Multimedia production reaches beyond journalism

Advertising, interactive narratives, social media, citizen journalism and gaming are all part of the mix in the third-year Convergent Production course at the University of Queensland this semester.

Production is a capstone course at the School of Journalism and Communication. It is usually the final practical subject students do before graduating from the Bachelor of Journalism.

This year the course is focused on creating high-quality, creative content. The view is that journalism is a creative industry and in an environment where the business case for quality journalism is being tested, it is worth looking to other industries for new ideas.

Throughout the course students will take part in round-table discussions with guests from the news media and other creative industries about storytelling, production and creative processes and business models.

The course is essentially about two things:

  1. Creating great content
  2. Getting a job

The leaning and assessment activities reinforce these goals and there is an emphasis on encouraging students to increase their awareness of the challenges – and opportunities – in journalism and the media industry.

By the time they leave the course they should have a body of published work and a personal website that showcases their efforts to potential employers.

Creating stories

In Convergent Production students need to come up with story ideas, decide how to best tell them and produce them to set requirements. It is about preparation for work.

By this point in their studies it is expected that they know the basics of reporting and can produce a story in text, sound or vision. What they are learning is how to produce content that is of publishable quality and how to use multiple media and interaction to tell stories.

To publish on JACdigital the story needs to meet the site’s production requirements. These are detailed in the JACdigital production guide and include items such as image sizes and formats for audio and video files.

There is also an emphasis on creativity.

This semester sessions on creative problem solving have been introduced. In these sessions students will be given a creative problem to solve eg: take a camera and produce a photo story about campus life without taking an image of a student.

They will also need to document their learning on a blog – in particular their ideas and observations about storytelling and how to practice it. The hope is that through the discussion series and practical projects these aspiring journalist will take ideas from outside the traditional paradigm and begin thinking about how journalism can develop and innovate.

The importance of new ways of thinking is a recurring theme surrounding the media – the struggling business model, new technologies, the growth of social media, are creating a dynamic environment in which traditional ways of communicating and doing business are being challenged.

Content matters

In the media business, high-quality journalism and content still matter. It is everything that supports and surrounds it – the business model – that is changing and creating a challenge for companies.

A Nielsen report from February this year suggested that consumers were willing to pay for digital content but only if it was professionally produced and not available for free elsewhere. They were less likely to pay for content that was produced by consumers at low cost.

The report, Changing Models: A Global Perspective on Paying for Content Online, found that content would need to meet certain criteria before people would pay for it. Generally consumers were more willing to pay for online content that:

  • was professionally produced
  • had high production costs
  • originated off-line (eg, films, music)

The Nielsen findings resonate with discussion at the Media 2010 conference in Sydney earlier this year. Here, content and how to make it pay was the central issue. The key themes were originality, quality and experimentation.

Mark Frons, New York Times chief technology officer, explained how at the NYT 100 tech staff work alongside the editorial staff to create interactive stories. The paper, he said, had transformed from an information company into a technology company and all content was treated as data.

Adrian Holovaty, EveryBlock creator, said news groups needed to reorganise the way they presented information; they needed to treat information as ‘living’ and control the flow so it was meaningful to readers.

At Thompson Reuters, chief scientist Nic Fulton runs a department that is allowed to fail and his team experiments with new content creation and delivery techniques – Reuters in Second Life and the news read to dance music were two experiments – one worked, one didn’t.

And Suzanne Stefanac, director of the American Film Institute Digital Content Lab, pointed out that given that the barriers to entry were so low, there really was no reason not to create content: “If you have an idea, get out and do it … there are no excuses”.

Her comments go to the heart of what students need to understand: that they have the ability to create stories, experiment with technology and if they want a career in the media – factual or fictional – then they need to be doing it.

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