I get mixed reactions when I tell people I’m a journalism major. It’s a little better than getting an Anthropology degree (no hate), but at the same time it doesn’t have that surefire job security of a degree in Engineering. I’m learning useful communication skills, but it’s hard to deny that journalism in the traditional sense is dying. Many print publications are calling it quits and journalism is still trying to find its place in the age of the Internet.
The University of Illinois, like most universities with journalism programs (I’d hope), recognizes the morphing nature of the profession and do what they can to help students develop skills that will not only teach them to practice journalism now, but also prepare them for what is bound to be a completely different task four years from now when they graduate.
Part of the curriculum has to do with multimedia. On the Internet, anyone can be a journalist. It’s harnessing the Internet’s true power for multimedia that differentiates the actual journalists from casual bloggers (I say, as I type this blog post). There are some truly amazing things that multimedia technology can do – and it’s more than simply embedding YouTube videos – although as I learned in journalism professor Stretch Ledford’s multimedia class this semester, thoughtful internet video content can go a long way in terms of storytelling. According to Stretch, no matter what the medium, “Stories abide.” As he says:
We’ve been telling stories for millennia and we’re gonna continue to tell stories as long as we’re around as human beings. Storytelling will always be important and it will always be something that links us together, so I think teaching students to find and tell stories no matter what the media platform is, is kind of key to what I do.
Between multimedia and photojournalism classes that Stretch teaches and a graphics and design course, journalism students at Illinois acquire plenty of technological storytelling skills to put in their reporting tool belts that will hopefully help us move on to create engaging multimedia stories like the ones major publications are turning to in the changing field.
First off, publications are utilizing the layout opportunities they have when publishing stories online. One of the first places I’ve seen this done is the music review and news website Pitchfork.com. They incorporate photos and graphic design into fantastic “Cover Stories” (http://pitchfork.com/features/cover-story/reader/daft-punk/) that are as fun to scroll through as they are to read. The coding can even help to more effectively display data, like this timeline in a recent story about music streaming (http://pitchfork.com/features/cover-story/reader/streaming/). They also feature something called Pitchfork Advance (http://pitchfork.com/advance/) on their website, with exclusive advance streams of an albums accompanied with artwork, sometimes video to go along with them.
The cool graphics aren’t just for fun. Serious stories like this one in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/03/09/us/the-boys-in-the-bunkhouse.html) also effectively use not only photos and graphics but video and even gifs, all packaged into a powerful multimedia story – “packaged” being the key word. Each element of an effective multimedia piece may not mean much on its own, but together produce something more meaningful than print media ever could be.
Multimedia can also take the next step in becoming more engaging for its audience by making media interactive. Local website CU-Citizen Access has made it easy for readers to sift through records of restaurant inspections. On their website, you can interact with a map that pinpoints the locations of various restaurants around town and with a few clicks be able to view their inspection records (http://www.cu-citizenaccess.org/content/restaurant-inspections-map-graphs-stories).
No matter what, all journalism boils down to storytelling. Whether it’s visualizing data or hearing the story straight from the tear-jerking source, multimedia technology makes journalism bigger and better than it ever was before. As Stretch put it: “We take something that’s experienced one way, like say NPR’s story on the population topping 7 billion http://www.npr.org/2011/10/31/141816460/visualizing-how-a-population-grows-to-7-billion. It’s a fact, but how do you take that fact that we know intellectually and translate it into something visual, or how do we translate into something that we hear? At its best, multimedia is a multisensory experience.”