Communities of practice: critical evaluation

When I began to explore the world of video and audio it was easy to hark back to my print journalism days and strike a comparison between the two. At first, I was keen to avoid doing that; to embrace the new. But in fact, the principles of journalism apply whatever the medium, it’s just the approach and production that’s different. I actually found having print experience to compare and contrast to the production of online audio and video helped embed my newfound knowledge and gave me more to offer the communities of practice.

Throughout my exploration of online video and audio, I’ve learned a lot, not least that good quality sound is essential. Adam Westbrook and Christian Payne lead by example in their fields, but what’s also clear is this: there are no hard and fast rules. There’s great scope for flexibility and creativity and no such thing as a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to multimedia journalism.

The community is in agreement on several principles: good quality sound is vital, be prepared, have a Plan B, and to be clear about the story you’re trying to tell and who you’re trying to tell it to. Most everything else is flexible and practitioners won’t agree; each will have their own preferences when approaching online video and audio.

I’ve also found that just as citizen journalism was, at first, shunned and later embraced as a valued source of news, video and audio reporting using ‘everyman’ technology such as smartphones is just as capable of reporting a news story (Sky news reportage of London riots, for example) despite efforts to retain professional production standards. There are vast numbers of tools to be used but the advice is to focus on sound quality as most ‘everyday’ video cameras can record at high quality.

Blogging

What’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work; to follow their learnings, take note of the things they’ve tried and tested, and ask questions.

As I embarked on this project to delve into communities of practice around video and audio journalism, I have endeavored to ‘blog as I go’ and record my learnings. This has helped my blog stats considerably and since starting the assignment I’ve increased hits, followers, subscriptions and comments, as well as gained new follows to my associated @journonest Twitter account.

For the first time I used the relatively new reblog feature on WordPress to embed blog posts by others onto my own, as well as recording my own learnings via blog posts. At first it seemed lazy but the reblog feature proved a useful way to pool relevant content together in one place, while giving the original author credit.

As well as reflecting on my own learnings I created a ‘Tips for Tuesday’ weekly post in which I share a new list of useful resources and this is something I’d like to continue; to be a regular feature of my site.

Social media

I focused on experts in the field on Twitter to follow and learn from. I used the online aggregator Paper.li to create a Twitter newspaper called Multimedia Mag to pull together tweets around multimedia, specifically focusing on journalism, audio and video. This attracted a lot of retweets and highlighted some interesting and relevant content although I had to play with the settings to avoid pulling in content in foreign languages, and some content is slightly off topic or too advertising-led, which reduces the appeal.

I created Twitter lists, one for audio, one for video, to aggregate tweets by the people I identified as experts and also subscribed to other relevant Twitter lists, one created by a former MA Online Journalism student.

And I used Twitter to ask questions of the community, including recommendations for tools and editing programmes to use.

While I did tweet links to my blog posts (set to auto tweet as I post) and other useful links, and got retweets, I should have been more proactive in asking for feedback on my own work and could have done more to encourage distribution and interactivity around the communities of practice. With that said, I am a beginner and my support network in this field will grow as I develop my skills and have more to offer. For example, a retweet by @Documentally helped me get more hits to my content on this particular day but comments/discussion around the topic would be something to aim for in the future.

I neglected to use other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, finding Twitter to be the easiest/best for my needs, but these are channels I’d like to explore in the future.

Subscriptions and links

I also subscribed to sites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Media Bistro, Adam Westbrook’s blog and others (see Tips for Tuesday) to catch up on latest multimedia news and advice via Google Reader or newsletters direct to my inbox.

And I kept a record of interesting and relevant posts by bookmarking them in Delicious under video and audio tags. I also found online tutorials and tookits really useful, including this Audacity tutorial by Mindy McAdams.

Events

Due to a number of factors, one being a lack of relevant events in my area, I wasn’t able to mingle with other members of the multimedia community as easily as my full time equivalent BCU students in Birmingham. However, I have signed up to a locally established MK WordPress group, MK tweetup group and at the end of the month I’ll be attending The Guardian’s Open Weekend including their session on ‘How to make a video’ as well as MK Hacks’ Day in May.

