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Archives: July 2009

Creative and innovative uses of online video

Now that YouTube is a household name and more and more users have taken to watching long-form video on sites like Hulu, the question isn’t whether video on the web will thrive, but what the future of online video will look like. There are many news organizations and tech companies who are exploring the next wave of online video or using existing video technology in creative ways. Here are a few examples of whats new, now and next.

Map mashups have become a staple in newsrooms around the world, but Vidmap is taking the technology to the next level by marrying video with dynamic maps. The example video below shows a car traveling in Meissen, Germany while the map on the left tracks its exact route.

The technology is similar to what the New York Times incorporated into its multimedia piece on the city’s marathon: a street-level video of the route that moved in tandem with an adjacent map of the city.

Dipity, the site where users can create their own embeddable timelines, already made it easy for users to plot video on a timeline. One of its latest projects, TimeTube, takes advantage of the technology, allowing anyone to input a search term and watch related YouTube videos arranged chronologically on a timeline.

Most collections of YouTube video that appear on any given site are likely one long string of videos embedded one after the other. To bring the periodic table of the elements to life, the University of Nottingham ditched the list format and instead made the periodic table itself interactive. When a user clicks on an element, an embedded video pops up that discusses and showcases that element in a series of compelling video clips.

Of course, one cannot discuss innovative online video without highlighting GOOD Magazine and its unique video offerings, available both on its site and on YouTube. GOOD isn’t the first organization to create animation or motion graphics, but it is one of the few to use these technologies in a journalism context — whether it be visualizing Barack Obama’s résumé or explaining the concept of “vampire energy” (below).

And then there’s video itself. There are a wide range of video cameras out there, but journalists often limit themselves to the same few devices.

CBS 4 producer Gio Benitez used a story about the iPhone 3GS to show off the mobile device’s video-shooting capabilities, using the phone itself to record interviews for the story. There is a noticeable quality difference, but what better way to illustrate new technology than to use the technology itself? Read more about the response to the story here.

Finally, another relatively new technology that few journalists have taken advantage of is high definition, slow motion photography. Broadcast news nowadays is anything but slow, but the web offers a unique opportunity for illustrating the world around us at a slower pace, allowing the user to soak in details that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

Examples include this HD video clip from the BBC program “South Pacific” of a surfer riding a giant wave, shot in slow motion to illustrate the beauty of the experience. The Discovery Channel also used slow motion video to capture a great white shark attacking a seal, shot at 150th of its actual speed. And in a showreel designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the SprintCam V3 HD system, the video below of a rugby match and other events shows how sometimes slower is better.


Also on 10,000 Words:

15 Tips for shooting online video
6 Creative approaches to photography
A quick guide to interactive YouTube videos
12 Creative uses of time-lapse photography (and 4 ways to create it)
How to shoot great video quickly and efficiently

Why being an unemployed journalist is the best thing to ever happen to me

When I was first told that I was being laid off from my journalism job back in December, I was devastated. I thought because of my rare technical skills and demonstrated passion for the job that there was no way I would ever be fired, even though I saw the mass layoffs that were happening all around me. It was a further blow to my ego when I realized that months later I was still unemployed along with thousands of other journalists.

The gravity of the situation brought on a whole range of emotions — anger, despair, hopelessness — until I realized that even though I was devastated financially, I was in fact growing creatively; even though the bills were stacked a mile high, that this was the incubation period that every journalist transitioning to new media hopes for.

Journalism is requiring its reporters, editors, and staff to adopt technical skills that fall outside of everything they’ve ever known, but is not providing a way for people to learn them. Newsrooms aren’t shutting down operations just to do training sessions. Journalists can’t take time off because they want to learn video or audio editing. Those that do want to self improve must either self-train in their spare time or hope to be given time off to attend training workshops.

It took a few months for me to realize it, but I had indeed been given a special opportunity to hone my craft and share my passion with others. Self discovery doesn’t pay the bills and news of being laid off is nothing a journalist wants to hear, but I take solace in the fact that creativity thrives in the most oppressive times of one’s life.

