The Multimedia Radio Newsroom, Part Two

(Note: Part One is here.)

From the 2010 PRNDI session, “This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Newsroom!”

by M. Marcotte

The 10 Skills You Need Now

I won’t have time to cover ALL the online skills you need in your newsroom. But I think it is important to list some of the main ones:

  1. Recording, editing and uploading digital SOUND files
  2. Shooting, editing and uploading digital PHOTO files
  3. Shooting, editing and uploading digital VIDEO files (Even though I downplay video, you should learn it!)
  4. Writing and laying-out online multimedia packages combining audio, video or photos
  5. Writing effective (searchable, sharable) headlines, captions and copy
  6. Using hypertext links to exploit the networking power of the internet
  7. Re-purposing, curating, aggregating and archiving content
  8. The basics of online content management systems (from file types to basic coding)
  9. Using social networking to engage users and promote content
  10. Blogging to personalize content and curate comments

Story Mapping

The story assignment process just got more complex. Be sure to allocate more time when you are discussing story focus and reporting tactics.

As PRNDI’s Senior Trainer, I’ve often used a handout to walk reporters and editors through the all-important story mapping process. This is the discussion they have prior to making a call or leaving the newsroom to put some focus and framing in place. It spares wasted effort and makes sure both parties are on the same page (literally, if they use the worksheet). Here’s a revised worksheet to include multimedia dimensions:


PRNDI Worksheet:

Story Mapping in the Multimedia Newsroom

(For ND’s & Reporters to collaborate on story assignments for stronger results. Use as worksheet or incorporate into your content management system.)



End Products:



  1. What is this story most about? 
  2. Why is it important to us?  Why now?
  3. Who is involved? Who is affected most?
  4. What tension draws our interest?
  5. What main action is taking place?
  6. Where and when is the best setting?
  7. What “contextual frame” is needed on this story? (See Story Framing)


My Focus Statement (Who is doing What and Why):


Interviews     (List for each source)





(What challenges might we encounter in the field?)


Multimedia Elements: Sound, Photos, Video, Other

Best Sound Opportunities:

Best Photo or Video Opportunities:

Best Interactive Opportunities:

Data Visualization or Mapping:


The New Multimedia Considerations









Work Flow & Work Roles

Producing for two or more platforms (radio, web, mobile, and in some cases, television) present emerging challenges in newsrooms. The reality is that newsrooms must adapt by changing their editorial processes and by expanding their teams.

Five Changing Roles in the Public Radio Station

  1. PD’s are becoming platform directors. They will do much of the advance work on getting new platforms integrated into the station… and driving procedures to maximize benefits to users.
  2. ND’s are becoming content directors. They must think about journalism and their news teams in broader terms (ongoing community conversations, vertical topic depth/aggregation, training and skill development, etc) and in relation to technical platforms.
  3. Editors and producers are becoming platform specialists. In other words, you may have an editor for radio, an editor for web, a producer for interactive, etc.
  4. Reporters are becoming multimedia specialists in the field and at the desk. If they gather solo, they carry more gear and use more skills. If they can work in pairs, one can specialize on one medium, while the other can focus on another.
  5. Hosts can make great bloggers. They have the communication/presentation skills. They have audience connections and often want to extend their service beyond the air.

Mark Fuerst, founder of the Integrated Media Association, once compiled a library of emerging job descriptions at public radio stations.  How familiar are these to you today?

  • Dir of New Media
  • Dir of Non-Broadcast Distribution
  • Dir of Interactive Strategy
  • Interactive Content Mgr
  • Online Ops Mgr
  • web Mgr
  • Online Editor
  • web Developer
  • web Administrator
  • webmaster
  • web Architect
  • Interactive Developer
  • Multimedia Developer
  • Applications Developer
  • Interactive Producer
  • web Producer
  • web Content Developer
  • internet Content Producer
  • website Production Specialist
  • Multi-Media Producer: Graphics
  • Online Community Mgr
  • Convergence Editor
  • Viral web/Marketing Intern

Basically, web masters, developers and designers are not positioned in the newsroom. However, content managers, producers and editors might be. The developers work on the coded infrastructure of the web and its related platforms. They speak HTML and are usually familiar with CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Python, Django or other languages to build sites, apps and widgets that customize your site and drive your content management system. The designers are artists skilled at advanced applications like those in Adobe’s Creative Suite but may also work with code and computer languages. The more we can get digital specialists into the newsroom, the more we can communicate effectively about the intersection of news and the digital platforms. But, at the very least, stations need someone in-house who can manage the increasing move to online distribution.

Add partnerships and community engagement into this mix and you get even more hats for staff to wear! An engagement editor could help fuse the connections with community news sites and citizens.

One more thing: The GM is still the GM. Leading the organization. Protecting the journalistic mission. Advancing the resources needed. Vision and leadership are needed now more than ever.

Radio’s Edge: Speed & Mobility (and Live Coverage)

Radio has always been about “immediacy.” We write radio copy in the present tense because listeners hear it in real time.

Still, when we defined public radio’s core values in the 90’s, we often concluded that “being first is not a core value.” The point was well taken that public radio listeners didn’t expect us to be first responders with breathless live reports, rather they expected us to get the facts and present them in context without the show biz behavior so abused by commercial broadcasters.

Well things are shifting. We haven’t forsaken the core values but we are surrounded by a somewhat different landscape and our audiences have somewhat different expectations. News directors may want to reconsider their coverage strategies — at least talk about it — because old assumptions may not be best.

