Guardian journalist Bobbie Johnson took new media by the horns at the recent CES and MacWorld conferences in Las Vegas and San Francisco and reported in print, web, blog, audio, video (and Twitter) formats. It was, he says, an experiment to see "how one can operate as a solo multimedia journalist."
I think the boy done well. I enjoyed his coverage, but I have to question why bother with mutliple formats? In most cases, especially with conferences, a blog first and newspaper second policy is arguably enough to ask of one reporter as it is. The danger with one reporter taking on so many different formats at the same time is that the quality of the reporting – regardless of the format – suffers because time constraints dictate some stuff requires a certain immediacy. And if you’re busy scoping out a nice backdrop for a vidcast, then are you – as a predominantly print/blog journalist – wasting your time? Then there is the question of ‘production’ hours. As Bobbie himself says,
"a story which can be written in one hour takes three hours to produce as audio and six hours to produce in video. I’m not sure that rule holds strong for everyone, but there is clearly
scale and flexibility between each method of presentation."
Did I learn anything from Bobbie’s reports I couldn’t have learned from print? Well… probably not. Bobbie does a very good job of getting us the reader ‘there’ – the outdoor pieces to camera really helped with that, what with the traffic, the sun etc. However, I was left wondering, as I motored through his four videocasts, how long did the MTV-style intro shown in all four videoreports take to put together? Was it neccessary? Was it time well spent? It does look kinda nice though 🙂
In his reflections Bobbie also suggests, "Choose the format which is appropriate for telling the story in the most compelling way." But, until you know what the story is, you don’t know what format to choose. And if you’re as indecisive as I am, you’ll more likely be left fumbling through a bag of wires and gadgets wondering which gadgte would best be used to report the story as the story… errr… passes you by.
After reading Bobbie’s thoughts, I’m left thinking that the biggest obstacle to this kind of reporting is the investment of time needed to learn how to use the tools effectively and efficiently. Is this time The Guardian and others are willing to invest in? Considering the low level of financial return multimedia reporting of this ilk currently has? Or is it, let’s face it, something reporters who show initiative are encouraged (exploited??) to do with the bare minimum of support from mothership newspaper?
If that’s the case, as I suspect it is, then the new media initiatives and web2 wet dreams of newspapers like the Guardian rely, to a very large degree, on the ‘unpaid passion’ of a few journalists. Nothing new there. Journalists who are keen on all this web2 malarkey hardly need the nod of an editor before they offer to dive in and have a crack at something new.
In this particular case, I’m not sure video worked so well. Not that it doesn’t work, but it doesn’t add a huge amount. Probably not enough to warrant the hours he spent on doing it.
I’ve read several arguments that there are still very few people who are interested in watching video online. Bobbie himself says, "how many people actually watch longer form video online? Probably not enough to make it financially viable for reporters." I disagree. I download quite a bit of video – mostly blogger generated or Google Video sourced – for portable viewing on my iPod. But Bobbie does raise another point, when finanicial considerations come into the decision process of how to choose the method to report something, is the reporting itself not fundamentally effected? And what criteria do you have to consider when choosing the format to report in? I’d argue it’s not always cut and dry, not by a long chalk.
FWIW – in a conference situation I think wee focussed snippets – a la 20Minutes at Le Web3 – are the way to go. I believe where the solo multimedia journalist will truly come into his own is when time constraints – which are obviously paramount with news and conference reporting – are not present. The example I keep coming back to, and have yet to see bettered, is Lives in Focus. Sandeep has the luxury of time – it’s his blog and he has no deadlines, just an ongoing story. He can edit and upload material as and when he sees fit. As such he can make sure it’s done well, that he’s happy with the finished pieces, across all formats.
For the multimedia journalist to evolve he/she needs to be allowed to focus on stories that are not restrained by editorial deadlines – which all begs the question – is solo multimedia reporting really suited to a deadline heavy traditional newspaper?