Articles about "Multimedia"


Wall Street Journal rolls out video network powered by smartphone-toting journalists

WSJ.com | WSJ news release
Since news organizations are paying all that money for journalists to carry around iPhones, why not put them to better use?

The WorldStream page updates live as new clips come in every few minutes.

The Wall Street Journal is launching a new streaming-video product that does just that. The Journal today announced WorldStream, which will “consist solely of footage captured on smartphones by Dow Jones and Journal reporters and editors … Each video is under a minute, and all footage is reviewed by an editor before being posted to the stream.” Read more

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5 ways journalism educators can teach students to use multimedia in breaking news coverage

As wildfires ravaged her state, Colorado College journalism lecturer Diane Alters emailed a list of fellow educators for suggestions on how to give her students breaking news reporting experience — and also keep them safe in the process.

The query offered the perfect opportunity for what I like to think of as “small multimedia wins” in teaching.

Journalism schools across the country are embroiled in important but lengthy discussions about reforming curricula, updating courses and funding technology. Meanwhile, new forms of journalism roll on, and our students can get left behind.

While I stay involved in the larger structural debates, I look for small and immediate ways to incorporate digital reporting tools and publishing into my classes. Breaking news events like the Colorado wildfires provide an ideal moment to stick with notebook reporting and text stories and also round out coverage with multimedia.

With thanks to others on the listserve who added their ideas, here’s a roundup of how an instructor can use new tools to cover this news event.

Map the fire

Data journalism is a critical component in any news organization today. Students must have a working familiarity with how to seek data sources, clean data, analyze and interpret data, and display it in useful visualizations for audiences. Data can get exceedingly complicated, so I like to begin small with maps.

Students could work with agencies to get lists of fire locations, houses affected and firefighting lines. My favorite tool for mapping is Google Fusion Tables. It’s easy enough for class use and is a staple in major newsrooms. Look, for instance, at this map of snow removal failures that WNYC put together.

Google offers an excellent tutorial on Fusion Tables, beginning with mapping. Students can get up to speed in an hour or less.

Capture first-person audio accounts

I’m continually shocked when students fail to capture audio from interviews and events even though many of them have a device in their hands that will enable them to do so.

About 75 percent of students in my intro course this spring came armed with their own smart phones, all of which are capable of capturing and transferring audio. Yet only a handful think to use them for recording interviews and ambient sound.

If students want to capture quick snippets and add a picture, you can direct them to an app called AudioBoo. Students could visit a fire evacuation center, ask a common question and then use the app to round up the answers and photos on a Web page.

Students can record longer interviews on smartphones or digital audio recorders. They can post it as recorded or edit it into a standard radio news package. Audacity is a great free tool for audio editing on a Mac or PC. I’ve created a series of related tutorials online, which you can refer to for more guidance.

Build timelines of fire moments

Timelines offer audiences sequential summaries of key dates and transitions in an event or issue, usually with images. Students could mark the start of fires, efforts to contain them and critical events, such as injuries or damage to noted properties.

Dozens of timeline tools are available for free online. Start by teaching students how to use free options like Dippity, just to get them acquainted with the idea.

But then move onto more functional options. I like ProPublica’s TimelineSetter but recently have questioned whether horizontal timelines are the best approach. (I’ve been meaning to check out TimelineJS, as well). WNYC and Balance Media have created an excellent and easy vertical timeline that I’ll roll out in classes this fall. Their description and support materials are accessible for students.

Both of these options require a small amount of coding knowledge. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Students absolutely must come out with basic coding familiarity in today’s journalism world. Getting a timeline to work in a Web page is an easy way to begin that understanding.

Curate social media

The Colorado wildfires have both a quantitative and qualitative impact. Many people are affected deeply by it, so they are using social media tools to stay involved in the conversation.

Students can capture these posts and exchanges and curate them into content for a website.

The best tool for this curation is Storify, which is fast-growing in many newsrooms.  Columbia University’s journalism school has a fast and effective tutorial that covers not just the tech of the tool, but also good journalistic practices in using it.

Storify is free and most useful to pull lots of social media content together. Students also can use screen capture (on Mac or PC) to grab individual tweets, photos or Facebook posts to use as art for stories.

Explore other creative options

  • Liveblog a press conference: Use tools like CoveritLive or ScribbleLive for students to report the event as it happens. (Both tools charge for newsroom use but offer free accounts for journalism educators if you contact them directly.)
  • Collect student tweets under a common hashtag (a short word beginning with # that is used to connect tweets thematically). Students should use community hashtags, such as #COwildfire, but also make use of a class-based tag, such as #j200fires.
  • Work with live video: a smartphone is a terrific videocamera. Use a tool like Qik to get short bits out immediately.
  • Create audio slideshows: Bring together pictures and sound with something like SoundSlides, which has just incorporated a new HTML5 version of slideshows to improve compatibility with Apple mobile platforms.

Draw on professionals

Many of us are too shy in building connections with newsrooms. If I were covering a wildfire, I would first Google “U.S. wildfires 2011.”

After finding last year’s hotspots, I’d look to news organizations in those regions and see how they covered the fires. I have often found that a simple email to a reporter or editor yields an opportunity to Skype videochat that person into my class for ideas and advice.

In fact, Diane Alters and her students benefited from a public radio news director helping them on everything from how to hold a cell phone to best capture sound, to the ethics of reporting when friends and family are affected.

The tools to expand coverage of breaking news in a digital age are almost boundless. What do you use in your newsroom or classroom? Please share your knowledge and continue the conversation in the comments section. Links to tools are always welcome. Read more

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Music

10 tips for using audio more effectively in multimedia stories

Sound can make or break a multimedia production, whether it’s an audio slideshow, a documentary video or an interactive narrative. Unfortunately, audio often gets short shrift. Visuals and interactive elements tend to command our attention, and just getting the story right can become an all-consuming task. Sound, it’s hoped, will somehow take care of itself.

If audio weren’t critical to the quality of our productions, this approach might work. But, there’s a reason radio has been called the most visual medium. There’s something about sound that puts our imaginations to work, making us more active participants in the story we’re hearing.

As storytellers, how do we make this happen? This guide offers 10 tips for better audio in multimedia stories. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to sound. Fortunately, most of these tips apply to many kinds of projects.

Remember the basics.

Most multimedia stories rely on four kinds of audio: interview clips, voice-overs, natural sound and ambient sound. Knowing these building blocks is the first and most important step toward great audio.

