News: News Archives
Great Expectations for Science Multimedia as Print News Shrinks
Demonstration video created at the 2008 EurekAlert! PIO Seminar, "Using Multimedia to Communicate Science and Health News."
YouTube, Twitter, Web 2.0, social media—the lexicon and tools of public information officers (PIOs) continue to evolve in modern times.
At a 12 December seminar at the National Press Club attended by 200 public information officers (PIOs) and web producers, the take-home message was summarized by panelist Karl Leif Bates: "That long and great press release that worked for you 10 years ago is no longer enough. The good news is you are now a publisher. Write and produce for your audience, for direct consumption."
Bates, director of research communications at Duke University, joined a panel including four national science reporters and editors at "Using Multimedia to Communicate Science and Health News," EurekAlert!'s fifth professional development seminar for PIOs.
Advising PIOs to "chunk" their stories in "little adjustable pieces" by breaking them down into components, Bates suggested using sidebars, bullet boxes, and multimedia elements such as video, audio, animation, and slideshows that can be packaged for use by traditional and new media, and provided several examples. "YouTube grows by hundreds of thousands of videos daily, and the videos are done by 8-year-olds," he said. "How hard can it be?"
Next on the panel, Washington Post Deputy National Editor/Science Nils Bruzelius declared, "Greetings from the dead tree end of journalism. There are a few of us left, although, as you know, it's fewer and fewer all the time."
[All photographs by Jennifer Leigh Gibson]
Bruzelius described changes at the Washington Post affecting the national desk, including the naming of a new publisher and editor within the last several months and a recently announced merger with Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. "They want to keep the newspaper alive; all newspapers are in tough shape. Our strategy going forward for the paper is to become more and more Washington-centric. . . using the advantage of where we physically sit to cover things that no one else can do in the same level of detail, with the same granularity and the same immediacy and impact."
Bruzelius said his staff has shrunk from nine to six in the six years he has been at the Post, and remaining science reporters are now increasingly helping out with the paper's health section, which lost its entire staff except for one editor and a news aide during the newspaper's buyout last summer. "If you want to be really effective at reaching us, you've got to know us," he said. "Pitches would work much better if they were done with some kind of insight into what the paper as a whole is doing and what individual reporters are doing." He admitted that animations and video help to tell the story, but emphasized that good narrative is still most important.
Tom Kennedy, managing editor for multimedia at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive elaborated on the role of multimedia in online stories. "I approach our work from the context of looking at the possibility of not only responding to things in the moment and putting the best possible journalistic face on whatever's unfolding in the moment, but also trying to develop a richer, more complete textual package for some of the key stories that we're dealing with.
"What we're looking for [in health and science stories] are strong characters who express themselves well and who have an ability to take us inside of situations which allow us to create a clear narrative storyline arc," Kennedy said.
Tom Kennedy, Art Chimes and Jorge Ribas
Art Chimes, producer and host of theOur World radio program at Voice of America, acknowledged that "EurekAlert! has really changed the way that we can, in one place, on one website, troll around for what's happening." He suggested PIOs consider Voice of America's international audience before pitching stories and recommended that PIOs with broadcast studio facilities make them accessible to their institution's researchers. He also encouraged PIOs to list experts on their websites so that they can be found easily in order to answer listener questions.
Jorge Ribas, a Discovery News video producer, reporter and editor, or "preditor" as he said his role is known at Discovery, described how he sees a story from start to finish. He recently finished a story with the Nature Conservancy featuring an intrepid insect researcher that he recorded in the caves of the Ozark Mountains. "When you get only 30 seconds or a minute with someone, you don't get that quote that you need," he said. "But when you spend three days in a cave with someone, you're going to get lots of juicy material."
In covering science, Ribas said it's important to engage the audience with the scientists. Discovery News has started a segment called "Cool Jobs" to showcase the work of individual scientists, he explained.
"There's a severe lack of science news out there," he said. "It's sad to see that newsrooms are getting cut down with their science reporting because it's so important, especially now." Ribas implored PIOs to provide reporters with information on things that are going unreported. He recommended email pitches that "get right to the point of what the research is. If you can include multimedia, even if it's raw, unfiltered video, that's perfect."
A lengthy question and answer session followed the panel presentations.
Kitta MacPherson from Princeton University described herself as a writer learning about multimedia. She asked the panel what they are creating and learning from this new kind of communication, and whether people are still being educated about science.
Karl Leif Bates, Nils Bruzelius and Tom Kennedy
"In a 90-second video, you can see the researcher and hear the passion in her voice, and see her in her setting in a way that I probably couldn't capture in a thousand words of prose," answered Bates. "Journalism 101 is 'show, don't tell.' Web video does that to a really great degree."
Kennedy agreed. "Seeing content visually allows me to understand it more readily. If the video is really well-crafted, people are going to bond to that story emotionally, and they'll make an effort to really process it and internalize it and make the understandings that emerge from it more a part of their life."
Anthony Socci from the American Meteorological Society asked the panelists if they read more or less in digital form than they used to read in paper form.
"You may not read as long, you may not finish the article, but I think I scan more and I read more," said Ribas.
"I probably read differently, rather than more or less," said Chimes. "One thing about having all these sources available online is that we're exposed to a lot more material than we used to be. From my point of view, there are that many more potential stories that I might be able to sniff out."
Brian Ruberry from Allhealth Public Relations asked Kennedy about pitching directly to web editors.
"I have six journalists that do original reporting, sometimes completely original on their own, but most often in collaboration with reporters at the newspaper. So, yes...I foresee that the roles that we have created for video journalism are not going to go away with the merger [with the Washington Post newspaper]. They're probably going to be accelerated."
The EurekAlert! seminar was moderated by Rea Blakey, media training consultant for Spectrum Science Communications. Blakey is host of the national medical show "Discovery Health CME," airing on the Discovery Health Channel.
The event was organized by Rahman Culver and Patrick McGinness, both of EurekAlert! at AAAS, in collaboration with John Seng, president of Spectrum Science Communications.
"Both of our organizations are firm believers in the value of communicating high-quality science, and so it's exciting for us to invite such a prestigious panel," said Seng.
McGinness mentioned that the EurekAlert! Multimedia Gallery has recently begun accepting video from PIOs, and he encouraged PIOs to submit their research-related video to EurekAlert! for use by reporters.
Ginger Pinholster, director of the AAAS Office of Public Programs, also showcased AAAS's mobile video studio at the event by interviewing PIOs and editing a short video on-site, to demonstrate how PIOs can use multimedia equipment and software with professional results.
EurekAlert! is an online, global news service launched by AAAS in 1996. EurekAlert! provides a central place through which universities, medical centers, journals, government agencies, corporations and other organizations engaged in research can bring their news to more than 6,600 reporters worldwide who use the service and to the public. EurekAlert! features news and resources focused on all areas of science, medicine and technology.
23 December 2008