Tagged: new media

We’ve Got Your MOJO

A great many moons ago, I reviewed Anderson Cooper‘s Dispatches from the Edge, and commented on his questionable decision to travel on his own to Somalia with only a Hi-8 camera and fake press pass as his protection.

What I did not say in that review is that I, like so many other freelance writers, considered doing the same thing: examining how many responsibilities I have to shoulder in my life, and then considering the cost / benefit ratio of just packing up and chasing the story around the globe – whatever and wherever the story may be.

This MOJO (ie: mobile journalist) idea is especially appealing now that high-grade, lightweight and broadcast quality technology has come down to consumer level pricing, and now that major media outlets have begun looking for the raw news story from the people in the streets (rather than from the people wrapped in flack-jackets and embedded with friendly forces).

In fact, my friend David Widgington at Burning BIllboard has followed this Andersoncooperean ideal to its natural extension (though certainly by his own inspiration), arriving in the Sudan with a video camera and blog log-in and little else, in advance of the Sudanese elections, making trips back and forth. Sudan, of course, has only recently emerged from 21-years of civil war and approaches its first multiparty democratic elections since 1986 (edited for accuracy – swg).

As the Sudan struggles to develop the infrastructure to support these elections and fights to discourage the ferocious mistrust that spawned its prolonged conflict, David has placed himself in the action to document, report and explore it all (I recommend checking his site out) in what can only be described as a challenging environment.

However, as important as that all is, the real purpose of this post is to highlight a statistic that Journalism.co.uk posted about recently – that half of the world’s jailed journalists were working online.

While mobile, online journalists are most capable of breaking stories and avoiding the ‘officially-sanctioned’ stories of repressive regimes, they are often freelancers who lack the advantages of a traditional newsroom – which could include lobbying, potential mass media coverage of their kidnapping, and the application of other reporters to investigate a staffer’s disappearance.

The new breed of mobile journalist that we’re all becoming replaces the typical foreign bureau that we grew up watching, and operates more fully as an independent newsroom (mirrored by the increasingly overlapped skillsets of writing, reporting, shooting, editing and uploading that many nu skool freelancers embody), but lacks the solid shielding of traditional media outlets under the intense scrutiny of repressive governments. The MOJOs are, for all intents and purposes, alone with only cameras and press passes as protection.

If you have been looking around your city and wondering if the grass is more newsworthy on the other side, then I simply recommend you spend some time with the Journalism.co.uk article above. There are tons of opportunities in the world for valid, significant (and freelance!) journalistic practice (as BurningBillboard and others evidence), but with each, it is critical to arrive in the trouble spots informed and protected, or risk becoming another journalist lost in the maelstrom of politics, policies and police states.

The Gap Between Journalism and Marketing Gets Smaller

Astute readers of Fauna Corporation (or those who simply scroll down) will know that I was working a contract for a digital ad agency before the Holidays.

As it turns out, they liked my moxie so much they offered me a full-time position, which I’ve accepted. I’ve just come through my first week as an official employee there, and boy are my arms tired – or however that old joke goes.

Working in an ad agency is a bit of a weird shift for me (though not outside my employment history), given my heavy focus on multimedia journalism, so I thought I would take a second to try to let you know where this decision came from.

First, I want to confirm that my love of journalism continues, and my interest in trying to figure out (with you all!) where the industry is going remains as strong as ever.

But the reality – for me, at least – is that the technological advances, emerging narrative tools and the unbelievable creativity of multimedia journalists has far outpaced the journalism industry as a whole.

Personally, I had no problem landing writing gigs (for terrible freelance rates, naturally), but I had a lot of trouble landing contracts for my multimedia work, despite genuine interest and positive feedback from the web- and section-editors I spoke to.

The issue seems to be that the larger media structure is still struggling with how to carry multimedia work, how to market it, how to deal with the reciprocal loop it can create with viewers, etc..

Meanwhile the technology still advances, the narratives become ever more layered, and the e-journos continue to produce novel, intelligent work. These developments, coupled with the state of our media, generally, have become a recipe for disaster for freelancers.

When an opportunity came along to work for a cutting-edge digital agency, I realized the potential of working in an industry that was not behind the e-curve (and is, in fact, is often pioneering new communication techniques), and I recognized that I could learn an awful lot about building and deploying online content from creative experts.

So that’s what I’ve decided to do. I hope that doesn’t make my usual readership think I’ve sold out to The Man. Or even, A Man.