Interview clips are recordings of a story’s subject(s), typically recorded on location or over the phone. Interview sound bites help bring the characters in our stories to life.

Voice-overs, or voice tracks, include any scripted narration that’s recorded, usually in a studio, to push a storyline forward.

Natural sounds are the “sound effects” that we record on location — discrete, specific elements that command the listener’s attention when they occur.

And ambient sounds are the background noises that create a sense of place — the sounds that make the character of a city park very different from a dentist’s office or a bank, for example.

Know your equipment.

Knowing how your microphones and recorders work is essential to getting good audio. What’s more, the better you know your equipment, the more easily you can continue recording when something unexpected happens on location.

This means knowing where and how to position mics and where to monitor the volume on recorders. It also means knowing a few general things about how microphones capture sound according to their polar patterns, pickup types and form factors.

A microphone’s polar pattern determines its directionality, or the angle from which it picks up sound. Some microphones are highly directional, capturing sound from a relatively narrow angle. Others are omnidirectional, picking up sound from everywhere. One polar pattern isn’t better or worse than others; some patterns are just better-suited for certain recording scenarios.

Microphones use different technologies, or pickup types, to convert sound waves into electrical signals that can be understood by recorders. Two of the most common types are dynamic and condenser. These are mature technologies, and they both work very well. Condenser mics tend to be slightly more sensitive, but they also require an external power source. In the field, that often means batteries.

Lastly, a microphone’s form factor refers to its physical size and shape. Journalists and multimedia producers tend to rely on mini-shotguns, lavs and handhelds. Mini-shotguns can be mounted to the tops of cameras and pick up sound at small distances well. Lavs, or lavaliers, are tiny microphones that are clipped to subjects’ shirts or jackets and produce good interview audio. Handheld microphones have a familiar baton shape. They’re the most visible form factor, unless they’re held just off screen, and they tend to be the most durable.

Focus on the big stuff first.

Audio will most likely be the primary delivery mechanism for your story’s narrative, whether it’s through sound bites, a voice-over track or some combination of the two. Without sound, most multimedia and video stories simply can’t be understood. (This is why it’s important to add subtitles to any video content. Closed captioning can help both vision- and hearing-impaired individuals experience stories more fully, making our work more accessible.)

It’s imperative to start with good, clean sound for anyone who will be talking in the story. Audiences can forgive a lot of production problems, but difficult-to-decipher audio is probably asking too much.

Voice-overs tend to be easier since they’re usually created in controlled environments with ample time to setup in advance (and the opportunity for multiple takes).

The sound bites captured from interviews present more challenges. These tend to be recorded on location. That means less control over the recording environment and fewer — if any — chances for redos. This is where you should spend the most effort on getting the best-possible audio. And that usually means preventing or minimizing bad sound, otherwise known as “noise.”

Minimize noise.

Noise is any undesirable sound that creeps into our recordings, competing with the audio we actually want to capture (the signal). All recording devices (microphones and recorders alike) generate a certain amount of “self noise” — unwanted sound incurred merely from operating the equipment. Better and more pricey recording equipment usually offers more desirable signal-to-noise ratios. In other words, they produce less self noise.

Unfortunately, there are other common sources of noise and unwanted audio effects that can ruin an otherwise good recording.

White noise is continuous, unchanging sound that doesn’t serve a functional role in a story. There are many sources of white noise; heating and venting systems are notorious — and ubiquitous — white noise generators. Coping with white noise usually means recording in a different location or temporarily disabling the source of the noise, if possible.

Any time a recording happens outside, wind noise is a potential problem. What’s worse, audio equipment tends to accentuate the loudness of wind — gentle breezes can sound like aggressive gusts with a sensitive microphone. The best countermeasures are to record in a less windy place or at a less windy time, employ a windscreen or use a more directional microphone.

Clipping occurs when sound is recorded at a level that’s too high, or too “hot.” When sound clips, the result is noticeable distortion. The best defense against clipping is vigilant monitoring of audio levels. Always make sure sound is recorded in a safe range (on digital recorders, the target level is -12db; on analog equipment, it’s 0db).

Always monitor sound.

It’s crucial to monitor audio as it’s recorded by plugging headphones into the recorder and tracking how things sound. Whenever possible, it’s also important to take a break from recording to review some of the sound that’s been acquired. It’s hard to catch every problem when we’re monitoring a live recording, and listening back helps you focus on the recording quality.

Proper monitoring will reveal all the audio problems listed above and offers a chance to fix things before it’s too late in the studio, when the best that can be hoped for is usually a patch.

Use sound to add detail.

Good audio conveys information. Great audio relays facts while adding detail and texture. This detail can emerge from all the sound types, but especially natural sound.

The key to good natural sound is to focus on the seemingly mundane. Even the most common actions — a pencil on paper, a finger tapping a desk, a person sighing or inhaling — can become interesting parts of a story when given proper attention. Brainstorm natural sound possibilities when planning stories and look for additional opportunities to convey detail through sound in the field.

Vary the loudness of audio.

A lot of digital sound is “normalized” — the sound waves are processed to make quieter parts louder and louder parts quieter. Then, the overall sound level is raised to a point just before clipping.

The upshot is the loudest, most uniform sound possible. However, this homogenization prevents volume itself from being used as a means to communicate information and enhance a story.

Varying the loudness of audio can enhance accuracy. Some places are naturally louder or quieter than others. Normalizing sound makes these differences less distinct, which can result in an artificial “sameness” that makes our work not only less accurate but less interesting.

Volume can also be used to accentuate emotion and information. Using quieter audio often coincides with the most important parts of a story. The effect is similar to slowing down shot lengths as the most important facts or emotions in a story are revealed.

Use layers to create richer sound.

Layering makes audio more interesting. It’s a way to communicate different kinds of information at the same time, just like a video shot might communicate one thing with a foreground object and another with a background.

It’s most common to layer interview sound bites or voice-overs on top of ambient sound. Ambience offers a natural background layer, providing a sense of location, while the most important audio (in terms of relaying information) resides in the foreground, at a louder level. Natural sounds usually rest in the foreground, but they can also work somewhere in between vocal tracks and ambience.

Combining all the kinds of sounds into one multi-layer presentation can lead to particularly interesting effects. And, by combining changes to volume with layering, we can shift listeners’ attentions by pushing certain sounds from the foreground to background and vice versa.

Avoid editing pitfalls.

