I can officially call myself a multimedia journalist

Prompt: How do you think your project turned out? What aspects of it are you proud of? And (rereading your post from four weeks ago) how well you did you achieve your goals?

I can’t tell you how good it feels to be done.

I get this way with every big project I do. It seems nebulous and impossibly far away at first, but then hitting send or uploading that final piece takes about 1,000 pounds off my shoulders.

What exactly have I been working on for the last 6 weeks or so? Check it out here.

I don’t think it’s perfect, and it certainly won’t win me a pulitzer, but I’m pretty happy with it. I’m proud of the clean web design and how the elements integrate together to tell a story. I’m proud that I completed something I didn’t think I could complete. And I’m proud that I’m finally starting to think like a visual journalist. Based on the 10 commandments of video editing, let’s see how I did on goals I set for myself:

1. I shall have a fuller understanding of what jump cuts are and how to avoid them.

Not going to lie, I still made some mistakes on this, but at least now I know why and went back to fix it.

2. I shall have my subjects speak up when using stick microphones.

I did do this, but I didn’t adjust the levels on the video camera high enough. It was better than earlier attempts, but still could be improved.

3. I shall not take for granted that my camera can focus itself.

During my sit-down interviews, I did manually focus. I am better at starting to see those slight differences in focus, so it’s starting to be more intuitive to manually do it.

4. I shall use tighter framing in my interviews.

I think my framing was all-around better in this project. I paid more attention to backgrounds and to the space around the interviewee.

5. I shall work to get even more detail shots, even when I don’t think I need them.

Now that I know how important detail shots can be to patching together a video, I tried harder during my time  in the office and out on calls to get them. They weren’t all the most fascinating details, but they helped me avoid jump cuts and add to my variety of shots.

6. I shall not take shots that are not precisely leveled.

This could’ve been better. Part of the difficulty was shooting in a car that was moving, but part of it was also that I had to compensate a little because I couldn’t move as fast. If there was a change in the action and a shot I needed to capture, it wasn’t always easy to adjust my tripod fast enough to get it, so there are some unleveled shots.

7. I shall work to even out the volume levels between my voicing, natural sound and interview clips.

I worked hard in final cut to do this. It was harder because the levels in one of my interviews was too low, but overall it evened out better across the board.

8. I shall keep trying to have my voice be conversational and natural when I voice parts of the story.

I tried to use a more natural voice for this video. I think it was an improvement over my last one.

9. I shall not jump the gun by introducing my subjects by name and let the lower third do that for me.

I made this mistake initially, but corrected for it later. It’s still not natural-feeling because I’m so used to text reporting, but I’m getting there.

10. I shall work to be faster as I use the camera so I can film more complete five-shot sequences.

I didn’t have as many 5-shot sequences in this video, but I was more aware of match-on-action shots, which I think improved since last time.

Oddly, this is the last project I have due for the last class I’ll take at the j-school. Sure, I’m technically enrolled for nine hours next semester, but I’m not responsible to a specific professor and there are no scheduled meeting times. I’ll definitely keep everyone apprised of my thesis work and any other topics or stories that strike my fancy, but as far as class blogging goes, this is it.

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Teamwork, FTW.

Prompt: What are the benefits and challenges you are experiencing as you report a story project as part of a team (i.e., how are things going with your group and your project)? And what might you do differently next time?

Sorry for the hiatus folks, life kind of got in my way in the past couple weeks.

On to the subject of team reporting.
In what I’m sure is not an unpopular view, I tend to like to do reporting on my own. I also like to do most things on my own, which I’m sure drives the former. However, I’ve had some wonderful team reporting and project experiences, which I will briefly recap before moving on to my current team project.

• In my sophomore year, I took a class called Cross Cultural Journalism. Know for it’s massive end-of-the-year-group project, the class had a reputation of being a lot to juggle — and even hellish if you had the “wrong” team. I was lucky. My group, made up of seemingly disparate members, worked well together right of the bat. I think this was because we all had the same goal for this project: get it done as quickly and painlessly as possible.

We all agreed on our plan going forward, divvied up the work, and met our pre-determined deadlines. None of us were best friends afterward, but we all respected each other and each other’s time, so it was successful.

During my first semester at the Missourian, I had an education-school-board-beat partner-in-crime, Bridget Kapp. We knew each other beforehand, but quickly grew closer over the semester. We covered meetings together sometimes, and other times split up a week’s worth of work to make sure we could cover all our bases for school board meetings, committee meetings, redistricting meetings and election activities. I’m fairly certain we either spoke, emailed or texted at least once a day, and that communication with each other and with our editor made the partnership run smoothly. It helped to have a person to vent to, commiserate with, and brainstorm with.

