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18 January, 2017

Visual-first journalism at the New York Times (and everywhere)

It comes as no surprise to me that visual-first journalism is at the core of The New York Times' new digital strategy.

'Journalism That Stands Apart' is the publisher's latest report that focuses on the innovation and design-led newsroom strategies it will be undertaking in an effort to double its digital revenue by 2020, to $800 million.

Visual Storytelling and Design Thinking are a powerful combination to address. I have spent my entire journalism career exploring this frontier. Both as an editor and a professor.

So, of course, I am thrilled to see a major publisher take a bold step at this intersection.

“We need to expand the number of visual experts who work at The Times and also expand the number who are in leadership roles,” the report’s authors write; photographers, videographers, and graphics editors will “[play] the primary role covering some stories.” In their memo, Baquet and Kahn write, “We will train many, many more reporters and backfielders to think visually and incorporate visual elements into their stories.” There will be more creative directors and senior editors who are visual experts. And “roughly a dozen new visual-first journalists will be in place by the end of 2017.” 

These words from the executive editor are a strong signal for a sea change for how editorial coverage is imagined, planned, reported, edited, distributed, measured, and judged.

"Creating a more visual daily report is an enormous opportunity."

Oh yes it is, but also very achievable.  It will be exciting to watch this culture change unfold.

The key for me is to watch the leadership. 

When I visit newsrooms to lead redesigns, or to grow their social video capacity or lead design thinking workshops, I am always struck by the lack of visual literacy at the top.

For me that has always been a pain point. The top editors at the top papers simply have not risen to the top by reporting visual-first stories. 

The good ones have studied the basics of picture language and design language. 

Some may have had stints managing graphics or video departments, but not many chiefs have the personal background and experience, for example, to know how to find, capture, kill, edit, and share a visually-led story using just a smartphone. 

If you are scoffing at this. Let me just challenge you. Can you name 10 ways to plan a visually led story?

Every freshman journalist should be able to do this and every sophomore be able to produce all 10.

Visual reporting with a smartphone is a basic skill set for our present reality and is only now being taught in journalism schools. 

And if visual reporting is being taught at all, it is typically offered as an elective, rather than a foundational skill like news writing 101.

There is only one journalism school I know of that requires every student to complete a proficiency in mobile video reporting and that one is in France.

Literacy in 'Visual Reporting' and 'Visual Editing' is the foundation for getting the future that the leadership wants. 

You can hire some of that from outside. You can promote some of that from within, but those steps alone will not lift the entire boat. It is simply not enough to bring the culture change that the leaders seek.

You need two more things:
  1. There needs to be a comprehensive approach to growing visual literacy for every employee in the organization.
  2. Design-thinking methods need to be used by journalists working in cross-functional teams to drive daily innovation.  
What do I mean by this? I could tell you, but wouldn't it actually make the point better if I just showed you?

This is a recent Design Thinking workshop I produced. The design challenge was "How do we grow more loyal visitors to our Web sites(s)?"

The top manager of a mid-sized publisher in Europe listens to pitches at the end of a design-thinking workshop in his newsroom. 
Each team has one journalist, one technologist, one designer and one sales expert. Each team has three minutes to make their case.
They must make a visually-led report.  

The manager gives critical feedback to the team, advances the best ideas, and immediately tasks the team to refine their ideas further so that they can be built, launched, measured and iterated on.

This is Design-Thinking. It is not graphic design.

This is strategic problem solving that yield a business result. It is a process and a habit that you can use every day. 

In addition to new ways of working, every person in their organization gets access to a bundle of certificate e-courses in visual storytelling - From simple to advanced topics. Company-wide efforts like this grow visual literacy across the enterprise and helps leaders achieve their goals.

Specifically the HR department works with managers to use these to set goals for employees throughout the year. This lets everyone in the house speak the same language. (And to be able to name at least a few of the '10 types.')

That is what I do now as a visual journalism expert, and it is damn exciting. 