“we can’t approach news as though we only exist in morning and afternoon drive…”

For one thing, in many communities the public radio news department has outlived commercial competitors and may need to serve as first responder, at least in major events. It is a vacated space that we can step into with our fundamental values still intact. Even NPR is pressing to be ever more timely on air and online because audiences expect viable news agencies to react quickly.

So now there’s also this networked world in which all of us are instantly sending and receiving information to one another throughout our waking lives. As journalists in service to this world, we can’t approach news as though we only exist in morning and afternoon drive. Now we can serve people whenever and via whatever platform they prefer. Should we? Probably in some fashion, yes. Quick headlines may not be our forte but they aren’t hard to do either.

A newsroom is always gathering news. What we have to learn to do is always publish it. This is where Twitter and Facebook come in. We can instantly post there… then speed certain story components to air or online… and wrap-up with more produced products on morning drive and on the topic page. Does this mean working faster? Yep. Does it mean forsaking depth? No, not if you see each phase of reporting/publishing process as contributing layer upon layer of depth.


(Above: This workflow model uses the standard radio story publishing cycle but augments it with online activities — speedy tweets at the early stage, online depth packages at the full feature stage, and more user involvement at the interactive stage.)


(Above: This diagram takes the story cycle stages [down the left column] and suggests corresponding responsibilities in a hypothetical three-person situation.)

A Daily News Example

(This is a fictional account that borrows from real people to illustrate emerging practices in the multimedia newsroom. Note that in the case of KPBS there is actually a third platform at play — television! — which is ignored here for the sake of simplicity.)

KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce comes to the Monday morning meeting with a story idea: there’s a significant beach pollution study to be released today. He got his hands on the study and agreed to embargo the findings until the 10 am news conference. Ed’s news director, Suzanne Marmion, wants a 4-minute depth package produced for Tuesday’s Morning Edition — after all, ME is still where the biggest audience is. Suzanne also asks Ed if he can phone in a voicer for the noon cast… and of course file several spots for ATC. Sure, no problem, that’s standard coverage for radio news.

What Suzanne then asks is becoming the new normal:

Have you started Tweeting about the study? Yes, Ed says, he began early that morning and has been adding something hourly to highlight the issues the study seeks to address. He’ll begin sharing the results at 10 am. (By the way, Ed’s tweets also go directly to his blog and his Facebook page. Suzanne also oversees the Tweet and FB accounts of KPBS News, so she says she will retweet Ed’s tweets once he has actual news to share. This shows the difference between an environmental reporter’s following which may be quite topic-oriented and the overall news department’s following which will be broader and interested in significant news.)

Then she asks Ed: What are some of the visuals you can file for the web story page? Any need for video?  Ed says there’s no dramatic video for this story — it’s more data driven — but he will provide a picture of the most polluted beach in San Diego (where the newser is being held) and he’ll grab a few shots of the main presenters at the event, so they can be included on the page if their quotes are used.

Suzanne picks up on the data reference: Should we plan a graphic that lists the beaches in So Cal and their pollution levels? And this is trend info, right?  So we want to compare multiple beaches over multiple years?  Ed says he can leave a copy of the relevant data with the web designer before he leaves so the graphic can be ready by mid-afternoon. He says he’s already got at least five links planned for the web text — one to the report itself, others to city, county, state and federal agencies that have overlapping responsibility for pollution control.

Before Ed leaves the newsroom, he finishes reading the report, noting his questions, and makes several calls to line up interviews later that afternoon. He wants at least one government official to respond to the report.

Time to go. As Ed attends the news conference, his audio gear is set up to record from a mult-box and he monitors the sound via his headphones. He already tweeted the major findings of the report in three quick bursts while the news event was still waiting to begin. Ed takes photos as various presenters speak. Podium shots aren’t the greatest but they are better than nothing. He adds a few tweets as presenters make dramatic comments. Afterward he’ll get some audio and some photos of tourists on the seashore to provide color for both his radio and web stories.

By 11:30, when Ed is preparing to file his first reports for air (and web), he revisits all his tweets because they actually help serve as his notes!

Later, he’s back at his desk, issuing both afternoon radio and web stories with advancements he’s gathered through added reporting. His radio stories are wraps with audio clips. His web story is a quick rewrite of the wrap with quotes instead of audio clips, plus photos.

For Tuesday morning, Ed will package a complete feature for radio — and it’s very easy because all the components were rendered and polished throughout the day. Online, the feature will be presented as both an audio file, and a text story with photos, graphics and links.

Five Take-Aways from Part Two

  1. You now need a broader set of digital multimedia skills in your newsroom. You will need to hire new people or train existing people to add these skills to your team. Training is a recurring concern because skills change as technology and applications change.
  2. Editors must now work with reporters during the story mapping (assignment) process to flesh out expectations for multimedia handling. Every story has a dominant dimension that should be considered in multimedia coverage: visual, audio, public-assisted, data heavy, etc.
  3. Roles and responsibilities are changing to support multi-platform news gathering. These roles go beyond the newsroom and require systemic changes to our old radio-only model.
  4. Remember radio’s tremendous strengths as a live and mobile medium. Exploit these attributes fully and you’ll have leg up on the new digital platforms.
  5. Consider the workflow changes required for daily news reporting. The news manager is key to planning for team processes and the reporter is key to feeding the separate but hungry distribution platforms.