Most of the ethical concerns that arise with the use of audio in journalistic stories manifest in the editing process. Since editing, by its nature, involves modifying an original, “untreated” recording, it results in a necessary alteration of what actually happened.

This may entail shortening a long recording session into a succinct, two-minute story. Or it may involve rearranging the order in which certain questions are answered to make an interview more coherent.

These kinds of edits are common and don’t, in most cases, present ethical concerns. But what if we forgot to get ambient sound for the recording we drove across town to capture? So, we go to a similar location closer by, record the sound there, and splice it with the original footage? Would this present an ethical problem?

The answer depends on the kind of story that’s being told, but it’s a problematic practice in most journalistic stories.

It’s important to consider audience expectations when editing sound. Listeners know stories are condensed to fit tight time constraints. But, the use of background sound from another location may be completely undetectable to the listener, and that’s where things get dicey.

Use music with care.

It can be tempting to add music to every production since it’s such a powerful mode of communication. Therein lies the problem. Picking a track that evokes the right emotion is a subjective undertaking. Furthermore, the same music can strike people in very different ways. My colleague Regina McCombs provides a deeper analysis of this issue if you’re interested in learning more. In the meantime, use caution when incorporating music into feature stories, and plan to avoid it altogether for hard news.

See the tips in action.

Many of the tips described here are used in the documentary “Contribute II” by Charles R. Diaz. Produced for the online publication New Roots News, Contribute II highlights the efforts of several individuals working to improve the community of St. Petersburg, Fla. Here are some of the ways audio is used to enhance the storytelling in this video:

  • Diaz layers sound right from the beginning. We hear the ambiance of a street in downtown St. Petersburg (helping to establish a sense of place), an up-tempo song and a sound bite from Bob Devin Jones, a major character in the story, all within the first 20 seconds. This creates a complex soundtrack that draws the viewer in.
  • At times, Diaz layers music below characters’ sound bites; other times, he lets subjects’ words stand on their own. This technique accentuates sound bites when they’re presented in isolation, refocusing viewers’ attention at crucial moments in the story.
  • A compelling sound bite begins the story. Jones says: “Many things are extraordinary, I don’t what makes something extraordinary, but I do know when you are in the presence of it or when you smell it or taste it, you just know.” This helps to set the tone for the piece and gives the listener some information while also raising questions, pushing the story forward.
  • Music is used throughout the piece. As a documentary-style story, Diaz is able to use music in “Contribute II” to set pacing and tone. Were this a breaking news story, music would likely have detracted from the presentation; in this case, it enhances it.
  • In the sequence following the opening, we see someone on a swing from an unusual perspective. The soundtrack quiets, and we hear the ambiance of a park, along with the rhythmic creaking of a swing set. By lowering the volume and emphasizing this simple sound, Diaz provides a wonderful piece of aural detail. Later, a similar technique is used when we hear the churning of dryers in a laundromat.
  • The interview sound bites are loud and clear. It’s easy to hear all the story’s characters. The signal to noise ratio is excellent, and the lack of obvious lavaliere mics on the subjects’ lapels suggests Diaz used a mini-shotgun for these recordings.

For more tips, check out these related (and free) News University courses: Telling Stories with Sound & Writing for the Ear. Read more

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Why contests need to do a better job of recognizing changes in multimedia journalism

I recently had the privilege of serving as a juror for the World Press Photo’s multimedia contest in Amsterdam.

This was, by far, one of the most organized contests I’ve attended. (For eight years I oversaw judging for the National Press Photographers’ Best of Photojournalism on the Web contest, so that’s saying a lot).

More than 250 multimedia stories were submitted, with “Afrikaner Blood” by Elles van Gelder and Ilvy Njiokiktjien coming out on top. This strong piece about racism in the new South Africa was a clear choice for the jury. Less clear was the very definition of multimedia, a term that has almost as many meanings as there are contests honoring the best of its practitioners.

Why we need contests for multimedia journalism

I’m a big fan of designer Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” which lists 43 tips on how to have a successful life as a visual creator. Wanting to keep my work clearly focused on the audience, I, for years, followed #26 religiously: “Don’t enter awards competitions. Just don’t, it’s not good for you.”

Recently, however, I have found that there are some benefits to putting your work up against the best of the best and letting others judge it; often they see things, both good and bad, that you are too close to see.

Many of us who make our living working for news organizations often have a hard time breaking out of our institutional bubbles. We toil every day to make our stuff great, leaving very little time to enjoy the fruits of other journalists’ labor. When we see the winning entries of a contest, or serve as a judge for a contest, we expose ourselves to work we may not have otherwise seen and to the changes in multimedia journalism.

How contests are recognizing multimedia journalism

So what exactly is “multimedia journalism”? Text, photos, audio, video, interactive graphics? Or is it all of these elements combined? If one of the benefits of a contest like World Press’ is to help define the best practices of a medium, how do you get meaning out of results when the very thing you are judging is changing constantly in both substance and meaning?

Different contests acknowledge multimedia journalism in different ways.

The multimedia portion of World Press Photo’s contest is only in its second year, and its minimalist multimedia rules leaned heavily on linear storytelling that incorporated still photography as an element. That said, most of the entries consisted almost entirely of video. There was only one category and one top prize for the jurors to decide on. (The jury also selected a multimedia package that incorporated more elements — graphics, video, text and photos — for special recognition.)

In comparison, Pictures of the Year International (POYi) and Best of Photojournalism (BOP) have held multimedia contests for more than 10 years. Both contests have incorporated a multitude of categories in recent years; POYi honors seven different types of multimedia, while BOP honors eight. Somewhere in the middle is the White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) which, like World Press, seeks to maintain a strong connection with traditional photojournalism. Two categories honor photography paired with audio; three honor multimedia packages.

How we could improve contests

In 1998, I served as a judge for the first “multimedia” contest held by POYi, the 55th annual Pictures of the Year contest. At that time it was called the “Electronic Division.” Most of our entries either consisted of photo galleries on Web pages or more ambitious undertakings produced and delivered on CD-ROMs. No interactive graphics, very little audio, and almost no video.

To say that things are different now would be an understatement of the highest order. Judging today, one routinely looks at 10-minute-long streaming videos while clicking around interactive maps revealing before and after satellite images accompanied by audio postcards from long-lost family members reunited thanks to Facebook. You get the point.

I think our current generation of contests could do a better job of accounting for the changes in multimedia journalism. I suggest creating an open contest (perhaps modeled after the Peabody Awards) with 15 winners. Anyone doing any form of “multimedia” can enter. The jury will pick the best journalism, regardless of format, and maybe pick a best of show.

