Sunday, December 23, 2007

The multimedia journalist

When I was beginning my journalism career in the 1970s, my friends and I had a cynical rule: Don't apply to a newspaper if you saw the same names in bylines and photo credits. You see, we all wanted to be reporters, and the idea of having to lug cameras around struck us as distracting.

Those days are over. Today journalists have to be multimedia specialists, whether they're working for newspapers, television stations, radio stations or Web sites. This morning I offer two examples from the Boston Globe.
The first is this three-and-a-half-minute video report on Idene Wilkerson — "Ma Siss," as she is known. Ma Siss and the evangelical church she has built in Dorchester is the subject of a four-part series by reporter Michael Paulson and photographer Pat Greenhouse that debuts today.

The video offers a sense of you-are-there that you just can't get from text. But please notice the credits: "Produced by Scott LaPierre and Michael Paulson." LaPierre is on staff at, the Globe's online operation. And Paulson's job wasn't done once the desk has finished editing his words.

My second example is a feature by reporter Peter Schworm and photographers Dina Rudick and Dominic Chavez on the "slow session" of Irish music held every Monday evening at the Green Briar pub in Brighton.

These days, the idea of covering such a story without letting you hear the music would be ludicrous. And so the Web version of the story is accompanied by an audio slide show. Check out the credits. Who captured the audio? Peter Schworm.

Please note what I am not saying. Journalists whose primary job is to write for print or for the Web are not necessarily going to have to become multimedia experts, shooting and editing video, assembling narrated photo packages and the like. (Most of those tasks are certainly beyond my capabilities.)

But in addition to working with photographers, text journalists are working with online journalists. And even if text journalists don't know how to put together such presentations on their own, they're certainly going to have to understand what multimedia journalism offers to those folks whom we should no longer refer to as "readers."

More: Since I first posted this item, I've heard from a couple of people who've quite properly pointed out that I'm talking about large news organizations here. Increasingly, reporters at community weeklies — the kinds of places where most young journalists start out — are being handed inexpensive video cameras and told to go forth and produce, using software such as Apple's iMovie or Microsoft's Movie Maker. Although young journalists are often taught such skills on the job, if you can pick them up before you're hired, you'll have an advantage.

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