The Great Multimedia Shootout

Posted on by sbhatt

BY SANJAY BHATT

When I arrived at the UNITY conference fresh off a red-eye flight, my mind was focused on entering my first-ever Multimedia Shootout.

After all, I was confident in my abilities after having shot video, recorded audio and produced pieces for a few months, albeit for non-deadline stories.

I sat down in a room with a dozen other contestants, most under the age of 35. We looked at each other’s gear, trying to size up our rivals.

I think we were all just a bit too cocksure. Two days later, we’d be walking out a few feet shorter with hard-won lessons in the art of being a multimedia mojo. More on that later.

We were given a list of ethnic Chicago neighborhoods in which to go report and return with a finished multimedia piece within 48 hours.

There was only one catch: Nobody goes to a neighborhood of their own ethnicity. So I headed off to Bronzeville, a South Side neighborhood steeped in African-American history and popping with new condos, renovated brickstones and developers trying to turn it into the next ‘it’ spot. I spent several hours wandering around, getting the lay of the land and establishing a base for the next day’s shot.

I was glad that my mentee, University of Washington graduate William Kim, accompanied me on my urban exploration. Yes, I was there to share with him my thought process and tricks of the trade. But I was also glad because two is safer than one in a place you don’t know, especially when you’re carrying expensive digital equipment. We carried a digital camera, video kit, and audio recorder. For better or worse, I left my tripod at home because I just couldn’t carry any more on the plane.

We spent the entire day walking from place to place. I blissfully took lots of photographs, captured audio and sought a diversity of perspectives. The people we met were friendly and engaging. We also steered clear of certain characters. I don’t think I would have ever found myself in what some residents there called “the projects” if it hadn’t been for the Multimedia Shootout. This is true immersion. It’s what UNITY is all about.

What I failed to appreciate was just how long it would take to string all the material into a compelling narrative. I didn’t give myself enough time to write a good script. And so what I turned in on deadline Friday was a sad sliver of my vision for a three-minute masterpiece on the Bronzeville neighborhood. The content of the photos didn’t match the audio track. I thought it was awful. The judges did too; they eliminated me in the first round. Ouch.

I have new respect for my broadcast colleagues. This is hard work!

Now, with hindsight and plenty of time, I’ve taken that raw material and created a pretty good audio slideshow. I’m sharing it with my fellow AAJA Seattle members for two reasons:

  • Feedback: We learn by doing but also by listening to how others experience our work. So I hope you’ll post a constructive comment. What’s good? What’s weak? What else would you have liked to see or hear?
  • Copycats: I want to see more of our AAJA Seattle members doing their own multimedia storytelling. Your news organization may not have the bandwidth for it or the interest in it, but your AAJA chapter sure does. We’re here to support your professional development, starting with giving you a place to submit your latest effort and get feedback from peers.

And stay tuned: We’re planning to hold a multimedia workshop later this year, where you can learn the nuts and bolts of this work, when to use the tools and why multimedia skills can help you keep (or get) a job. And if you’re a student reading this who can juggle these tools with your eyes closed, strut your stuff on the multimedia section of our AAJA Seattle site!

Sanjay Bhatt is co-president of the AAJA Seattle chapter.

About sbhatt

Sanjay Bhatt jumped into journalism in 1996, landing his first job at The Times Leader, a daily in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. He juggled covering 12 school districts and loved turning out enterprising, investigative pieces. Within a year, he got hired by The Palm Beach Post of West Palm Beach, Fla., where he spent the next six years building a reputation as a top health reporter. The biggest story he covered there was the 2001 anthrax investigation. In 2003, he joined The Seattle Times, where he has examined public schools, neighborhood issues, the economic crisis and local government. He enjoys producing mini-documentaries, trying new ideas online and learning new technologies. View all posts by sbhatt →
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