On Pulitzer Prize-winning multimedia

This week, we were tasked with writing our reactions to a piece of multimedia journalism titled “Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn.”

I expected it to be a nice little article with a few photos and maybe a video or two, but this was so much more. It wasn’t just a single piece of journalism, it was a sea of content that needed to be explored.

To consume this media, I couldn’t just start at the top of the page and read to the bottom. I only scrolled one time before I had moved past just text to see comparison of healthy reefs and unhealthy reefs, watch short illustrative videos, and share my thoughts on a discussion board.

I spent close to an hour meandering through the site constantly discovering new features and stories. But there was one thing I never saw anywhere on the project: advertisements.

There were no ads of any kind and no sponsored by logos. It appears that the Seattle Times is making no money from this project.

They received a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, but looking at the list of staff involved in this project, $19,000 is not going to be able to pay the salaries of nearly 20 individuals.

So my response is yes, this is a really cool project that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I wonder how many more projects like this can be made if they aren’t making money. If good journalism is going to continue, it needs to develop sustainable business models. Maybe advertising isn’t the best way, but I would hate to see projects like this never be made because the people who made them aren’t employed.

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Words Matter: Multi-Media Storytelling

A few days ago, I attended a session of the Words Matter Conference, a conference designed to promote “writing to make a difference.”

However, this session was called “Multi-Media Storytelling,” and when I think of multimedia storytelling, I don’t think of words or writing. I think of pictures, images, audio and video — basically anything other than written words.

(I must take a brief moment to point out that this conference put on by journalists, for journalists decided to hyphenate the word multimedia, despite every major style guide and dictionary spelling the word without a hyphen.)

As the session continued, I realized that my understanding of multimedia completely overlooked a very basic part of the word: the “multi” part. Multimedia journalism isn’t just about posting a video on your website because someone told you that videos are a popular thing to have. It’s about using multiple or a variety of different mediums to produce and publish your work.

By combining audio, video, still images and text, you can make a much more dynamic and complete story, emphasizing the strength of each medium.

Beyond different forms of media, I think it’s also important for journalists to focus on diversifying their platforms. There is no point in doing great journalism if no one gets to see or hear it.

With (relatively) new platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, there are many opportunities to promote your work, but the people who are most successful on these social platforms use them not only as a way to link to work that is on their website, but also as the origin of their work.

You could post on Facebook about a great video you made and link it back to your website where the video is posted, but what’s even better is posting the video directly to Facebook, where users can watch, like, comment and share in one place.

Sure, it will be difficult to try and define new business models that come from hosting content on another company’s website, but if we’re looking to make the most effective journalism widely viewed, ease of access is very important.

Student veterans serve their peers at ‘Operation Free Lunch’

For most students, being offered free food while walking between classes is not uncommon, but Wednesday, Apr. 13, on Lowry Mall was different.

A student takes a bag of chips during Operation Free Lunch Wednesday, Apr. 13, on Lowry Mall.
An inflatable decoration draws attention to the free food being given out on Lowry Mall.

Unlike most free food events, Operation Free Lunch wasn’t part of a marketing strategy to get students to come tour a certain apartment complex or join an organization. Instead, this event was put on by the Mizzou Student Veterans Association, an organization that decided to give back to MU students by grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and giving them away for free.

The line to get a free hotdog or hamburger, chips, and drink stretched all the way across Lowry Mall.
Students lined up all the way across the mall and down a nearby sidewalk.

With a line stretched all the way across the mall and down the sidewalk, organizers expect to be giving out every single hotdog and hamburger.

A student picks up a drink from a cooler.
Freshman student Abby Guinn poses holding a hotdog, chips, and drink she received from the Mizzou Student Veterans Association.

“I was surprised that they were giving away a full meal, not just one thing,” freshman student Abby Guinn said.

Guinn said that most of the time, people will only give out a free cookie or a free cup of coffee and not an entire meal.

MSVA members were busy serving food and declined an interview.

On Girl Scout cookies

A few weeks ago, it came to my attention that different flavors of Girl Scout cookies are sold in different parts of the country. In fact, it’s not even a regional split of the North and South or the East and West, it’s a seemingly random collection of tiny zones across the nation that for whatever reason, have decided to sell different girl scout cookies.

Why do different areas of the country have different flavors of cookies? There are two different bakeries authorized to produce cookies and each Girl Scouts regional council determines which bakery they purchase cookies from.

My hometown, Franklin, Tennessee, is part of the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee regional council, which has chosen Little Brownie Bakers to supply cookies. Where I go to school, Columbia, Missouri, is part of the Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland regional council, which has chosen ABC Bakers to supply their cookies.

Now you might be asking, “Why does it matter which bakery the cookies come from, they’re all the same after all, right?”

Wrong.

While some cookies from Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers may carry the same name, they are, in fact, not the same cookie.

Take a look at the difference between the Thin Mints from ABC Bakers (on left) and Little Brownie Bakers (on right).

Those are not the same cookie in image or in taste. The ABC Thin Mints are crunchier and have a stronger mint flavor, while the Little Brownie Thin Mints have a softer consistency with a stronger chocolate flavor.