Interviewing the professionals

Without the ability to attend events I did want to catch up, face to face, with experts in the field. I interviewed Tracy Buchanan, a multimedia editor with The Open University’s Open Media Unit about her roll at work and how she’s used video to help promote the other part of her professional life as a recently published author. Character is an important part of journalism and promotion and Tracy felt it was easier to give readers a slice of her personality via online video.

I exchanged emails with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, who shared some useful links via Delicious and I researched his more open approach to mobile and multimedia journalism which was in sharp contrast to the views of others, for example radio journalist Caroline Beaven who believes good audio needs planning. I’ve also commissioned Christian to do some video with me for my day job, in which I’ll spend the best part of three days with him creating and editing footage.

I spent an afternoon with Roger Stotesbury from Jump Off The Screen video production company in Milton Keynes who gave me a great insight into his work, and offered some useful tips, especially focusing on giving the interviewee control to make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Roger showed me his new studio and equipment and has invited me to sit in on some editing projects in the future. I also learned a lesson about drinking coffee while recording an interview.

Fellow MA student and video journalist Franzi Baehrle wrote a guest blog post for me on how she began her career in Germany and the valuable lessons she’s learned along the way and I’ve been an active contributor to her own blog, debating over best practice and mistakes we’ve made and learned from.

I found that listening to other people – and about the mistakes they made when they started out – helped my learning; it’s refreshing to know everyone, even seasoned professionals, make mistakes and move on. They all offered advice on putting interviwees at ease, what equipment to use and different styles: Documentally on the power of unplanned audio, Roger on where to position your interviwee for effect and Tracy on using the right style of video for the right audience.

Forums

Apart from what I refer to as technical forums offered by the creators/owners of editing tools such as Audacity I found it a) difficult to find relevant forums to contribute to and b) struggled to contribute because of my limited knowledge. As a beginner, I felt it best to learn by trial and error and research, rather than posing questions ‘for the sake of it’ on forums. These forums were also highly technical and not a place beginners can easily contribute. I found it easier to learn by looking at other people’s content and commenting, rather than through forums. For example, listening to this podcast I learned how to include links within your audio, a feature I previously wasn’t aware of.

Reading

As well as reading books on the practicalities of audio and video journalism, and ‘how to’ guides both in print and online, supported by blog posts from experts such as Adam Westbrook, I managed to find a hard copy of a video guide produced by The Guardian in 2008 as I cleared out my office drawers. This offered a wealth of informative articles around creating newsy videos and is something I’ll hang onto for future reference. And I posted an image – for variety – on my blog to suggest useful reading resources for other newbie multimedia journalists.

Comments

I endeavored to share my own experiences and opinions on other sites by commenting where I had something to add; either a differing opinion or experience, praise or feedback to help others improve and this often led to discussion. This is something I’d like to do more of – more opinions make for a rounded picture, and every new comment on a blog is a new contact in the field.

Experimentation

If I have any chance of becoming a successful multimedia journalist I have to try things. I started by recording an AudioBoo talking about why I’ve chosen to do this MA, to get used to being recorded (and found it strange to be the one talking rather than asking the questions).

I produced other podcasts, an audio slideshow and a video using a variety of equipment and software to compare the differences and find what I’m most comfortable with (I’m not sure yet!). My experimentations included use of the following: iPhone, Kodak Zi8, AudioBoo, Audacity, Final Cut Express, iMovie, YouTube, Soundcloud and the iPhone Recorder Pro app. What I need to do more of is focus on audio (by investing in a microphone) and try using a tripod to avoid shaky hand syndrome and to have one less thing to concentrate on (it’s easier to focus on the interviewee when you don’t have a camera in your hand).

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. For the most part my appraoch, to date, has been the ‘quick and dirty’ one, to capture unscripted, unedited footage to save time. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach, which brings me to…

Assignment 2: Specialist portfolio

For the second assignment this semester I intend to create a series of podcasts off the back of the Cybher conference which celebrates women bloggers. I plan to research and interview both those who are speaking at the event and those who are attending as delegates in order to find some human interest stories and promote what connects them: the blogosphere, and how it’s impacted their lives. I plan to record my research on a Tumblr blog as I go and embed the podcasts on a web page to invite comment and the sharing of stories by the blogging community.

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