I started 10,000 Words two years ago and, at its start, churned out some pretty crappy posts. The down time allowed me to go back and fix or improve the posts that I wasn’t proud of. I finally had a chance to redesign the site without worrying about time constrictions. 10,000 Words also became the forum for me to create the journalism projects that I perhaps wouldn’t have time to do while working a full-time job. These include the offbeat A is for Audio: The ABCs of Multimedia, the poignant mini-site journalism is dead, and the photo slideshow The Typography of East Hollywood, a project I’d been wanting to produce for months.

The time away from journalism has helped me find my inspiration, to remember why I am a multimedia journalist in the first place. I’ve taken day trips to museums to see the interactive exhibits. I’ve attended (free) conferences to hear about not only what’s being done to revitalize journalism, but the amazing technological advances that are happening outside of the journalism bubble. I’m even nearing the final stages of writing my first book, an encapsulation of this blog that I hope will be available at the end of the summer.

Of course, I’m not the only one to take advantage of being laid off. Unemployed journalists everywhere are using the experience as a starting point to create their own forms of journalism. The Arizona Guardian was founded by a group of journalists laid off from the East Valley Tribune. New Jersey Newsroom was created by former employees of the Star-Ledger. Everywhere journalists are creating new business models that may shape the future of the industry.

And this, my friends, is why all the talk of journalism dying is hooey. If I and thousands of other journalists continue to conduct and improve our craft without the means or the resources to do so, then there is hope for journalism after all. I see the future of journalism in the eyes of downsized journalists who, despite their circumstance, maintain their optimism for the industry and in the bright-eyed students who flock to journalism despite widespread news of its demise.

And while I don’t hope to be unemployed forever, I cherish this time as a boon to my creativity, my resolve and as encouragement that there are better times ahead.


Also on 10,000 Words:

Essential multimedia tutorials and resources for do-it-yourself training
Journalism Grads: 30 Things You Should Do This Summer
10 Things I wish they’d told me in J-School
Journalists: Change starts with you

10 Inspirational New York Times multimedia and interactive features

The New York Times, often lauded as one of the greatest producers of multimedia journalism, is inspirational not just because of the dazzling technologies that it uses to bring stories to life (Flash, databases, slideshows), but because of the selected stories themselves. While it has been said before on this site that there are a great many other news services creating amazing work, the Times remains a forerunner in the marriage of technology and journalism. Here are few of the Times’ most impressive recent works:

1. How Do You Feel About the Economy?

Beginning in March of this year, The New York Times asked online readers to submit their personal reactions to the failing economy in a single word. The adjectives from both the employed and unemployed scroll across the screen in a simple interface that shows just how Americans are feeling about the financial crisis.

Similar projects were created to monitor the Twitter chatter during this year’s Super Bowl and to visualize Americans’ hopes for the incoming Obama administration.

2. The Ebb and Flow of Movies

Many movies have appeared and disappeared from box office charts over the years, some making a bigger splash than others. For this project, the Times team took on the daunting task of visually representing the movies that topped the charts — from 2008′s Alvin and the Chipmunks to 1986′s Out of Africa. Best of all, by clicking on the shapes, one can read more of the Times’ coverage of that particular movie, including summaries, reviews and trailers.

3. One in 8 Million

The New York Times at it’s core is a newspaper about New York City and its millions of inhabitants. For the elegantly styled audio slideshow series “One in 8 Million,” the Times turned its lens not to the newsmakers of the city but to the (not-so) average citizens who make the city the unique metropolis that it is.

4. The Water Dance

The web is filled with tens of thousands of audio slideshows, so for one in particular to stand out from the rest is a remarkable feat. “The Water Dance,” a slideshow narrated by Times photographer Bill Cunningham, takes a simple idea — New Yorkers navigating the huge puddles of rain that line the city’s curbs — and turns it into three and a half minutes of whimsy. The humorous photos are underscored by Cunningham’s cheerful and amused voice that encourages the viewer to indulge in the humor as well.

