I’ll see you in the talking papers?

If newspapers die, at least they’ll go down experimenting. That was the message I took away from a Sunday afternoon lecture at UC Berkeley’s New Media program. Four print veterans from the Ventura County Star talked about their foray into multimedia storytelling — and how on peak days they can get three times the number of visits to the site as they normally sell copies of the paper. That gain came with pain. As columnist Colleen Cason said:

“You’ll spend a lot of time at the ragged edge of the technology and outside your comfort zone.”

But Ventura Star editor Joe Howry stole the show when asked whether the online traffic was drawing advertiser support. Howry was a thin, vinegary fellow who must be a pisser of an editor because he didn’t mince words:

“Advertising has not caught up with this technology and does not know how to sell it. I’m tired of our content being devalued. It’s a real frustration for me . . .  We have this catch up we have to (do) as we try to keep our professional lives.”

As a paid reporter with a blog on the side, I feel their pain.

The four presenters from Ventura – Joe Howry, Bruce McLean, Colleen Cason, Tom Kisken — talked about creating Flash presentations that incorporated still images, video clips, narration and other elements to tell what are essentially feature videos disseminated on the paper’s website (more than a tad busy, design wise). When I visited the site this morning the paper was covering a fire and the online word edition linked to a video of the blaze. Nothing like staring into a fire to tap into human emotions — it’s a great use of video and on a live news story. Way to go! (You’ll have to register to see the videoclip; I chose not to).

Back to the lecture. The Ventura County Star is an E.W. Scripps paper. The initial investment in the video program was about $65,000, which Howry got by saving money elsewhere in the editorial budget of this paper with a staff of just over 100 full timers. The talk was given to a group of working journalists who were there, I think, on a week-long multimedia refresher course sponsored by the Knight Foundation. So most of the discussion was on technique and tools; so if that interests you, view the webcast (click here then look for the title, “Building the Multimedia Newsroom” and click again.)

But one statement stuck in my head because it was echoed by all the speakers. The key to cross-training print journalists as videographers was to get comfortable with the notion that they would make mistakes. Not errors in fact. Not telling viewers there was a fire when it was obviously a flood. But camera shots may be shaky and audio may be “too hot” (loud?) because multimedia storytelling is a learning process — and one that plays out in front of an audience and often on deadline.

I love that sense of experimentation. I’ve covered Silicon Valley as a reporter since 1992. This same freedom to make honest mistakes is a prime characteristic of the region’s startup culture. In Silicon Valley, if you’re not reaching then you’re resting — and one of your competitors will stumble past you. So it’s good to see the experimental bug bite the American newsroom. I like to say, only partly in jest, that there’s nothing tougher than bringing a new idea into a newsroom. That must change or daily journalism is toast.

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Elswhere in the world of web- and podcasting . . . There are several other interesting lectures webcast at the UC Berkeley New Media site. I am particularly interested in “News sites interfaces and user experience” and “Online business Models 2.0.”

But the truth is that, having missed the original lectures, I may never consume the information. It’s just not pleasurable to spend 50 minutes viewing a webcast. I’m sorry, here, to be looking the gift-horse in the mouth, because the UCB folks throw open their doors to the public (as in me) and then publish the webcasts for those who could not attend.

I had the same reaction last night when I tried to listen to some podcasts highlighted by Poynter Institute’s Amy Gahran. They’re people I want to hear (citizen journalist Lisa Williams of H2O Town interviewing Travis Henry of YourHub.com, the turnkey community website vendor).

I’ve seen the fix: web- and pod-casts that are segmented with quick headlines to say, for instance, here is the 2-minute clip in which the speaker reveals where Jimmy Hoffa’s body is buried. We’ll all been in the audience, listening for the stray insight. One of the many great advantages of print over other modes of communication is the ability to skim.

Is there a skimming software for audiovisual presentations? Or is there an easy way for the editors of audiovisual material to segment their works and assign words to identify the segments? If you have knowledge please share (tomabate_book (at) hotmail.com).

Meanwhile, I am grateful for the wealth of material being posted for free. But like a true citizen of the ‘Net, now I want that free information to be made more easily consumable :)