I’m finally done with a week of long hours and hard work in, of all places, Bowling Green, Kentucky. I was regularly working past 3am but I think it definitely paid off.

DJNF Multimedia Project
DJNF Multimedia Project

This past week was the 2009 Dow Jones Multimedia Workshop at Western Kentucky University, with a group of seven other awesome journalists preparing for our internships all around the country. Having well qualified instructors makes such a difference when learning new things. (Turns out a bunch of things I had learned by trial and error were just plain wrong) At the same time I was with other journalists with quite different backgrounds and learned a ton from the people I was working with.

The core of the program was reporting and producing a full multimedia package. We divided into two teams of four and went out into the city to find and create a compelling story. This kind of project is a first for me as all the multimedia I had done before was spot news done with super quick turn around for the next day. Having the time to go in depth and produce a full story is much more satisfying.

The project my team made was about female tattoo artists breaking into the industry. The other team produced a piece on refugees and immigrants settling in Bowling Green. (Here’s where I wish I had had more time. Our site leans heavily on javascript and jQuery for navigation and I didn’t finish making the site cross browser compatible. It degrades very badly in IE. It only works perfectly in Firefox. And I couldn’t figure out blocking for XHR requests. If I find more time this summer, I might try and figure out those issues and turn the layout into a general purpose template for multimedia stories)

Besides the new skills I learned and the new people I met, I had a revelation about how people learn journalism. I’ve always thought that the best way to learn journalism was through hands on experience, but….

Through the whole project there was a strong tension for all of us between doing what we were already good at and doing what we wanted to learn. I spent most of my time on web design even though I wanted to learn photo. Our best photographer spent most of her time on photo despite wanting to learn video. And of course this is kind of natural because people gravitate towards what they’re good at. And there’s almost a duty to your interview subjects to do a good job.

But it also means that once you start going down a particular skill path you are committed and it becomes hard to branch out into learning new things.

Now that I’ve been to one workshop, I’d like to go to one where we have explicit permission to do a bad job so that we’re not afraid to experiment and take on roles that are new to us.