Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Review: “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook” by Mark S. Luckie

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 29, 2010
Digital Journalist Handbook by Mark S Luckie

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook on Amazon 

It’s no secret we all need to tool up. And it’s no secret the thought of doing video or podcasts or data visualisations is pretty terrifying for anyone who’s just had a single discipline for much of their journalism career.

Enter The Digital Journalist Handbook, written by multimedia journalist and prominent digital journalist and blogger Mark S Luckie.

Mark’s the sort of guy with the right attitude: laid off from his staff job in the US last year, (which he says “devasted” him) he set about making the most of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution. He turned his blog (10000words.net) into a must read for any journalist – and then wrote this book.

“I was hungry and flat broke, but the book gave me something else to focus on and channel my energy into.”

Beats sitting at home watching Rikki Lake in your pants, right?

The very basics

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is, I think, aimed at the complete novice in a range of disciplines. It gently introduces you into video, audio, flash, data visualisation, writing for the web, blogging and audio slideshows, assuming you had never heard of the terms before you picked up the book.

If you’re familiar with any of these disciplines you might find The Digital Journalist’s Handbook a tad frustrating.  But for the nervous novice, it’s a God send. For example, I didn’t get much from the chapters on blogging, video or audio, but as soon as I reached the dedicated chapters on Flash and Data Visualisation the learning began in earnest.

Mark introduces you to each medium, telling you how it’s used and what for and then offers practical advice on using the actual equipment involved. You’ll get introduced to Final Cut Pro, Audacity, Soundslides and Flash; just enough to get you started, but I think you’ll need the kit on your computer to really get the most out of it.

Support

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is backed by a healthy dose of supporting materials. Clear diagrams and photographs adorn the pages, from a valuable visualisation of a video editing interface, to arguably over the top diagrams of a USB lead. But, then not everyone know’s what a USB lead is right?

And not content with a book alone, Mark has also created an excellent supporting website, referred to regularly within the pages, packed with extra goodies for readers, including extra tutorials and recommended software.

The ever changing  industry…

There’s a danger with publishing a physical tome for such a rapidly changing industry could put this book out of date too quickly, but after a thorough read through I think Mark S Luckie’s work will stand the test of time. Sure the industry will change around us, but for the forseeable future video, audio, slideshows, flash and data visualisation are permanent parts of the multimedia journalists tool kit.

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is all about the practical skills, and doesn’t really touch on the all important mindset for the next generation journalist. It is a book written for journalists who want to make money the old way, on news desks or as a freelancer.

For more and more graduating students that isn’t a practical option any more.

However, even what I call Next Generation Journalists, looking for new work opportunities, would be foolish to pass over the skills contained in the Digital Journalist’s Handbook. Whatever path you choose, you’ll need the same skills.

Self-publishing

In true new journalist style, Mark has also shared how he made the book, a guide perfect for anyone thinking of self publishing:

“I decided to self-publish The Handbook to prove to myself and to others that it was no longer necessary to go through traditional channels to successfully publish and distribute a book.”

It wasn’t long before Mark was offered a staff job again, but he still keeps his hand in the blogging scene, and his posts are always worth checking out. Reflecting, Mark says he feels lucky to have lost his job when he did.

I think we should feel grateful too – without Mark losing his job, we’d probably be without this valuable (and currently unique) training handbook.

Have you read it? What do you think? Stick ’em in the comments below.

Click here to read The Digital Journalist’s Handbook

More good video journalism

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 7, 2009

The New York Times has come up with another stunning display to remind the rest of us how multimedia journalism should be done.

Inside the Private Equity Game - Business and Financial News - The New York Times_1254898058756
Flipped takes us inside the dark and mysterious world of private equity, and it’s affect on the market, business and jobs…OK, I’ve lost you already haven’t I.

Well this is exactly why Flipped is so good. It fulfills two things journalists of the future will need to do no matter what changes in technology come along. Firstly they need to keep telling us about complicated things in an accessible way. And secondly they need to find a way of grabbing us by the collars and saying “this is really important!”

Flipped does that. I have never had an interest in private equity, but the style, brevity, flair of Flipped kept me watching through all 10 videos. 15 minutes of my time, and I was enlightened.

And that’s what this is all about, right?

So what lessons can we learn from Flipped?

  • It is made up of 10 short (2-5 minute) videos, instead of one long one. This makes it easier to digest.
  • It has an easy to navigate flash carousel, which leads you through the story.
  • Videos appear instantly inside the window (very important).
  • The subjects (mostly NYT reporters) are extremely engaging, and very good at breaking down the issue
  • It doesn’t take itself too seriously, with short cartoons to help understand the complicated bits
  • It puts a human side to the story, with workers who’ve been screwed by the system

Mindy McAdams writes on Twitter it could have done with key words on the side to help chose which videos to watch. I agree, but I got most value from watching all the videos and understanding the whole story.

And there is huge value in this isn’t there? Matters of huge interest, broken down and made accessible, relevant and engaging. Private Equity is a creator of huge wealth…but also huge debt, and impacts all our lives.

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Multimedia Journalist: statistician and computer nerd?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 11, 2009

Multimedia journalists: expected to be film makers, radio reporters, photographers,  interviewers, web designers,  independent researchers, graphic designers, idea generators, legal eagles not to mention just your average text-hack.

Phewf!

But I got two more to add to the list now-statistician and computer programmer. Why? Well look at this brilliant piece of interactive journalism by Grace Koerber at the University of Carolina (Hat tip: Innovative Interactivity)

Energey Interactive by Grace Koerber

Energy Interactive by Grace Koerber

Click on the picture, go to the site and play with it yourself.

Writing on Innovative Interactivity, Grace says:

Completing this interactive took somewhere around 120 hours. A lot of this time was spent learning how to use Flash’s drawing API and use PHP to communicate between Flash and a MySQL database, both of which I had never done before. The amount of research was also particularly time-consuming.

Could the image of a street savvy, scruffy alcoholic hack bashing away at a typewriter be replaced with a street savvy, scruffy, alcoholic computer geek bashing away at XML?

Journalism students at UNC are actually taught things like XML and MySQL; these extra skills make them hugely more versatile, hugely more valuable to employers – and preparing them for a brand new way of story telling.

We Live in Financial Times

Posted in Journalism, News and that by Adam Westbrook on February 5, 2009

This is an amazing piece of flash art from the people at the Financial Times.

We Live in Financial Times

We Live in Financial Times

It’s a useful way to get world headlines – but it’s the fact it’s so beautiful to look at (and hear) that makes me want to go back again.

More please! HT: David Dunkley-Gyimah