In my opinion, the days of journalistic purity are pretty much over, as each journalist increasingly becomes his own brand and entrepreneurial skills become ever more important in getting eyes on your work (let alone be paid for it), as the industry crashes all around us. It doesn’t mean the ethics of a journalist have been or should be compromised, only that the (often fictitious) divide between editorial and marketing is dissolving ever more.

So far, the new job has been very challenging and rewarding, and I think it will benefit my journalism work in the long run if I can continue racing up the (steep!) learning curve. My hope is to bring new insights to the Fauna Corp readership, while still sharing interesting and engaging multimedia journalism content with you all, as we try to figure out where journalism is headed.

2010 promises to be an interesting new year, and I hope you all stick with Fauna Corporation for the ride.

Let me know your thoughts about all this, leave a comment if you have anything to share. No sales agents will visit your home.

Short Silence and Three Posts to Check Out

Apologies all around for the longish silence here on Fauna Corporation. I’ve been working a writing contract for an advertising firm and have had less time for posting. The contract goes well, thus far, but I don’t want to forget my Fauna readers so I thought I would put something up.

On that note, while I haven’t been posting, I have been seeing some interesting content for Next-Gen Journos. The following are a few things that I’ve seen over the last few days that I thought you would all enjoy.

First, from Journerdism, a list of the 8 must-have skills for the journalists of tomorrow. The list is a little broad (ie: including programming skills), in much the same way that one could list the top 8 skills for tomorrow’s Olympian and include being multilingual and 12 feet tall. I mean, it can’t hurt, but in reality there are only so many hours in the day, so one must pick and choose what to learn. However, the list is pretty solid on the whole and does mention the ability to focus on experimentation and focus on creating artful, cross-media pieces, which I sincerely believe will be necessary to capture the next wave of web- and mobile-savvy media consumers. Of note, “fundamental journalism skills” comes in at number 8.

Next, 10,000 Words has a great list of gifts for the Journalist in your life, just in time for the holidays. While some are sort of obvious (newsprint t-shirts and boxers), some are totally awesome (CTRL, ALT, DELETE cup sets!), and either way, there is always a good reason to visit to 10,000 Words, so click on through.

Finally, from ProBlogger (a site worth visiting if you haven’t yet), a short list that substantiates the importance of having a product to sell. As journalism changes and freelancing rates remain dismal, this idea of having a product – whether it is your work, a collected series of pieces, an ebook, how-to, or anything else – becomes very important to grow revenue and audience (which in turn grows revenue and audience). While there is an argument to be made against every journalist being entrepreneurial, as technology changes us, we must change with technology. Increasingly, being entrepreneurial is tied to those changes.

Again, my apologies for the relative silence here on Fauna Corp. I am happy that my traffic has not dimished over the last couple of weeks, despite it. I will continue to do my best to keep you all up-to-date with what is happening with evolving multimedia journalism, and as always, I thank you for stopping by.

Review: The Kodak Zi8 HD Video Camera

Super-Meta: digital image of a digital image of a digital image

I recently jumped into the shallow-end of the video camera market, picking up a Kodak Zi8 pocket-sized video camera. The Zi8 is similar to the flip cameras that journos were raving about a short time ago, except the Zi8 can record in full HD quality, has both macro and landscape settings, and has an external microphone jack – which is a major advantage for journalists using such a small piece of gear.

There are several reviews online that rave about the Zi8; however, my own experience with the camera has been mixed, and I’ve yet to see a review that mentions the issues I’ve come across.

For me, the biggest negative is that the Zi8 camera shoots in H264 (read: Quicktime’s .MOV format), which works seamlessly with Apple’s iMovie editing suite, but causes a complete horror show for most Windows users.

I have used Vegas Video on my PC for awhile now, but the raw files from the Zi8 wouldn’t work with Vegas unless they were format-converted first (to MP4 or AVI), and more often than not, this conversion would then cause Vegas to crash. I have heard this same story repeated online by many other Windows / Vegas users, and each has a ten-step workaround to just get the footage from their camera to work with Windows. Yikes.

This frustrating conversion-then-crash loop went on for a few weeks for me as well, but I recently switched from Sony’s Vegas to Avid’s Pinnacle software suite, and am happy to report that Pinnacle recognizes the raw files and works with .MOV files much like iMovie does – very simply and cleanly – just drag, drop and start editing.

This H264 compatibility issue is an important one for Windows users to know before they buy the Zi8: their usual editing software may not play nice with the Zi8, and they may have to deal with techno headaches to simply edit their videos.

