Multimedia Immersion, Part One: A Week Of Transformation

Students today on the opening day of NPPA's Multimedia Immersion Workshop at the S.I. Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse University. Photogrpahs by Zixi Wu
Students today on the opening day of NPPA's Multimedia Immersion Workshop at the S.I. Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse University. Photogrpahs by Zixi Wu

By Darren Durlach

SYRACUSE, NY (May 14, 2013) – It’s 6:30 a.m. I woke to the sound of a harpsichord on the magic rectangle next to my head: my iPhone. I intentionally chose a pleasant sounding alarm as opposed to my traditional shrill beeping because throughout this week sleep will become more of a luxury, and I’ll need to wake up to something I don’t want to punch, as much. And this is only Day One of an incredibly intense, fulfilling week of learning at NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop at Syracuse University.  

The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication building on the Syracuse campus is filled with the nervous chatter of 44 students from all over the world, and 22 highly decorated coaches who are excited to meet the small teams they will be working with for the next five days. They all have different needs and backgrounds. but a common understanding: like it or not, Internet video isn’t going away. It’s only getting bigger. With the booming interest in online video by every business with a Web site and social media presence – which is just about everybody – the diversity of the clientele is a clear reflection. Non-news organizations who have internal video teams to constantly supply video for their social media efforts, Web site, and internal operations, are well represented here, as well as traditional news photographers. 

On my team Leslie Tuttle, a 62-year-old still photographer working for a non-profit in Boston, was laid off due to budget cuts in 2012. The videographer in her department kept her job. Other teams include Juan Arredondo, a freelancer from Columbia, South America (“Not South Carolina,” he corrected), is feeling pressure from his NGO clients to provide more video. Jean Luc Dushime, a freelancer from Burlington, VT, fled Rwanda at the age of 13 during the genocide, and now nine years later he wants to learn video storytelling so he can tell the stories of people who went through the similar experience. It was only a few years ago when I was attending the NPPA’s News Video Workshop in Norman, OK, that every student in “The Big Room” was a call-letter television photographer. Norman, and every other workshop, is seeing big changes in their clientele, but this Immersion seems especially diverse.

Bruce Strong, chairman of the Multimedia Photography and Design department at the Newhouse School of Public Communication, said it best during his presentation on storytelling. “Look for the transformation.” He was referring to the elements that make a story great. It’s when your subject has overcome a great obstacle in their lives, and as a result has undergone some type of personal transformation. As Strong pointed out, the students here at Immersion are truly undergoing a major transformation by taking on this challenge – some voluntarily, and some forced here out of survival. Honing a craft takes thousands of hours of consistent effort, but many here – many who haven’t shot a frame of video – are hoping to get the jump start that will lead to surviving and thriving, hoping to avoid the intense suction power of the black-hole of content platforms that have an insatiable hunger for content. 

All workshops have a vibe. I’ve attended a lot of them (mostly broadcast because of my background in television). What I really enjoy at Immersion is the exploratory feel of this workshop. Nobody has yet figured out this Multimedia thing. How do you shoot stills and video at the same time and still make both products good? Narration versus non narration ... don’t get me started on this. (It depends on the story.)

Eric Seals of the Detroit Free Press, and Evan Vucci of the Associated Press, gave a helpful talk about multimedia field gear, which pretty much summed up a feeling like there is a long way to go in the exploration of online journalism. There are endless variations, or "Franken rigs" as Vucci pointed out, for DSLR shooting. Hundreds of companies are coming out with new contraptions that are constantly changing the dynamics and workflow for DSLR shooters. It can be difficult sometimes to tell students what to do and how to do it when just about everybody has jury-rigged their own video gear and accompanying settings. But that’s also the beauty of it. All of the coaches learn new tips from each other as well as from the students, and there’s a real sense that we’re all in this together. 

In a successful attempt to ease the students' anxiety, Washington Post video producer Brad Horn compared the current state of multimedia with the automobile industry in the early 1900s. He assured them that they "are not late to the party” but, in contrast, they’re entering this world at the perfect time.  

I think that rings true. Part of the reason that I joined The Boston Globe’s digital effort was to be a part of the future and to grow along with the Internet. I’m running into more and more people who don’t have cable television – this includes me - and don’t get a newspaper because news and entertainment now lives inside that tiny magical rectangle that's either in their pocket or next to their head to wake them up way too early in the morning. I would call it a phone, but it’s rarely used as such. 

The transformation is the journey, and it’s going to be a long week.

Darren Durlach is a Senior Multimedia Producer for The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter at @darrendurlach or write to him at [email protected].