Growing literacy in visual storytelling is one of the reasons I launched Visual Editors educational network way back 2004. 

Where do we begin?

I was carrying a Nikon F3 when I first walked into a journalism school in 1986. (I was a kid looking for a free darkroom where I could develop my B&W film.) 

I was actually studying Organic Chemistry at the time, but after that visit I switched my major to journalism and have never looked back.

It was with a camera that I first reported and edited stories. My school was among the first to get Macs and use desktop publishing software to design the school newspaper and yearbook. 

So I added minors in graphic design and economics and learned how to report  with infographics. And then I shifted to publication design, because that is where the jobs where in 1990 when I graduated.

That visual reporting and editing foundation has fueled my 30-year career in visual journalism. 

Imagine the plight of today's journalism school and student. How are they going to get the same opportunities?

Much of their studies are still text-centric.   

Visual reporting and editing courses are pushed to the side or only offered in the third and fourth years. 

This balance between text and visual reporting skills needs to be flipped. Immediately.

I predict that will see some big changes as the top schools follow the shifts from leaders in the industry, like The New York Times. 

Their announcement represents a seismic shift in  strategic thinking. 

J-Schools everywhere will need to increase the tempo of their curriculum changes in order to keep pace.

What do think? 
  • Are you prepared to be a visual first journalist? 
  • Do you know how to build and nurture a design-led newsroom?

Your future may depend upon it.

17 January, 2017

Design Thinking for your newsroom

The CEO of a European media company being pitched by a team at the end of a design thinking workshop led by Robb Montgomery.

Innovation transforms the way people develop products, services, processes—and even strategy.
For the companies disrupting the market today, design is no longer just a “stage” in the business process — it is the language of business.
If you want to help jolt your company out of bad habits, the people and teams around you will need to learn to adopt the habits of true innovators. 
Innovators are people who are driven to build something 10 times better rather than something that is only 10 percent better.
For 10 years I have been teaching design thinking methods to help transform talented people into those rare leaders who can inspire lasting innovation in their organizations. 
My mantra is simple: "Design thinking is a creative process that yields a business result."
That's right. The Design Method I teach is actually a process of continuous problem-solving that can earn you more money.
Do you want to work in a company culture that invests in and rallies behind principles like design thinking? 
Then action is required. Planning, researching, and talking all matter. But they are not enough to build new visions that will captivate the marketplace.
There’s no company you can purchase or person you can hire that will transform your company into an innovative juggernaut overnight.  
The design methods like the ones I teach give you the formula that you can customize, experiment with, and learn from.
It’s time to stop talking and get busy making.
Take this Design Thinking certificate e-course and save 50% off registration with this coupon code.

The method Robb uses for this immersive video course is one he has developed over the last 10 years. It employs the best practices from GV Design Sprints, Maestro planning and the Stanford D-School model.
Guiding the teams through specific problem solving exercises are a key focus as Robb uses “How Might We” approaches to generate actionable ideas to guide teams to rapidly prototype solutions that will deliver a great customer journey with their solution. 
These are the same techniques that successful startups use.
Robb leads your team as the sprint master and you play the role of the 'Decider.'
Master the development of disruptive business models and radical insights that can drive new business.
You will learn to:
  • Identify a challenge or opportunity in your marketplace
  • Define the customer who will benefit from your solution
  • Run a productive brainstorming sessions
  • Build a roadmap and action plan with a cross-functional team
  • Plan for a great user experience from the start 
  • Rapidly draft and refine solutions that solve problems for users 
  • Validate your prototype solution
  • Build the perfect pitch deck to get your project green-lighted
What are you waiting for?  Enroll now
Design thinking can empower your business.

05 January, 2017

This free iPhone app converts Live Photos into video clips

I love the live photos feature found on the iPhone 6S and up models.

Live photos are actually video clips.

Every time you have the camera app open in 'Photo' mode, the iPhone is also secretly 'rolling' on the video side of things.

What I mean by that is that it is also recording frames before and after the still photo you are actually intending to record. 