The other important point to note is that the Zi8 ships with out-of-date firmware, and requires an upgrade to resolve tracking issues, low-light streaking, and a subtle (but bothersome) high-frequency sound in the audio recording. The firmware update is simple, but can not be done by just plugging the Zi8 into your PC – it requires a card reader (odd, given that the Zi8 has USB ports). So if your laptop does not have a built-in card reader, you’ll have to buy one to do the critical firmware upgrade and get the most out of your Zi8.

Having switched editing software, and upgraded the firmware, I was finally able to test the Zi8′s capabilities.

The footage is pretty impressive for a pocket-camera (and a budget one, at that). From the recommended distances, the image quality is sharp and the audio from the built-in mic is passable for web broadcast. The Zi8 only offers a 4x digital zoom, and the quality drops off noticeably with each interval. Also, like all pocket video-cameras, the low-light functionality is a little grainy.

One disadvantage of the Zi8, is that while there is an external microphone jack, there is no accompanying headphone jack on the unit. This means that audio levels have to be monitored via a little bar-chart indicator, or upon playback through the Zi8′s tiny speaker. Neither is ideal for checking levels, especially given that the Zi8′s microphone input is particularly “hot” and requires external mics to be carefully adjusted to find a balance between frequency response and outright digital clipping. So that’s a challenge for journos and media junkies alike, but with trial and error, good results can be captured.

Here are two videos I did to show the “macro” and “landscape” settings on the Zi8:

Macro Setting:

Kodak Zi8 Test: Macro Setting from scott w. gray on Vimeo.

Landscape Setting:

Kodak Zi8 Test: Landscape Setting from scott w. gray on Vimeo.

The Zi8 is pretty inexpensive – about $200 Canadian – and can shoot in full HD (720p, 720p/60 fps, and 1080p), and offers both a “macro” setting for close-up and arty filming, and a “landscape” setting that uses its fixed-focus lens. Coupled with the external mic jack and the high-quality footage, in the right hands it can be an attractive prosumer-level device.

I think as more people experiment with the unit, and work out DIY microphone rigs or DIY lens conversions, the results will improve and we’ll begin seeing some very cool multimedia pieces created with the Zi8. The price point and feature set is perfect for most citizen / freelance journos and cash-strapped media outlets to test drive the unit and see how it performs in a variety of settings.

PROS:
Inexpensive, small footprint, two lens settings, HD-quality, external microphone jack, image stabilization, face-recognition, pretty slick technology.

CONS:
H264 format problematic for Windows users, no headphone jack, firmware updates require card reader, less-than-ideal zoom & low-light features.

Final Analysis:
Ultimately, I would recommend the Kodak Zi8 for guerrilla multimedia journalists and / or digital storytellers because of its ease of use and image quality. There are a few hurdles to jump through to get your footage to an upload-ready state, but avoiding the format-conversion carousel and testing out the unit’s limitations can help you capture the events you want, cleanly and easily.

Recommended by Fauna Corporation!

Multimedia Training for Freelance Journalists – Bursaries Available (in the UK of course)

I have posted before about how much more progressive the UK has been in its adoption and development of multimedia journalism, and today found another example.

Whether through examples like the Guardian’s new media content, the way that UK-based media outlets have embraced the reciprocal loop of feedback with their readership, or the general acceptance of multimedia journalism becoming more ubiquitous, there seems to be a greater integration of multimedia journalism into the wider fabric of society in the UK than we see here in North America (and great deal deal more than we see in Canada, currently).

On that front, Journalism.co.uk posted today about Skillset (a training body for the UK creative media industry) offering multimedia training bursaries for freelance journalists. The inclusion of freelancers is probably a very astute business move given the current economy, but as a freelancer I must say that I am jealous that the opportunities for high-quality, multimedia skillset upgrades exists so readily in the UK and so rarely here in Canada.

These training opportunities seem to mirror the level of acceptance of the shift to new media content in the wider media. Which is to say, in Canada, media outlets are largely still in a holding pattern – debating how multimedia journalism will evolve and impact us all – while other countries adopt new techniques and narratives, and even offer professional training to push the craft further.

For a country as vast as Canada, and that formerly had one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in the world (alas, not any more), seeing the multimedia opportunities in foreign media is doubly frustrating.

Perhaps I could just commute…

Recommended Viewing: William Hoffman’s anyoneeverything Site

So much of the emerging wired world (and web!) is so highly designed that we sometimes lose sight of the substance in all that style.

