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Five New Year’s resolutions for better multimedia reporting in 2012

multimedia2012The year 2011 has been an exciting for how we practice journalism. In fact, I think this year finally marked the tipping point in which every journalist became a multimedia journalist. The old silos have crumbled across even the most venerable and well-funded newsrooms, and written reports, videos, graphics and photos are now expected from every newsgatherer, regardless of title.

Multimedia content has become so integral to breaking news that the Pulitzer Prize breaking news criteria were changed to emphasize real-time reporting after no breaking news prize was awarded in 2011. The Arab Spring and the Occupy movement have further driven home the essential role that social media plays in modern newsgathering and dissemination, and the widespread adoption of smartphones has made immediate, dynamic web content and access to journalists an expectation among news consumers.

As you resolve to make personal changes in 2012, consider these changes in our industry. As resources shrink and media companies are sliced up and re-formed, strong multimedia skills can keep you doing what you love. Here are five New Year’s resolutions to keep your multimedia skills sharp:

1. Be more human online. There’s a persistant attempt from many reporters — many of whom I respect and admire — to try to choke off their own personal information from public view. I think that’s impossible, and it even strikes me as a bit hypocritical since we spend so much time and energy writing about others’ personal information. Your readers know who you are, and as any good reporter knows, information about your family, your job and your life is likely already out there waiting to be found. I have learned by experience and example that being honest about your interests and your life online builds trust and makes you more relevant to readers. Of course no one needs to know when you go to the bathroom or when you eat your daily bowl of oatmeal, but, really, no one wants to follow a robot either. Let go of the tired hyperbolic excuses, and start sharing your experiences. As a journalist, your expected by your employer and your audience to be active online anyway, being authentic makes it a lot less of a chore.

2. Focus on relationships. After you finally decide to open up, it’s time to get to work on social media relationships. Set the technology aside emember that basic, shoeleather reporting concepts still hold true in social media — repeated, personal contact builds good source relationships. If you’re not using Twitter and Facebook effectively, they’re not helping you tell stories. The simplest and best way to strengthen your social media relationships is to engage. Search Twitter and Facebook for your location or keywords related to your beat, and reach out to people who are already involved. Ask questions of specific users, rather than shouting at everyone and no one. When someone reaches out to you, answer promptly. This work has paid off for me and many others who invest in it tenfold. The social media sources tend to be ready at the drop of an @ to share information, and they’re often a lot easier to track down quickly.

3. Use your tools. If you have a smartphone, use it. Heck, even dumbphones come with cameras and text messaging these days. Take a photo. Shoot a short man-on-the-street video. Tweet an interesting quote. With all the technology we carry in our pockets, it’s hard to buy excuses for filing only text when we leave the newsroom to report.

4. Learn at least one new multimedia skill. Whether its basic video editing, HTML and CSS, mapping or database management, make a point to pick up one new line for your résumé. You won’t even have to pay for the knowledge, just check out one of the Reynolds Center’s free workshops or one of the many other free training resources available online.

5. Get involved. Making connections with others and working together usually pushes me further than I would push myself. As mentioned above, the Reynolds Center offers a lot of free or inexpensive and interactive training both online and across the country. If you can afford it, or if your news organization is still assisting with professional development, go to a conference or apply for a training session. If not, ask your local Press Club, SPJ chapter or minority journalist organization if they offer affordable training opportunities, or volunteer to organize one. You can also take advantage of the tech community’s open-source ethos at a Barcamp or the next Social Media Club meeting. Or, drop in on the weekly Wednesday night #wjchat to stay connected to other web journalists. After all, we’re all web journalists now, and most of us could use a little help.

Programming note: This will be my last recurring post for BusinessJournalism.org. Writing about multimedia skills here has been a wonderful experience and has inspired me to take on some new challenges of my own. I’ve taken a new position editing a magazine and developing multimedia content for the University of Miami, where I also plan to attend graduate school. I wish you all a successful and exciting 2012, and if you ever have questions or just want to chat, contact me at RebekahMonson.com or on Twitter, @rebekahmonson.

In Social Media, Tools.

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