So how do you buy cookies from a different region? In 2015, Girl Scouts launched their Digital Cookie program, which allows patrons to purchases cookies online and have them shipped to their homes, but you must be sent an email invitation by a girl scout. All you have to do is find a friend or family member who is a girl scout in another region where the other bakery is used, and order cookies from them online!

For further reading on the topic, check out this LA Times infographic.

On a portrait session with a twist

Everyone has preconceptions, but this advertisement for Canon isn’t really about that.

In this video, six different photographers take portraits of an actor, who is playing a different role each time. As the video shows, he’s a good actor; one who’s able to convince all six photographers of his different roles.

At the end of the video, one of the photographers says “that’s really strange, these don’t look like portraits of the character I thought you were.”

He couldn’t have said a statement that was more true. The portraits don’t look like pictures of the same character because they aren’t pictures of the same character, they are pictures of six different characters who happen to be played by the same actor.

Canon includes the following line in their video:

A photograph is shaped more by the person behind the camera than by what’s in front of it.

While I would tend to agree with this quote, that’s not what their video showed. Their video showed that a photograph can communicate so much about the subject that photographers will take drastically different photos when given false information about the subject.

What this video shows is that a photographer can only portray what they know about their subject, so the more information about a subject a photographer knows, the more accurate a portrayal that photograph will be.

On reading other students’ blog posts

This week, I read three of my classmates’ blog posts about Picture of the Year International. Each author took a very different stance on the judging process of POYI.

Austin Howard took a look at the first half of the judging process, when the judges have to narrow down 110 photos to around 25 photos, a very difficult task.

Sydney Lane took a look at the final step of the process, when the judges have to decide which photos should receive the top three placements and which should receive Awards of Excellence.

Mackenzie Huck wrote about the speed of the process and her disappointment in the judges’ decisions.

It was very interesting how three different people could all attend the same event and come away with such drastically different experiences and impressions.

Looking at the design and layout of the blog posts, I love that Sydney and Mackenzie included some of the photos from the competition. Photos add visual appeal to blog posts and divide up long blocks of texts to keep the reader interested, and I will try to include some in future posts.

I also loved how Sydney used the block quote feature on WordPress to highlight a section of text that she thought was important.

One thing I would do differently than these three authors is make paragraphs a little bit shorter. I think it’s easier to read multiple short paragraphs than to read a few really long paragraphs, because it divides the information into easily manageable chunks.

Blog posts referenced above:
Austin Howard’s Photos and Judgement in a Dark Room
Sydney Lane’s The Best of the Best
Mackenzie Huck’s Disappointing POYI

On my visit to POYI

At first it was overwhelming.

There were over a hundred entries in this specific category, and each one was only displayed on the screen for about five seconds.

“Tick, tick, in. Tick, tick, out,” the speakers proclaimed as the judges were forced to make an opinion on each photo with just a few seconds full of first impressions.

A few rounds later, the Picture of the Year International judging process started to become a bit more interesting, as the long list of entries was whittled down to a manageable size.

With only a fraction of the entries remaining, the judges weighed the options of giving several Awards of Excellence, which are given to entries that don’t receive a top three placement but the judges believe should still be commended.

Ultimately, they decided eight Awards of Excellence, with three of those receiving top three placements, might devalue the award, so they voted again and eliminated two additional entries.

Now there were only six awards still in the running, and the judges began fighting for which photos they believed deserved a top three placement.

With no clear agreement among the judges, they decided it might be a better strategy to try and pick an entry or two to receive only an Award of Excellence. Finally, some agreement.

The judges now had four remaining entries, but only three placement awards to give.

After much discussion and debate, they finally settled on placements for each entry.

In conclusion, the POYI judging process is very long and tedious, but it’s good to know the judges are thorough in making their decisions.

On Googling myself

My name is not an extremely common name, so I thought that pretty much all of the results would be me, but they weren’t.

At first, I just typed my name into google on my normal browser, where I was signed into Google, Facebook, Twitter, and probably many other websites. Because I was signed into all these services, all of the results were things about me and not other people named Jeremiah Wooten, but then I tried something else.

I launched an incognito window, which disables any previous logins, cookies, or other tracking services to see what a Google search for my name would return for someone who isn’t already connected to me. There were ten results:

— A Facebook results page that listed all the people named Jeremiah Wooten, including me. Apparently, there are quite a few of us.

— A Facebook page for someone named Jeremiah Wooten who appears to be married and have one son. (In case you don’t know me that well, I am neither married nor do I have a son.)

— A Google Images result page. A handful of these pictures were of me, either taken from one of my social media profiles or a headshot from a school or local publication article about me.

— A Vine profile for a young child named Jeremiah Wooten. He has over 1,000 followers, though I wouldn’t say any of his vines are particularly good.

— A link to my personal website. This is the first result that is completely devoted to me, which isn’t a surprise considering the url is JeremiahWooten.com. I first made this website when I was in middle school and it’s gone through so many different changes, currently serving as nothing more than a homepage with links to my About.Me page and one of my current projects.