This type of contest would allow impact and importance to trump form, and would be more encompassing of an ever-changing medium.

While this might create more chaos (and a potential entry sheet nightmare), in the long run we would have a contest as adaptive as the times we live and work in; a contest that would be truly “multimedia” and could help us embrace all elements of visual storytelling. Read more

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Stupid game lets you destroy parts of NYT story about stupid games

The New York Times
The Times has figured out a great way to increase time-on-site (and destroy our productivity) by illustrating a story about our obsession with “stupid games” with a game that lets you shoot and destroy parts of its website. Don’t like that navigation? Fire away. Find Maureen Dowd irksome? Take aim at her story on the “most popular” list. Tired of that Facebook plugin telling you what your friends are reading? It’s just a few shots from oblivion. And look at all those video-game characters just begging to be blown up! Some parts of the Web page can’t be destroyed, such as the article tools.

The Times’ Samantha Henig writes in a blog post, “Surprisingly, even the ad sales department was O.K. with letting the ads on the page be blown up. But if Twitter is any indication, readers are getting the most glee from knocking out the ‘most popular’ box.” (Audience targeting lesson: Many of the ads are for video games.)

Oh, right: the story. This game is supposed to illustrate a story about hyperaddictive games like Angry Birds and FarmVille. Sam Anderson writes that the “stupid games” movement started with Tetris:

In the nearly 30 years since Tetris’s invention — and especially over the last five, with the rise of smartphones — Tetris and its offspring (Angry Birds, Bejeweled, Fruit Ninja, etc.) have colonized our pockets and our brains and shifted the entire economic model of the video-game industry. Today we are living, for better and worse, in a world of stupid games. …

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finalcutprox

Decision-making guide: Should you upgrade to new Final Cut Pro X editing software?

Apple released a new-from-scratch version of its Final Cut Pro X editing software last week, and reading the critiques and reaction to the critiques has been very entertaining. If you think it’s all too inside-baseball, even Conan O’Brien’s editors shared their feelings about the new FCP X.

The reaction includes a lot of hope that the biggest problems with previous versions — especially file management and transcoding — got solved, and a lot of anguish that things that didn’t need fixing got changed.

Critics note these downsides to FCP X:

  • It requires learning new software because it’s changed so dramatically.
  • It’s missing professional features.
  • Audio editing in layers is more difficult.
  • Organizing materials is completely different.

My goal is not to review Final Cut X, but to point out some of the most useful critiques and share reaction from journalists and journalism educators so you can decide whether to make the switch now, wait or choose new software entirely.

For those who are complaining that Apple messed with their software in the first place: Please. Final Cut was way overdue for updating, and it looks like the biggest complaints about version 7 have been addressed: it’s much faster to import digital files and it renders in the background.

“As soon as you put your card in, you can start editing within seconds. Terrific! And you’re not slowed down by rendering — no red bars at all,” said Chuck Fadely, visual journalist at The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald in an email. “Working with your clips is wicked fast.”

And if that was all the update accomplished, a lot of folks would be thrilled. But Apple didn’t update the previous version, they started from scratch to take advantage of modern computer architecture. Instead of just reinventing the internal workings, though, they changed the very metaphors we have used to edit for the 20-year history of non-linear editors (anyone else learn to computer edit on Video Toaster?), and it hurts.

Clips replace tracks

Fadely said in spite of the speed improvements, the new interface that uses magnetic clips instead of assigned tracks makes it unusable for them.

“It’s like it’s forgotten the non-linear part of NLE,” he said. The magnetic timeline makes it difficult to put narration down with gaps to fill in later. “To get around this, you’ve got to put down a dummy clip on the timeline, and then use the ‘position’ tool to put down the real clips above it.”

The Herald often does both English and Spanish versions of their videos. In FCP 7, they would put English titles and lower-third graphics on one track and English narration on another, then Spanish titles and lower-thirds on a third track, Spanish narration on a fourth. By turning tracks on and off, they could export English and Spanish versions from the same timeline. Fadely says this a real headache in the new version, forcing him to copy and paste timelines from one project into another. “You can’t have multiple sequences within a project on X, so if there’s a fix or update on your video, you’ve got to update or fix multiple projects instead of just one.”

“What a debacle. Apple has a real mess on its hands with FCP X,” is PF Bentley’s reaction. Bentley is a documentary filmmaker and editor who teaches workshops that train newspaper photographers, among others, in video storytelling.

In spite of the fact that he’s an Apple-certified trainer, he’s already returned his copy of FCP X for a refund. “Love ya, Apple, but I can’t use FCP X in the sorry state it’s in. Many cool features and ideas, but in an unusable program for professionals,” was his reaction after trying it. His feeling is that the interface is so foreign, and so many pro features are missing, that many editors will make the decision to switch to Adobe Premiere.

The decision to stop selling the Final Cut Suite, including Final Cut Server, as soon as FCP X was released “was the real salt in the wound” for Bentley. The new Final Cut will not work with Final Cut Server. And the new version is only available through the app store.

Missing pro features

Not being able to buy new copies of the suite was just the first of many problems for documentary and production editors I talked to. Here’s another: Many of the production tools for sending movies and documentary work to post-production finishing are missing.

“No OMF export for sound sweetening. No multicam. No multiple sequences,” complained Bruce Jacobs, chief technologist at Twin Cities Public Television. His list of problems with the new software went on: It can’t open projects created in Final Cut 7; the staff can’t share work over a server; and the new version would require a complete retraining of staff.

“We knew the new version was different, but the features sounded attractive, so we were willing to figure out how to manage the transition quickly. Now there’s no reason to do that. We can’t do that,” he added.

They have 31 stations or seats for FCP 7, and were looking to add a couple more in the next month. Now, without being able to buy new licenses of FCP 7, and with FCP X incompatible with their other systems, he’s exploring options. He’s got an Avid Media Composer system in house to evaluate it.

“What’s our choice?” Jacobs asked. “At least they’re committed to our market. Apple has shown they’re not committed to us with this release. They would have been upfront about it and told us what to expect if they were.”

Value for teaching

Most people I spoke with sound like they’re in one of the early stages of grief — anger or denial. Some are hopeful that Apple will improve the software.

Richard Koci Hernandez, formerly Deputy Director of Photography and Multimedia at the San Jose Mercury News, and now a Ford Foundation Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, is optimistic.

