Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Furniture...Er -I mean the FUTURE of Journalism

Watch and listen to the angriest climate scientists you ever heard. This is the power of multimedia, make your point, make it well, and use everything you can to make it work.

In the background glow of all the information, propaganda, and the incessant rain of data, sometimes there are a few items that stand out. This week I have been doing some web surfing, looking for a few multimedia projects that really make me proud of my colleagues.

This nascent medium is all the rage now, and here in Johannesburg I am working with Megan Izen, a student of multimedia from CUNY, the City University of New York. This school's journalism course no longer offers separate degrees in print or television. Everything is taught together, and they are getting recognition and support from early web adopters like the New York Times and Time Magazine. and the UK's Ecologist Film Unit investigate the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. A shattering look unveiling the human and environmental cost of unregulated natural gas exploration and production.

So what is multimedia and what can it do? I started working with this medium about five years ago, merging television and film production with my photojournalism. It is essentially anything that delivers dynamic online content that is not the pure written word or a still photo or a TV broadcast. It could be slide shows with voice over, or a short film, or an interactive graphic, or really...anything! It's possibilities and permutations are endless. It has become the catch phrase for everything newsy that the web can do that TV and print could not, and it is in demand.

There are some drawbacks however. At the moment, great multimedia pieces are difficult and time-consuming to produce. They require a great crossover of skills. They often try to be too many things at once, and hence do not often succeed at being great at any one thing. Most newspapers look at them like attractive but uncomfortable pieces of furniture on their sites, good for keeping up with the Jones' but unsure how to use them, and not at all interested in paying for the time and energy needed to produce them well.

It is probably not news to any of the readers of this blog that there is a crisis of cash in journalism. So the greatest news, and most costly, delivery potential of the web comes along at a time when the resources to pay for it are at their most limited. So often multimedia pieces are labors of love, and like many labors, most would qualify as acts of desperation.

A short animated movie that appeals to the linguistic back flips English is capable of while enthralling with it's slow unraveling of modern arguments against science.

A five minute news piece for television ten years ago might cost as much as ten to fifteen thousand dollars to produce, and make the producers even more than that. A more complex multimedia piece today of the same length will very luckily be bought, after being produced for nothing, for about 500 dollars, maybe a thousand in the best case scenario. So when I say desperation, I mean it.

These are a smattering of commentary in the case of the great piece by the angry scientists or the cartoon about scientific discourse, but my piece at the end and the story about fracking are indeed journalism of the kind we will hopefully see more of.

When you look through these pieces remember they are short little pieces of people working in the best way with a new medium. They are my own choice of the new vanguard, forging a new system of communication at a time when most journalists and producers are staggering around like victims of a bomb blast.

So while many of our colleagues are wondering what happened and where did their careers go, some of us are trying to pick up the pieces and soldier on by using all their little bits, any way we can.

And my own piece (since this blog is also about shameless self-promotion)
Africa is known for sunshine, AIDS, famine, war and...a new fully electric automobile?

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