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The Cross-Platform Editor



By Bill Mickey
07/31/2006

Most publishers now have content management systems (CMS)—whether built in-house or through third-party providers—in place to store, sort and shuttle content from one platform to another. Consequently, reporters and editors have the means at their fingertips to take the print stories they’ve been producing all these years and build them out with other multimedia assets that help drive content into a whole new realm of interactivity that users not only enjoy but want.

As a result, print publishing veterans are expanding their creative toolkits to produce new elements for their stories—and often get them online themselves. How this content gets produced and trafficked varies from publisher to publisher, but one thing is certain: Those whose job it is to create the content have found that the word “deadline” is almost pointless. Whether digging for breaking news—now generally reserved for digital platforms—or simply developing multimedia elements to enhance a story already reported out, deadlines are a constant.

Heads in the Sands of Print
Yet some still resist the digital siren call. Recalcitrant editors who refuse to roll with the multimedia times drove Paul Conley, b-to-b media blogger at paulconley.blogspot.com and publishing consultant, to post this infamous blog entry:

“Hey, you know that ‘print’ guy in your newsroom? You know the guy I’m talking about? He can’t edit an audio file. He can’t upload a digital photo. He doesn’t know html. He doesn’t know what a title tag is. He can’t insert a link. He’s ever-so-fond of his writing style, and he’s not exactly sure what it means to ‘repurpose’ content or to ‘write for the Web.’ You know that guy?

“I want you to take a look at this piece on the Teaching Online Journalism blog. Then I want you to follow the link to the memo that went out yesterday to the staff of the Miami Herald. Then I want you to print that memo. Then wrap it around a baseball bat. And then beat that guy with the bat until he is, at long last, dead.”

Those are strong words, but what might seem to some writers as self-preservation might actually turn out to be counterproductive in an era where online business models are proven and online media has an insatiable appetite for content.

“I was hired as a consultant on an electronic product that was related to a series of magazines at a major publisher,” says Conley in an interview for this story. “It wasn’t doing very well. Among the things I found was that these people were pretending that they were working online. One example of that is that they had not done the title tags on a single issue or on a single article for more than a year.”

When questioned, says Conley, the editors said they felt they shouldn’t have to learn the extra steps necessary for creating title tags. “I said if learning how to do that required that you be able to write a perl script, they’d be right. But what you had to do there was type text into a box in a content management system. It’s inexcusable. These are the simplest new media skills.”

Less Than Simple New Media Skills
“‘It’s not my job’ is definitely the wrong answer around here,” says Scott McKenzie, group editorial director at Billboard. “We’re platform agnostic and so is the audience. So don’t dictate how you do it or how they should get it.”

While the Billboard team includes a Web group responsible for producing the content for the sites, all editors are expected to know how to generate not just stories, but graphic and multimedia elements to go with them. In a world of nonstop news, having a breakdown in content production one step away from an absent Web editor is not strategically smart. “I don’t have anyone who is just a magazine person,” adds McKenzie. “They’re all everything people.”

McKenzie says stories grow incrementally, with the basic reporting done first, and if it’s a breaking story it gets posted online immediately. “In tandem with that, we’re looking at what else we can do with that story?” says McKenzie. “Do we have someone working on a timeline or an infographic? Is there a photo slideshow that needs to go with it? A key audio interview? All of our editors and reporters are cross-trained on using our online publishing system.”

The Billboard publishing system is Web-based and can be accessed and posted to from anywhere. Stories and their various components will be posted by either the reporter or, more typically, a Web editor who prepares the headlines, artwork and other assets to be added to the piece.

Audio and video, two formats that are becoming ubiquitous online, can be developed and produced in almost a guerilla fashion. Fundamental production skills are necessary, but not difficult. “Video is going to require a little bit of a learning curve,” says Conley. “And if the boss says, ‘Let’s get some audio up there,’ you’re going to have to download and learn how to use Audacity [http://audacity.sourceforge.net/], which is free, by the way.”
At Billboard, which has separate trade and consumer Web sites, reporters tape their interviews and are reminded that even if the primary story is for the trade publication, part of the interview with an artist might be used for the consumer-facing Web site. “There’s no reason not to ask them the more consumer-driven questions,” says McKenzie.

His team has also set up a makeshift video studio, complete with green screen, on the Billboard newsroom floor. “Built might be overly generous but we were lucky enough to have a large room that was being used for other things that I took over,” he says. “Going back, we’re essentially a traditional publishing company in print. So we’re faced with having to produce—well, we don’t have to but we’re crazy if we don’t—video that fits with our brand,” he says. To help facilitate that, an outside consultant was brought in to train all the staff on on-camera video techniques.

In the end, a reporter’s fundamental skills still form the bedrock of any new initiatives. “You change the way you think about presentation,” says Conley. “You don’t change the way you think about the core of our business—reporting. That doesn’t change, no matter what software we’re working with.”

Learning Resources
Want to play in the cross-platform sandbox? Stop by these two Web sites, designed specifically for media pros, to brush up on your multimedia and digitizing skills.

J-learning.org
Billed as “your how-to guide for hyper-local community media,” the site offers training articles on Web development, Web-based audio and video production, and editing and blogging, among others. The site is developed by the Institute for Interactive Journalism.

Lynda.com
This site offers an online library of QuickTime training videos available through several different subscription fees. Tutorials for a wide variety of multimedia tools and software—from animation to XML—can be accessed.

Building a (Roughly) $12,000 Television Studio
With the mainstream and relatively cheap availability of high-end recording equipment, publishers are cobbling together their own TV studios to produce content for a variety of purposes—Web content, licensing, sales material. Here’s a shopping list from the studio Billboard built:

• 2 HD Mini DV cameras: approx $2,500 each
• Camera accessories: lights, heavy duty batteries, etc: $300
• Software: $1,500
• Studio equipment (backdrops, etc.): $1,000
• Audio mixer: $400
• Mics, stands, leads: $500
• Lights: $2,000
• Misc: $600
• External hard drives: $800

All edited on a Mac work station

By Bill Mickey
07/31/2006







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