Multimedia journalism is like sex in junior high: Garcia

Photo from Garcia's wikipedia page
Photo from Garcia’s wikipedia page

Media consultant Mario Garcia was at the Ottawa Citizen today to share his thoughts on a new wave in storytelling, in which four platforms (mobile, tablet, web and print) are considered at the conception of a story.

Thursday’s talk was a pared-down version of a course he’ll be teaching next term at the Columbia School of Journalism called ‘Storytelling in the age of the tablet.’

Multimedia storytelling is to be considered as a story is assigned, Garcia said, something all newsrooms should be doing, but they’re not, said Garcia.

“Multimedia is like sex in junior high,” Garcia said “Everybody says they’re doing it but nobody really is.”

In his intro he noted that he was at the Ottawa Citizen in 1980 to help redesign the newspaper.

“The furniture is the same,” he quipped to laughter. He divided his talk into six themes:

Accepting change

Newsrooms are in an era of great change, Garcia noted. There are people who are better at accepting change than others. Age has nothing to do with this, he added.

Change happens best in a newsroom when people who are ready for change invite their colleagues to see what they can do, and invite them to join them.

Garcia joked that when uncomfortable with change, editors cling to the past way of doing things, like a comforting teddy bear. He used himself as an example, who first balked at the thought that his ebook on tablet design would never be printed.

“How will I sign it?” he asked his editor.

The change in news is fundamental.

News in 2013 can be best described as “Anything you know now that you didn’t know 15 mins or 15 seconds ago,” Garcia said. The audience are reporters, they are everywhere, reporting news, tweeting photos, etc.

Yes, shrinking newsrooms have lost the time advantage, and they aren’t everywhere. But the role of a news organization is more essential than ever.The job of the modern editor is to make sense of it, and deliver a story to the audience, “to enhance.”

Garcia added that this applies to breaking news, there will always be room for exclusives and scoops.

“But there is no room for mediocre in the modern newsroom,” he said. Everyone must be willing to work and try new things.

It’s time to move the elephant in the room

That big, giant elephant is print, and we’ve got to move it out of the way, Garcia said.

A printed newspaper allows people to disconnect, Garcia said. While reading a paper you can’t be interrupted by push notifications, emails, etc.

Cuban-born Garcia said he sees a day in the future where the audience no longer needs a daily print edition. A weekend print edition with the right mix of silly and serious content would be sufficient.

Print, then, changes its form – briefs are no longer necessary, as they are news the audience already knows, he said. Full page graphics become more important, as visual explainers of a story.

“People don’t lots of text on the front page of their papers, but it would take five teddy bears to convince some editors of this,” Garcia said

When he goes to a news organization and tells a group of editors that they section might not run every day, the first thing Garcia hears is “But what about my section?”

‘Your section is still there,’ he tells them, ‘but just not in print.’

Each newsroom also needs someont to shepherd stories through the day, and that each story is told appropriately on the platforms to which they are directed. Garcia called this person a ‘sherrif.’


Early on in his talk, Garcia said that the smartphone and the tablet are replacing the desktop as the place the audience goes for instant news.

“Mobile editioning is very important. It functions as a harbour light, but can also shine a spotlight on specific info,” Garcia said.

The tablet now competes with the phone, he said, and the current trend is that newspapers mimic themselves on the tablet – he pointed to the New York Times app as an example.

In noting great examples of tablet apps, Garcia pointed to the Times of London and the Montreal app La Presse. Though he noted La Presse needs to integrate its live news coverage into the app.

Garcia’s favourite tablet app is from Denmark, Berlingske. The news org has had great success putting the next day’s print stories on its tablet the night before (both the website and the app are paywalled).

Readers love this, he said, and have told the editor that they don’t have time to read the news in the morning.

Multimedia story packaging

The New York Times’  Snow Fall project changed everything in journalism, Garcia said. It has the money and the staff to combine literature, documentaries, graphics and design.

Thanks to Snowfall, there are now steps to multimedia storytelling: set the scene with a large image or video, add a graphic or map to provide context, and then begin segmenting the story into chapters.

Snowfall showed that text and video should breathe a little and don’t need to be crammed onto one page together.

Applying the 4 S’s: Serious, silly, seductive and surprising

Editors have to be playful with their front pages, and ask ‘what if we did this?” and “why not”, Garcia said. This includes adding big photos, big graphics on the front page.

Branded journalism

Near the end of his talk, Garcia spoke of directed content, and the need for pairing what is traditionally known as advertorial content with a major brand.

He used The Economist as an example, with its clearly labeled ‘Advertising’ stories on Philips and its history of sound and GE.

The audience is savvy enough to know that this content was paid for, he said. And the ‘Advertising’ label allows the news organization to retain its integrity.

1 thought on “Multimedia journalism is like sex in junior high: Garcia

  1. If I were a media company I would not want him involved in redesigning anything I was doing online. In print, sure, but not online.

    The problem isn’t how to take print content and put it online, it’s how to start thinking about online content. The examples he showed seem like great ways to take a written story and turn it into a multimedia experience. The problem is they are still based as print stories.

    The people who should be designing news sites for the the future are the same people that created the websites that destroyed print in the first place. Why not ask the creators of Craigslist, Reddit, Twitter or Facebook how they’d design a news website? That would be innovative. Doing the same thing over again but jazzing it up with multimedia doesn’t solve the fundamental problem. It’s stopgap at best.

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