Working with Bridget was also the first time I ever had to figure out how to co-write an article. Our best effort was a longer piece on census results and boundary lines. I remember sitting with her on the Thursday before Thanksgiving break about two years ago working through quotes, explanatory grafs and crafting the right lede. It’s not easy sharing a story like that, but we made it work, and I think the strong coverage from our beat-within-a-beat that semester really showed how well the partnership went.

• For a short time two summers ago, I cowrote stories with a colleague of mine, Janet Cho, at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I was the catch-all GA reporter, and one of her beats was centered around consumers, so when the summer 2012 drought came along and meant bad news for farmers and grocers alike, we took up a joint effort. Janet is a pro and a wonderful writer, and I learned a lot during those few stories about how to weave information together into a unified piece. She also had a knack for topping the stories with a snappy lede. Even though our work was shared, she kindly let me take the web byline for my portfolio, and her graciousness was another important lesson. I enjoyed the reporting a lot, and it was very helpful to have someone to bounce ideas about sourcing off of as well as someone to edit with before we had to go to our section editor. It taught me how to collaborate on a tight deadline, which isn’t something I got to do quite as often at the Missourian once I finished covering the school board.

Currently, I’d say my team is chugging along pretty well. We all have solid journalism backgrounds and are confident in our skills to report out and produce our story. We are all also committed to the project and to doing it to the best of our abilities. I think, however, we might all be cut from similar cloth — willing to take the lead in the group, but when faced with other leaders, we shy away from making more pointed decisions.

If we had started out by laying all of our thoughts on the table beforehand and not been so worried about stepping on toes, we might have had an easier time planning out the trajectory for the project. It’s important that team members can speak freely, and I think all too often we fall into passive-aggressive communications that do more harm than good. I can only speak for myself, but I know that’s something I struggle with — not wanting to stir the pot, so I stay quiet and regret it little by little later on.

Overall, however, I think we’ve realized when we need to speak up, and now our work has pepped up noticeably. We have a plan moving forward, and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product take shape.

Mobile Reporting: Gemstone Exhibit at The Field Museum

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Museum patrons walk around the gemstone exhibit at The Field Museum on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. The Grainger Hall of Gems at The Field Museum in Chicago was established in 1985.

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Rachel Hammer peers into a case containing different gems set in jewelry on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, at The Field Museum. The collection was updated in October 2009.

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Rachel Hammer, 22, poses in front of a display at The Field Museum in Chicago.

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This stone, known as kunzite, is named for geologist George Frederick Kunz. The stone was found in great quantities in Southern California.

The Field Museum was lively on Sunday afternoon, boasting three main exhibits in addition to museum permanent collections such as the gemstone collection and dinosaur displays.

The gemstones ranged from small pearlescent opals to many-carat diamonds and topazes. While some stones remain in their natural forms, like the kunzite above, many have been fashioned into delicate jewelry. The stones in the collection come from all over the world.

Oftentimes, permanent museum collections were donated by or dedicated to devoted patrons of the museum. The Hall of Gems was dedicated in honor of Juli Plant Grainger, a museum trustee and member of the Women’s Board.

The non-permanent exhibits included one on the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago and one on bioluminescence, a phenomenon displayed by creatures who mainly live deep in the ocean. These exhibits will remain in the museum until their respective end dates in 2014.

What’s in it for me?

I’m deviating from the prompts this week to do some thinking-out-loud over a conflict my project group has had as we try to start interviewing and filming for our final project. It relates, in part, to a conversation we had in class yesterday about our “missions” for our projects.

Aside from clearly delineating what we want our story to accomplish, our mission statements, we discovered, also need to include a statement that gets at the “what’s in it for me?” attitude readers have. Don’t get me wrong — this is not a bad thing at all. If a reader is taking the time to give our work attention, it’s only natural that they try to figure out how they then benefit from having consumed it.

Journalists should always be thinking of the reader and how they can serve them best. We need to show people how what we do is valuable to them, and that requires thinking at the outset for why we’re doing the story in the first place. Why is this information necessary? Who might be interested by it? How can we tell someone something in a way that changes their behavior or improves their lives?

However, “What’s in it for me?” doesn’t end there. If readers feel that way, why do we assume sources don’t as well? Granted, we are under a different set of obligations and responsibilities to our sources, but there’s no denying that sources sometimes have an agenda when they work with us. There’s nothing sinister about it — it’s just the way it is.

