Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lessons from the MediaStorm Methodology Workshop: Day 5



Day 5 was the closing day of the first MediaStorm methodology workshop. It was the least structured day of the week, giving the five participants and Brian Storm the chance for a freewheeling exploration of issues and ideas. You can read more about the previous days on my blog: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.

We began with an excellent presentation on gear by Bob Sacha, someone I had come to know when MediaStorm worked with the Rocky Mountain News during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Key point: Headphones are the single most important piece of equipment for multimedia. And you have to wear them all the time when recording a story. Bob argued that you should wear ear-covering headphones so that the only sound you hear is the sound your listeners will hear. I came away convinced.

What was incredible sitting at a table at the center of their loft-like workplace was not only how small the equipment has become, but especially how its cost is now such that it's legitimate to say that "anybody" can buy equipment to produce professional quality documentary journalism. This type of equipment would have been unavailable just years ago or would have required huge outlays making it unattainable for essentially everybody. This, of course, is one of the most exciting aspects of this era of journalism.

Bob recommended purchasing prosumer equipment, which often costs a third to a quarter of what professional gear would cost. This gear made for consumers is professional quality. He recommended the Think Tank multimedia bag. Pretty amazing.

Here's a link to the list of gear Mediastorm recommends. Some of it isn't the very latest, because it reflects the gear they use or have used.

Most of the emphasis of the sound recording sessions was on in-person interviews, but there's a good tutorial on recording interviews over the phone at transom.org.

At the end of the presentation, one thing became clear in our discussion. In general, it's not reasonable to expect one person to do everything required for multimedia - at least of the type produced by MediaStorm. One person can't do all these things at the same time. The work needs time. That's not to say there isn't a place for quickly produced reports. There is. But to do memorable work, collaboration is key. People need time. Brian's view, and it makes sense, is that it's better to do fewer things better than to try to do many things and have none of them be extraordinary or memorable. You train people what to expect when they come to your Web site. If it's not interesting, there are plenty of other places on the Web to go.

The complexity of the equipment is amazing. In the past, someone would have trained to do sound. Somebody else would have gone to film school to learn cinematography. Someone else would have gone to journalism school to learn still photography. And all three would have had to learn the most important - and difficult - skill: storytelling. Without it, none of the other skills matter.

It's one thing to train students in all these areas. It makes sense early on to train a student or employee to be a one-man band. Everyone should understand the complete picture and have a feel for what it takes to do each job. But people also need to learn to collaborate, or at least that was our consensus view.

One way to do that in a college setting, and to encourage people to pull their weight, is to have everybody on a team rate the others, as well as to have the professor provide the grade. Given that when students are learning the technology they might not have a good grasp of story, another good recommendation was that beginners (like me) be asked to produce an explanatory piece using the equipment. For example, something as simple as how to make pasta or how to make a pot of coffee. Anything with a structure.

We talked a lot about the business and how new companies should structure themselves, with one key observation: Be as diverse as you can in sources of revenue. Don't have one client or one source of revenue.

I'll come back to the workshop and my reflections on multimedia in a final blog post to conclude this series after I've had a few more hours to absorb the week.

But I can tell you I came away at the end of the five days with one clear feeling - this is the greatest period for creative people ever.

Thanks to Brian Storm and the crew at MediaStorm for making the week happen and to my fellow participants - Dave Carlson, Tavia Gilbert, Kim Komenich and Janet Reeves - for helping make it so enriching.

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