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Multimedia journalism and the importance of the word 25 October 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Multimedia.
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Multimedia journalism offers the potential for greater engagement with the reader than pure print journalism could ever hope to achieve. It is wrong to say that multimedia journalism came about because of the internet; broadcasters have always worked as multimedia journalists, while newspaper journalists have been known to reluctantly wield their own camera from time to time, but it is because of the internet that journalists have come to realise the importance of a multimedia element in their work.

It is with good reason that Ofcom promotes multimedia literacy; that The Guardian trains print journalists in broadcast skills; and that the Birmingham Post has recently launched a mobile phone site, with Trinity Mirror looking to launch a further 10 mobile sites in the coming months for its other regional papers. Presenting a story using a combination of the written/spoken word, music, still/moving images, graphics or interactive elements allows you to tell that story in a more compelling and engaging way. Simply embedding YouTube clips can give the reader something to create an emotional attachment with even before they have read a word.

Steve Spring (CEO Future Publishing) said audio and visual reporting skills are now ‘hygiene’ requirements, but too much emphasis must not be placed on the ‘multimedia’ part of ‘multimedia journalism’. The old motion picture adage holds true here: you can make a bad film out of a good script, but you can’t make a good film out of a bad script. Journalists must not lose sight of their unique selling point: the quality of their words.

Journalists cannot be interested in technology for its own sake; it must serve a purpose according to Kevin Anderson (blogs editor at The Guardian). Multimedia is an increasingly important element in digital storytelling especially, but it is not an essential one, and the two are certainly not synonymous. Mark Deuze claimed in 2004 that most multimedia journalists were still just reproducing old journalistic practices with a new gloss, especially in the use of interactive elements. While I feel this argument is dated now I agree that the notion of a fully integrated multimedia news room has still not been widely achieved or even accepted.

Training all journalists in multimedia storytelling will allow for the streamlining of the newsroom, but that training must give journalists a certain level of multimedia proficiency before news rooms consider downsizing. It cannot be some ‘on the job’ training that writers simply have to get through. Just last week David Hepworth lambasted the magazine industry for producing ‘cheap TV’, and rightly so. There are strict internal quality controls for written works, but the same levels of scrutiny don’t seem to exist for video and other multimedia elements in most stories.

Rant over. Don’t get me wrong I think a multimedia future is the only future journalism is likely to face, and I intend to be in the front carriage of the bandwagon, but it is important to remember the word in all of this. Any sacrifice of the word is simply not acceptable.

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