling in the Classroom (Edutopia)

Video Tutorials from University of Oklahoma’s Journalism School
-Tutorials for Adobe products (Photoshop, InDesign, Flash, Illustrator, etc)
-Tutorials for Multimedia Journalism course
-Tutorials for Interactive Multimedia Design course

Handout on Multimedia Storytelling from Steve Buttry, Gazette Communications

Also Mark Luckie of has a book called “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook” due out in September.

Tips on Telling an Untold Story

YouTube recently launched a project called The Reporters’ Center, a series of how-to interviews with reporters, editors, and media professionals. There are plenty of big names like Bob Woodward, Nicholas Kristof, and Arianna Huffington. And there are some helpful technical tutorials like how to capture breaking news on a cell phone, how to shoot a basic video interview, and how to promote a YouTube video.

But I suggest scrolling past the celebrity journalists and the most viewed videos to interviews with people from organizations like the Pulitzer Center and Witness.

In an segment called Telling an Untold Story, Jon Sawyer of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting talks about a group of young journalists who went to Ethiopia and Kenya to report on the lack of clean water, which accounts for more deaths than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined. They produced a series of print stories, photo essays, audio interviews, and video segments that appeared in a variety of news outlets and a Web site called Water Wars. It’s a great example of how to report and produce a story for a variety of platforms.

Helpful Online Journalism Tutorials for Beginners

NOTE: I have updated the list below and put it in a permanent spot on my Tutorials Page.

I read through my course evaluations from last semester and in addition to comments like “he’s long-winded, but nice enough,” a number of students gave high marks to the free Web tutorials I assigned in my online journalism classes. I was pleasantly surprised because I wasn’t sure how to measure their usefulness, and I had to create graded assignments to make the student actually do them.

But overall, students said they found the tutorials helpful, liked that they could learn at their own pace, and returned to them over and over again.

I found out about many of these tutorials from Mindy McAdams, who has written a great series of posts called a Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency on her blog. NewsU and the Knight Digital Media Center are also great resources.

So below is a list of tutorials I’ve used in my courses. They are all free and all aimed at beginners.

Any you would suggest?

Also this fall, I plan to create a series of video tutorials for my students and will post them here.

Five Steps of Multimedia Storytelling (NewsU)
Ira Glass of This American Life on the building blocks of good storytelling (25 minutes of YouTube videos)
Part 1: On the basics
Part 2: On finding a great story
Part 3: On taste
Part 4: On common pitfalls

How to Make a Timeline Using Dipity (Berkey-Gerard)

11 Exercises to Learn How to Make a Google Map (Berkey-Gerard)

Google Map Video Tours:
Getting Started
Add a Place
Google Street View
Create a Map
Add Third Party Content
Create a Google Map profile

Beginner HTML Tutorial (HTML Dog)
Beginner CSS Tutorial (HTML Dog)

Language of the Image (NewsU)
Photoshop How-To for Online Photos (Mindy McAdams)

Telling Stories with Sound (NewsU)
Gathering Audio by Brian Storm (MediaStorm)
How to convert .wma, .wmv, or .mp3 files using Switch (Berkey-Gerard)
How to Use Garage Band (Knight Digital Media Center)
How to Use Audacity (Knight Digital Media Center)

Photoshop How To for Sound Slides (Mindy McAdams)
How to Use the Sound Slides (Knight Digital Media Center)

How to Use iMovie (Knight Digital Media Center)

How to Make a Multimedia Collage Using VuVox (VuVox)

Brian Storm on Storytelling and the Future of News


Today, I stumbled upon a worthwhile  interview with Brian Storm, the president of MediaStorm, in Nieman Reports.

MediaStorm creates multimedia documentaries for news organizations like National Geographic, MSNBC, Slate and Reuters. They take on serious social issues like the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo,  families facing economic hardship in the rural Midwest, and posttraumatic stress of American soliders in Iraq.

Here are few unique things about MediaStorm’s approach:

  • The Web site doesn’t have an editorial focus other than to do quality social documentary storytelling.
  • Although the company’s roots are in traditional journalism, its focus is on “advocacy, not just information.”
  • It’s clients also include NGOs (Council on Foreign Relations) and for-profit companies (Starbucks).
  • The stories aren’t published on a set schedule or deadline, but when “a project is ready.”
  • The features are long for the Web (20 minutes or more), but most people who start watching a segment finish it.
  • They do not advertise  in traditional ways, but rely on word of mouth and social networking.