This morning, I spent some quality time on Multimedia Shooter and was directed to the short films of William Hoffman. His work is a revelation to me, as it pulls at the edges of fiction and non-fiction, and creates a momentary pocket where the real subject matter seems to be our shared humanity. What a gift, to be directed to something that makes you feel more you while simultaneously feeling so everyone else.

I recommend checking out Hoffman’s Moments and Parabolas pieces as a great intro to his work, but perhaps the Everyone Forever Now series would be the most journalistic option for Fauna Corp readers.

Finally, you could have a look at this post to read a bit about Multimedia Shooter, and a few more multimedia journalism websites that I think are totally indispensable. Each shows that style is great, but style plus substance is a combination that puts us in touch with the deeper truths about our selves.

Very cool stuff.

Skill-Building: Mindy McAdams’ Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency

Feeling old and rusty? Maybe you need some new tools…

When the media machine spat me out at the start of the new year, “inviting” me to return to the world of freelancing, I spent a fair bit of time researching the resources available to journalists who were transitioning to multimedia skill-sets. I am certainly not a noob, but as many of my readers will attest, there’s always more to learn. In my searching, again and again, I came upon posts from Mindy McAdam’s blog.

In particular, her posts about portable digital audio recorders helped me sort through the gear to find the gems that were most applicable to my needs, and her pieces on visual journalism helped to confirm some things I already suspected to be true at news desks around the country.

McAdams also began a series of pieces aimed squarely at journos who were trying to come to terms with new tools and techniques that were previously foreign to the newsroom. The series was called the Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency, or RGMP, and McAdams has just collected the posts together in one PDF document, available for free download.

Visit Mindy McAdam’s site (http://mindymcadams.com/) to check out the depth of her work, and download the RGMP PDF while you are at it. McAdams has provided translations into Spanish and German as well for international audiences.

The RGMP guide is highly recommended by Fauna Corporation.

The Top Five Multimedia Journalism Websites


Picture in Picture – photo by Daniel Seguin

When I began keeping this blog on evolving multimedia journalism, I felt truly lost in a sea of websites. Sure, I found a few sites that carried some multimedia journalism, but the pieces they carried usually felt like afterthoughts to text or video-only coverage. Adding to the confusion, different journos and media outlets had different names for multimedia content (Visual storytelling? Cross-media content? Digital Journalism?) and no real agreement on what constitutes the content in question.

However, through repeated searching and a lot of late-night-reading, I’ve discovered a few sites that I return to again and again for inspiration and to be moved by excellent content. Some of these sites offer a showcase of cross-media / multimedia content, others primarily promote Audio Slideshows (my favourite ‘new’ form of journalism) and some simply offer instructions and suggestions to multimedia journalists looking to expand or transition their skills.

Here, then, is my list of the five most indispensable multimedia journalism websites operating today. I recommend you check them all out as a barometer of the industry and our place in it as journalists. And leave a comment if you have other suggestions!

Multimedia Muse: Multimedia Muse is a solid multimedia showcase site, with a daily round-up of photojournalism-based pieces. The founders remain anonymous, but admit to being photographers trying to get increased exposure for great content. As an example, check out

Innovative Interactivity: Innovative Interactivity is a very deep site, offering news, tools, tips and showcases of multimedia journalism. My suggestion is to browse through the “categories” on the right-side of the landing page, which offer a way to filter and find the content you are after (for example, training opportunities, advice or interactive examples, etc.).

duckrabbit: Most people who are interested in photojournalism and / or multimedia content eventually find duckrabbit. The team of David White and Benjamin Chesterton produce their own work for media outlets and Not-for-Profits, but they also host consistently lively debate about the nature of multimedia content and what we should be doing as journalists. Their blog is highly recommended reading.

Multimedia Shooter: Another multimedia round-up site, with a very clean layout and excellent content. Multimedia Shooter presents tips, news, commentary and examples of the best of multimedia journalism being produced today. Wonderful site, worthy of repeat visits.

Interactive Narratives: Longtime readers will know my love for the Interactive Narratives site. I have found some stunning pieces through IN (particularly the LA Times’ piece on the Mexican Drug War), and as their title suggests, their showcased content tends to focus on the narrative, and human, side of the journalistic practice.

There are obviously other sites that present learning and training opportunities for multimedia journalists, or highlight some high-quality pieces, but these five are the ones I find myself returning to. I hope they offer you some inspiration and education.

