Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How Juan Thomassie leads in multimedia

Juan Thomassie, senior designer for UsaToday.com, is a model for how editors will have to lead in the multimedia environment.
First and foremost he is a journalist and storyteller. He understands that we serve our audiences best with immediacy, accuracy and relevance.
He is a skilled craftsman. He understands how to harness images and design to create powerful messages.
He is a master technician and orchestrator. He understands how to pull together sound, image, database information and words to create packages.
He is a collaborator. What Juan told a group of editors at a multimedia seminar at the Poynter Institute was that in order for us to harness the full power of the web, we need to create teams with the right people and the right talents.
USA Today's interactive Candidate Match Game required close collaboration between designers and the political editors, who compiled the positions of 17 candidates on 11 issues that matter to voters.






The jazz model
A good model for leading in multimedia is the jazz combo. You have five or six outstanding performers, each an expert on how to do their own thing. But in a jazz environment, each musician is always listening to all the others and taking cues from the changes in rhythm, melody and tone. Each takes a turn soloing, but if you listen closely you notice that the trumpet soloist is picking up little cues from the piano and bass, and vice versa. They look to complement each other while still maintaining an individual voice. There is a leader who calls the tune, but everyone works to make the whole experience exciting for the listener. The parts make for a richer whole.


All a-Twitter

The technologies are emerging so fast that it can be daunting, from widgets and gadgets to Twitter news feeds for cell phones. Rob King, vice president/editor-in-chief of espn.com, showed us some of the features of his website aimed at delivering news and video to cell phones. Fans want information now, and they want it in depth. King is in a daily sprint to meet their needs as platforms and devices change.
Don't sweat it if you don't understand all of the technology, he told us. Focus on your mission. Keep coming back to that, and it will guide you through the uncharted territory.

Collaboration is key
We saw a number of impressive projects that combined, video, audio, slide shows, blogs, links to print and other ways of storytelling.
Ben de La Cruz, senior editor/multimedia for WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, described how the print and web departments of the Post achieved success in their series on Being a Black Man because they planned together from the beginning, kept each other informed, shared information and broke through the silos. The Post's series worked in spite of the fact that the web and print teams work on opposite sides of the river.

The importance of culture
High performing teams share a common culture, says Kenny Irby, visual journalism group leader and director of diversity.
That means they share values, they have a common vocabulary, they plan together, they coordinate their actions and they share workspace.
This doesn't occur by accident. It requires teaching of these values so that they reach through the generations of journalists working in an organization. The Post series embodied that.

Multimedia response to breaking news
Regina McCombs, senior producer for multimedia for StarTribune.com, showed how multimedia can provide rich reporting on deadline with the Star Tribune's coverage of the collapse of of the I-35 bridge, a special package called 13 Seconds in August









She urged us to draft a disaster-response plan. It begins with creating a culture of urgency so that people develop the right habits before disaster strikes. Have enough gear on hand so that many people can shoot video. Make sure everyone has each other's cell phone numbers.
When disaster strikes, have a plan in place for how information and news should flow. Have one person handle editing of video and sound for speed and to avoid duplication. Understand that cell phone towers get overloaded when a disaster strikes (Text messages can break through even when voice can't). Have people work in teams; it makes both more effective.
The Strib has used the elements of breaking news to create a longer-term project of telling the stories of everyone on the bridge. As more of these stories are discovered, they are added to a database and the stories are told in the best medium available -- text, video, audio or a combination.

High anxiety shared
During a session led by Chip Scanlan, senior faculty member at Poynter, all of us learned that we have anxieties and fears about this technology.
We should relax, roll with it. Don't expect to know it all. Learn what we can. Draw on the strengths of others all around us. We're all a bit scared.

Important takeaways for newsroom leaders
-- Communicate the passion. We're giving power to the people. The new technology puts us closer to the people than ever before. It's an exciting time, and the traffic is flying toward us at freeway speed. This is nothing less than a communications revolution. If ever a free press could support true democracy, it's now.

-- Relax. No, you don't know about action script and dynamic databases. But chances are, someone on your staff does and might be willing to teach you.

-- Match tasks with talents. Give all your people a chance to try and learn all the new technologies. Encourage them but don't force-feed them. Put them on teams with other talented people and let them self select the directions they want to go.

-- Lead by example. Be the first to start communication, provide information and share resources. Make it safe for people to say "I don't know how to do that." Make it safe for people to question authority. Make decisions and then be willing to admit that they might have been wrong.

-- Open your processes to readers. Be transparent about how you've made decisions. They have a right to know, and they will respect you for your honesty.

Friday, February 22, 2008

He's feeling swamped

An editor of a web-based news operation told me he sometimes feels he isn't finishing anything.
He faces daily challenges from competitors on the web, and he also has to plan for long-term upgrades in his product. He has many projects on his plate, not enough people to do them all and not enough time. New projects appear regularly.
What should he do? He is organized but not compulsively organized. He has run large, complex publishing enterprises before. What's different now is that he is not always in control of what shows up on his plate, and his own long-term goals often have to go on the back burner.

