Choose your multimedia, wisely
Video, audio, pictures, timelines, slideshows, maps….multimedia’s great isn’t it? As a journalist it gives you an amazing choice of how to treat a story.
But how many journalists use that choice? And how many chose wisely?
In order to know which medium to use for which story, you must know its strengths and weaknesses; not of the software or the content – but of the very medium itself. Because some mediums are only good for some things.
With so much talk about video journalism, it’s not surprising so many journalists take a camera out and shoot whatever they can. I rarely see a big multimedia project without any video in it. And that’s a shame, because video, really, is only good at a couple of things. And bad for some others.
Video/Film/TV whatever you want to call it, is great for showing action. For evoking an emotional response. For creating atmosphere….so use it for this.
But video is bad, really bad, for getting across facts, figures, and complicated arguments. That’s why overloaded documentaries and TV reports are so dull.
“The problem for television news is that it is at once both an immensely powerful medium, and yet an inadequate way of explaining complicated issues in a comprehensive way.
“Academics, sociologists and newspaper columnists the world over have criticised the shortcomings of television news for years, but they have rarely – if ever – come up with a realistic, practical alternative.”
So whatever your story, save the complicated bit for another type of medium. Use video to show us something happening, or make us angry or sad. Video is the ultimate medium though in many ways because – done correctly – it is totally engrossing. We surrender ourselves to it and you can make an impact with video. It’s great to use as an opening gambit to suck your audience in.
In a world where pictures dominate, the power of radio is often underestimated. This is a mistake though because audio’s power to penetrate the mind is very strong. And don’t forget, while in the US, UK and Europe we may prefer to watch films on our laptops, in the developing world, millions upon millions of people live with a radio by their side.
Still unsure of audio’s power? Robert McLeish sums it up perfectly in Radio Production:
“It is a blind medium but one which can stimulate the imagination so as soon as a voice comes out of the loudspeaker, the listener attempts to visualise what they hear and to create in he mind’s eye the owner of the voice.
“Unlike (video) where the pictures are limited by the size of the screen, radio’s pictures are any size you care to make them”
With the size of most web video players that should hit home even harder. So think: if you haven’t got or can’t get the amazing pictures which show your audience what you want, some good audio interviews and vivid writing can let the audience do the work inside their own head.
And audio’s other strength is the fact it is uni-sensory: you can listen to audio, while doing something else.
Audio weaknesses though are the same as videos: as a temporal medium it is exceptionally bad at explaining complicated issues comprehensively. So again, save it for the emotional/action/umbrella elements of your piece. And it is very reliant on good quality sound – and good voices. This piece by the New York Times is excellent…but weakened by the monotonous drone of the voice over.
If you’re going to use sound, please make sure it’s high quality!
The renaissance in photography thanks to the internet reminds us of how powerful the still image can be. Of course it’s cheaper and quicker to produce photos for your multimedia project than video or audio; but don’t mistake that with easier. If you’re going to take photographs which have an impact you’re going to need a good SLR, and you’re going to need to know your f-stop from your shutter speed (and, indeed, how they are related!)
So when should you use photographs and slideshows in your work? It’s weaknesses are the same as video – but then you would never use a photograph to convey information. The photo is about that one moment in time, and because of that it is about smacking your audience across the face with some emotional trout. Use it to make them feel something about your story.
“The point about a still photo is that your eye explores it. When you put too much motion into a slideshow you’re removing the viewers ability to pause and reflect, to explore.
“Slow pans on a big screen look great … but at the small size the images are reduced to on our computer screens the panning looks as rough as a dogs dinner that even the dog refuses to eat.”
Give your audience time to explore your photographs.
Text (and quotes, maps, graphics)
Poor text. The original medium, it’s kind of been given a back seat by those of us too excited by the glitz and glamour of the video camera and the audio recorder.
But text covers the other media’s ass – because it’s the one which can get across all these details, background, statistics; all the things the audio visual mediums are rather poor at.
There’s no escaping it: if you’re going to be a multimedia journalist, you need to be damn good writer; being a great editor, or good voice don’t cut it. So use text to convey the nuts and bolts of your story, but make sure you don’t bore them while you’re doing it.
Maps, tables and graphs are great assistants to this: they can brighten up a page of text and add an element of interactivity. And text too becomes interactive, the moment you put in a hyperlink.
So remember: as a multimedia journalist you have a choice. So use it!