Assignment 1: Communities of Practice

This post is the critical evaluation for my first assignment in the module “Multimedia News Gathering and Production”, which is part of my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University.

During the last two months I have been focusing in online audio and video and doing experimental pieces using these mediums. Throughout my exploration of online video and audio I can say I have learned a lot. Adam Westbrook and Colin Mulvany lead by example in their fields and they were a big inspiration. However, I also realized that there are not static and fast rules. Learning through practice, experimentation and reflecting on mistakes is what makes a good project.

I have chosen audio and video as both of the mediums raise an important question: why and when to chose one over another? My first step was revisiting multimedia projects that I find inspirational, which I blogged about here.

Audio and Podcasting

To explore the power of audio in journalism I interviewed and recorded a podcast with Sam Coley. Recording this podcast was very helpful for two reasons: I interviewed a professional in the area of audio but also it gave me the opportunity of doing my first podcast.

Recording the podcast showed me that I need to think about the questions clearer and try to focus during the interview and not to rush it in the beginning as I said in my post, which means, I need to practice a lot. However, it gave great ideas for future podcasts.

I used Soundcloud and I really liked the possibility to include notes on Soundcloud, which I used to include links in the timeline. In this case in particular I used both soundcloud and a recorder to have the opportunity to edit it after and slip it in different parts. To be honest, I don’t think I am ready to record a podcast without having to edit it after.

The interview with Sam reaffirmed something that I already knew but that I took for granted: the importance of recording good audio.

Audio Slideshows

My main aim for this assignment was to produce an audio slideshow. I have worked with video and audio in my previous degree but I never did an audio slideshow as a main project.

In my research, I tried to read extensively about how to make a great audio slide show and the do’s and don’ts. I know the only way to get it right is through practice but I was able to take in a lot of good tips to have a clear idea of what to do and to try to avoid common mistakes.

I decided to do a series of posts on How to do an Audio Slide Show. To think about an audio slideshow as a series of processes and to reflect about them after was very helpful. Until now I have covered aspects such as the interviewing process, gathering audio and also editing tips common to edition software’s. Nevertheless, it is one thing to blog about best practices and another to put them in practice as I am discovering now.

I have been working on an audio slideshow for a couple of weeks about Alan Hill, a fireman that assisted the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974. I have been struggling to find a good angle but after a lot of tries I believe I found it and I plan on finishing it until the end of the week.

As I am editing and gathering the footage I was able to create my list of dos and don’ts with some examples. Although I am no expert I surely can say that I’ve never looked into audio slideshows that deeply and intensively as I am doing now.

Photography

Audio slideshows are a great way of telling a story but also good tools to improve skills on photography, which was one of my goals with the experimental portfolio.

I am trying to get to know my camera and experiment as much as possible. Furthermore, I am trying to look at technical aspects and terms that I overlooked before. Composition, light and color are becoming constant words in my mind when I shoot.

I decided to get to know Photoshop a little better, a very useful and powerful tool. As a journalist, I need to have in mind that the picture should be as real and natural as possible but Photoshop can improve a few aspects, especially for audio slideshows. I took some tutorials and decided to experiment some basic tools with Photoshop and wrote a post about with my experience. I decided to go to an event called Birmingham Photography last week. It was a great meetup made of pros and beginners. Basically we went out to take pictures and those who are experts help us with composition and lighting aspects.

However, I am still in an early stage and photography was probably the last aspect that I focused for my experimental portfolio.

Online video

I have to admit that I focus my attention mostly on audio and started to research and to think about video in a later stage of this assignment. As I said, I had already done online video in my previous degree but I was out of practice.

I already knew how to work with a tripod and with a camera but I had never done a deep research from professionals. Adam Westbrook’s quick hits to make videos better and Franziska Baehrle’s tips to get started on videojournalism were good examples. Looking back, I realize that I still have a long way to go.

I am doing a short piece of video with the concept that I have came up in this post: “What you would like to read in the newspaper tomorrow?”. I am trying to apply these tips to my shootings and at the same time trying to notice what I can do get better. I am still in the shooting process and in early stages of my research.

