Making the move from enabler to empowerment

By Matt Neznanski

Newsroom activists have to do a lot of arm-waving and hand-holding to get reporters to try new ways to tell stories.

Sure, newsroom culture and fear have sunk many a well-intentioned multimedia package and most organizations still make online fight for a place at the assignment desk. But sometimes the big hurdle in getting the raw materials for Web journalism is to get the right tools in the right hands at the right time.

Here’s a story: Recently, I was part of a planning session for a big series we’re planning that will include a lot data analysis, some history, plenty of opportunity for interactivity and feedback, mashups, multimedia; the works. We spun out lots of cool ideas and some plans to make sure our technical staff can build and support the things we talked about.

After the meeting, the reporter came to me and said, “There’s a lot of cool stuff here. What do you need from me?” I had to pause a bit, but realized that I needed everything from him: links to data sources, video, audio, locations for geotags and images.

In order to get the best of everything, to make it spontaneous and sustainable, he’d have to collect things as he went. Which meant he’d have to do a lot of his reporting outside the notebook.

Of course, that means a lot of training around the technology and active support to change the reporter’s natural instinct to grab a notebook or two, two pens and a pencil when heading out the door.

Now he needs those note-taking items plus an audio recorder, a point-and-shoot and a video camera. That’s just a barebones list, according to some accounts of what a mobile journalist needs to pack on assignment.

In small newsrooms like the one I work in, there’s a tendency for the most tech-obsessed to take charge of the gear (since there’s only so much to go around), which lets the rest of the staff avoid the inevitable need to get familiar with the new tools of the trade.

So here’s a call to Web editors, content managers and multimedia shooters: put the camera in the hands of the least technical person in the newsroom. You’ve set the example, now stop enabling your colleagues by doing it for them.

Doing so will probably set off another round of little earthquakes in the newsroom, but we’re used to that by now and it’ll pay off in the long run. And start collecting examples of all the great new stories you’ll be telling to prove to the boss that the pain was worth it.

Matt Neznanski is a city hall and business reporter for the Corvallis Gazette-Times. You can read more about – and from – Matt on his site.

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