Grant Blankenship | The Pitfalls of All Platforms

The Pitfalls of All Platforms

November 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment
Note: This was written as a companion to a presentation at the national Journalism Educators Association conference. 



This video also ran as a non-narrated piece on the radio. How is it structured to work that way?


Before we talk about the pitfalls of being a “multimedia reporter”, we need to define our terms.

First, why would anyone be hired, kitted out and anointed as a “multimedia reporter” in the first place?

One answer is that media executives think it’s a great way to save money if you have one human doing the job of four. We aren’t interested in that line of thinking.

A better reason is to think of what you are doing as being in service to the story you are trying to tell. The irony of bringing video, photo, audio, words into play at once in a story is that you (and whomever you are working with on the story) are better situated to get out of the way and let people tell their stories for themselves.

So that’s what we’re going to talk about. How to use tools to help people tell their own stories.

So what are our tools?



There are people that work with this whole array of tools. Dedicated video camera, dedicated SLR for stills, dedicated audio recorder and mics. But there’s a problem here beyond the fact that we only have two hands.

Every story kind of has it’s own flow and thread. Moments lead to moments. Some moments are better captured visually.


Kelvin Taylor, center, moves out of Tindall Heights after five years with the help of friends recently. Taylor says he is only interested in the proposed Mercer University Development if it somehow helps kids in Tindall Heights. Photo by Grant Blankenship


Some moments work best in sound.(Psst. You can play the quote below.)

“Some of these people have been over here for years. And I think they deserve better. I deserve better,” Cody said.

When you have this gang of tools, you quickly fall out of the flow. Do the math. Four tools and two hands. You are so busy trying to get the tool in hand to capture the moment that you probably already missed that you miss the next moment, then the next, and so on.

So you need to economize the tool kit. It needs to work with your two hands.


One ToolOne ToolThis DLSR captures stills and video (you knew that), but the shotgun mic on top is also a dedicated audio recorder. Three tools down to one.


So here’s that same kit smushed into two machines rather than four. With this rig, I can shoot a story in photos while I am recording audio at the same time. Wherever I go with the camera, the audio recorder goes too. I can have ears and eyes on the flow of moments. I don’t get caught out trying to put one set of tools down while I try and grab the other.

This rig works for video. And of course you can write from these notes, too.

Still, you have to make choices about what tools to use and when. How do you know? How do you create a predictive sense of what is going to work?

Right now, today, you have to get in the habit of consuming the best work in the various disciplines that go into the multimedia job description. Listen to public radio stories and take apart the musical structure that makes a good one work. Read print publications (online) for the best in photojournalism. What makes a good news image work? How can you tell a story that way? Why would you? And there is plenty of great short form video documentary work to see.

Seek it all of the best of this kind of work. Listen, watch, read, dissect, consider.

Once you know what the best of the media you are working in looks and sounds like and you have faculty with your own tools, you can make decisions about how to tell a story on the fly. While it is happening, without leaving that flow of moments.

But you have to practice. The only shortcut to mastery of any of these disciplines is constant effort and getting over the fear of failing. You will fail as you learn this. The object is to fail faster than everyone else and get good.

Lastly, how could any of it be repurposed into the written word? All of these stories have analogous parts. How would you put into words a 10 second stretch of scene setting video? Can you do it engagingly?

There’s also the temptation to think that since you are learning all the tools, that you only need to work alone. Again, we are in service of the story here and sometimes trying to do everything by yourself can be a disservice. Find someone in your organization of a similar mindset that you can work with.

These broadcast/online students are using a simple shotgun mic/iphone kit to conduct interviews in the conference hallway. Together they produce broadcast pieces with this kit. They also write news stories based on their video/audio reporting.


Don’t think that you can only focus on your strengths, though! The more you know about the disciplines your partner works well with, the better able you are to know when to get out of their way or, conversely, jump in and do what you need to do. are in service to the story. Innate knowledge of the media you work in gained from spending time with the best work of others points you in the right direction. Faculty with your tools helps you see your story to success. Stay with the moments.

The promise of multimedia reporting is one of rich, immersive storytelling. To achieve that promise takes practice of crafts, a willingness to experiment and fail, alone and with others, and above all a focus on the people whose stories we tell.





























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