The much lower price point — $299 — and simpler interface will make it easier for teaching, he says. “This version of FCP X will put the power of video storytelling in the hands of more journalists. It’s affordable and once you figure out the new workflows, it’s pretty easy.”

Making that transition, though, isn’t easy.

“My impression was one of being blindfolded and asked to walk through my house after a complete remodel,” he said.  “I was blindly looking for things that weren’t there and bumping into new things. In the end I’ve come out with a few cuts and bruises, but I’m still alive.”

As much as he likes it from an education perspective, he’s disappointed in it as a professional editing tool. Still, he’s optimistic that in time Apple will make updates that bring pro features back. “One year from now I’m hoping [fingers crossed] FCP X will be everything we need it to be. I’m putting a lot of faith in Apple to do the right thing. I hope they come through.”

Jeremy Rue, a lecturer at Berkeley, says the timing of the switch has generated a lot of discussion at the school. “We’re not 100 percent sure we’re going to use FCP X as the primary software taught in the fall, but I think we’re moving in that direction.”

“I’d feel behind the curve if we didn’t,” added Koci Hernandez.

The ability to have both versions installed on the same machine was a deciding factor for them.

That has appeal for Sterling Anderson, a technologist at the University of Wisconsin Journalism School. He’s hoping to install the new version on all the machines and keep the old version on a few machines, although he’s still waiting to hear the details about how the new app store distribution will work for computer labs.

“The software itself should be easier to maintain and use,” he said. While the lab used Final Cut Server, he says students had a hard time understanding it, and fewer student projects should go missing now. “It has a feature to allow users to easily move entire projects from one location to another, so losing media files will hopefully be a thing of the past.”

TV newsrooms slow to upgrade

Some television newsrooms are using Final Cut, but those I talked to said it will be a while before they even start to think about upgrading. And many television stations, like WTSP-TV in Tampa, have only used Final Cut Pro on special workstations, or for editing on laptops in the field like CNN, so it won’t affect the entire organization. KING-TV in Seattle used Final Cut until recently, but is now moving to a new Sony system.

At KSTP-TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul, they still use Final Cut 6. Photographer-editor Eric Parker Anderson says it’s not at all clear whether the new software will even work with their media server system, so there is no chance the station will be adapting it soon.

However, Anderson does a lot of freelance editing, and he thinks it will have a place for him there. He’s been trying it out and thinks the speed improvements alone show a lot of potential.

“I think it’s going to be genius,” he said, even though he thinks it will take him a long time to get fast using it. “It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s some way to do some of things we used to do, but it doesn’t feel like it yet. I’m chalking that up to not knowing it well.”

He’s also hoping the expensive third-party plugins he’s added to his system will be updated quickly to work with the new version.

As excited as he is about the potential of the new software for the future, he’s disappointed in how Apple has handled this launch with the professional market.

“I can wait until I see what happens, but I can sympathize with some of the haters,” he told me.

So what should you do?

After talking to a number of folks who’ve played with the software pretty extensively, my advice is to wait. Things might get better. If you can’t wait, or are still confused about whether you’ll update, here’s a short list of reasons you may or may not want to switch. (Find a longer, detailed list here.)

Why you might want to upgrade:

  • You’ve has been waiting to upgrade from iMovie to Final Cut. Go for it.
  • You shoot with a DSLR, or a video camera that records in AVCHD on daily deadlines. Speed seems to be much improved, so you may be better off, although certain Sony cameras may need a driver update.  And the learning curve may be frustrating on deadline.

Why you might not want to upgrade:

  • If you need to print to tape, or view your output on a true broadcast monitor, this option is not available.
  • If you shoot on tape and like to use batch capture functions, this function is gone.
  • If you’re in the middle of a project in FCP 7, don’t upgrade! There is no importing projects from the previous version. (Although you can import iMovie projects. Ouch.) If you’ve got older projects that may need re-editing, make sure you hang on to FCP 7.
  • If you do multi-cam shoots for concerts or games or TV programs, wait. Apparently, restoring multi-cam editing is on Apple’s to-do list.
  • If you do post-production work that relies on EDLs, OMF or XML, that function is not available, although it looks like some third-party solutions may be along quickly for XML.

And some additional cautions:

If you’re thinking about switching to another NLE

More than one person I talked to said they’re thinking about — or have — switched to another editing software package.

Many television stations are in transition on video editing systems, and they’re moving in several different directions.

All the Gannett TV stations are in the process of switching from Avid to Grass Valley’s Edius, which a number of newspaper video teams use as well. It’s a Windows-only product.

The Belo stations are in the process of switching to Sony’s new Xpri editing software, which is now part of  Sony’s newsroom management software system. And the newspaper video listserv includes several people who like Sony Vegas. Again, Windows only.

You can’t go anywhere on the Web this week without tripping over an Adobe Premiere Pro ad, and Adobe is running all kinds of specials to take advantage of the FCP X discontent (one popped up on the petition to Apple to reinstate Final Cut Studio). It’s available for Mac and Windows.

And the granddaddy of them all, Avid, is still an option, with lowered prices and fewer hardware restrictions that, in the past, put it out of reach for many individuals.

All of this talk of Final Cut Pro X not being a professional tool got you down? Not to worry. I highly recommend reading everything from Jeffery Harrell. Read more

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Then-Rep. Joe Scarborough practiced on the stage at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia before his band's performance that night. (Ron Edmonds/AP)

How ‘Morning Joe’ picks its music & uses it to capture the show’s vibe, connect with audience

When you watch “Morning Joe,” you can’t help but notice the music. Every commercial break is book-ended with tunes from a mix of bands — the Rolling Stones, Smashing Pumpkins, Rilo Kiley, The Grateful Dead and Arcade Fire, to name a few. The music’s catchy, and it helps capture the show’s feel-good vibe.

But it’s not just the type of songs and artists that make the music stand out, it’s also the way they’re selected.

Behind the scenes, the “Morning Joe” producers are busy at work, listening to the MSNBC show’s guests to see if there’s a song or band that could illustrate what they’re saying. The show’s audio director, David Quanvie — or “Q” as he’s called on set — selects much of the music with the help of the show’s producers and hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

“We don’t have a rundown of the songs we’re going to play; it’s completely organic,” executive producer Chris Licht said in a phone interview. “Really anyone in the control room can shout out a song and Q can literally dial up a song in a couple seconds.”