Communities of Practice

Interviewing the professionals

To establish my network and to engage with professionals I tried to interview them but I was not completely successful. As I said before, I made a podcast with Sam Coley about audio and blogged about it in two posts.

One way to get me started to blog about video was to invite Franzi Baerhle, a former Online Journalism MA student, to do a guest post in my blog about shooting with DSLR. I have my DSLR for two years but I think I am not making the most of it.

A post about equipment to use in video journalism is very useful for someone without a lot of experience. I think I am going to start doing more guest posts like this.

I also contacted a Company created by two students at Birmingham City University Student’s Company: 470. 470 media launched a project called Un-told Birmingham with the aim of telling hidden stories about Birmingham with audio slideshows. We exchange e-mails and I going to spend one day with Un-told Birmingham’s team and do different podcasts next week. I think it will be different to have a new and young perspective about how to make an audio slideshow and its powers.

Forums, groups, pages, comments and tutorials

In general, as a beginner, I found it better to start learning from others and to learn by practice, which means, research, trial, error, and more research.

I started by searching for forums, Facebook pages/groups, mailing lists etc. to engage with communities. Searching for those groups I started to understand the concept of communities of practice, which was still a blur a few weeks ago.

I have been following a lot of websites and one that I found particularly useful and interesting was Finding the Frame.  Although a little bit late, I contributed for its forum 3 posts: two of them I suggested links and in the other one I created a topic with ideas for projects.

This is a great example of a community to follow for those who are interested in audio slideshows and video. You can upload your stories, describe the equipment you used and request feedback. I am planning to upload my future projects on Finding the frame to get some feedback. I was well impressed with the constructive criticism that I read in some of the projects and that is what I need to improve.

Adam Westbrook’s blog was a great example for me and I quoted and took a lot of ideas from him. I ended up using his 30 ideas for projects for digital producers to make a list with my ideas. Then I posted my list on his website and I am still waiting for feedback.

Moreover I will keep on watching the work of other professionals to learn from it but I will also start to comment on their work and make new contacts.

On Twitter I can say that I enlarge my network massively. I created one list to aggregate tweets from people that I identified as experts and subscribed to other relevant twitter lists. I posted about Twitters to follow for online journalists here.

I used twitter to share some of my posts and to ask questions but I didn’t engage as much as I should.  In the future I have to be more proactive asking for feedback on my own work. Until now I only had one person retweeting my posts, which made me happy nonetheless.

In general I could have been more active distributing content and interacting with the communities of practice. Analyzing my engagement, I see that I was a bit shut down and close in my own work. Despite being a beginner I need to start interact with professionals to support and grow a network.

On LinkedIn I joined two groups: Online Journalism Group and Online Audio Journalism Group. However, I found it difficult to find relevant topics to contribute for. The first group is more active but not with subjects related to online and multimedia journalism but with international news. I suggested one topic (Audio Slideshows: Dos and Don’ts) in the Online Audio Journalism Group but didn’t get any response.

I have to say that I struggled to find forums for my level of knowledge. Sometimes the conversations were too advanced and I could not keep up or commenting.

In spite of my lack of engagement I subscribed to a lot of websites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Adam Westbrook’s blog, Mastering Multimedia etc. I catch up with the latest multimedia news on Google Reader or on newsletters that go directly to my mailbox. I now realize that I need to change my feed aggregator since Google reader is going to close in June.

Following these websites was probably the most useful part of my experimental portfolio. They offer amazing examples but also interesting blogrolls to find more websites to add to my subscription.

I kept records of interesting and relevant posts in my Delicious account under multimediajournalism, audio slideshows and videojournalism.

I have always been a fan of tutorials. I know it is a bit lazy but the fact that someone is teaching exactly what we should do really pleases me. The Audacity Tutorial by Mindy McAdams led the example and it was very useful for me and I blogged about it. Regarding photography I read composition tips and Mindy McAdams has good post on learn how to crop, tone, and optimize photos and I am following the instruction and I will blog about it.

I also followed The Knight Digital Media Center tutorials and recently I discovered and subscribed a trial of Lynda Tutorials. This is a website with thousands of tutorials for all software we can imagine. However, after the trial, it is paid.