Here are a couple of sections of Melissa Ludtke’s interview with Brian Storm that I found especially compelling.

Brian Storm on the state of the news industry:

For years I’ve been saying it’s time for us to take journalism back. To take it out of the business development role and back into the world of why we got into journalism in the first place. We have to remember back to the time when we decided, “I want to be a journalist.” Why did we want to be a journalist? Did we wake up one day and say, “I want to make a pile of money?” I don’t think any of us did that. That’s not what drives us. We’re curious and want to learn about the world. It’s an incredible gift to enter into someone’s life and tell their story.

On digital access:

The crowd has access to these great digital cameras, to this incredible powerful publishing tool called the Web, and they have expanded the conversation. They have access to distribution that we, as professional journalists, have. This doesn’t make me fearful; it makes me excited. That’s democracy—to have more people, more input, and more access to different perspectives.

On the stories journalists should be doing:

Why are we, as professional journalists, allocating our resources for such daily, perishable stories? We should be allocating them for things that are in-depth, investigative and require the kind of expertise and professionalism that we have. We need to take a deep breath and remember all the things that we used to do, then reconsider given the new landscape and decide what is going to give us the most value over time. What is the role that we need to play? I don’t believe that is day-to-day, perishable content. I think we need to be more in-depth, more investigative, and more robust in what we do. I know that over time, that will actually pay off.

Using “One in 8 Million” in the Classroom

This past semester, I integrated the multimedia series One in 8 Million: New York Characters in Sound and Images into the regular routine of my Online Journalism II course.

When we started the semester, most of the students had limited experience recording and editing audio. Most had not taken a photojournalism course. And it was my first time trying to teach students each step of creating an audio slide show: how to record an interview, gather natural and ambient sound, take photographs, and then edit it all into a coherent story.dixonimg

I found One in 8 Million to be a great learning tool for all of us. It is a series of personal profiles presented as two-minute audio slide shows with photographs by Todd Heisler.

The subjects are characters, often with quirky jobs, backgrounds, and stories to tell. There is a profile of an urban taxidermist, a bus-depot barber, a mozzarella cheese maker, a singing waitress, and a maid who has cleaned up after four different mayors at Gracie Mansion.

The story index even gives the visual sense that the viewer is standing on a subway platform and the faces of the people appear in the subway car windows as it pulls into the station.

I did not plan out how I would use the material before the semester began. I stumbled upon a routine as we went along.

I often began class by shutting off the lights and showing the latest profile on a big projector screen. We would watch the profile and then discuss it for several minutes. Then we would watch it again and discuss it a bit more.

Then I would turn off the projector and we would just listen to the sound. We talked about why the producer might have put the sound of the cash register at that exact spot or why a specific anecdote had been included.

grajalesimgjpgThen I muted the sound and we watched it again. I asked students to pay attention to the composition, as well as the content of the photographs. “Why did the photographer focus on a person’s hand or a religious icon?” we wondered. “Why were the images arranged in that specific order?”

This process usually took about 20 minutes.

Basically, we broke down the audio slide show into its smallest parts – and we tried to figure out how the producers put it all together to make a unified whole.

We spent a lot of class time learning the technical aspects of audio and photography — and how to convert the files into the proper format. One in 8 Million helped us the focus on the storytelling.

I also stuck with the series because I like how the stories are presented.

  • The profiles are often of “everyday” people – a store owner, a guy with the cool sneakers, a teenage mom – that we routinely pass by on the way to cover a “real” news story.
  • The subject herself tells the story. The audience doesn’t hear the reporter’s voice, narration, or questions. There is no moral or kicker at the end saying what it means.
  • The person’s story is the story. There isn’t a news peg, just an interesting person with something to say.

The highlight of the experiment came near the end of the semester as the students scrambled to complete their audio slide shows. I arranged a live video chat (using Google chats, nothing fancy) with Joshua Brustein, an interactive producer at Josh answered student questions about the profiles he produced, how he found a specific person, and how he approached the interviews.

Here are two examples of Josh’s work: Paul Bockwaldt, who joined a predominantly gay rugby team to bond with his brother and Ra Ruiz, a former Christopher Street pier kid.

When Josh said he usually spent 10 hours collecting and editing audio for a two minute piece, the students were stunned. But they also seemed inspired that they were attempting to do similar work.