Then-Rep. Joe Scarborough practiced on the stage at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia before his band's performance. (Ron Edmonds/AP)

It makes sense that music is such a big part of “Morning Joe”; Licht was a disc jockey at WRKI, a rock n’ roll radio station in Connecticut, and Scarborough is an avid guitarist who once wrote a musical.

“Morning Joe,” which had an average of 387,000 viewers per day in 2010, has hundreds of songs in its library. Many are from some of Scarborough’s favorite bands — The Clash, Elvis Costello, The Rolling Stones and Radiohead. He loves the Beatles, too, but the show doesn’t have the rights to play their songs.

“Once in a while, Joe will say, ‘Hey, let’s mix these songs and send a list of 15 songs,’ so we’ll mix those in somewhere.” Licht said. “But nine times out of 10, it’s just something that makes sense because of the direction the segment is going in.”

Using music to capture dialogue, tone

To truly appreciate the music on the show, you have to understand the stories behind the songs.

Selecting the songs is like a game for the “Morning Joe” folks. Take, for example, a recent “Morning Joe” segment featuring Jon Meacham. During the show, Meacham said something to the effect of, “We gotta kick it down the road ’til Tuesday.” Licht heard this phrase and decided to go to break with a “‘Til Tuesday” song.

Similarly, during a “Morning Joe” segment in which guest Dylan Ratigan talked about his “Steel on Wheels” tour, Licht thought it would be fun to play a song from the Rolling Stones’ “Steel Wheels” tour. Being the Stones fan that he is, Scarborough picked up on the connection.

He and Licht like to test each other’s knowledge of music and see if they can pick up on the nuances of each other’s song selections.

“It’s not like I’ll say to him, ‘We’re going to come in with this song.’ The most fun is when we can surprise each other,” Licht said. “Occasionally, I’ll throw up a song and Joe will say, ‘What the hell is that?’ ”

They’re trying to play less of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years,” said Licht. It’s the most played song on the show and has been featured more than 300 times since “Morning Joe” debuted in 2007.

Subtlety is key when selecting songs. The show, for instance, wouldn’t play the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” if there were reports about a hurricane in Miami. “We don’t ever want to be caricatures of ourselves,” Licht said, “and we resist the urge to be obvious.”

There are, however, occasional exceptions.

To accompany its commentary on Republican Christine O’Donnell’s campaign ad in which she said “I am not a witch,” “Morning Joe” featured a string of songs that had the word “witch” in them. The songs, which included the Eagles’ “Witchy Woman” and Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” could have been borderline gimmicky, but Licht said they effectively illustrated the absurdity of the story.

Using music to guide the show, connect with the audience

Viewers regularly ask Licht how music is selected for “Morning Joe” and whether it’s possible for the show to name the songs and artists it plays in real time. This wouldn’t be practical, Licht said, because the songs are chosen so spontaneously. There is a playlist on the “Morning Joe” website, but it features only some of the songs in the “Morning Joe” music library and isn’t updated daily.

Just last week, “Morning Joe” started taking requests from users on Facebook. Scarborough has mentioned some of the songs on air as they’re played and has been using Facebook to encourage song requests.

“In Chicago getting ready for the show. Oprah, David Axelrod, Tom Brokaw, and Blago (so says Willie) will join us at RL,” he wrote on Facebook last Friday. “Send us your Chicago-themed song requests.”

The Facebook page has become a place for Scarborough to generate enthusiasm around music, and simultaneously, the show.

“How about some Vampire Weekend?” a commenter wrote last Friday. “Good ‘get up and go’ music for the end of the week.” Scarborough responded: “Can NEVER go wrong with Vampire Weekend!” (Drawing on recommendations I solicited on Twitter, I requested Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry,” which “Morning Joe” played Tuesday morning.)

In addition to providing “Morning Joe” with a way to connect with its audience, music helps Licht maintain control on the set. Thirty seconds before the show breaks for commercial, the music starts playing, letting the show’s hosts and guests know that it’s time to wrap up. Licht pointed out that it’s similar to when the Oscars play music to let winners know that they need to end their speeches.

Music also helps foster a spirit of collaboration on “Morning Joe,” since everyone on the set is encouraged to recommend songs. And it makes the three-hour show go by faster, Licht said.

In many ways, “Morning Joe” has shown how news and music can work together to creatively capture a show’s identity — and make it that much more appealing to viewers.

“Since we’re a show that depends on vibe, music is immensely important; you can have a contentious segment or talk about stuff that’s not uplifting, but the music can put you in a good mood. It’s a bookend to reality,” Licht said. “Music is in the fabric of our being. If we didn’t have music, it would really change the show.” Read more

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How The Miami Herald cultivates loyal audience for video, its second biggest traffic driver

Not long ago, some news organizations were beginning to give up on online video. It required significant resources, and it wasn’t generating as much revenue or traffic as they had hoped. News organizations that have stuck with it, though, have found that video provides them with a way to advance what they’re already doing well, increase time on site, and engage users in ways that traditional narratives can’t.

The Miami Herald is one of the media outlets that has had noticeable success with video. Last year, MiamiHerald.com saw about a 25 percent growth in video traffic, making it the second biggest traffic driver behind articles. I talked with the folks who run the Herald’s video efforts to find out more about their strategy and what other news organizations can learn from it.

Figuring out what your audience wants

The Herald, which has experimented with video for six years, has found that breaking news and sports videos generate the most views. These are areas that have always been strong points at the Herald, so it makes sense that they would carry over well into video, said Miami Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch.

“This isn’t rocket science, but do video on the things that people come to your site for,” he said by phone. “You may think, ‘This would be a really great thing to do video on,’ but if it’s not on a topic or area where people are already consuming content, then it’s going to be hard to draw an audience.”

The number one video on MiamiHerald.com last year got about 26,000 views and was a feature on how to handle frozen iguanas. Overall, though, the top videos were tied to breaking news and sports stories about a Playboy model who was murdered; five teenagers who were found dead in a hotel; and the construction of the Marlins’ new ballpark.

Smaller news organizations such as the Roanoke Times have also found that sports and breaking news videos are the most popular.

“Breaking news video is very much in demand in our community,” said Meg Martin, online editor of Roanoke.com. “It’s often short, and it’s often simple and it often takes people directly into the story, where they can’t otherwise go, without the filter of our production process standing between them and what they want to know. It feels very raw and direct and insider.”

In the past, the Herald has produced longer videos of editorial board meetings and of newsmakers speaking out on a topic, but has found that they drive little traffic.

