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Managing multimedia for maximum impact

Image of RAI Novosti Moscow courtesy of Juerg Vollmer and released under Creative Commons

Multimedia means any combination of text, images, audio, video and graphics used to create a rounded news story or package.

Almost all web pages are multimedia in themselves, meaning that they already have combination of text and pictures; the use of audio and video gives us more ways to tell the story.

It is also about how the media complements each other, the words, text, audio, video and graphics can combine to give a detailed picture in quite a short space.

A well-edited page tells the story in full, using a mix of media that informs and engages. It should keep the reader glued to the story from top to bottom, but not overwhelm them.

It is also about how the media complement each other. The words, text, audio, video and graphics should combine to give a detailed picture. 

Try to telling the story using a mix of media that informs and engages but which does not overwhelm.

Editing the story

If you have video of a news event that is going to draw the reader in put it at the top of the story.

If you have excellent still images of a flood, or of a protest march - something that really tells the story and evokes a reaction - then use these at the top of story as a gallery or a single, large image. 

A good example of this was the story of an enraged Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe at George Bush during a press conference in Baghdad in December 2008.

No matter how well we describe this in words and still images, there is no substitute for seeing it happen. This video merited being put at the top of the story 

Shoe thrown at Bush in Baghdad

The video or audio should add significantly to the story. However, you should write your story as though people hadn't seen it, as the text alone could end up elsewhere through multi-platform authoring, syndication and blogs. Bear in mind, too, that some readers can't watch video or, especially those using mobile devices, don't want to - bandwidth often costs money.

If there is video of a news event that is really going to draw the reader in then it's a good idea to have that at the top of the story.

Video

Most TV news packages contain standard elements such as a piece to camera or stand-up as they are known in the US, which places the reporter at the scene of an event.

Online news may contain such footage, but it doesn't need to because the important information will be told in the text. The video can contain the main elements of the story, but it can also be a snapshot of an event, something that gives the reader an idea of the atmosphere on the streets, or a vox pop series of interviews.

Audio

A full length interview or a piece with some natural sound can really add to a story.

Many news organisations have also decided to develop podcasts, in which editors, correspondents and guests discuss the key stories.

They can be also be posted on the I-tunes service to reach a wider audience.

A good piece of audio can also be carefully edited with still images (either from reporter or agency) to make an audio gallery.

A good piece of audio can also be carefully edited with still images to make an audio gallery.

Graphics

Maps, graphics and pie charts can greatly enhance the readers understanding of some stories, particularly those that rely heavily on data, such as displaying the figures in a local authority budget.

But they must be clear and show the key information in the story using clear colours and text.

A badly designed, or labelled, graphic or map can confuse the reader more than if it had not been published at all

 A badly designed, or labelled, graphic or map can confuse the reader more than if it had not been published at all.

It also important that the information is accurately sourced and up to date so as to present a coherent picture.

On an extremely dramatic business or social story, you could even lead on a really striking graphic (like a map of Antarctic ice shrinking) by putting it at the top of the story.

Otherwise it is a good idea to keep them in the body of the text or as a pop-up in a separate window.

Readers like to be able to control the flow of information available and it is a good idea to make more complicated graphics and maps clickable where-ever possible.

The 'Rolls Royce' of graphics is a series of fully interactive graphics, video and images that provide a full package.

Make more complicated graphics and maps clickable where-ever possible.

Use of images

It's a good idea to think flexibly about images while sticking to your news organisation's online style.

A striking  image could look even more dramatic if used across the top of the page, while some vertical  images, such as a rocket being launched, could look better if used down the right-hand side of the text.

Many major news organisations also have a moving gallery of images at the top of index's or the main story.

Teases and link boxes

Whether your audio, video or picture gallery is embedded in the page or opens in a separate window, the key to getting people to watch it is down to how you promote it.

If your video is not embedded you will need to link it from a box in the page.

Video links from Al Jazeera English

It's a good idea to have video teases accompanied by a key still image from the video,  but you may want to keep it simple, as detailed images (e.g. rubble from destroyed buildings etc) can be confusing when used in small sizes.

The text should be lively and factual. If it's a first person or interview you might want to use a 'pull-quote' to draw the reader in. E.g. 'My father is innocent'

If its a video report by one of your senior correspondents you might want to use their name eg... John Simpson on the future for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The key to getting people to watch it is down to how you promote it.

Things to watch out for

Context

Words and pictures need to send a consistent message and the same is true of audio and video so it always worth asking yourself whether the whole package of the story delivered in a consistent way.

We have to be clear what we are saying in any news story and we must never add audio, video or text that could confuse the audience.

It may sound obvious, but make sure you are showing the video of exactly the same event the story is centred around.

If a reader thinks he or she is seeing violence at a major protest in central Manchester against economic reform, as the lead in your story says, but your video is of another smaller protest in the same city you have to let the reader know.

The same is true of images. Obviously if a politician has been accused of corruption, you won't want to use a picture of the person smiling happily on winning an election.

Make sure you are showing the video of exactly the same event the story is centred around.

Balance across media.

The coverage, as a package of all multimedia elements, needs to retain balance, and its important that all sides get a fair say across the different media you are offering.

Sometimes it might be difficult, in terms of access, but there could be problems if you give the government spokesperson a 15 minute video interview and the opposition just gets two lines of text.

Staying true to your editorial priorities

When branching out into new areas such as video, or text for a broadcaster, staff will need training in working with new mediums and maintaining journalistic standards across new platforms.

It may sometimes prove difficult for a news organisation to maintain their core editorial premise in the new medium.

And It should be the job of the duty editor to make sure that the new material also fits in, editorially and stylistically, so that the story or package speaks with a consistent voice.

Staff will need training in working with new mediums and maintaining journalistic standards

Duplication

Multimedia means we should add to the reader's understanding of the story, and there could always be a danger that we offer her or him different versions of the same story.

Whatever decisions you make as an editor should mean the added effort the news team have put in really results in something different that is likely to boost traffic to the site as well as honestly enhancing information offered.

Image of RAI Novosti Moscow courtesy of Juerg Vollmer and released under Creative Commons

Rob WinderJournalist and news editor, Rob Winder, has worked as a multimedia journalist and editor at BBC News Online, Al Jazeera English, Amnesty International and ITV News.


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