What does it take to produce a good multimedia story package?

Washington Post has a multimedia story about how some U.S. soldiers deal with traumatic brain injury from their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. This story provides for a good illustration for what a multimedia story entails and, from a journalism educator’s perspective, what skills and expertise it takes to produce a project like this one.

Multimedia components in this story

  • Videos: There’s an introductory video with edited battlefield footage and interviews; and video interviews (with some b-rolls) of several soldiers.
  • Photos: A photo slideshow documenting a soldier’s journey from battlefield to operating room and back to home.
  • Graphic animation: an interactive illustration showing the functions of brain.
  • Podcast: an audio clip by a doctor explaining brain functions.
  • Flash interface: the interactive interface is a flash project.
  • A well-written article: a regular, separate news article.
  • Social media sharing: Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Delicious, etc.

Multimedia journalism expertise needed for this story

  • News writing and reporting: This is the core of a multimedia story and requires rigorous training in the old-fashioned journalism.
  • Video production (shooting and editing)
  • Photojournalism (taking good photos and writing captions)
  • Audio production (recording and editing)
  • Flash animation: I should say that an advanced knowledge in this area, as shown in this project, is not necessarily a core skill for a multimedia journalist; more often than not, it is the job of a dedicated staff designer.
  • Social media tools: how to promote the story using Facebook, Twitter and others.

Multimedia skills beyond this story

Besides the above-mentioned expertise, a multimedia reporter needs to have a good knowledge of a few extra skills.

  • Produce sound photo slideshows; that is, a photo slideshow with narrations, soundbites, nat sound, music, etc.
  • Integrate social media into daily reporting; for instance, use social media to break news, to find story ideas and sources, to outsource, etc.
  • Data visualization: Other than the basic interactive map, a reporter or editor may need to plot data onto an interactive flash interface.
  • Web design: a reporter/editor may not be tasked to produce a website, but at times there’s the need to pool together all the individual elements for web presentation.
  • A reporter needs to learn some basic skills when posting contents on the web. Writing on the web is different from writing for the print; web texts need to be written and formatted to suit the pattern of online reading.

Does a reporter really need to know them all?

It needs to be noted that the sample multimedia story was not a one-man job: at the bottom of the page, there is a list of people involved in producing this project – a total of six people worked on components such as video and audio, design and development, motion graphic illustration, photography, graphic text, and additional video.

That said, I believe, other than the complicated flash animation and professional web design, a multimedia reporter needs to have a good knowledge of all the other skills discussed here. The more, the better.

More about flash animation and web design: in a separate post, I wrote about how a reporter can create an interactive Flash interface for a multimedia project without having to learning anything about animation and web design.

About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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