“One thing we’ve learned is there’s a reason that television does two-minute stories,” Hirsch said. “Unless something is super compelling, people’s attention span is relatively short, and it’s even shorter on a small screen.”

One indication of a video’s popularity is its completion rate. On average, 55 to 60 percent of visitors will watch a video on MiamiHerald.com from beginning to end, Hirsch said, noting that this has helped lower the site’s bounce rate. Figuring out how to make videos more searchable on MiamiHerald.com and on Google, he said, continues to be a challenge.

Having a team of people who create news & studio videos

The Herald and its Spanish-language sister paper El Nuevo Herald have two full-time news videographers who focus solely on video and two photographers who spend part of their time on video. Having a designated video team frees up reporters to write and has helped enhance the overall quality of the videos, said visual journalist Chuck Fadely, who oversees the Herald’s video team.

“Three or four years ago, we were training reporters, but we discovered it was like teaching a pig to sing; it annoys the pig and frustrates the teacher,” Fadely noted, saying that some reporters still occasionally shoot video. “Back then we had a couple of reporters who got it. Since the staff reductions, they don’t have time to work on videos, and the quality level was lower, so we’ve basically given up on reporter-produced videos.”

A couple of years ago, the Herald asked staffer Karen Burkett — a former TV producer — to spearhead the Herald’s studio video production efforts. The studio now has two to three people who shoot seven to 14 videos a week. High school sports are a big draw, as are some videos of Herald staffers talking about their line of work. Burkett said videos with technology columnist Bridget Carey are especially popular. (This has also worked well for The Washington Post.)

While the site’s news videos have grown in popularity, they’re still not generating as much revenue as the Herald had hoped.

“We’re not nearly at the level that we’d like, and the pre-roll ads are still not coming close to paying for the operation,” Fadely said, “but we are getting sponsorship for studio sports shows right now.”

Finding ways to expand your brand

The Herald, which averages 60 to 80 video uploads a month, has partnered with WSFL-TV and with CBS 4 in Miami to try to extend its reach. The Herald occasionally shares content with WSFL and cross-promotes content with CBS 4 Miami, which helps drive more traffic to the site, Fadely said.

The Herald also puts many of its videos on YouTube, where they sometimes get thousands more hits than on MiamiHerald.com.

One of the more interesting ways that the Herald has extended its video efforts is by creating an hour-long documentary on the earthquake in Haiti. The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald collaborated with WPBT2, one of South Florida’s PBS affiliates, and El Nuevo videographer Jose Iglesias produced the film, working for a year with the help of independent filmmaker Joe Cardona.

Fadely said the Herald realized there was an appetite for Iglesias’ work, whose earthquake videos doubled MiamiHerald.com’s total monthly traffic to 1 million hits last January. To put that in perspective, the site’s videos generated 7.5 million hits altogether last year.

The “Nou Bouke” documentary aired on more than 70 PBS stations nationwide in January and was well-received, said Fadely, who would like to see the Herald produce more documentaries in the future.

“Ive been pushing for the documentary work, and I think that as long as we can retain staffing, our future lies in producing stuff for other media besides our own,” he said by phone. “We went into video years ago trying to produce stuff that would be broadcast worthy, and a lot of our stuff gets picked up. I think that’s the way to go — to do things beyond what you would just run on your own website. This documentary is the prime example of that.”

The Roanoke Times has also found that documentary-style videos do well. The photographers and online staffers have produced shorter documentary videos that they’ve embedded in stories about underage drinking, fatal crashes on Interstate 81 and Lyme disease.

“In terms of the plays on documentary-style videos, we see a pretty significant spike when they launch, and we also see that they do have some serious longevity,” Martin said by phone, adding that the Times produces four to seven videos per week. “People tend to watch the videos more and longer when they’re embedded in a story than when they’re on a separate page.”

Relying on the AP, other vendors

MiamiHerald.com produces about 40 percent of its videos in-house. The rest come from outside vendors, such as CineSport and The Associated Press. Bill Burke, global director of online video products at the AP, said 1,500 news orgs are part of the AP’s Online Video Network, which provides news organizations with a hosted video player. A couple hundred media outlets also subscribe to individual AP videos that they can add to their own players.

Years ago, Burke said, news organizations were more interested in running just local videos on their site. Now more of them seem to want to feature national and international videos that they don’t have the resources to produce themselves. Videos about the shooting in Tucson and the flooding in Australia “can be used to draw people in to a local news organization’s video,” Burke said by phone.

While there are still challenges to face in online video, there’s also a newfound sense that it’s worth investing in.

“There’s no question that there’s a new appreciation for video and its ability to really engage people,” said Burke, who thinks tablets have helped renew attention to video. “It’s gone in a cyclical manner. If you go back four years when all this kind of started, everyone was very psyched, then there was a period there where people got disillusioned. Now the opportunities in digital are starting to mature and people are starting to get better at video; I think they see the possibilities there.”

News organizations, he said, have in the past tried to pursue video without a clear goal in mind. Now he sees more outlets reassessing their efforts to figure out what their niche is and how they can expand on it without depleting resources. A willingness to “stick with it” is key.

“That’s one of the things the Herald has done,” Burke said. “We have this expectation in the Internet age that things will instantly be successful, but they require time, investment and effort. The goal is to make the effort run parallel with the returns.” Read more

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How journalism educators can integrate more multimedia into their teaching

Every teacher knows that pit-of-the-stomach moment when you head into a new term and ask yourself the tough question: What can I be doing to make this course better? The nerves accompany the question because more work always seems to accompany the answer.

Those of us who have taught journalism over the last decade have felt course prep work expand exponentially as online and social media tools change the world of reporting and audience engagement. We have all the same fundamentals of reporting, writing and ethics to address. But then we look toward an array of digital media so dizzying it can make you nauseous.

Well, put away the Pepto-Bismol. Each month this year, I’m planning to write a Poynter.org column to help you “tech your teaching.” Specifically, I’ll offer tips to bring multimedia tools into your classes.

Here are some projects I recently shared with my University of Wisconsin-Madison students to show them how multimedia storytelling can be used …

To add something new to a story
This slideshow from the Howard County Times, a weekly in Maryland, proves that you don’t need massive resources to produce compelling multimedia.Image link to "Hungry" slideshow by the Howard County Times When showing this project to my students, I took them through the text narrative to show how different it is from the multimedia piece. We cannot make multimedia stories mere reruns of text content, I told them; they have to extend and amplify other angles or issues. This package does exactly that. Each time I hear the crack in the father’s voice, I know that audio is accomplishing something text alone could not.

