Some Stories are “Un-Webbable”

The Washington Post’s Mark Luckie on multimedia moderation

The Hearst Foundation and Columbia University’s J-School Digital Media Program hosted its annual panel on Tuesday night, entitled “The Changing Media Landscape.” Panelists from Reuters, The Washington Post, Mashable, Tumblr, and Impremedia discussed changes in the business: social media, the rise and fall of “user-generated content,” and how to encourage online conversation after pieces are published.

One of the speakers, Mark S. Luckie, The Washington Post’s national innovations editor, spoke a bit about what doesn’t change: the need for confidence and experimentation in newsrooms. “Journalism is not a destination,” he said. Reporters can’t grudgingly sign up for a Twitter account and learn how to take a good photograph and think that they know all they need to know about multimedia journalism. The best reporters know that they must always keep learning, growing, and experiment with new tools.

Not every new tech tool is going to be worth your time, of course. Luckie said that when a new piece of technology comes across his desk, he throws it out if he can’t figure out how to use it in five minutes or less. If he can’t understand it, he knows his audience won’t be interested, either. “Explore what works for you,” Luckie said. “There’s a new tool every week…but really you have to find out what works for you, and what works for your readers. Because the landscape will keep changing, but as long as you have that core of things that you can always go to, then you’re going to survive and thrive in journalism.”

Likewise, not every tool will be appropriate for every story. Multimedia production is time-consuming, and not every story would necessarily benefit from an onslaught of photos, videos, Flash and interactives. “Even though the journalism landscape would dictate that we have to do all this crazy stuff for every story, I’m here to tell you that that’s not true,” said Luckie. Some stories, he said, are just “un-webbable”; not that you can’t enhance them with a multimedia package, but that the results aren’t worth the effort. When you can’t do everything for every story, the key is to “filter and prioritize.”

What reporters do need to know, however, is what the multimedia possibilities are for every story. Luckie said that he and his colleagues in the web production team are in the process of going to every section of the newsroom with their “road show,” presenting on the essentials of multimedia production. If reporters know what’s possible, they can keep those options in mind while a story develops, and tip off the production team when a story would be enhanced by a larger package.

Luckie also delivered the most quotable zinger of the evening. Towards the end of the panel discussion, a member of the audience asked a question about how journalistic ethics should adapt to this “changing media landscape.” Luckie answered bluntly, “The technology will change, but the ethics never will. You can tweet that!”

A full video of Tuesday’s panel is available here.

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner