Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Gallo: Integrate, don't segregate, multimedia

Steve Outing at Poynter's E-media tidbits points to an interesting column by Argentinian professor Julian Gallo, "Today's Journalism is Obsolete." (Note 2009- the original blog is gone, but Robin Good has the full article, so I now have the link pointing to it.)

As does Outing, I recommend it to every journalist who cares about the concept of story and how we do our jobs and present information.

Gallo isn't getting into one of those interminable debates about anonymous sources or transparency vs. objectivity. He's dealing with something much more concrete and controllable -- the way we tell stories. In short, he's calling for a radical change in the way we think about stories to stop being so text-centric. By extension, one would also have to philosophically expect the argument that broadcasters should also stop being so image-centric. So we might expand Gallo's point a bit to say that journalists need to stop being so media-centric.

This is not radically new; we have been teaching and preaching this at Newsplex for several years, based on the initial vision (2009-link now dead) of Newsplex founder Kerry Northrup that the story is the core of everything and from that should flow the decisions about which media to use to tell that story and how to incorporate those elements.

Gallo's contribution is in noting that:
  • In practice we remain too much of a text-centric profession.
  • Authors should have more influence on the multimedia content in their stories, as such content can be a more powerful storytelling form.
  • The tools exist to integrate such content much more tightly into the body of the story than to put it on the "rails," effectively making it a stepchild.
As he writes:
The text is the spinal column, the body as well as the substance of the story, and around it evolves a series of appendixes of other contents – considered of relative or very low importance - made up of photos, audio, videos and links. Except for the links, the author has little or no influence on the multimedia contents that accompany his text. ...
The author deals with the important stuff (he writes) and other people enlarge or enrich his text by adding design and content. This working process conceives the author as a one-talent person: he can only write. In this scenario, somebody is specifically in charge of the layout, another person takes the pictures, a third one chooses the photos, somebody else handles the videos and audio that will be eventually edited by another person and, finally, a “technician” posts everything online. In such a structure, a journalist is believed to have less abilities than a 16-year-old boy to make his weblog.

Further, he says, that expecting readers to click about, leaving the story's spine to pursue a multimedia link here and there and then somehow return to the thread of the story "is nearly equivalent to suppose that eating some lettuce and then drinking two spoons of oil will give us a salad. Some things must be mixed up in order to work."

Gallo argues that if the author does not have some control over where and how the multimedia contents are incorporated into in his or her story, content that may be vital to the storytelling can be excluded. He goes on to produce, using Blogger and other Internet sites, a column that integrates a Flikr slideshow, audio from Castpost and video from You Tube. He also incorporates a Google Earth presentation.

His stance is a bit provocative from the U.S.-centric view, where some of the struggle over "convergence" has been whether a single journalist can effectively handle the multiple tasks. Opponents fear owners, given their history, will do journalism "on the cheap," heaping more and more on individuals and to heck with the quality. I, Northrup and others argue that effective multimedia journalism is not cheap, that a journalist can't do it all, but that the journalist must be skilled in understanding the possibilities and limits so as to work within a team.

Gallo, however, suggests a more expansive view:
To renew the journalistic production, we need authors that can decide where to place a photograph, and who even have the possibility of producing the photograph themselves. Aren't we all photographers by now? We need journalists to include audio and video in their stories. Aren't we all experts when filming a video?

To which, based on my former life in television before moving to newspapers and the wire service, I would answer no. "Prosumer equipment" (scroll down to definition) may give the illusion that we all can do it, but we can't. So there Gallo and I diverge.

He also does not address the sticky issue of where content resides and ownership. Yes, I know that's a bad word in some quarters, but let's not think of ownership here as that by some big corporation, but by those who produce the content themselves. Gallo suggests it is time to use the plethora of emerging free services to integrate such content into stories. He and I use Blogger, for instance. But it is a hosted service, and in a moment, all our work could be wiped away by a decision to shut down, or not invest in more storage and technology, etc. So while we control our work, in some ways we do not "own" it simply by the reality of where it resides.

These are very real management and production concerns. Easy enough, you say, just bring the technology in-house. Yes, but in many cases there are patent, licensing and economic issues to consider. (And, one wonders, were journalism organizations to pursue Gallow's suggestion and use the free tools from the Internet, would those sites suddenly be able to handle or afford the potential spike in traffic?)

But these are things to be worked out, not deal breakers. I agree entirely with the overall thrust of his argument that we must do more to move away from media centricitybecause we are coming to the point where everything will, indeed, be rushing down and intermingled in the same "pipe." Prepare for 2009, when TV goes digital and your local TV station becomes one big mother Wi-Fi antenna, not to mention the scads of digital bandwidth opening on the old analog channels.

As we struggle with this concept of convergence, one of the lingering questions has been the journalistic equivalent of the 8-year-old in the back seat: "Are we there yet?"

I would propose -- and I think Gallo might agree -- that question will be answered only when we no longer have to ask it because we just do the integrated job of storytelling.

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At 9/18/06, 3:39 PM, Anonymous Chas McCarthy said...

I agree with some of Gallo's comments, namely that there is the possibility for journalists to multi-task, but how many can do it well and in a way that people will gravitate toward. That's why I also think you have a valid point in taking into consideration whether the quality of journalism, and perhaps the credibility of such attempts, will take a hit if such practices ever come to fruition. In order to do something well, especially something as multi-faceted as designing and laying out Web sites or newspaper and magazine pages, there is something to be said for a certain degree of specialization, not too mention that such tasks are often time sensitive and cost a lot of money to do well.


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