Teaching a New Generation of Reporters to Capture Events on Film

Dying news industry? Just shoot it.

That shift is not lost on the students.

"If you write a piece and it was only in print, it's interesting to see how fewer people would see it [than] if it's online," says Nicole Beckley, 25, of San Francisco.

She enjoys writing, and wants to tell arts and culture stories. But after seeing the dismal "downside of typical formats" such as print, she felt it was smarter to go into digital journalism. That's where the jobs are. That's how the stories she wants to tell will reach people.

Rufus Harvey

While that notion has plenty of buzz these days, not everyone is completely convinced.

The Brooklyn Paper has drawn attention as a small community newspaper that has embraced video reporting.Its website features everything from straightforward videos of Community Board 6 coverage to a piece on a solar-powered composting toilet in Clinton Hill, a retrospective on the life of a masturbating walrus from the New York Aquarium, and "bird-on-bird action," when a pigeon was caught noshing on a chicken wing.

"One of my main goals in life is to eliminate earnestness from public discourse," says the paper's editor- in-chief, Gersh Kuntzman.

Yet Kuntzman isn't sold on the degree to which digital journalism fits into the future of his paper or of the newspaper business in general. For one thing, videos take time to edit—time taken away from reporting, and time that isn't available on deadline. And, he says, no one on the business side has said, "All of the advertisers want to be on the page with the videos on our website."

Video does provide readers with another way to get into a story, Kuntzman admits, and it can provide a compelling perspective not easily captured in print, along with a dash of humor and hand-hewn authenticity. But the industry's lurch toward online video underscores what he sees as a concern for the business: "We're not making readers anymore. Nobody is. The bloggers aren't creating readers, they're creating browsers."

If the media continues to cater to that consumer, some fear it will lose something more valuable than ad revenues. "It's a lot of bells and whistles," one local journalism professor writes in an e-mail. "It's a delivery system. The core values should be the same. But that gets lost in the buzz. So, it's OK to embrace the technology, but I fear it is not only the tail wagging the dog, it is actually throwing the dog out of a 20-story window."

Columbia University has approached digital media more cautiously, with an eye to wag-the-dog fears. Its graduate school of journalism still stresses traditional writing and reporting, but has begun incorporating what professor Duy Linh Tu, coordinator of the new-media curriculum, calls a "new-media mind-set." Students are taught to use Final Cut Pro and other programs, but he says he doesn't want them to get too caught up in the technology, because the "Flash guy" today could be outmoded tomorrow.

Instead, he says he wants students who can adapt to the landscape without "freaking out." They are encouraged to report first and then figure out which tool, whether a blog, a video, or a slideshow, helps tell the story best, "as opposed to the other way: 'Here's a camera and tell a video story.' "

When New York University first approached digital journalism, it created a website on which students could publish their work, and it incorporated the Web into existing classes, says Jay Rosen, former department chair and NYU's digital guru. Now, at its new facility in Cooper Square, NYU is looking to develop something similar to the Film Academy's conservatory model.

"I was very interested in arts education as a metaphor for journalism education," says Rosen, explaining that he drew inspiration from the Yale School of Drama, in which actors and production students learn the theater craft by mounting public performances. "If you organize around projects, the projects can change as the technology changes."

Professor Jeff Jarvis, head of CUNY's digital-journalism program, says all students learn to "make journalism in all media" by the time they graduate. Young students today, he says, have one advantage that previous generations did not: familiarity with such things as wikis and Flickr, which is "knowledge the newsroom desperately needs."

The "biorhythm of news" is changing, says Jarvis, noting the "crowd sourcing" used by The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC public radio, where listeners are asked to help with reporting and pore over documents, as well as journalists' use of Twitter to gather information about the recent earthquakes in China.

But one thing that's not changing is that journalism continues to attract young people eager to tell compelling stories. Tony Muse, 32, an Englishman, worked as a print journalist for roughly nine years before coming to the New York Film Academy. He wants to be a one-man band, not only because of the technology and because he feels it's the way he can stay in the business, but because of the stories he can tell. He says he wants to be a foreign correspondent, to "go anywhere in the world with a laptop and a camera and a cable to connect them."

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