Multimedia journalism lessons for j-students, from a j-student
Melinda Maldonado, a Master of Journalism student at Ryerson University and a self-proclaimed longform writing lover is tackling a skill gap and taking a number of multimedia courses. Here, she outlines a few lessons she's picked up along the way.
By Melinda Maldonado
It’s been a bumpy ride into the world of multimedia journalism. As a self-identified writer who loves the depth of long-form writing, I decided to fill my greatest skill gap by taking all of the hands-on techie courses this semester that I could: Online and New Media, TV, Radio.
I have made my share of mistakes along the way – some so bad that I’ll probably never make the same mistake again (see #1). Here are a few tips that I picked up this semester:
MJ TV class. Photo courtesy of Asher Greenberg's iPhone
1) Don’t forget to wear your headphones. Every single person in my program wears over-the-ear headphones. No, we’re not trying to look cool, as my brother accuses. We need to check sound quality.
Early in the semester I hit the streets in a team of three to do streeters. The question? “Do you think it’s necessary to disclose your HIV status if you partake in a low-risk sexual activity?” As the primary question-asker, I helped our interviewees out with a couple very specific examples of activities in that category.
We got some great responses. Fantastic, even. Toronto’s Church Street is a good place to ask about the criminalization of HIV. And we had beautiful photos from the perfectly overcast day. But when we got back to the studio and uploaded our files, there was no sound. My stomach sank as I ran through a mental checklist. The microphone was on! We had checked our equipment! We had even double-checked the fussy Zoom recorder button that you have to press twice to start recording! So what happened?
The first problem? I was wearing my headphones around my neck, but not on my ears. Yep, felt pretty silly.
We troubleshooted it down to two possibilities, but the interviews were still lost. The moral of the story is wear your headphones so you know when you’re not recording. Better yet, test out your equipment before hitting the field. It might feel silly to have big honking ear muffs on your head in the middle of summer, but you have to deal with it. It’s now a part of your body.
2) Hold back on your empathetic “um-hmms”. Someone is telling you a great story. Riveting, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat details. A clear articulate voice. You lean forward, say “right,” “mm-hmm,” and nod encouragingly.[node:ad]
Then you upload your genius interview and the sound bite is full of you making sounds of affirmation. Don’t ruin a great clip. It feels unnatural and goes against our instincts for active listening. Too bad. Stick with the nod, and learn to shut up.
3) Sounds of pleasure help you find your natural pitch. We developed our radio performance skills under the wise instruction of Suanne Kelman. We learned breathing tips, how to write clean broadcast copy, and even created two radio newscasts (listen to them here and here).
A crucial part of the course was learning how to find your radio voice. You have two options: sliding from a high note down to a place where your voice resonates with the most power. Or the second option, where I was called upon to stand up in front of the class.
The pitch of your voice when you are in a moment of great pleasure, she told us, is your natural pitch. It was my job to lead a count of three for the class as we all made … sounds. Practice is optional.
4) Lighting matters. Taking the time to set up lighting and use a reflector to bounce light onto your interviewee can take a picture or video from okay to professional. Don’t be afraid to interrupt an interview to adjust the lighting. There is no point in continuing to film something that you can’t use.
5) Do a run-down of your important questions again. When your interview is done, bust out your important questions one more time. Say something along the lines of, “I need a few minutes to go over my notes and I might (re-)ask you a few very specific questions.” If you are recording audio, re-asking a question can sometimes elicit a more concise answer that will make for a better clip.
6) Play with the software. You know those kids who played with Photoshop for kicks back in the day? Well I was not one of them. But it’s not too late to recuperate those years. Go nuts in a most decidedly non-journalistic fashion. Mess around with the programs you have to use: Photoshop a blemish off your next Facebook profile picture, crop your friends into silly pictures, record your brother and splice his quotes so he’s saying something stupid.
7) How to dress for TV. “Hey – that’s a great broadcast shirt!” has become a popular morning greeting in our class. Wear candy colours, powder your face (the guys too), wear that hair down and slightly over your ears, and don’t wiggle.
Melinda Maldonado is a first-year Master of Journalism student at Ryerson University. This piece was originally published on her blog.