MP: Practical tips for you to produce a multimedia story package

A storyboard is a sketch of how to organize a story and a list of its contents.

A storyboard helps you:

  • Define the parameters of a story within available resources and time
  • Organize and focus a story
  • Figure out what medium to use for each part of the story

How to Do a Rough Storyboard

A multimedia story is some combination of video, text, still photos, audio, graphics and interactivity presented in a nonlinear format in which the information in each medium is complementary, not redundant. So your storyboard should be put together with all those elements in mind.

The first thing to tackle is the part about the story being nonlinear.

  1. Divide the story into its logical, nonlinear parts, such as:
  • a lead or nut paragraph, essentially addressing why this story is important
  • profiles of the main person or people in the story
  • the event or situation
  • any process or how something works
  • pros and cons
  • the history of the event or situation
  • other related issues raised by the story

Instead of thinking “first part,” “second part”, “third part”, “fourth part”, think “this part”, “that part”, “another part”, and “yet another part”. It helps to avoid linear thinking. The home page comprises a headline, nut graph, an establishing visual (can be a background or central photograph, a slide show or a video), and links to the other parts, which are usually subtopics of the overall story.

Next, divide the contents of the story among the media — video, still photos, audio, graphics and text.

  1. Decide what pieces of the story work best in video.Video is the best medium to depict action, to take a reader to a place central to the story, or to hear and see a person central to the story.
  2. Decide what pieces of the story work best in still photos.Still photos are the best medium for emphasizing a strong emotion, for staying with an important point in a story, or to create a particular mood. They’re often more dramatic and don’t go by as quickly as video. Still photos used in combination with audio also highlight emotions. Panorama or 360-degree photos, especially combined with audio, also immerse a reader in the location of the story.
  3. Does the audio work best with video, or will it be combined with still photos?Good audio with video is critical. Bad audio makes video seem worse than it is and detracts from the drama of still photos. Good audio makes still photos and video seem more intense and real. Avoid using audio alone.
  4. What part of the story works best in graphics?Animated graphics show how things work. Graphics go where cameras can’t go, into human cells or millions of miles into space. Sometimes graphics can be a story’s primary medium, with print, still photos and video in supporting roles.
  5. Does the story need a map?Is the map a location map, or layered with other information? GIS (geographic information systems) and satellite imaging are important tools for reporters. Interactive GIS can personalize a story in a way impossible with text by letting readers pinpoint things in their own cities or neighborhoods – such as crime or meth labs or liquor stores or licensed gun dealers.
  6. What part of the story belongs in text?Text can be used to describe the history of a story (sometimes in combination with photos); to describe a process (sometimes in combination with graphics), or to provide first-person accounts of an event. Often, text is what’s left over when you can’t convey the information with photos, video, audio or graphics.
  7. Make sure the information in each medium is complementary, not redundant.A little overlap among the different media is okay. It’s also useful to have some overlap among the story’s nonlinear parts, as a way to invite readers to explore the other parts of the story. But try to match up each element of a story with the medium that best conveys it.
  8. Interactivity means giving the reader both input and control in a story.By making the story nonlinear, you’ve introduced an element of interactivity, because the user can choose which elements of a story to read or view and in which order. By including online forums or chats, you give readers input into a story. Some news sites have included interactive games so the reader can construct his own story. One newspaper let people help plan a waterfront redevelopment project with an online game in which they placed icons on a map of the waterfront showing where they thought parks, ballfields, restaurants, shops and so on should be located. For more examples of how news Web sites are including different types of interactivity, check out J-Lab — the Institute for Interactive Journalism.

When you’re done breaking a story down into its elements – both in terms of its content and the different media you could use – you need to reassemble all that into a rough storyboard.

On a sheet of paper, sketch out what the main story page will look like and the elements it will include. What’s the nut graph? What are the links to the other sections of the story? What’s the menu or navigation scheme for accessing those sections? What multimedia elements do you want to include on the main page as the establishing visuals, whether video or pictures.

Then do the same for the other “inside” pages that will be the other parts, or subtopics, in your overall story. What is the main element on each page and what other information should be included there? What video, audio, pictures or graphics would best tell this part of the story?

A rough storyboard doesn’t have to be high art – it’s just a sketch. And it isn’t written in stone – it’s just a guide. You may very well change things after you go into the field to do your interviews and other reporting.

What storyboarding does is help point out the holes in your story. It helps you identify the resources (time, equipment, assistance) you’ll need to complete the story, or how you have to modify the story to adjust to your resources. A good way to learn storyboarding is to take a newspaper feature story and sketch out a storyboard of all the elements in it, the multimedia possibilities if it were more than a print story and how you might break it up into a nonlinear Web presentation.