Experimentation and Blogging

The name of this project says it all: experimentation was my main goal. This was an opportunity to discovered and work with new software/platforms and consolidate previous knowledge.

For my audio slideshow I decided to use Adobe Premiere Pro CS5. I already knew the platform but I was out of practice so I decided to stay in my comfort zone with this audio slideshow because I to remember how to work with it.

However, for the video I am going to give Final Cut Express a try. I am finding it very intuitive, like other Apple’s software. I was already familiar with Imovie and Final Cut Express it is not much different.

Additionally, I created a basic account on Vimeo as I have always uploaded my work on Youtube and wanted to try a different video network. I started to research what was better for me and I have to agree that Vimeo does a better job keeping the website clean, professional and the videos are more evident in the page. For digital production, I think Vimeo is preferable since it offers less visual distraction. The amount of information on Youtube is overwhelming and your mind wonders trough the playlists, the comments and the ads. For bigger and more complex pieces I think Vimeo does a better job. Definitely it is going to be my choice for my future pieces.

When I started editing my slideshow I faced a dilemma: editing the audio on Audacity and then import it to Adobe Premiere or edit directly on Adobe. I believe it was a personal choice but after trying edit a track of the audio on Audacity I chose to work on the whole audio slideshow in Adobe.

At some point I want to start working with Final Cut Pro 7. Most of the people I follow and subscribed use Final Cut for Audio Slideshows.

Finally, when I recorded my podcast with Sam Coley I did it in two different ways: with an audio recorder and with my Soundcloud application on the Ipad. It was the first time I did a live podcast and I liked Soundcloud. In the future I am considering trying Mixcloud but my experience with the former app has been positive. Nonetheless, I brought my recorder to have the opportunity to edit it and to play around with a voice recorder to practice for my interview for the audio slideshow.

I tried to blog about my experiences and my reflections as much as I could. The Multimedia Journalist was my first professional blog and I am thrilled I created it. It is the most useful tool to reflect about my work critically and a fantastic way to organize my thoughts and my work. A lot of my posts are inspired in websites that I follow and what’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work, as I said. I take notes, I test the ideas and then I try to write about it. I have endeavored to “blog as I go” and I am glad with I have done so far. My views of the blog are increasing and I am gaining more followers on Twitter.

To understand where I stood in terms of audio editing and video editing I also went to an exhibition organized by School of Arts Students and created a blog with way I record. It was a great way to practice.

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach. I need to manage my expectations and my time better. I decided to focus on a lot of aspects and I ended up swamped with everything.

Proposal for assignment 2

For my second assignment I want to development skills in a field that I am overlooking for too long now: Data Journalism and Visualizations.

In the beginning of this module I thought of working with Youth Offenders and I am going to stand by my first choice. A young offender is someone between 10 and 21 years old that commits a crime. However there is a difference. Young offenders aged 10 to 17 (i.e. up to their eighteenth birthday) are classed juvenile offender. Between the ages of 18 and 21 (i.e. up to their twenty-first birthday) they are classed as young offenders. I would like to focus my attention on Juvenile Offenders.

I already have chosen some data to start collecting and working on stories from that:

  • Reoffending Patterns
  • Types of Crime
  • Types of Disposals (especially pre-court disposals)
  • Comparing rates nationally

I already identified organisations to contact to work with:

I want to develop my skills with excel but also with visualization in Illustrator. I need to manage one of my big problems: focusing. The theme could be huge but in a short time I need to start by doing data and, if I have time, add some more multimedia aspects. However, I still to shape this aspect better in my mind.

Bibliography

Bull, Andy (2010). Multimedia Journalism: A practical guide. 1st. ed. London and New York: Routledge.

Luckie, Mark S. (2010). Digital Journalists’ Handbook. United States of America: Self Published

All the posts and wesbites that I bookmarked for this module so far are here:

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/multimediajournalism

Audioslideshows:

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/audioslideshows

Video Journalism

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/videojournalism

Comments that I made:

https://delicious.com/marianapereira/comments

Subscriptons on Google Reader:

http://bit.ly/15QlLUX

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