5. New York City Homicides Map

The Times’ recently released visual database of homicides over the span of six years not only concentrates on specific incidents over statistics, but it also encourages users to find patterns within the data and report them to the staff. The map is navigable down to street level and the information can be sorted by a number of contributing factors, including race, sex, age and weapon used.

6. Going to the End of the Line

Another multimedia story in the paper’s tradition of finding news in people or places that are often overlooked, “End of the Line” is a collection of slideshows that highlight the last subway stop on various train lines — some of which many New Yorkers will never see. These places aren’t no man’s lands either; they are often thriving communities worthy of the beautiful reporting and photography.

7. Casualties of War

In recognition of the men and women who have lost their lives in Iraq, the Times aggregated statistics and the stories behind them in a three-part multimedia story. The first, “Faces of the Dead,” combines a unique visual navigation tool and a traditional search function to identify each person killed in the region. The second portion groups the servicemen and women by demographic, including age, race, branch and the location of their death. The third uses audio to tell the stories of nine soldiers who were killed, using the voices of those who served alongside them.

8. Passing the Torch: An Evolution of Form

The likely unsung hero of the Olympic Games is the Olympic torch itself. The symbol of the Games travels throughout the world until it arrives at its final destination and is a symbol of peace and athleticism. The torch itself has changed over the years and this interactive gallery shows the dramatic revisions it has undergone.

9. Inaugural Words – 1789 to the Present

To commemorate the 2009 inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, the Times brought together the inaugural speeches of every U.S. president in one interactive story. The full text of each address is available for reading, but for those history buffs in a hurry, each speech is represented in word clouds, which gives a quicker synopsis of the issues of the day.

Also worth checking out are the Times’ annotated video of Obama’s inaugural speech and “Obama’s People,” a
photo story centered around the incoming administration.

10. Fold-Ins, Past and Present

Finally, as proof that not all multimedia or interactive stories have to be heavy and serious, the Times presented a series of fold-ins from Mad Magazine in interactive form. Users were invited to relive their childhoods and discover the messages hidden in the iconic back page, no creasing necessary.

For more on the team behind many of the aforementioned projects, check out the New York Magazine article on the paper’s “renegades.”


Also on 10,000 Words:

Where to find the best in Flash journalism
New York City, a mecca of multimedia journalism
Create brilliant multimedia projects from the mundane
Great online journalism from non-traditional journalists

Why having technical skills alone just won't cut it

Last week’s post on the 30 skills every journalism graduate should learn this summer garnered attention for pointing out technology every newly-minted journalist should know. As several commenters suggested, the checklist is also applicable to established journalists, as is the following advice:

As this Yanko Design post points out, being a Jack of all trades is only the starting point. Journalism and its associated technologies are changing at a rapid pace and to learn one skill set is to be left in the dust. Sadly some of the technologies on the list will be obsolete in just a few years time. To survive in this industry means continuously evolving along with it.

This isn’t limited to veteran journalists either. There are many “new media” journalists who adopted an enviable skill set some years ago, but haven’t picked up anything new since. At the heart of a good new media journalist is flexibility and adaptability.

Additionally, it doesn’t matter if you have every new media skill in existence if no one knows you exist. This means having and distributing business cards, having an online portfolio and sharing it with others and not just accumulating lots of Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections but actually interacting with them and establishing contacts in and outside of the journalism sphere.

Most of all, success in journalism requires a strong grounding in the fundamentals: knowing how to write (well), how to interview, how to speak to others and how to quickly establish trust and relationships. Without these skills, there is no reason to even learn the technologies that are transforming the industry. Learning a slew of technical skills isn’t the answer, it’s just part of the journalism equation.


Also on 10,000 Words:

Journalism Grads: 30 Things You Should Do This Summer
The 20 Essential RSS Feeds for Multimedia Journalists
10 Things I wish they’d told me in J-School

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