If you want to peer into the future of journalism, do yourself a favor and look to Jay Rosen’s Studio 20 journalism program at NYU. Sure, I may be biased: I graduated from the program in 2011. But my appreciation of Studio 20 is more than homerism. Its graduates are doing innovative things at places like the Guardian, ProPublica, the New York Times, and oh hey, Pando.
Furthermore, last night’s Open Studio event, where 12 graduates shared their final thesis projects with family, friends, and professionals in the news business, was proof that these kids are on the cutting edge of journalism and will definitely take all of our jobs.
One student, Patrick Hogan, spent the semester experimenting with Google Glass as a reporting tool for Digital First Media’s Thunderdome project. The insights he gathered were fascinating: When taking photos or videos with Glass, “Your eye is a lens, and your body is a tripod,” he says. Peripheral objects that your eyes instinctively ignore end up crowding the frame. The slightest body movement can make it look you’re covering an earthquake.
Moreover, there are a lot of misconceptions about how Glass works that made Hogan’s reporting subjects suspicious and even angry. Many assumed that the Glass video recorder was always on, even though that would require “a battery pack the size of my head,” says Hogan.
Glass also underlines the frustrations of working on someone else’s platform, on their rules. Hogan imagines that one of the most effective uses of Glass is livestreaming. But despite the fact that Glass is technologically capable of livestreaming, Google refused to unlock the feature, even after numerous pleas from Hogan and the team at Thunderdome.
Where Google Glass really shines is in capturing first-person experiences. Last October, the Stanford basketball team wore Google Glass during warmups to show fans what it’s like to be a player on a top-tier NCAA program. Experiments like these may not be Pulitzer-worthy. But imagine the same technique used in a riot or a warzone. It might require some editing and packaging, but visceral first-person footage has the potential to be extremely powerful.
Another fascinating experiment came from students Derick Dirmaier, Jesse Kipp, and Johannes Neukamm, who partnered with the Atavist on the storytelling medium that came to dominate 2013: Snowfalling.
Named after the New York Times’ groundbreaking multimedia piece about a deadly avalanche, the term has become a stand-in for just about any long form piece rich with multimedia and flush with clever scrolling tricks. After it bewitched the media elite and raked up loads of page views, everyone in 2013 wanted a “Snow Fall.”
That’s easier said than done. “Snow Fall” took months of planning and a huge development team. Others are skeptical that Snowfalling is even worth replicating, arguing that its ostentatious design obscures the storytelling and is bad for readers.
With these challenges in mind, Dirmaier, Kipp, and Neukamm set about building a workflow for producing rich, beautiful multimedia pieces. The first step, they argue, is to make sure the entire team, from reporters to designers to videographers is involved in the planning process from the beginning. John Branch, the writer of “Snow Fall,” said he had no intention of making a multimedia story when he began researching and reporting it. As a result, there’s almost a tacked-on quality to the multimedia components of “Snow Fall,” impressive as they are. In consuming it, I get the feeling that I can either read it or experience the multimedia, but not both at once.
Contrast that to the Guardian’s Firestorm, which involved designers, writers, photographers, and videographers working in tandem. Because everyone involved had a sense of the direction of the project, that altered their approach for the better. The writing became tighter, leaning on the visuals to capture the mood and feel on the story. Meanwhile the videographers focused on b-roll (background shots, etc.) as opposed to videos of talking heads, knowing that the imagery would add a powerful backdrop to the piece.
Dirmaier, Kipp, and Neukamm did more than simply research best practices. They are in the process of creating their own “Snow Fall” documenting a trip they took from the United Kingdom to Mongolia. Throughout the trip, they took copious handwritten notes, knowing they would become arresting visuals for the piece. They captured everything they saw or heard in every format, to have a vast volume of content to work with. The final piece hasn’t been released yet, but what I love most about the draft they revealed was how it still adds value for readers who only have time to scroll through it. (Be honest: Did you really read all of “Snow Fall”?) Instead of reading the whole piece, users can quickly follow the route of the trip as beautiful full-screen photos of each destination appear on the screen, capturing the arc of the narrative without the pressure of having to read thousands of words.
There were plenty of other fascinating projects on display last night: Blake Hunsicker worked with Syria Deeply on building an article model for explaining complicated news stories. Melodie Bouchaud and Nuha Abujaber worked with Time Out New York on establishing a “house style” for Instagram Video. Simran Khosla worked with us on establishing workflows and templates for creating rich data journalism.
What struck me most about the presentations was how much has changed in media in the two years since my classmates and I stood on that same stage. By comparison, our projects were quaint: Introducing video into newsrooms. Building a following on Twitter. News quizzes. Now we have Google Glass, “Snow Fall,” and robots that can write a news report about an earthquake minutes after it happens.
With innovation moving so quickly, I wonder what the class of 2015 will cook up. Self-driving journalism? Jetpack journalism? Lightsaber journalism?
[Image via Wikimedia]