— A LinkedIn profile for someone who is not me, but is named Jeremiah Wooten. He has 500+ connections and I only have about 25, so that is probably why he gets the Google result.

— A list of articles written by the owner of the LinkedIn profile mentioned above. All of his articles are about High Temperature Hydrogen Attack, and I’m not quite sure what that means.

— A list of White Pages results for “12 exact and 277 possible matches for Jeremiah Wooten.” The scary thing is one of these results actually lists my correct parents and three of my four siblings along with some accurate home contact information. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), they didn’t get my name right.

— A Twitter profile that belongs to me. This twitter profile listed is my personal account and not the one I use for J2150, but it’s better than having some other twitter account named Jeremiah Wooten.

—An Ancestry.com record on a man named Jeremiah Wooten who “passed away in White, Illinois, USA.” While it doesn’t say when the man died, one of his children lived from 1870–1937, so I would presume it’s not me.

Looking back over these results, I’m not really surprised by any of them. Exactly half of them were for people who weren’t me, but three of them were links to other lists of results, all of which had my name in some form, and two of them were actually sites or profile operated by me.

The bad news is I haven’t completely saturated the market on people named Jeremiah Wooten. The good news is if someone knew a little bit about me, they could filter through the results and find the real me, which is ultimately everything I want out of my online presence.

On ‘What It’s Like To Take Photos Of A Dying Man’

While reading through the interview with Sim Chi Yin, I was constantly intrigued by what was being revealed.

Sim is a photographer and videographer who spent time capturing the life of Chinese gold miner He Quangui as his silicosis progressed, ultimately leading to his death. It’s an extremely strong piece with some intense images that show the rapid physical deterioration caused by the disease.

The biggest thing that stands out to me is how deeply involved in He’s life Sim became. Instead of just taking pictures and video from the corner of the room, she actually became a part of his life and family.

The biggest example of this is the time when Sim raised money and personally drove He to the hospital where he underwent a surgery that prolonged his life for about four years.

In the interview, Sim acknowledges the ethical questions that pertain to her actions.

“This is total intervention, which is something we’re taught not to do in objective journalism 101.” Sim said. “But I just thought it was unconscionable not to help one’s subject, given such a situation.

While she definitely did intervene in the situation, which is usually frowned upon, helping to prolong He’s life allow Sim to produce a better product through extended access to his life.

With a project like this one, where Sim is trying to shine a light on the effects of inhumane working conditions in Chinese mines, it’s clear that her goal is to intervene in the lives of many people who suffer from this disease or could suffer from this disease in the future.

The difference is simple: her intervention in He’s life was direct, but her intervention in the countless number of lives saved by improved working conditions is indirect.

Ultimately, all journalism is about intervening. Journalists discover the facts, digest the facts, distribute the facts, and dare to question why the facts are what they are.

Let’s take a look at the highly acclaimed first season of Serial, which focuses on the case of Adnan Syed, a man who, as a teenager, was sentenced to life in prison for strangling his girlfriend.

In the twelve-part series, host Sarah Koenig examined all the evidence surrounding the case and spoke to many of Syed’s friends and family, as well as many other experts.

She also spoke to Deirdre Enright, who leads the UVA Innoncence Project, a group dedicated to uncovering new evidence in cases that could lead to overturning convictions.

That sounds like intervention to me, specifically seeking out people who could help change the conviction of a case that you’re telling the story of, but it brings up the question:

What is the story that’s being told?

If the story is simply about what happened to Syed or He, then intervention in any aspect of the subject’s live seems irresponsible. But if the story is about something greater than: the effects of silicosis on the lives of Chinese gold miners or the way that wrongful convictions from 20 years ago have a hope of being overturned, is it all that bad to take actions that help to reveal more information about the story?

While Sim certainly became a part of He’s family, that fact doesn’t disqualify her from effectively telling his story and after all, isn’t journalism just storytelling?

Check out this short film Sim Chi Yin, published on National Geographic.

On ‘Ira Glass on storytelling’

Ira Glass is a legend in the world of public radio. His unique voice and guiding tone used on shows like This American Life always perk my interest and make me pay attention to whatever he’s talking about whether it’s transformers or status updates.

When I was sent a video of Ira Glass talking about storytelling (included at the bottom of this post), I was excited. I wanted to learn all his insights and secrets. I wanted to learn how to master his craft.

But the video was only two minutes long

How could I learn to master the art of storytelling in two minutes?

It turn out: you can’t. And that’s what the video is all about.

In two minutes, Ira Glass describes how the only way to become a good storyteller is by telling more stories. Eventually, you’ll tell enough crappy stories and enough good stories that you’ll start to figure out what make your stories good.

This idea reminds me of Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule (which has been recently debunked … kinda). The 10,000 hour rule is the idea that after 10,000 hours of practicing a craft or trade, you become an expert at it.

Both Glass and Gladwell echo the same sentiment that you’re not going to become better at your craft just by sitting around bemoaning that fact that you aren’t as good as other people. Instead, you have to put in the work consistently, even when you don’t want to, to become a true master of your craft.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.