Sunday, October 5, 2008

This summer, the American Journalism Review published a piece on how National Public Radio is begging to be renamed National Public Portals. Although the AJR doesn't say that -- I made it up -- the journal quotes executives as saying they are emphasizing the improvement of NPR's on-line service
But the emphasis on getting the news outlets to publish in multiple formats may just require too much work. Reporters at NPR, and elsewhere, are complaining.
With $1.5 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and $1 million of its own money, NPR is training its 450 editorial employees ``in digital storytelling skills and to pay for substitutes to fill in for them while they learn,'' AJR reports.
Which means that NPR has been training its reporters with little or no Web learning in Flash multimedia software and the Premiere video editing program. They learn basic photography and videography and ``(create) one multimedia project per week,'' AJR reports. They have been trained in using NPR's content management program and search engine optimization, AJR reports.
The AJR quotes Dick Meyer, NPR Digital Media editorial director, as saying he understands if some staff feel uncomfortable with the tasks of getting videos and writing for the Web.

``We're not insisting that everybody become a multimedia artist.''
For now. In general, however, it is the highly skilled and versatile workers that employers choose to retain and reward.
Editors don't stick around forever. Down the road a new editorial regime that would not be so forgiving or even tolerant of non-multimedia artists could emerge at NPR. Communications technology is not the only thing that changes.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Journalists who choose to go multi-media are putting in a lot of unpaid hours. The AJR quotes Art Silverman, a senior producer of ``All Things Considered,'' as saying:
"For this to work, it must be clear how the time is supposed to be spent. It's not really clear now. People get praised for creating multimedia. If Miss X did a slide show or if someone else did a written story for the Web, they get a lot of praise. But when you drill down, and ask, 'How did you fit that in?' they say, 'Oh, I did it on my own time and stayed up late at night finishing it.' In order to get the attention one must tear oneself out of the day and do extra work. Time is often not allotted to do these things."
Neda Ulaby, arts and culture reporter, is quoted as saying she's glad that management is getting the training.
"It helps them realize how much time the assignment is going to take...'' If they want a picture, "they've got to know that it will take me an hour because I'm still not a trained photographer. I'm now a radio person who can take a picture better than your average schlump."

Two years ago today, ``All Things Considered'' ran a story about a Nashville TV station that was trying to retrain all of its reporters to become ``video journalists.'' Reporters and camera operators were required to do all the tasks involved in producing a TV story -- editing, writing, reporting and filming.
Al Devine, a veteran cameraman, said:
"It was a nightmare... All of a sudden, you had to use a whole different side of your brain. I wasn't a writer. I could edit. I could do most everything else. But I wasn't a writer. I still type like a pumpkin."
Last year, Mother Jones reported on the Tribune Co.'s new mandate that print journalists also
report breaking stories on its cable station
.
``Many reporters were anxious about the new arrangement, which meant more work without more pay, and less time to do their regular jobs. They weren't comforted when managers announced that they were remodeling the newsroom to put a television studio directly outside the editor-in-chief's door. These reporters recognized that technology was changing their industry, and most were eager to learn new digital skills and make the occasional TV appearance. Their main concern was that as `content providers,' they were losing time for reporting, thinking, and writing—the essential ingredients of their craft—forcing them to churn out increasingly dumbed-down articles.''
``Content providers.'' Gack...
Mother Jones reported this quote from an editor-in-chief, which appeared in the American Journalism Review in 1998:
"I am not the editor of a newspaper. I am the manager of a content company."
          Did the editor say that with a smile on his face?

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