Start with a list
Here's what I suggested. Start with a list of projects outstanding, when they were assigned, what's been accomplished, which tasks need to be completed on each project, who can do them and an estimated time commitment needed for each task. In short, show yourself and your team and your boss where you are. Measure the problem so that it can be understood better. Then it isn't one big crushing weight but a series of discrete issues that can be dealt with separately.

Put it on paper -- maybe facing pages of a notebook for each of the dozen or two dozen projects -- or put it on a spreadsheet, but put it all down somewhere where it can be reviewed quickly. You need to understand the size and scope of the challenge.

Review your progress
If you're reviewing progress weekly, you and your staff can then have some sense of accomplishment, that you're moving forward.
The weekly review also allows you and your team to re-set priorities when appropriate. Your people will understand better what they're doing and why they're doing it.

If you lay out the specifics for the boss, it gives him or her a chance to make some informed decisions about priorities. And you won't come off as someone who can't get things done or is a whiner. Bosses can be unrealistic at times, or so some of my people have told me.

David Allen's book on what he calls "stress-free productivity," "Getting Things Done" might help in managing multiple priorities.

Stephen Covey's Seven Habits has good sections on getting organized, but as he lays out so clearly, it all starts with deciding what the goals are and working from there to set priorities for your activity.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How to make your newsroom multimedia

For editors who are trying to get their newsrooms up to speed on digital media, Mark Briggs has produced an invaluable 132-page book that is available free online in English, Spanish and Portuguese. You can download it in PDF format.
"Journalism 2.0" is a good place to start with multimedia storytelling. Each chapter has simple, direct instructions on how to harness readily available technology in new ways. Editors and news directors who have been baffled by their lack of training in certain types of technology will find help in overcoming the barriers.

Briggs gives you just enough technical language so that you can understand both the potential and the limits of the technology so as to avoid frustration.
If you are, say, a veteran radio news director, the advice on how to make the most of photos will be invaluable; to a veteran photographer, the advice will represent the basics of the craft. At the same time a photographer who is trying to add sound to a slide show on the web will pick up some tips on how to edit for the ear that every radio journalist already knows.
It's the kind of book that beginners and veterans alike can use right now and begin getting their hands dirty.

Managing conflict of print vs. web
The information in this book could help manage some of the newsroom conflicts that occur when, for example, the print people and web people tend to isolate themselves from each other, a problem they have struggled with at the Washington Post. An editor could create an ongoing series of courses based on the chapters of this book that bring specialists from both parts of the newsroom together. The courses could remove some of the fear factor that veterans may be facing, and it may show the younger tech-savvy folks how the basics of good journalism translate into a better web product.

Useful in Latin America
For any of us who are doing training of journalists in Latin America, it is tremendously valuable to have this available in Spanish and Portuguese. And for those of us who are trying to remove the barriers to a multimedia newsroom, it is a helpful tool.

"Journalism 2.0" is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism,
a center of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, and of the Knight Citizen News Network,
which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

When journalists are attacked

As an editor, how much risk can you ask your reporters to take when covering a story?
At a conference last year in Bolivia, Ricardo Trotti of the Interamerican Press Association told a group of journalists that "no story is worth your life" (ninguna nota vale una vida). Trotti heads the Impunity Project that pushes for investigation and prosecution in cases of attacks on journalists.

Editors at that conference, which focused on how to do aggressive coverage and still protect the safety of journalists, generally leave it up to reporters to make their own judgment about whether to cover a story that has some personal risk involved.

In Latin America, this kind of risk-reward calculation has to be made every day. Journalists are regularly threatened with violence or other forms of retaliation. Radio reporters who work in the outlying areas are particularly vulnerable. They are often the only news sources for their communities, and they are also without many of the legal protections of reporters in big cities. Often the corruption that they are reporting about involves the law enforcement and judicial authorities they would rely on for protection.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas provides a weekly update on what is happening in the field. Rarely a week goes by without violence against a journalist.

How do you lower the risk? Among the tips of journalists who are veterans of this type of reporting:

-- Stick to the facts. Don't get personal. Don't bring in the family of a story subject unless it's warranted by the facts.
-- Good journalism is safe journalism. Avoid sensationalism. Verify your information. Avoid sweeping generalizations.
-- Be a reporter, not a protagonist. Avoid inserting yourself into the story.
-- Make sure your editors know who you're talking to, when and where. Don't go off on your own without telling someone.
-- An invitation to a clandestine meeting at a remote location may sound like a great way to meet Deep Throat, but it can also be a trap.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Nano-news Twitter from the Wonkette

