Paula Froke has jumped headfirst into the world of online and multimedia journalism with her upstart blog, Paula’s Adventures in Multimedia.
While she may not have been born a digital native, she has quickly become an enthusiastic adopter. And as the Deputy National Editor for the AP, she is a manager, not a content producer. So she doesn’t have to learn all this stuff, but she has anyway.
That’s the kind of manager journalism needs. Her blog is helping to inspire other mid-career journalists to try new things. Paula’s blog has been making its way around the journalism blogosphere, and people like Mindy McAdams have been impressed with her work and spirit:
I’m also in love with a new blog called Paula’s Adventures in Multimedia. Paula is a journalist somewhere, I don’t know where, but she’s taking us along for the ride while she and her colleagues learn to make slideshows and do podcasts and shoot video — and it’s really fun!
Below you’ll find an interview I had with Paula recently. The cliff notes of it is this: Learning multimedia and online journalism is fun and not nearly as difficult as you think.
1) I know your time at Poynter in January was one of the inspirations for starting your blog. What were your multimedia skills prior to then?
After 23 years as a print-only editor, I got my feet wet last year by shooting — but not editing — one video and producing one podcast, both as introductory training efforts in what was then our multimedia service for younger readers. That inspired me to buy an HD camcorder and a new laptop. Then I taught myself basic video editing with iMovie and did a couple of personal videos. Howard Owens’ list of 2008 objectives for non-wired journalists gave me more ideas and goals, and that combined with Poynter kicked everything into higher gear at the beginning of this year. Literally. I wanted to start the year off well, so I shot a personal video on Jan. 1, edited it on Jan. 2, and uploaded it to YouTube — a major thrill.
2) What are your multimedia skills today?
My skills are still relatively rudimentary, but I’m confident that if time and my position allowed, I could fairly easily shoot and edit an acceptable news video for Web publication (with iMovie; I still need to tackle Final Cut). I was astonished and delighted when a complete stranger saw one of my personal videos and asked me to produce a video of him for entry in a reality show contest (I declined — I’m not THAT confident — but now he’s trying again and wants me to do part of it.) I could produce audio slideshows and podcasts, again if time and circumstances allowed. I certainly have a far, far greater understanding and appreciation of the power of all of these formats.
3) Why did you end up starting your blog?
I supervise traditional print editors whose job as it’s now defined involves being appreciative of other forms of journalism done in our other departments, but not actually doing it themselves. Like me, I think they were both intrigued and intimidated by the possibilities of the evolving world of journalism — but weren’t at all sure how to get started themselves. As I gained more comfort and appreciation through what I was learning on my own, I wanted a way to share that with everyone on the staff. A blog seemed ideal — I could talk about it in a casual way, and have a multimedia format with which to share the results of my own efforts and theirs. It’s given me a chance to take a “learn as I learn” and “if *I* can do it, you can too” approach and to encourage them to learn in a low-key, fun kind of way. I’ve tried to make it clear that I’m willing to look foolish for the sake of learning, and I think that’s helped. It also gives me a way to let them do guest posts and share their own video, slideshow, podcast and Web site creation efforts.
4) What’s the biggest thing you have learned from it?
How fun, fulfilling and liberating this kind of work is. It’s been absolutely fascinating to learn how to convey stories in ways far beyond what I’ve done all my life. A second thing: There is, in fact, a fair amount of crossover among the formats. A lot, though certainly not all, of what makes a good story and what’s required of a good editor and a good reporter is similar from format to format: compelling detail and quotes, vivid color, strong drama, cohesive structure, and of course, accuracy, integrity and ethics. I think the more you learn in each format, the better you get in all of them.
5) How hard was it to set up your blog and begin producing multimedia content?
The blog itself was remarkably easy to set up. I did it literally in between bites of pasta while hovering over my laptop in the kitchen the night I returned from Poynter. Once I got the idea in my head, I was so excited about it that I just plunged in. After that I just kept plunging. For better or worse, I took a scattershot approach — delve a little into video, a little into audio, a little into HTML, invite others on the staff to share what they’re learning … the result was something not at all structured and therefore perhaps not all that instructive or helpful. On the other hand, it is indeed a recounting of what I learn as I learn it, and I think there’s something to be said for getting a broad exposure to as much as you can in the early goings.
6) How do you see your new skills impacting your journalism career?
They certainly open up a lot more possibilities in every area — as a manager, as an editor and as a multi-format reporter. I mean possibilities for me personally, and possibilities for far more meaningful journalism reaching and touching a far wider audience. It’s extremely exciting.
7) Do you have any advice for mid-career journalists looking to learn new online/multimedia skills?
Short answer: Just do it. And have fun.
Longer answer: While I took a wide-ranging approach, it might be more reasonable to pick one area that’s especially appealing to you, whether it’s creating a personal Web site, starting a blog and uploading photos to it, borrowing a camera and shooting some video, doing a podcast or whatever. Find a knowledgeable co-worker or friend or a cheap intro course — for instance, whatever the local Apple store offers, even if you don’t have a Mac! — to help get you started. Take advantage of a wealth of online resources for tips and techniques. Consider tapping into your personal life for opportunities to practice — I’ve been doing videos of New York Cycle Club rides, which give me plenty of chances to work on shooting and editing. Don’t be afraid to look silly or to fail. Seek feedback from others. Study the work of those who excel at this. And — have fun.