Deadlines and the Digital First World

Deadlines have always been a key part of journalism. Saying this makes me sound a little like Captain Obvious.

Captain Obvious

It’s been clear for some time that deadline cycles for journalism have changed dramatically with the push for digital first content. The once-daily print and broadcast deadlines of old seem downright leisurely by today’s digital first, 24/7 practices. Again, thank you Captain Obvious.

Knowing all this is one thing. Experiencing it in the field is quite another, as I found out at the end of my second week of the Back in the Newsroom Fellowship.  I covered a press conference for the Times concerning a music producer who went missing after meeting with a client in Compton. I packed up my video camera and equipment and arrived about a half hour before the conference, which gave me the opportunity to interview both parents of the missing producer.

Had this been a more prominent story I would have been expected to immediately tweet out quotes from these interviews, even before the press conference began. I would also be expected to cut a few sound bites together and send out a video of these preliminary interviews using a cell phone app.

This short clip above, taken with my cell phone, gives you an idea of the scene at the conference. I shot most of it with my digital camera. I then returned to the newsroom to capture the footage and write up a text story that was placed in the pipeline to be edited for online. Then I used Final Cut to edit the video quickly, using simple titles and stringing together sound bites with the use of cutaway shots to produce a 90-second video which told the story in a digital-first, quick way. This was no time to craft a mini-documentary.

I was finished with both the story and video within a couple of hours of the press conference ending. The story and video were posted in the L.A. Now blog around 7 p.m.

Even though I had practiced with the video editing app on my phone last week, I was not prepared to use it in the field under this deadline pressure. This will take more practice. Had this been a more important breaking story, I would not have had the luxury of using a laptop program such as Final Cut to do the edit. This week my thumbs will get a workout as I practice even more with the mobile video editing apps.

Digital newsrooms operate using teams. This is a strategy I want to apply to my media production class at Santa Monica College. Fast-paced planning on stories is essential, and different sectors of the newsroom, from the social media crew to web designers, from editors to reporters, work together to maximize a story’s digital impact.

Reporters in a digital first newsroom have a lot of things on their mind, so reporting is more complicated now than ever. Captain Obvious, you are so right. Maybe that’s why so many mid-career reporters have chosen to take buyouts or leave the profession. They just don’t want the hassle of learning all these new digital tricks.

You have to feel comfortable with mobile apps and social media. And you have to be aware of how best to use your content over multiple platforms, including social media, a blog, online and finally in print. And you are never off deadline, unlike this happy guy from an old-time commercial:

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