Once again I'm gob-smacked by the innovations in news technology. The latest is news from the Economist, which reports that the Wonkette, aka Ana Marie Cox, is covering the U.S. presidential campaign for Time.com using what are known as Twitter feeds, which have a 140-character limit so that they can be transmitted to news junkies via cellphone.
Ana Marie Cox gained fame in Washington as an irreverent blogger commenting on the social and sometimes sleazy side of capital politics and later as a novelist.
The whole point of twitter is to be breezy, cheeky and brief.
Editors will have to learn to accept the fact that for certain types of younger readers, or Blackberry and iPhone junkies, this is a news column or news story. It's a kind of nano-news for the users of nano-technology.
This photo, from the cover of the New York Times Magazine, shows the Times's R.W. Apple and the Baltimore Sun's Jack Germond with the Wonkette.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The digital challenge for news editors

Newsroom managers today face a difficult training challenge with the internet. None of their organizations can exist any longer as solely video, print or audio. In essence, they have to retrain their entire staffs to meet the new needs.
The personnel issues are complex. Staff who have worked in one medium exclusively may lack the talent or the desire to learn another medium. Budgets may prevent hiring new people. Training courses may be scarce or unavailable. Cynicism of staff because of layoffs, especially in print media, could be a barrier. Union rules may prohibit an editor from requiring a reporter, say, to use a digital camera or video recorder on assignments.
There are even some daily newspaper publishers, such as Walter E. Hussman Jr., who consider the concept of free news to be anathema.
But as Roy Greenslade reports in a recent article in the Guardian, many journalists appear to be grasping the opportunity as a new and richer way to tell their stories.

News organizations have been transforming themselves for years, and as their needs have changed, they have been demanding new skills from new hires. In the U.S., journalism schools have started to talk about convergence of the media and integrate it into their courses. Journalism schools are having to reorganize themselves to respond.

Universities respond

At Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism, Assistant Professor Carol Schwalbe has developed a digital media course that integrates blogging, video, audio, slide shows and other elements to give students experience in all the elements that can make online journalism come alive.
Arizona State is also going to host the Knight Center for Digital Media, a project aimed at development of innovative digital media products that can "build and bind communities."

The University of Maryland's Philip Merrill School of Journalism offers online journalism training modules in which students produce multimedia reports for the college's news website.

The University of California at Berkeley hosts the Knight Digital Media Center, which offers tutorials on subjects such as producing web video that can aid professionals.

University of Washington Professor Kathy Gill writes that blogs help engage people in public affairs and allow for a rapid media response to crises.
In line with this focus on getting the community linked in to the media, the university will be part of a multimedia course in the fall aimed at using simple devices such as cellphones to provide digital content for media websites.

Robert Scoble, a tech geek who produces a closely followed blog on new media technology, has been at the forefront of advocacy of engaging public participation in the mainstream media through posting of videos, photos and other data collected by cellphones and simple handheld devices.

Mainstream media adapt

Inc. magazine's online editor Loren Feldman says that today's journalists have to embrace fully the concept that their content is going to be sharing space online with reader content. The new model of journalism has to be two-way and interactive with the reader. Inc.'s target audience is business people interested in innovation, and that is why Feldman has aggressively sought to include blogs by a changing roster of business owners on the site. They describe the daily ups and downs of their business, something every other business owner can appreciate.
The site also recently had a slide show of 10 CEO politicos, successful business people who had crossed over into politics. The package combined text with photos to give the business-oriented reader a quick series of profiles.
Inc.'s sister publication, Fast Company, has been taking the concept of reader interaction further through its network on FastCompany.com, in which it is trying to become the preferred business networking site of its reader, who are interested in business and innovation. The site is in the process of being upgraded into something that resembles networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Washingtonpost.com is widely recognized as one of the most completely integrated multimedia sites. It also makes heavy use of blogs, with more than 50 of them listed on its site, including one about shopping at discount marvel C-Mart, which drew more than 20 comments from readers. That is engagement.
The Post also did a marvelous job of combining a slide show with audio of an Iraq war veteran trying to recover from devastating injuries. The soldier's voice added tremendous impact to the series of photos.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Executive coaching basics

There are many types of executive coaches. My specialty has been working with news editors and other media executives. There are a couple of important things for a person to realize who is considering executive coaching.



First, the coach is not going to tell you what to do. You wouldn't learn anything and wouldn't feel confident to handle problems on your own. The coach will act as a guide and sounding board. He or she will ask you questions aimed at getting you to examine an issue from new angles so that you can try new approaches and find new solutions.



Second, your coach is going to ask you to accept some measure of responsibility for the problems that you're facing at work and to hold yourself accountable. When you do this, when you accept that responsibility, you can begin to get into action to solve the problems. It's up to you.



Third, when you are at a management level, 90 percent of your work is not about the technical parts of the job but about the people. You can change many things about your working environment, but you can't change other people. The good news is that in working with a coach, you can change yourself, what you do and how you do it. You'll find that when you make even small changes in your behavior, especially in how you communicate with other people, they will change in response. As the leader, you have to be the person willing to change first.