For this project, in my multimedia class, we are at a complete loss for leverage with sources. Essentially, we can’t give them what they want — publication in a news outlet. Usually, a source has something to gain from working with journalists, be it publicity, raising awareness or something else. That benefit is hinged on a story being published and distributed to a wider audience. My group project will (very likely) not be published in a news outlet and won’t be distributed to a wider audience. Even though our work will be professionally produced, designed and put on a publicly available website, it just doesn’t have the reach a newspaper or TV station has.

I get that this is a given for many J-school classes. Students need the experience producing real journalism, and publication isn’t always possible. But it certainly puts my group and I at a significant disadvantage when trying to appeal to sources to work with us. It doesn’t matter how polite or professional my request is, or how much research I’ve done and how important the source’s contributions would be; by labeling myself as a student, I’ve already implicitly told my sources that there is nothing in it for them. Their message won’t reach as broad an audience, so they are free to turn me down with little to no harm to them.

Frankly, it’s frustrating. Even though I 100 percent understand the reasoning behind the source’s decision, and I know they get requests almost constantly to participate in student projects, it still injures my ability to tell the best story I can. I’ve lost a key source, and there’s not much I can do about it. In this case, there aren’t substitute sources that I might normally turn to. My group just has to deal with it and do what we can. Hopefully, others will have the flexibility and time to work with us.

This certainly won’t be our last stumbling block, but I’m hoping it’s the worst of what we’ll encounter as we move farther into our reporting and shooting process.

Video: 1, Shaina: 0.

Prompt: What are the hardest things about doing video, and what can you do to improve your ability to do them?

This question couldn’t come at a more perfect time because, honestly, I think video is incredibly difficult. All of it. All the time. The second time out filming the Wednesday night ballet class was a little easier this time, but it still didn’t feel at all intuitive. I suppose I could be more specific…

  • Anticipation: With photos, the goal is to capture the decisive moment. With video, it’s capturing a series of decisive moments, and I still lack the judgement to discern the best way to do that. How long is too long? I know there are rules about 5-second shots and the length of details vs. wider shots, but it’s still hard to tell at this point where to cut in and where to cut out. I can’t quite anticipate it yet. I think the best way to improve this is to practice with different shot lengths and types until I get a better feel for how to transition in and out better.

 

  • Audio + Video: I can handle audio. I can handle visual. But putting them together at once is a whole different story. I have a hard time thinking about how to balance a good audio clip with an good series of images. What if the audio and video aren’t timing out together? Sometimes I know that I can use natural sound over b-roll footage, but having just a solid clip of video that also happens to line up with audio that makes sense and is complete is challenging. I’m not sure how to get better at this because it seems to heavily dependent on the subjects. Maybe I just need to get over the idea of getting a perfect shot and think more about how I can edit in the most accurate, but smoothest, way possible.

 

  • Subject matter: The hardest part about filming dancers is that they are constantly moving. They also don’t necessarily repeat combinations enough so that I can take the three or four minutes necessary to line up a five-shot sequence with appropriate audio. By the time I am on shot three, they have moved on to a new exercise, so it’s hard to maintain continuity in the shots even though I have the advantage of knowing ballet class structure well. Again, I think practice makes perfect in this case. I know I can’t ask sources to repeat movement just because I missed something, so I either need to become faster, or learn to edit in such a way where every shot doesn’t need to necessarily be a continuation of the former. Part of that might be making sure to get detail shots so I can use an action-cutaway-action sequence, which will help bridge those gaps.

Luckily, my editing skills have usually developed more quickly than my reporting skills. In the end, I think I’ll be able to fix and splice and narrate my clips into submission.

I am happy to say, however, that I survived my 9 week crash course in multimedia journalism. We’ve finished the basic skills portion of the class, and all that’s left is our final project combining everything we’ve learned. Just 2.5 short months ago, I had no idea how to use a DSLR, put together an NPR-style radio story or what a five-shot sequence even was.

Now, I do.

I’m no pro just yet, but I feel so much more confident in my ability to take on any kind of reporting challenge. You want an audio slideshow? Got it. Text piece with a photo gallery? No problem.

This might be the exhaustion at the end of a long week talking, but it’s a little heady knowing that I’ll leave here in May being as prepared as I possibly can for getting a job. I upheld my end of the bargain, challenged myself, and learned a lot. If that isn’t a reason to celebrate with a Friday evening pizza and a pint of Blue Moon, I’m not sure what is.