Social and Multimedia – the Guardian Way

It was a rare treat to spend last Thursday at the Guardian offices on an “Insight to journalism” course run by the Guardian Education Centre, and hear firsthand how they are using social and multimedia.

During a busy day we heard from a range of journalists, reporters, correspondents, producers and editors about the internal workings of the Guardian and how it is increasingly using social and multimedia. Margaret Holborn, Head of Guardian News and Media Education Centre, introduced the day with an overview of the paper’s history and constitution. Since moving to the new offices at King’s Place the Guardian now takes an integrated approach to its journalism with joint teams producing the printed paper and the web site, she said.

Next, Nell Boase Managing Editor with responsibility for the web site outlined some of the daily challenges of running the web presence and discussed some of the ways in which reader generated content was used on the site. The issue of payment for reader submitted photos came up in discussion, and Nell said that if the photo made front page news the reader would be paid at normal space rates.

Laurence Topham, Video Producer, introduced the art of making videos for the site and showed a film he’d made of a Tea Party meeting in Nevada. Interestingly, the Guardian is training journalists to be able to produce their own videos while on location. We picked up some interesting tips, like always use an external microphone. Later in the day we also got to do some of our own video editing (with iMovie) using footage from a project the paper is running in Katine Uganda.

Guardian.co.uk is an increasingly complex set of web sites, and Celine Bijleveld, Network Production Editor described how the sites cater for three types of users, those looking for a single story, those looking for the general news that day, and those that want both specialist news and breadth. With over 200 requests from editors each day for front page space, the web team need to balance the content of the front page, updating it continually. A number of different layouts are available including “special” and “nuclear” when a story, like the 2010 general election, is the most important news of the day.

Community Co-ordinators Laura Oliver (News) and Hannah Freeman (Culture) described how the Guardian is working with the community using social media tools like twitter and facebook. These tools offer speed and reach particularly during breaking news events, like the unrest in Egypt, but are also challenging in terms of verifying the facts. The team are using tools like AudioBoo to capture sound recordings of events as they happen. Hannah described how culture – film, books and arts – has a slightly different and dedicated audience who follow the interviews and features on the site. A new children’s books section of the site, where books are reviewed by children, represents a new venture in terms of reader generated content. This mutualism, building up the relationship the Guardian has with its readers in a number of ways, is a key strategy for the paper.

Podcasts have been produced at the Guardian since 2006, and Science Correspondent Alok Jha described how they were using podcasting in increasingly creative ways. Through the Science Weekly podcast Alok and his team aim to explain science in an understandable way, often interviewing famous scientists when they are in town. Not being a radio show meant that the Guardian podcasts could be less strict about content and style, he said.

A highlight for me was Guardian news reporter Adam Gabbatt describing live blogging from the recent student protests over tuition fee rises. He told how he creates minute by minute commentary by getting information from a number of sources including reporters on the scene, tweets from people in the crowd, and some audio and video. A video uploaded by reader had become a front page news story when the Metropolitan Police denied that mounted officers had charged the crowd, and the video showed otherwise, he said. The Guardian will run 2-3 live blogs per day.

John Stuttle, Systems editor gave a 10 minute tutorial on setting up a blog site on WordPress, and how to include images and embed video. John gave us lots of tips and advice on getting a blog started.

Looking to the future Tom Happold, Head of Multimedia said that multimedia at the Guardian would continue to be driven by what new technologies become available in the next 10 years. But with falling sales in newspapers the need to make money would become increasingly important he said. The Guardian would continue to focus on what it does well, journalism, and there was a training programme in place for staff to improve their video and audio production skills, he said.

At the end of the day David Marsh Production Editor judged the headline competition. We’d been asked to write two headlines on the death of Elizabeth Taylor, one for the paper and one for the web. Going through the entries, David shared some wisdom on what makes a good headline for each medium, where space was limited for print, but could be more creative especially if linked to a photo, compared with the web where the subject is vital to pull in readers via search engines, but there is often more space for longer headline. (I was ridiculously pleased to come third).

Finally Laurence returned to show us his brilliant Katine video, produced with some of the footage we had played with. Even the professionals need to get feedback on what they produce, and he had reordered the clips in response to feedback from his colleagues, he said.

A fascinating and thought provoking day I would definitely recommend, thanks to Margaret and the team.