Mark on January 13th, 2010
Grey's Park tennis park in the winter rain. iPhone photo, massaged with CameraBag app and saturation upped a little in Photoshop.

Grey's Park tennis park in the winter rain. iPhone photo, massaged with CameraBag app and saturation upped a little in Photoshop.

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Mark on January 10th, 2010

I’m on the verge of recommending that our journalism program get out of the newspaper business.

(This is not an anti-print rant, nor does it mean I’m one of those who sees no future for print. What drives this isn’t a matter of platform, it’s thinking about how best to teach skills.)

Our print issue has long been the place where developing skills came together and were practically applied. Students learned about writing to deadline, regularly producing publishable copy, quickly working through the process of finding and focussing the story, doing the research and getting it written. They brought the skills from photo-j classes into the near-real world to produce effective images. They had a chance to experiment with storytelling. And they learned design and layout considerations and skills to bring it all together.

As we’ve added more and more multimedia storytelling skills, the role of print has changed. We’ve gone from an issue a week to an issue every three. We’ve changed from a mix of news and features to themed issues, some serious (Canada at war), some a less so (Cheap Stuff for Students).

We’ve been using our online edition to give students the practical experience of getting the story, quickly (and right), and getting it published, while the print edition gives them time to develop deeper, longer stories. They generate story ideas within the framework of a theme, helping with that most difficult of all questions that a lot of j-students wrestle with — what should I write about?

But here’s what I’m thinking: all of the skills that end in the production of a print newspaper can also be taught in a process that ends with online publication, with smart assigning. All except, that is, the skill that relates directly to the production of a newspaper — actually producing the pages.

(Teaching that came out of our roots as a trades school, and the old-time reality that most of our students were headed for community newspapers, which was the first stepping stone for a career in journalism for our diploma-wielding grads. Both have changed. A short-term seminar course could take care of inDesign skills.)

Near-real world experiences can as easily end online as in print; we are talking about the same basic journalism skills, regardless of platform. The emphasis needs to be firmly placed on the doing of the journalism, not which button gets pushed to spread the results.

One of the big problems, as I see it, with dual print and online publications is that students’ focus is split between what they have to do for each. Providing a single focus on the process of creating good journalism, and not the publishing of it, is where we really need to be. The “applied skill” should be the piece of journalism, not where it lives.

Some things to consider:

  • Killing print would require some thoughtful assigning, to ensure students continue to develop the full range of written (as well as multimedia) storytelling skills, whether it’s producing perfect pithy briefs, fast-out-of-the-chute news coverage, or layered, nuanced and deep features.
  • If themes are important for making students see how individual pieces can add up to a greater whole — and I think they are —, we could still set themes and require students to occasionally produce material on those throughout the semester, producing packages that evolve and grow, and develop the habit of continually monitoring areas of interest.
  • We would need to continue to teach the importance, and strength, of print as a medium.

(Note: Students who wanted it, could still get a print experience through volunteer, and some paid, work with the recently launched student newspaper, which is financed by the student association.)

As I wrote, I’m on the verge of making the recommendation. Writing this post serves two purposes: one, it helped me tease out the original thought a little more, and, two, I can now throw this out there so that others can react and point to aspects of this I may be missing.

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Mark on January 4th, 2010
Reflections of commuters in the window of a Canada Line car rushing undergound near Marine Drive. iPhone photo, sharpened in Photoshop.

Reflections of commuters in the window of a Canada Line car rushing undergound near Marine Drive. iPhone photo, sharpened in Photoshop.

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Mark on January 3rd, 2010
Thai Away Home restaurant sign, Cambie Street, Vancouver. iPhone photo, Instant Wide setting in Lo-Mob app.

Thai Away Home restaurant sign, Cambie Street, Vancouver. iPhone photo, Instant Wide setting in Lo-Mob app.

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Mark on January 2nd, 2010

The next semester starts in a couple of days, and with it the first class of what is essentially a course that introduces first year students to multimedia journalism tools and skills.

To prepare, I’ve been drafting a list of principles to guide the course (and students). So far, I have this:

1. The ability to report and write isn’t nearly enough for (the great majority) of journalists any more.

2. Even with that, the key skills of research, verification, fairness and delivering important and interesting information effectively, remain at the heart of what we do.

3. Your career as a journalist will be shaped by your firm grasp of the second point, coupled with a deep understanding of the full range of possibilities for storytelling.

4. Storytelling is the thoughtful choosing of appropriate form and content to connect.

5. You do not need to master all of the current skills of storytelling, but you need to understand them. However, mastery of some skills will help you truly succeed.

6. What you learn now may become obsolete (although it is more likely that it will instead become technically easier) but all of what you learn sets a base for whatever comes next.

7. While much of the semester will be spent working with a variety of software apps, it is never about the tools, no more than reporting is about how you write in your notebook. You need to know the tools, but it is always about the journalism.

8. The development of your skills and understanding depend more on doing than on the learning. Doing real-life projects, for class or on your own, trumps classroom exercises.

I’d welcome any feedback, particularly anything that I’ve missed that you’d consider important.

