This is My Brain on Multimedia

My week at the Knight Digital Media Center multimedia training has come to an end. But my brain is still buzzing, and in my mind, I’m still editing images and audio and text.

Over six very long days, punctuated by the world’s most delicious food, and haunted by the stream of horrors from Haiti, a stellar training team downloaded gigabytes upon gigabytes of information on to the hard drives in our heads. 

We learned how to storyboard, how to shoot video, how to use digital cameras, how to transfer and organize content, how to use Photoshop, Garage Band, Final Cut Pro, SoundSlides, Adobe Flash. We even learned some Mac basics and fundamentals of web site design. 

Sona Patel of The Seattle Times gave a presentation about using social media in the newsroom. And Joe Ruiz, also of, shared his experience with live mobile video reporting techniques. The legendary voice coach Marilyn Pittman, a favorite at public radio conferences, led a workshop on stand-ups and voice-overs, forcing us all to look into the camera and deliver dull news copy.

It was all a lot to take in. Graduate student assistants (digital natives all) were extraordinarily patient and helpful. Plus, the KDMC has also produced a gazillion online tutorials that we (and anybody) can refer to for help later on, when our memory fails, as details fade over time.

Most of the journalists in this workshop hailed from print newsrooms, from Honolulu to Wilmington, N. Carolina. There were environmental reporters and business reporters and crime reporter. Several were entrepreneurial types, launching new online hyperlocal, regional or investigative start-ups, including OaklandLocal, Western Citizen, QCityMetro, and InvestigateWest. And there were some public radio pals in the room: Louisa Jonas of Baltimore and John Zilkha of the BBC, who came all the way from London.

Aside from the many hours in many, many sessions, staring at giant Mac screens (to the point of seeing double), we were released from the asylum and sent out on assignment. Each team was delivered to a Bay Area institution for a few hours and our job was to do interviews, collect sound, take pictures, come back to the newsroom and create a multimedia presentation. My team went to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, a non-profit eco-thrift store that keeps tons of stuff out of the landfills by recycling materials for artists and teachers. It was a cool and chaotic place, filled with characters and kitch; lots of customers, a lot of stuff to trip over, but not a lot of action.

As a longtime editor, and somewhat of a perfectionist, it was hard to keep perspective that we were just learning these tools and we didn’t have to produce a package worthy of awards, or even good enough for broadcast on a cable public access channel. And, I was reminded often how much fun it is to collaborate as a team, but editing is not a team sport, since everyone brings different news judgment and skills to the table.

I have to admit I envied the folks at the training who already knew how to take a great picture. Thinking visually is a challenge for someone steeped in radio. It truly felt as if any good pictures I shot or B-roll I recorded happened more so by accident than design.

But, as we learned, audio is fundamental to video. Even though millions of people are willing to watch videos on YouTube that have crappy audio, quality sound is the secret sauce that separates the professional from the amateur. So, my experience with audio editing made video editing much easier than I had expected. I was actually good at it!

And that’s my big takeaway from the week. Those of you who’ve worked only in radio should venture out to Videolandia, expand your horizons and acquire visual skills. Being able to turn a powerful sound narrative into a slide show is a gift to the audience, and fun, too. Knowing how and when to incorporate video enriches your storytelling. And in this economy, you’ve heard the mantra: The more you can do, the more valuable you are.

The Knight Digital Media Center at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism is an ideal place to get this training, with the best equipment, and a very supportive, knowledgeable faculty. (Thank you!) The first step is to apply for the program. The next multimedia trainings are in May and June and the deadline to apply is March 26th. If you are invited to attend, the workshop is free, along with food and housing. Your responsibility is to get there and home. Go for it!