These animated still images (called Live Photos) look magical when played back on the phone using the Photos app. So good, that you may be tempted to forget about the still and edit a reel with the short video clips.

These files are written at a lower frame rate and resolution than native video recording and lends a genuine 'Super 8' film feel to the footage. Perfect for cutting together a family vacation highlights reel while waiting in the queue for Harry Potter rides.

That is what I had in mind after filming all day with my kids at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Florida.

Throughout the day I filmed many face, reaction, pov, tracking, wide, creative, and over the shoulder shots as still images.

And then I wanted to import the video the phone also recorded using a video editing app like iMovie, or Clips. (still my fave video edit app for editing a loading up all clip material and cutting into rushes)

The trouble is I could not locate the video clips on in the Photos app. 

Oh, Apple. What have you done? I thought.

Now, within the 'Photos' view of the Photos app, it is possible to create and export an entire movie clip that the app will generate from your related material. (See above photo)

This is one way to export the video from the live photos out of 'Apple Photo Jail,' but it is a bit messy and not very intuitive.

'What would be a better workflow?' I muttered as I waited in the queue for the 'Dragon Challenge' ride.

I was starting to get frustrated and thought an inverted rollercoaster ride would dislodge some solution.

Sure enough after braving five outside loops with screaming teens . . . 

It came to me that some crafty developer would have an app that would reveal those those hidden live photo video files and a user simply copy them out of 'Apple Photo Jail' so that they can be edited and shared with the wider world.

After some digging, I found a free app called LP converter.

And it does the trick, lickety-split.

You open it up and batch select a load of live photos snaps and export them as video clips.

No water marks, no in-app purchases, and no ads.

Love it!

The app's other tricks are also handy, like the ability to export a selected freeze frame as a still image . . . 

 . . .  or save a live photo as a looping GIF animation.

Fun. Practical, and free.

I was able to cut a 4-minute reel from that day at Universal Studios and nearly all of the material was video clips from Live Photos.

And for journalists, it is very handy to have those fleeting moments automagically recorded just before and after taking a snap.

It could be really useful for getting alternate material and takes from breaking news scenes, for example. Or if something unexpected happens when you are shooting something else.

Me, before the T-Rex attack.

15 December, 2016

Which camera should you buy to produce Facebook 360 video?

Now is the time to start getting excited about what we can do with live, spherical video broadcasts.

National Geographic posted the first Facebook 360° live video from the Mars Simulator research site in Utah using four Nokia OZO Live cameras, wireless mics and picture-in-picture live feeds from famous scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Of course, not everyone has Television-sized budgets and technical teams to produce to a live 360° VR broadcast with that kind of complexity, but the good news is that you can still do some compelling spherical storytelling on a smaller budget.

NOTE: Facebook's product managers report that "Live 360 video will be available to more Pages via the Live API in the coming months, and rolling out more broadly for all Pages and Profiles in 2017."

The scale and cost of this type of PR stunt indicates that Live 360° video will be a BIG deal for all of us media makers.

When Facebook decides to put their thumb on the scale of what users see (video, live video, 360° videos ,and now 360° live video) it is natural to guess that a lot of people will see these posts and Facebook will be selling ads against those eyeballs.

I advise broadcasters, publishers and educators about 360° video production, video livestreams for Facebook and YouTube, and the gear that makes all that happen.

Let's take a deep dive into a few new gear choices that complement the strategic workshops I am currently producing.

In those visits we combine research, tech and strategy to develop new business models and programming approaches for reaching the social video crowd - The YouTubers, Facebookers, Snap chatters, and Instagrammers.

One of the keys to continuous innovation is a regular replenishing of your Sandbox.

And this is the time of year that many of my partners are asking me how to spend their budgets before they expire at year's end.

A sandbox is designed for play and healthy experimentation and is assembled for the purpose of allowing the staff to test out ideas and develop new story formats before their competitors do.

These are the top tools in Robb's Sandbox for 2017.

360° Live Video Production

The Orah 4i VR camera from Video Stitch.