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Mark on January 1st, 2010

The frenzy is growing over Apple’s likely late-January announcement of a tablet and I’ve lost track of the number of writers who see in the tablet — along with the success e-readers are starting to enjoy — the latest “saviour” for print.

(Click any of the links in this Google search I did and you’ll get a taste for some of what’s being written.)

I’m wondering if publishers who see hope for subscription revenue from new readers/tablets are pinning too much on the belief that the experience of reading a single “print” publication — enhanced by interactivity, video et al — is what a significant portion of the public is after.

Watch the spiffy video for the Sports Illustrated e-reader experience and, after you get past the “wow,” ponder whether the new Sports Illustrated will attract large numbers of new subscribers or merely serve, in a very different way, those who already subscribe. (You also have to wonder if SI brings all that up-to-the-minute, multimedia goodness to the readers, will it affect readership of local major newspaper sports sections?)

And how about the local newspaper. Is it the package and presentation that readers are after, or is it the content? With much of the content available elsewhere, is package and presentation enough to drive new subscription sales?

There’s no doubt that e-readers, the iPhone and its kin and, probably, Apple’s new tablet open tremendously exciting ways to create and consume information.

But when it comes to the financial implications and possibilities, all I have, as usual, are questions and no clear sense that this — or any other single trend or technology — is the elusive “saviour” publishers want.

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Mark on January 1st, 2010
Luna rests between bouts of food patrol at last night's New Year's Eve party. iPhone photo, Helga effect from CameraBag. (Note: Luna isn't mine; belongs to our hosts for the evening)

Luna rests between bouts of food patrol at last night's New Year's Eve party. iPhone photo, Helga effect from CameraBag. (Note: Luna isn't mine; belongs to our hosts for the evening)

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Mark on December 30th, 2009

news_chartThe chart at left has been on a lot of minds today and, rightfully so, showing as it does an Everest-like profile of what’s happened with newspaper industry jobs over the past half-century or so.

(I’ve purposefully made the chart small: you really should go see the original at Silicon Alley Insider.)

As someone who newspapered through the sharp ascent to the top, and got out right around the time the small shoulder appeared on the downward side, I thought I’d better offer a little perspective to stop j-students from abandoning their studies en masse.

As hard as the past two years have been on newsrooms, a lot of the decline in newspaper jobs since the late-’80s peak, can be traced to two developments.

One is technological. The arrival of computers at newspapers, which began in small ways in the ’70s and exploded thereafter, cost a lot of folks their jobs, primarily on the production side of the process. Every newspaper’s production rooms, once heavy with specialists on such wondrous devices as Linotypes, was eventually slashed and slashed hard. (Conversely, the workload in newsrooms increased as reporters and editors were now setting their own copy and laying out their own pages. There was no offsetting gain in newsroom jobs as production jobs went away.)

The second change was the result of increasing consolidation of newspapers. Even the smallish chains that I worked for (a dozen or so titles), found great savings in consolidating accounts receivable, payroll, classified ad phone sales and other business-related operations. Small newspaper staffs of five or six business-side employees disappeared. The centralized operations were staffed at much lower levels. Many newspapers shed much of their circulation department by contracting out aspects such as delivery, effectively killing the old-fashioned paperboy or -girl. And some consolidated the tattered remains of the production departments into production centres to serve two or more newspapers, shedding more bodies along the way.

This brief look back (and it is a once-over-lightly) might not make the picture any prettier, but we need to keep in mind, in looking in wonder and fear at that chart, that not all who have lost jobs with newspapers have been journalists. I suspect that until recently, the toll on production departments and the business side was far heavier than it was on the newsroom.

The two forces — technology and consolidation — are still at play, of course. And there’s nothing to say that trend line won’t keep moving down. It would be interesting, though, to see similar charts that trace employment other areas of media, including the increasing number of online pubs that are replicating parts of what newspapers have traditionally provided.

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Mark on December 29th, 2009

Click to open violin.mp3 in new player window

Here’s my third annual holiday season audio offering, although there’s nothing particularly seasonal about it.

It’s also not great, but it’s better than last year’s, which was my internet debut on violin. The purpose is to amuse/entertain you. Actually, the purpose is to give me a record of my progress: this is the only time all year that I’ve recorded myself playing and it was a revealing (read painful) experience.

There’s only a minute of sound here — mistakes and all &mdash. If you have perfect pitch, or even musical taste, you might want to pass on this one.

(Sorry about the low-tech link to the file and the fact it opens in a new window: the audio player plug-in I’ve been using seems to be broken with this version of WordPress and I can’t find a replacement that works either.)

Mark on December 29th, 2009

[flashvideo filename=”http://www.tamark.ca/video/skytrain_final.flv” width=”560″ height=”420″ /]

After re-reading Richard Koci Hernandez’s indispensible “Multimedia Journal,” I need to go out today and create something.

The above isn’t very special. Too few pictures; too many quick cuts. Oh, well. The whole point of posting it isn’t to say “see what I can do,” it’s so some of you might say, “Cool idea, but I can do that a lot better.” Then you’ll go out and create something, too.

Tech details: Canon G10 point-and-shoot in burst mode, with the audio harvested with an Olympus WS-400S. Edited in QuickTime 7 Pro, Final Cut Express and Amadeus Pro.