Category Archives: multimedia

What exactly is DIY journalism?

Photo: Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr

Photo: Donald Lee Pardue via Flickr

Last week, at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, I spoke in a panel discussion called “Freelance: by choice or by necessity?“, together with some colleagues of different background and experience. There were a war correspondent, a tech journalist from Berlin and an investigative journalist based in Cairo.

We mainly talked about being a freelancer (you don’t *work* as a freelancer, you are one). Aside from discussing the appalling condition of the job market in Italy, we spent some thoughts on what makes a good, marketable freelancer in Italy and abroad.

I often mention the idea of ‘Do It Yourself journalism’, generally known as the ability to manage the whole process of news production from pitching a story to editing a video or taking pictures.

So I think it’s good to tell a bit more about what I mean by DIY in journalism, which is in fact something different from its conventional definition.

When I started my career and my new life as a multimedia reporter in the UK, I knew very little about multimedia, I wasn’t very organised and I handled multitasking quite badly. To say the least. Over time I improved my skills, I became more confident with my English and learnt how to produce a multimedia news package independently. I now have a few pieces of equipment as well, a reflex camera with a couple of lenses, a zoom recorder, tripod.

I have always liked to think I am a DIY journalist, but I’ve never really thought about what is exactly that identifies me as such.

So one obvious answer could be that if you have a very good equipment and know how to use it, you are probably in a good position to be a self sufficient producer. Does that mean that a DIY journalist is some sort of techy geek with a lot of money to spend upfront? Certainly not.

I believe that all the fuss around the multimedia, multitasking and multi skilled modern journalist can be boiled down to one simple idea. The DIY journalist needs to be a good storyteller. But since the dominion of the words in journalism has come to an end more than a few years ago, the storytelling we need to master is a non-linear one.

A beautiful feature still is and probably will remain an appealing way to tell stories, but as an example look at the feature How Malaria Defeats our Drugs by Ed Yong. It’s a great piece of writing, enriched by some non linear elements (photos, extras) that somehow break the flow and open new patterns for the users to build their own story.

A non-linear narrative is like a web, dotted with junctions generating multiple paths. It is not a path you have to follow from A to B and from B to C, but a story that you build yourself navigating the content. It’s much more similar to how human interaction works in real life than any other form of storytelling.

Ed Yong’s feature is just one example, but you will find traces of non linear narratives basically everywhere. Social media handles are pivotal points within non linear plots, but even the juxtaposition of images and text triggers a different experience from the sum of visual and written part.

A journalist who understands how to combine a variety of materials to create a narrative that opens up multiple user experiences doesn’t need expensive equipment. I daresay he(she) doesn’t even need outstanding writing skills. A good storytelling stands alone.

How To – Audio Slideshow

Few weeks ago me and my editor came up with the idea of writing a practical guide on audio slideshows. It’ll take a while to plan and eventually publish it, but I thought to pen something about it in the meantime, since multimedia production is occupying most of my time and attention at the moment.

Also, there are myths to dispel about the audio slideshow format. Before starting to work with audio slideshows in a professional way, I believed they were just a poor alternative to the video, easier and cheaper to produce.

To me it was more a thing that a geeky teenager would make as a dedication to his sweetheart. Something like that:

Nah. That’s not the case.

It’s not easy to make a good audio slideshow. You need to be familiar with at least two softwares, for audio and video editing. I use Premiere Pro for the video part and Adobe Audition to assemble the audio track. If you take your own pictures, which I try to do as much as possible to have better visuals (and avoid copyright annoyance), you’ll need to edit the RAW format with Lightroom.

While a film requires very basic skills in terms of audio, for an audio slideshow you want to produce a piece that is suitable for radio and therefore of very good quality. It also needs to be smartly combined with the visuals and that’s a matter of taste and practical skills.

Sometimes you may think it’d be cool to have a particular effect, but you just don’t know how to do. And if you are under pressure you really don’t have the time to crawl the internet for tutorials.

There are a couple of effects that are specific for audio slideshow production and are almost useless in video editing. So, some videomakers may struggle because they simply haven’t been taught how to use them.

Once you know where to find the commands, the interface of Premiere Pro is pretty intuitive. Below you can see the effects control panel (click to enlarge). By manipulating “position” and “scale”, after having selected a clip, you can move a still image and zoom it in and out.

In the effects panel the red line marks the time on the track,  while the bullet points mark the beginning and the endpoint of the change in position and scale (zoom).

(My interface is in Italian but the layout is the same of the English version)

premierepro interfaceYou can use the same panel and commands to change colors, luminosity, contrast and saturation of a clip.

I used this trick for an  audioslideshow that I was asked to edit (in particular, at 1’18” to 1’28”). Some of the original pictures weren’t great so I tried to make them more lively with just a touch of color manipulation.


But let’s start from the beginning. Here’s the first audioslideshow I’ve ever made. I still maintain it isn’t completely bad, the pictures are nice and the audio track is interesting. However, I didn’t use any effect to make it flow better and the audio is just a chunk of footage which I didn’t edit.

Here is one of my latest creatures. I cross faded all the pictures and used some zooming and panning. This is a tricky bit, as it’s difficult to build a perfectly paced piece without being boring or cheesy. For example, pictures need to  slow down when to create an emotional effect, while you’ll make them flow a bit faster to compensate a boring and flat voice.

Once you have a good grasp of the basics, you can adapt the audio slideshow’s design depending on the materials you have . For example, while interviewing a group of researchers for the story you can watch below, I discovered that they had some very pretty video footage. I seized the opportunity and tried a mixed format.

Hope this is useful. Should you have any question [or remarks :’) ], feel free to drop me a line below!

World first gene-bank for livestock – a multimedia pilot

For those who are still wondering, yes I’ve finished my Master, I’ve managed a pass in media law and I finally dare to say that I am a – certified – science journalist!

Just don’t call me science writer please, I will always be a journalist more than anything else.

Anyways, rather than publishing merry pictures of farewell parties, cakes and other amenities I thought to celebrate my graduation with my first multimedia piece published by a professional platform.

It is a pilot for me as a journalist, and for SciDev.Net that has just set up a new website with more space for multimedia reporting and features. There are more in the pipeline, so every comment is welcome.