Saturday, April 5, 2008

Convergence at Gannett: Florida Today journalists learn video

My video training bible.

Convergence is an icky word for traditional print journalists. They don't want to get near it because they don't want to get dirty.

Convergence is defined generally as the movement through nonspecific methods toward a definite value or equilibrium state. This definition represents a battle for and against convergence and an icky "I dunno, I’m scared" attitude in the journalism industry. The object is to find peace, to find a way for newspapers to survive.

In a high-tech world, media consumers look toward new information sources that bring together diverse media such as text, photography, video and audio. In this way, convergence is equal parts (equilibrium) of content that is produced through various (nonspecific) technologies. This entails information gathering and storytelling techniques and using multimedia platforms to deliver the product.

But this is where the most heated debate arises.

Much of the problem with convergence is either the inability or the stubbornness to keep up with it. The (Baltimore) Sun of the particularly embattled Tribune chain of newspapers last year lashed out against the corporate move to compel reporters to take photographs – probably the first step toward convergence.

That is why I could not imagine a better opportunity to train in a new skill set with any other company than Gannett and FLORIDA TODAY. This week, about 20 traditional print journalists – photographers, assigning editors, reporters – subjected themselves to a 42-hour, 3.5-day "Video Convergence Training." As a copy editor – a position focused mostly on words – it is amazing that I got such an opportunity.

Lane Michaelsen and Harvey Mars, vice presidents from Gannett's broadcasting division, were our teachers. They instructed the pilot video group of newspaper trainees two years ago here at FLORIDA TODAY. After visiting dozens of Gannett newspapers nationwide and teaching hundreds of traditional journalists to be proficient in video shooting and editing, they returned to Melbourne, Fla., for an encore.

Participants were divided into eight groups. I was grouped with a beat reporter and a business reporter from FLORIDA TODAY and a TV news producer from Gannett’s KARE in Minneapolis who flew in with the equipment we used for training.

Michaelsen explained the basic anatomy of our expensive Sony video cameras, starting with the on-off switch and moving to functions such as the iris, white balance and various focusing mechanisms.

On our first day, we shot staged news events, including a car accident in which our executive editor, Terry Eberle, was killed by a disgruntled and drunken FLORIDA TODAY employee in the parking lot. My group battled infighting during the editing process, and we eventually produced a piece that was lacking proper natural sounds and B-roll, or shots of objects such as beer bottles and security cameras that were pertinent to the story. I, however, was featured in my group’s video as the culprit, an exclusive that none of the other groups were able to catch.

Our in-house assignment was to create a video of the printing press at FLORIDA TODAY. We followed an operator around the machinery as he explained each step of the process. We shot forklifts positioning heavy rolls of newsprint, recorded the nat sound of the alarm when the press started and edited our sound and video into a coherent and rather good piece. I have experience in Apple's Final Cut editing software, but FLORIDA TODAY uses Avid. Many of the editing functions are similar, however, so I was able to pick it up easily. Mars made it even simpler with his down-to-earth, humorous teaching style.

Finally, in what was probably the least compelling assignment received by any group, my team was charged with a story about gas prices. It's a cliche and rather routine task to tell people that prices are high, as if they don’t already know. But my group made it interesting and managed to get a few of the stereotypical Southern characters saying silly things about oil and the federal government as they filled up their tanks. Other groups produced stories about a NASA attraction, a local thrill park and those annoying saltwater critters called the man-of-war.

When we played our final assignment for the rest of the class to see, Anne Saul, who oversees the training for Gannett, said, "Now wasn’t this 300 percent better than your accident video?"

It was more like 400 percent.

Before this session, I had some instruction in shooting and editing at American University, where USA TODAY video director, Steve Elfers, was my teacher. I already had grasped the basics, and it was easy to pick them up again. But before this training, I lacked the enthusiasm for videography.

Now, I actually respect TV journalists. My first experience with them had soured me. I was a reporter at the Bangor (Maine) Daily News when I was interviewing a man who had capsized his fishing boat in the river and was rescued by firefighters. As I chatted with him and scribbled in my notebook, a videographer from the local CBS affiliate, WABI, walked up to us, started shooting my interviewee and told me, "Do you mind getting out of my shot?"

"Do you mind getting out of my interview?" I said.

But now, I can’t wait to get into the field to be that pain in the butt, too. Just think: I now know how to report, write stories, edit words and sentences, write headlines, design pages, heckle other editors and reporters, blog, produce Web content, take still photos on an SLR camera, edit those photos, shoot video, record audio and edit a video story. Am I missing something?

"Now you can learn how to sell ads," a co-worker told me.

I think I'll skip that part.

Traditionally trained print journalists cannot be stubborn. They cannot ignore new content delivery systems. Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, Flickr, RSS, text messaging, podcasts and Facebook are our friends, not our enemies.

It does not take a long time to earn new skills. The video training was my third journalism boot camp. The first was a two-week crash course in Washington reporting, which was my first class at American University. The second was two weeks of 20-hour days of copy editing at Temple University last summer. They were tiring (I got five hours of sleep each night this week), but they were the most exciting aspects of my early multimedia (not newspaper) journalism career.

The training may take money, but I consider it a great investment. I compare the Gannett training with the Travel Channel's program, which similarly teaches the basics of shooting and editing in four days. But it's $2,500.

The answer to convergence's introduction of new gadgets is training. With any new media technology, we have to change to survive. It's journalistic Darwinism: Those who don’t adapt and don’t learn new skills will fall behind and fail.

Gannett is not falling behind; it is not failing. It is leading; it is surviving.

After our amazingly resurrected editor, Eberle, handed us certificates of completion, instructor Mars said, "You're way out ahead of everyone else."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Indeed. You are quite far ahead of most papers, and Gannett is probably ahead of most media companies. I was surprised that you, as a copy editor, are training in video. Nevertheless, it's becoming one of those necessary tools for everyone in the newsroom. Nice job.