Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Multi-media tasking

Rex Rhoades, executive editor of the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine, decided to take a crash course in multi-media tasking while on assignment in China - with mixed results.

Journalists being asked to provide digital stills and video footage along with their stories will empathize with Rex, who writes about those new challenges on sunjournal.com

"I've been a newspaper worker for 32 years and, like many my age, it would be comfortable to keep doing things the way I've always done them," writes Rex.

"But, we have asked our reporters, editors and photographers to learn new skills, and I felt uncomfortable and, I'll admit, a bit envious, not knowing how.

"So, I decided to take a crash course and then use my new skills following a group of college students on a service-learning project in a foreign land."

But, says Rex, there are drawbacks to multi-media tasking.

"Taking photos is usually a full-time job for one person. Reporting a story is usually the job of another.

"While I am busy taking photos, good quotes are not being noted, or critical details are escaping my eye," he writes. "While I am taking notes, useful sound or video is not being recorded.

"I often felt like a musician with a guitar in my hands, a harmonica in my mouth and cymbals between my knees."

Rex sums up the new media experience in saying:

"Yes, the trip was way more demanding and stressful than I imagined it would be.

"The consolation? A feeling for China and its orphans - in words, pictures and sound - for you, our readers.

"And for me? A greater appreciation of what our newsroom is going through as we enter the world of multi-media reporting."

There is much more to his online story, but it does raise the issue of whether requiring reporters to multi-task is affecting the quality of journalism.

How many good quotes are being lost at crime scenes, traffic accidents and public demonstrations because the reporter is carrying a camera?

The traditional approach with camera-shy witnesses is a reporter doing the talking while a photographer snaps the photos from a distance.

And as Rex says, good quotes can be lost while shooting stills and video.

It is all a matter of focus.

Reporters with quotes, photos and videos on their agenda are less likely to provide the same comprehensive news coverage as journalists who are focused strictly on words.

Hopefully, management is focusing on hefty wage hikes for multi-media journalists.

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