This compact little camera streams 4K resolution live virtual reality video to headsets–all with the push of a button.

It features live stitching and four microphones to capture the ambisonic 3D sound which enables the viewer of the content to locate the origin of the sound source with a VR headset.

Ambisonic audio is critical to VR storytelling.
(Read the full technical details)

The camera is powered by an ethernet cable that runs back to this live stitching production box.

A box with a mic input.

YES! This means we can have the ambisonic sound mix from the camera PLUS a wireless mic in for a presenter or host using a Sennsheiser AVX wireless mic.


Live video switcher
If you want to simulate what NatGeo did with live shot switching from the field, you will need something like a Sony Anycast Live Producer.

360° Cinematic film production

GoPro Omni

BH Photo bundles this six-camera rig with everything you need to capture and stitch together high definition spherical video.

And by everything, I mean it is all inclusive.

It is a fantastic camera array for offline video production.

It does not do 'Live" and it will not record 360 ambisonic audio.

To produce a 360° sound track that matches the video quality, you will need a tetrahedral microphone:

A VR Microphone

Sennheiser Ambeo

and a multi-track field recorder:

Zoom F8 Field Recorder

This is just the bare basic kit.

Sound design is super important for 360° films.
Don't take just my word for it.

Here, have a look at the audio engineering prep for a pro 360° video shoot.

You can get started with a smaller investment.

360° Mobile Journalism field reporting
You will want to experiment with the low cost Insta360 Nano for producing livestreaming 360 video reports from your smartphone.

It costs less than $200 and an Android version is in development.

Stepping things up a notch . . .

4K cinema camera rig

I spotted this sandbox kit at the #IBC2016 show in Amsterdam in September.

I am happy to report that my clients are now using this kit for daily video production. It is a rock solid system and a pure joy to use.

Sony a7S II Body (4k video camera)

Sony G Zeiss 28-135mm video lens

Movcam Cage for A7S II

Vocas Spider (Shoulder mount)

Video Devices PIX-E5H 5" 4K Recording Video Monitor

PIX LR Audio interface

The PIX-LR unit screws right into the bottom of the PIX-E recorder and adds high-quality dual XLR I/O featuring Sound Devices mic input preamps with phantom power, limiting, and high-pass filtering.

The PIX-E recorder allows you to capture the 4K video from the Sony A7S II as well as giving you a glorious monitor.

Put this all together and you have a powerful and extremely versatile 4K package that weighs not so much.

Production values, elevated.

Flying cameras (a.k.a. 'Drones')

Mavic pro drone kit

The flying camera has finally come into the mobile era.

The Mavic Pro folds up small enough for me to take with on my outdoor adventures.

A drone is a special shot, but it is the shot that makes reports like this one from The New York Times simply magical.

The Mavic comes with a 4K camera AND it would be the first drone that I would want to also try attaching the Insta360 Nano camera too.

That's right the Insta360 can record video without being attached to a smartphone.

One last thing: a friendly reminder of how NOT to film in 360.


06 December, 2016

Unboxing: GoPro Omni VR 360 video Camera

I am in Zagreb at the offices of 24SATA where today the video team took ownership of one of the hot new 360 video filming rigs: The GoPro Omni.

I am here all week visiting with the teams, making a film documentary and spending time sharing best practices for 360 video, Branded Facebook live streams and creating hit YouTube channels.

24SATA is doing five Facebook live events per day, this one streamed live with the DJI Osmo camera and a Sennheiser AVX Wireless mic.
Make sure you get an ambisonic microphone and 6-track field audio recorder BEFORE you go out and buy an expensive camera like this.

High quality 360-audio is much more important than having a six-camera rig.

Why? The audio narrative is a high-fidelity UX. And, 360 video visuals for journalism projects are usually pixellated and highly compressed due to streaming and buffering.
The audio delivery is not.
Also on-screen graphics are key . . .

Anyways - you probably know all this . . . if not. 
I am available for consulting in the new year