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December 5, 2007

Filed under: journalism»new_media

The Multimedia State of Mind

The time and energy I would usually spend time writing here has recently been consumed by work--namely, writing new media strategies, proposals, and workflow plans for people to ignore. It's all terribly exciting. In any case, here is a post due to go up on the internal innovation blog any day now, in which I'm trying to address one of the typical problems of a newsroom moving online: the isolation of new media producers from the rest of the operation.

As Paul wrote a few entries back, the web boasts a lot of new opportunities for CQ to engage its audiences in new and powerful ways, and as he and Ken have noted, we've got a lot of new sources of data available to us. But I'd like to point out that it's not just about hiring creative technologists to hash these things out. In order to really move our journalism to a new level--to become, as was so elegantly put, "of the web"--it's also about creating a holistic approach to multimedia on an institutional level.

Which, I know, sounds terrifying. But perhaps it's easier than it sounds, because it doesn't mean revamping our methodologies here. It just means that we should incorporate a multimedia "state of mind." As I'm new to CQ, I hope you'll indulge me while I think out loud on the topic.

What do we mean by "multimedia?" At the World Bank Institute, my coworkers and I used the term to describe a wide variety of communication and learning tools, including (but not limited to): radio, podcasts, online video, DVDs and traditional video, interactive applications and displays, so-called "serious" games, self-running slideshows, and remote learning by chat or videoconferencing. Which is a lot to keep in mind, right?

Maybe the important thing to keep in mind is not that everyone here needs to go home and learn how to run all of this multimedia nonsense, or come up with the next big features all on their own. There are people like me who exist to do that. At the same time, an institutional awareness of multimedia, and how you can contribute solely through the process of the job you already do, could make the quality of our new media output that much higher.

Let's say a CQ reporter, in the course of covering a story, tapes an interview for his or her own reference. Not everything there is going to make it into the story, of course. But could that recording be used for something else? Could it contribute to a podcast, or be incorporated into a slideshow? Or the story as a whole: would any of its material be easier to explain through an animation, or if it were tied to an interactive diagram? What about a web video? Is it possible for the reporter to snap a quick picture of an event, or dictate a few remarks that could come in handy later? That last link (to a Washington Post report on farm aid) is, I think, a great example of multimedia integration: it links audio from the reporters to a collection of Post stories on this topic, then even adds a feed of new stories that may be related to farm aid.

We are already taking a few steps toward this state of mind. The other day at a meeting, Paul presented a web applet being created here at CQ that displays congressional earmarks in a sortable, easy-to-interpret way. It was possible for the team to create that because the reporters come to them while they were developing the story, not just once it was finished. They were able to incorporate feedback between the print journalism and the web-based illustration that makes both sides stronger.

Obviously, there are limitations to this approach--a recording that includes remarks on background probably shouldn't be handed over to multimedia staff for security reasons, and not every story we do needs to be punched up with flashy animations and pointless AV materials. We should always remember that CQ has gotten its reputation based on solid, accurate, and timely reporting, and that will not change--'new media' or not.

Still, it's been my experience that organizations with an awareness--not an obsession, but an awareness--of multimedia are capable of using these communication tools with much greater effectiveness and coordination.

Future - Present - Past