Public Radio’s Multimedia Shift

Google reader, RSS feeds, podcasts – consumers now have the tools to tailor their news intake exactly how they want it because of the web. NPR listeners want to read the stories online. New York Times readers want to see an audio slide show. Editors and project funders alike are following consumer demands, increasingly seeking multimedia packages from their reporters. Doing a print story? Bring a flip video camera along. Radio? Bring a still camera for an audio slide show, too.

By Shuka Kalantari

Google reader, RSS feeds, podcasts – today’s consumers have the tools to tailor their news intake exactly how they want it. NPR listeners want to read stories online. New York Times readers want to hear a podcast. Some editors are following consumer demands and increasingly seeking multimedia packages from their reporters. Doing a print story? Bring a flip video camera along. Radio? Bring a still camera for an audio slide show, too.

Sue Schardt, executive director of AIR

Sue Schardt, executive director of AIR

Sue Schardt, the executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), sees the push towards online journalism reflected in AIR’s new members. “We’re seeing a strong shift in age and orientation,” Schardt explained. She says one-third of new members work in online journalism primarily, compared to only seven percent of the entire membership.

Listen to an interview with Sue Schardt at the Third Coast Conference:

[audio:http://shukakalantari.com/sue-schardt-air.mp3]

News packages like Mapping Main Street, KQED Public Media’s QUEST, and NPR’s Argo Blog Project, are combining different media platforms, including slideshows, blogs, and video, to enhance radio. Radio reporters with savvy web design skills may get the upper-hand when they’re looking for a job in today’s market. Radio editors often want new talent to have online skills, too.

Carl Scott, an AIR scholarship recipient and self-described “computer tech-guy,” says his know-how in web-design has definitely helped him get work. “I’ve been able to stay afloat in journalism because of that background,” said Scott.

But more multimedia in a story isn’t always merrier, explained Amy O’ Leary, a news editor at NYTimes.com. She thinks journalists should be conscious of the different ways people are experiencing content and that content should not be based on the most recent fad.

O’Leary recalled five years ago when podcasting was a fad.  It wasn’t sustainable, she explained, and only the strongest ones with a focused audience survived.

“I think you have to be really careful about trends and fads,” said O’Leary. “And the idea of, ‘Give us multimedia. Give us bells and whistles.’ That doesn’t necessarily make for good journalism.”

O’Leary used an example from the NYTimes.com to make her point. It was an animated piece about securities lending. She said they chose to make it interactive because it was a hard issue to understand and discuss. But she explained that doesn’t mean news organizations should do animated pieces about everything.

“I think it’s wrong to do multimedia just because you want to,” O’Leary said, “The story should drive that format.”

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