A reader of this blog forwarded a link to a post on The Editors Weblog
. The World Editors Forum, part of the World Association of Newspapers, publishes it. This post quotes Bas Broekhuizen, a television person from the Netherlands, who argues that the drive to turn journalists into multimedia people is a mistake. He led an effort at the leading Dutch broadsheet to train reporters as video journalists so that they could produce both written and video stories. The experience was less than stellar:
“In my opinion every journalist can learn to be a video journalist, as long as he or she is not afraid of the technical aspects (camera, computer, et cetera). Journalism is about telling good stories and in that regard there's no difference between writing and filming,” said Broekhuizen.
“But to become a real good video journalist, you need talent and time. A lot of time.”
“That's why I do not believe in the so called multi skilled journalist, or in ‘convergence by hardware’. Just handing out cameras to newspaper reporters will – in my opinion – not bring you video reports with the quality you want.”
Broekhuizen thinks that the answer is working with specialist teams, not reporters who do it all. Those who follow my blog might be surprised to hear that I agree, because I've often stated that reporters need to learn additional skills - video and audio and some HTML coding - to deal with the web.
The best approach would be to have separate people doing these jobs, for the same reason that the actors in a professionally-produced play aren't also directing, designing sets and lights, building costumes, and running operations back stage. Specializing does give you the chance to learn something well.
That's the theory, at least. Unfortunately, practice doesn't always follow smoothly. A team is great if someone is willing to pay for it. This Dutch newspaper went that route, and obviously had the money to do so. But publishers keep tightening the financial reins, and it's tough enough these days to get them to send both a writer and a photographer. Can you imagine most of them actually paying for a video crew to join the happy reporting band? Neither can I. And yet, as YouTube shows us, video can become insanely popular on the Internet.
When a publisher looks more and more to the web and sees that video might draw the younger demographics that advertisers, either rightly or wrongly, so passionately seek, what are they going to do? Keep funding long-form articles? Or will they say, the hell with writers, let's get some video on the site? My bet is on human nature, cheapness, and the desire for audience.
Let me be clear: it's not easy to do multiple media at the same time. I've gone into stories both taking notes and photos. When doing one, you can't do the other. Adding video or audio only complicates things. But even my myopia can make out the tall letters on the side of the building. When publishers move to multimedia, you'd better be there if you want to keep clients. So now's the time to start learning, so as the publishers experiment, you'll be there with them, and they'll develop the habit of calling you for the complex assignments.
As for the corporate world, I expect it will do as it has in the past - assume that video or audio is a separate undertaking and pay for specialized crews to do the work. Having mixed skills could offer a competitive advantage (lower costs), but only if the video and lighting and audio come out as well as the writing.
Labels: Internet, multimedia, reporting, web