To showcase data
This New York Times interactive budget balancing project is the ideal example of how journalists can use multimedia to showcase data and break down a complicated political issue. Take your students through a tour and see how your combined tax-and-spend hire wire act works.

To convey emotion
I do not let a single class pass without exploring some ethical questions. This video piece from the Boston Globe generated a fascinating discussion in my entry-level course last semester.Video package from Boston Globe

Some students skewered the piece for going too far into a family’s pain, saying they thought it ought to have remained private. Others defended the approach, saying most people are too comfortably removed from the violence of our cities to feel motivated to do anything about it. We all agreed that the producers showed merciful restraint in using natural sound rather than some emotive music track — a major misstep among many student multimedia projects.

The best way to include examples in your teaching is to embed links to the projects in your PowerPoint or keynote presentation. (In PowerPoint, highlight the text you want to link and select “Insert/hyperlink” from the top menus. In Keynote, highlight the text and choose the hyperlink button from the Inspector.) You can’t always count on a file staying online for long, especially if it’s controversial, so it can help to use screen capture tools or a media grabber to save a copy to your own computer.

My preferred media grabber is a Firefox extension called “DownloadHelper.” You can capture and save videos from almost any site, including YouTube. Just remember that copyright considerations apply; showing a sample in class may be considered fair use, but posting it on your own blog may not.

Here are some sites you can visit to find compelling multimedia projects:

  • 10,000 Words, a blog “where journalism and technology meet.”

How have you found ways to incorporate more multimedia into your teaching?

(Katy Culver teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is an adjunct faculty member at Poynter.)
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Financial pressures push NPPA to change BOP contest days before deadline, consider entry fees

Faced with the financial pressures of serving a smaller membership, the National Press Photographers Association is moving the judging for portions of this year’s Best Of Photojournalism contest online and will consider future changes, such as entry fees.

The announcement comes a few days before the contest deadline.

One advantage of moving online for the still photography and multimedia categories, said NPPA president Sean Elliot, is that big-name photojournalists can be enlisted to judge entries in their areas of expertise. It wasn’t cost-effective to fly them to Poynter, where the judging has been held for several years, to review a segment of the entries.

NPPA is not alone in struggling to keep members and demonstrate its value amid momentous change in media. When I surveyed journalism associations in 2009, I found that just one, the Online News Association, had increased its membership:

“This has forced soul-searching upon journalism associations. It’s not enough to be a fraternity of people with similar jobs who get together once a year to trade war stories at a hotel bar. These organizations must prove their worth by helping their members become digital journalists, find jobs and set up independent operations.”

Steve Buttry, director of community engagement for TBD, caused a minor stir recently when he predicted that some journalism organizations would have to merge in order to survive.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists projected a deficit of about $240,000 for 2010, Richard Prince reported in December. But the National Association of Black Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association both reversed substantial deficits last year and ended up with money in the bank.

Tough financial picture

A couple of weeks ago, NPPA’s board of directors approved a $1.245 million budget and discussed the need to raise more money and spend less.

Elliot, chief photographer at The Day in New London, Conn., said the financial issues don’t jeopardize the existence of NPPA. But “it’s safe to say the budget situation is as bad as it’s been in my experience on the board.” He’s been on the board for 10 years.

The BOP contest solicits entries for still photo editing, still photography, website (multimedia), and TV news video photography and editing. Despite chatter that the TV category would be cut, Elliot said no categories are being eliminated.

Besides the Web judging for still and multimedia, TV judging will take place in March at the NewsVideo Workshop in Norman, Okla. (Ohio University will continue to be the home for the still photography editing category.)

BOP’s still photography category costs NPPA about $30,000 a year, mostly for travel, lodging and other expenses in St. Petersburg, Elliot said. (Poynter has not charged for the facilities or staff support.)

In addition to the cost of judging, BOP also doesn’t bring in any income. Unlike other journalism contests, anyone can submit up to 20 entries to BOP for free. Besides the loss of entry fees, that means NPPA can’t entice people to join by offering discounts to members.

Making sure that BOP is free has been a key value of the contest since it started 10 years ago, Elliot said, “in part because the split with Missouri was over entry fees for NPPA members.” (NPPA and the University of Missouri used to work together on the Pictures of the Year International contest, which Missouri now runs.)

POY charges $50 for up to 15 submissions. Elliot said that’s not unreasonable for many U.S.-based photographers, but it could be for photographers in the developing world, from whom NPPA wants to encourage entries.

“For as long as I’ve been in the organization,” Elliot said, “there’s been a struggle between the business minds who say we need to be a member organization and … the big-picture folks who say our organization needs to serve a greater role.”

Later this year, the organization will consider charging entry fees, limiting the number of entries for non-members, and changing categories, Elliot said.

Membership increasing after several down years?

In describing the challenges for NPPA at January’s board meeting, outgoing president Bob Carey said the organization has to figure out ways to cut costs, produce new revenue and convince people to renew their lapsed memberships, which cost $110 annually for professionals.

“There have been so many people who have dropped their membership because they don’t see a value,” Carey told the board. “I see a value in the NPPA. That $110 is a chunk of money, but it’s a value.”

One reason membership is falling, according to Elliot: News organizations have stopped paying professional dues for their employees.

Executive Director Mindy Hutchison said by e-mail that membership has been flat over the last year — about 6,500 — but it dropped significantly in the two previous years. Hutchison’s predecessor, Jim Straight, told me in 2009 that membership had declined 10 to 20 percent from the year before.

However, Hutchison said membership has trended upward in the past few months.

Meanwhile, revenue from other sources, such as advertising in the monthly News Photographer magazine, is down. Producing the magazine costs a lot, Elliot said, but people consider it one of the key benefits of membership.

One of the few bright spots is substantial funding from the Authors Coalition of America, which disburses money to American copyright holders for the use of their work overseas. That money can’t be spent on members-only benefits, the magazine or general operations. But it can be used for advocacy, such as NPPA’s pressure on the Coast Guard to lift restrictions on photographing along coastlines affected by last summer’s oil spill.

CORRECTION: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that ACA collects money from European governments to reimburse copyright holders for illegal copying of their work. Actually, ACA distributes royalties for the use of copyrighted work overseas, including Australia and some European countries. Read more

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