Friday, August 14, 2009

What I'm doing on my sabbatical - perhaps a lesson for other editors

I remember hearing retired people saying they couldn't believe how busy they were. I never really understood. Until now, that is. Now that I'm taking a sabbatical - writing a blog, learning about video and multimedia, exploring the future, talking with other journalists and journalism organizations, doing things I'm interested in - I think I'm starting to understand.

When I was editor of the Rocky, I didn't have the time to immerse myself in learning about video equipment and how to shoot and edit stories. I worked with others who could do it way better than I'll ever be able to. But I was able to bring my sense of story and my experience as an editor to help with their work. Now, it's different.

I started by using a flip cam. To anybody who hasn't tried one, I recommend that you do. I bought mine for $80 on Woot. It's not HD. But it's fun to play with. And it gave me a sense of what's possible. I edited with iMovie. But I knew I wanted to do more. I want to be able to use video, audio, still photography and text to tell any story.

So I bought my own video kit and after attending a multimedia workshop with MediaStorm (I actually wanted to begin before then, but circumstances prevented it) I started working with Sonya Doctorian as a coach. It's been such a pleasure. There's nothing like hands on work. It's both fulfilling and startling, because you more easily see the possibilities.

Here's my first video using my new Canon HV30 video camera and Final Cut Express. It's called Judith's hallah. Judith is my wife. She bakes hallah for most Shabbat dinners for our family and friends. I thought it was going to be a how-to video, but it turned into more of a story about a family tradition and Judith. By the way, I attached the recipe for this bread to the video on my youtube page. I hope some of you try it.

I've already got another video planned for next week. I encourage anybody in a leadership position in a news department to try to get the same kind of experience. It will deepen your understanding of what's possible and build your appreciation of what some who work for you have to go through to produce and distribute a story. Valuable lessons come from giving up your secure position as a leader and being open to learning new things. It's also rejuvenating. So much to do...


  1. John, great video. Amazing for an early learning experience.

    More news executives need to get more hands on experience with all the tools of the web. It would really change their understanding of what digital life is.

  2. John, this looks really slick. How long did it take to shoot and edit this video down to three minutes? I've been thinking a bit lately (for no particular reason...) how newspaper opinion pages might make better use of multimedia, especially video. What advice would you give to newspaper editors who are working with much smaller staffs with necessarily heavier workloads?

  3. And yet another advert for the Mac.

    I am impressed with the movie. Keep it up. Maybe add video to Pulitzers Lost?

  4. Thanks for the comments. Ben, it's a lot of work to produce a video like this, especially for somebody with limited experience. It took five or six hours to shoot half an hour of video. Then I worked on the video off and on for a week to produce it. Clearly you'd get quicker the more you did it. That's my goal. My advice to editors with smaller staffs would be to give people basic training and then figure out what would be most valuable for your audience and institution. I'd tend to favor breaking news (when it's important, people just want to see it), and then longer-term enterprise. Do something really good and give yourself time to do it on a story that matters to your community. Don't get hung up on work in between. Quick, valuable news and deep, compelling storytelling is where I'd put my emphasis.

    Dave, I like the idea of video for Pulitzers Lost. It's something I'm thinking about.

    Howard, I totally agree with you about how important it is for editors to be living a digital life....and publishers, too. At this point, if they can't or don't want to, I'd suggest they should be in a different business because they're endangering the future of their own enterprises by wanting to stay within their own comfort level.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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