Whether you’re driving across town to interview a zookeeper or flying to Alaska to interview a bear tracker, the basic equipment list is the same:

  • Laptop computer loaded with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, iMovie or Pinnacle Studio 8 (or Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere if you’re doing advanced video editing), Flash and a text editor such as Word.
  • Video camera and accessories (lenses, filters, microphones, headphones, batteries, cables, tripod)
  • Digital video tape (more than you think you’ll need – tape’s cheaper than missing the most important shot of the story)
  • Lens cleaners (brush, tissues, solution — clean your lens before every outing)
  • Absorbent soft towel (for emergency lens cleaning)
  • Duct tape (if some part of your camera breaks, as mine did in a Moscow subway station)
  • Pocket knife (remember to put this in your checked luggage when traveling)
  • Rubber bands (you never know)
  • Extra batteries for microphones (replace these every few months)
  • Camera and microphone manuals (unless you’ve memorized both)
  • Plastic bags for camera (as emergency protection if you don’t have a raincoat for your camera, or if you’re moving between extremes of heat and cold and need the camera to adjust slowly)
  • Plastic bags, small and zip-lock for used DV tapes
  • Water bottle (for you)
  • Power bars (for you — you never know when you’re going to skip a meal)
  • Pens (if nothing else, to jot a quick ID on the tape you’ve just shot)
  • Small notebook (of course, your camera is your reporter’s notebook, but a small notebook is handy for writing down shots that you don’t want to forget, especially if it’s raining and you can’t read what you’ve written on your hand)
  • Backpack journalist vest with many pockets (you don’t have to go the extreme of still photographers with their 87 pockets, but it’s more efficient to have towel, batteries, DV tape, notebook, pen, knife and duct tape within easy reach)

All main equipment should fit in a camera/computer case that works for you, one that is configured as a backpack, preferably, especially if you also have to carry a satellite phone. If you’re flying, never check your camera bag — always carry it with you. You may have to check your tripod, so buy one that fits into your suitcase.

The Backpack Journalist at Work

Memorize your rough storyboard, or have a handy reference to it, before you start gathering information in the field. Always work with your storyboard in mind. Is this a part that’s going into video for sure? If so, then shoot a series of sequences (see Sequences in the Shooting Tips tutorial). Is this a part that works better in still photos? If so, then pay more attention to framing and setting up the shot, with close-ups and extreme close-ups that will likely be used as still photos.

Consider doing interviews twice: once while the person is actually doing the action that will be depicted in video clips, and another in a quiet, controlled area to describe again the action and comment on the implications of the action. The reason is that the sound in the field may be contaminated with airplanes overhead, lawnmowers being used nearby, protestors, etc., that mask the words. You may get enough in the action shot for part of a pithy quote, and then overlay the audio from the controlled setting to explain the action.

Be flexible — opportunities for unanticipated video, stills and other interview materials suitable for text are likely to pop up when you least expect them. Go for them — don’t hesitate. Tape is cheap. Visuals aren’t like print – if you miss the shot, you can’t use the phone to fill in the gaps. The only thing you can do is describe it in text, or put a talking head on camera to describe the action, neither of which is as effective as getting the real action, either in video or stills.

If you have to file multimedia stories daily:

  • Review your tape and grab still photos and potential video clips as you go. Write detailed information on your tapes, such as the tape number, date of video, main subjects, important sequences, your name and phone number (in case you lose the tape).
  • Make notes on the story elements as you go through your tape — send a nut graph and rough storyboard to your editor, if necessary. Usually, if you’re filing daily, you and your editor will have designed a couple of templates to choose from that will lay out some basic schemes for including video, photos and text on a Web page.
  • Edit still photos and video clips in the field (rather than deferring to judgments of the editor back home).
  • Send still photos (sending video clips from the field can still be dicey, so send photos, which take less bandwidth, first).
  • Write accompanying text blocks and send them in.
  • Send video clips (this often takes some time to process, so it’s a good opportunity to prepare for the next day).
  • Send appropriate graphics if available (scientists especially often work on their own laptops and may have information to give you).

If you’re not on a daily deadline:

The strategy’s a bit different if you don’t have to file until you’re back at your desk, especially if you’re working on a longer feature story.

In the field:

  • Review and label your tapes every night
  • Transcribe interview material that’s likely to go into text blocks or captions
  • Make notes on the shots and information you need to get the next day
  • Review your rough storyboard and make adjustments if necessary

Back in the office:

  • Review your tape, grab obvious photos and video clips for later editing
  • Do a detailed storyboard
  • Gather the rest of the information you need for the story (graphics? maps?)
  • Start assembling the content for the pages, rough text blocks first, then the visual elements. It’s likely that you’ll be working with your immediate editor and graphics editor at this point, so you may be doing some back-and-forth on photos and video clips

Above all, remember this: don’t panic, and take a nap whenever the situation presents itself.

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