Questions or suggestions? Leave a comment.

This Just In – And Reported On Your Tablet

On a quiet news day, if you focus and listen carefully – over the noise barrage from 24hr news services, the hand-wringing sounds of millions of journalists decrying their lot, and the scratching of next-gen journalists at the doors of mainstream media – you can hear a small murmur of information about digital tablets.

Digital tablets, or Tablet PCs, are pen- or touchscreen-interacted computers that emphasize portability and readability, and they’ve been the answer for mainstream newspapers for years now, whether they realize it or not.

The ability to have a small, newspaper-esque (really, more ‘zine-sized) piece of gear that allows user interactivity (ie: hyperlinks, comments boxes, multimedia assets) is the boon the newspaper industry has needed for many years. Newspaper tablets allow a decent viewing size for content, a departure from the phenomenal cost of print production and distribution, and offer a sophisticated multimedia vehicle with a clean, familiar interface.

An article on The Street today discusses that the New York Times is investigating Tablet PCs, mostly in preparation of Apple’s foray into the field (something that, until very recently, Apple has denied any interest in doing). While I disagree with hyping one brand over another (particularly with prototypes), it does seem wise for newspapers to wait until Apple has entered the fray, given how they tend to be game-changers with portable, personal media devices.

Whether these products roll out in 2010 or beyond (and my thinking is we’ll be seeing them sooner rather than later), there’s little doubt that they will shake up the way we consume media – much as the iPod changed how we consume music (and, uh, media).

While I don’t think the news media should try to adapt to every new piece of technology that is released, I think there’s evidence that Tablet PCs will have strong consumer uptake. The smarter newspapers would do well to plan for this revolution now (as the NYTimes, Washington Post, and a few others are doing), rather than waiting for the change in consumer habits to dictate newspaper development.

This could be the make-or-break situation the industry’s been expecting during it’s long, slow decline.

Euro Journos Produce Original Content Online, But Train Themselves


In the media switch-up, journalists train themselves

Probably a surprise to no one, but a study cited today in Journalism.co.uk states that European Journalists are producing more original content online, but have mostly self-taught themselves the relevant skills to do so.

Fully 67% of those journalists polled from the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Sweden said they taught themselves digital skills, whereas only one-in-nine received training from their media organizations.

Despite the above statistics, and the fact that the journalists feel great pressure to produce more content while facing down concerns about job and industry security, 84% of the journos polled said they were “as happy or happier” in their current roles.

And this fact speaks to something I’ve been saying for awhile now – that innovative narrative and evolving multimedia pieces offer something to both the journalist and the audience, and that these mutual benefits create a feedback loop between the two.

New, layered pieces allow journalists to explore stories in new ways – through visuals, sound design, text, video, etc. – and audiences are, in turn, freshly engaged by these pieces in ways that they have not been (lately) with the usual text-on-page model. This engagement brings audiences back to multimedia pieces (and finds new, web-savvy audiences) and, again, engages these audiences for news outlets.

However, the fact that these journalists are forced to train themselves to create these new / stronger relationships, and the fact that so few traditional media outlets are participating in networked journalism, speaks volumes about traditional media’s role in the evolving media landscape.

Which is to say, traditional media is clearly benefiting from new ideas and storytelling forms in journalism, but it is not doing an especially good job of fostering, stewarding or seeking out these new journalistic techniques.

This report also shows a trend that my own research as shown – that journalists, by and large, have a good sense of where things are going and are trying to lead the way, and are not to blame for most of the turmoil in the industry.

The full survey can be viewed here.

Podcamp Montreal 2009 Coming Up This Weekend


We’re all tied to technology – even the dinosaurs we know

I’ll be attending my first Podcamp this coming weekend, and am excited about it, even if I am not really sure what I will be in for.

I’m not a regular podcaster, but as a multimedia journalist and (relatively) early adopter of web tools I feel like anything that bills itself as the New Media UnConference is worth looking into. I’ll head down with a bag full of gear and I guess we’ll see what comes of the whole experience.

I know that Montreal boasts of some very enterprising new media cats, and I guess I’m hoping to discuss some ideas with people and see if we have a similar sense of how technology will be evolving and what we’ll be doing with it in the coming weeks, months and years. One thing I’ve found in the new media landscape is that I often just have a gut-sense of things, and find colleagues often have a similar sense, even if there are few books, sites or experts espousing similar ideas.

Either way, I shall report back here on whatever I learn. If you are going to be at Podcamp Montreal too, leave a comment!