Multimedia newsroom design

What will a newsroom of the future look like? We’re about to find out.

Last week, I e-mailed acceptance letters to the latest batch of editors starting work at The Amherst Wire next semester. As a new media outlet focusing on web-only publishing and multimedia content, we get the chance to design editor roles in the newsroom from the ground up and test-drive some experimental models in a way that most legacy media organizations can’t.

One thing we’re going to try next semester is a skills-based approach to divvying up editors’ responsibilities. Each editor chooses one primary role and one or more secondary roles from the following: story/copy, photo, audio, video and graphics/web. The primary role represents what someone has the most experience in, while secondary roles represent what he or she is most interested in learning more about.

Put another way: in the multimedia newsroom, we’re all going to learn from each other. Sometimes we’ll be the teachers, sometimes we’ll be the students. And with our open-door policy, that means faculty, journalists and community members are all welcome to come in and teach us a thing or two, or walk out with some new skills under their belts. We’re giving the “newsroom as classroom” model a spin around the block.

Now, this might not be the ideal setup for every news organization. The Daily Collegian, for example, has a traditional breakdown between News, Arts, Opinion and Sports, with editors behind each desk. These sections make sense for the Collegian’s goal of covering daily breaking news, so there’s no need to throw out something that works.

But for a web-based organization centered on investigative and issues-based reporting, what I’ve just described is probably a more productive approach than sequestering editors away in sections.

Fluidity will be a key characteristic of the multimedia newsroom. All of our editors will enterprise stories, follow leads, and be point-persons for reporters doing the same. When a story is first pitched, we ask ourselves, “What’s the best medium for telling it in?” The answer to that question will determine who gets assigned to the job.

Fresh teams are assembled for each story: we might partner up photo and audio for an audio slideshow, or copy and video for a profile piece with video interview, or it might be all hands on deck for a full-blown multimedia feature. The result is a newsroom that’s never stagnant and ever-evolving, a locus for creativity and making connections.

Below: a full outline of editors’ responsibilities at The Amherst Wire.

Story/Copy Editor
Writes and edits text pieces, works with writers who submit content to improve their stories, coordinates multimedia packages with photo, audio, video and graphics/web editors, publishes to WordPress.
Knowledge base: AP style, elements of good writing, writing for the web, researching, fact-checking, linking

Photo Editor
Processes photos for the web, works with photographers who submit content to improve their technique, adds photos to text pieces, creates audio slideshows, sets up photo galleries, manages Flickr photostream and Photo of the Day.
Knowledge base: Digital photography, Photoshop, Audacity, Soundslides, Flickr

Audio Editor
Records and edits audio pieces and podcasts, works with reporters recording audio to improve sound quality, adds audio to text pieces, assists photo editors with audio slideshows, manages WordPress podcast plugin.
Knowledge base: Audio recording, podcasting, Audacity, Garage Band

Video Editor
Records, edits and compresses video for the web, works with videographers who submit content to improve their technique, adds video to text pieces, manages FLV playlists and community video section.
Knowledge base: Videography, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, FLV player, Seesmic

Graphics/Web Editor
Designs and implements layouts for feature pages and special sections of the site, works with copy, photo, audio and video editors to coordinate multimedia packages, manages day-to-day operations of the site.
Knowledge base: Design theory, typography, Photoshop, HTML/CSS, Javascript, CMS administration

All editors learn the following regardless of role:
- File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
- WordPress
- Online comment moderation
- Really Simple Syndication (RSS)
- Basic HTML
- Google Applications

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