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December 21, 2007

Filed under: journalism»new_media

Wild Style '75

I've got this theory that the most important part of multimedia production is the ability to improvise--to make it up as you go along.

Now, granted, that's important for any creative job. Improvisation signals an ability to think critically about a problem, look at the tools at hand, and adapt them to the situation. Any problem-solver should be able to do that.

But those kinds of problems come up an awful lot in a multimedia context, especially on a budget and a tight schedule. Inevitably, you're going to find that someone's cell phone disrupted important footage, or you don't have the photos you need, or (in the worst case scenario) the tools won't actually do what you need them to do.

I think a lot of people come out of school unprepared for that kind of flexibility. I'm not entirely sure how you teach it. There have been advocates for "backpack journalism" for more than half a decade now, but I don't really see much evidence that it's showing results, or that journalistic institutions are taking the right lessons from it. Nor am I necessarily sure that improvisation is something that someone can learn, so much as they have to open themselves up to it.

Because in the end, at least for the process I have in mind, improvisation requires an atmosphere conducive to mistakes, and as a result, open to experimentation. It's not that mistakes should be encouraged, leading to sloppy behavior, but more that they can't be seen as the end of the world. They're a learning experience, and often an opportunity.

We are not very good at this as a culture, I think. We tend to think in terms of absolutes and perfection. And to some extent we've built a society that way--removing the safety nets that protect citizens from the risks inherent in change. When people discuss innovation in the public forum, perhaps in the context of regulation, remember that a lot of real innovation also comes from people who aren't afraid to mess up because they're comfortable with the risks.

Or as someone once said, remember that an economy (and a workplace) is made up of actual people.

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