Monday, November 01, 2010

Multimedia Reporting

When I tell people I'm a multimedia editor I usually feel compelled to explain what that means because the definition of multimedia morphs every couple of months into something different.

Not long ago I was invited to speak to a college journalism class about multimedia reporting. The presentation came about a week after a big breaking news story here in Baltimore in which a man had shot a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital, then killed his mother (a patient at the hospital), and finally turned the gun on himself. A horrible, fast-breaking story that for one afternoon in September had the attention of all the local media and the cable news networks. I started to sketch out how we covered the story that afternoon and ended up with the doodle at the top of this post. It pretty neatly sums up how we do what we do.

The events started to come to our attention the afternoon of Thursday, September 16. Our email tip line started buzzing with scant reports about a shooting at the hospital. Then we started seeing Twitter tweets about the same.

After a couple of calls to the police to confirm that something was up, we immediately dispatched a team of reporters, led by Justin Fenton, to the hospital.

Fenton, a crime reporter who is very savvy with his use of social media, started checking the many tweets that were coming in about the incident and trying to confirm what he was reading. He was also sending out his own, confirmed tweets about what was going on. We were picking up his Twitter feed on our website, At the same time, other news organizations, CNN, FoxNews and ABC were starting to follow Justin's tweets and calling us to get phone access to him for on-the-scene reports.

Fenton, using his iPhone, took a photo of a police sniper positioned behind a column and posted that to Twitpic. That photo ended up on and was also picked up by the news networks.

At one point, an hour or so into the situation, I got a call from a CNN producer who I had put in touch with Fenton for a phone interview. This time, instead of asking for something, she was actually calling to alert us that Fenton's cellphone had died, so that we could run a replacement phone to him. (Thanks, CNN!)

Also on site at Hopkins was another Sun reporter, Erica Green. While Fenton was doing phoners with the national networks, Green was doing interviews for our local television partner, WJZ.

The media interviews are a great way to get our brand stamped on the event and the idea is that hopefully many of the people seeing the interview on TV will come to our website or newspaper for more information.

Of course, Fenton and Green were doing their primary reporting for us. The tweets and story dispatches they were filing were delivering up-to-the-minute information to That information was also automatically populating our mobile site so that people could also follow the event on their phones. In addition to the story reporting, we were also getting photos and video from our staff, and picking up a live video feed from our TV partner, WJZ, as well as embedding their packaged reports on the story.

As the situation reached it's unfortunate conclusion, we wound down our breaking-news coverage and started to turn our attention to packaging the story for the next day's paper. That's when we took a step-back look at what happened, and tried to add some additional context into how and why such an event could take place.

So, what is multimedia? As of this writing, it's using all the tools current technology has provided us, mixing it with good old urgency and accuracy that have been hallmarks of our business for years, to bring our audiences reliable information they need to know, when they want it, where they want it.

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