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August 11th, 2009

AFTER STAFF A Closer Look – The VJ Multimedia Workshop for students and recently laid-off staffers

Posted by liveBooks

Listening to Paul Myer, founder and executive director of the the VJ Multimedia Workshop, you might stop seeing multimedia as the downfall of photojournalism and see as he does instead: a versatile tool to get excited about. Headed by VJ faculty from the Brooks Institute and Pierce College and sponsored by Olympus, Photoshelter, and ThinkTank among others, the workshop recently offered tuition-free training — and sympathetic ears — to 25 students and 25 laid-off staff photographers.

Miki Johnson: Why was it important to bring together recently laid-off photojournalists to connect with each other and hone their multimedia skills?

Paul Myers: The workshop aspires to create a grounded space for the participants, a space to create but also to reconnect with our intentions as visual storytellers.
The most important thing to walk away from this workshop with is an approach to multimedia storytelling. The journey is what matters.

This workshop had little to do with technical multimedia skills and in the process it set people up for success. Yes, we taught a bit of Final Cut Pro, some audio recording techniques, just enough to get people creating, so they see how easy this really is, how much fun it is to tell stories with these tools. I think many of the students will look back at this experience, the magic of this moment, and relate it to when they developed their first black-and-white pictures in a lab, watching in amazement as that blank sheet of paper transformed in front of their eyes.

This workshop opened the eyes of both participants and the leadership teams in several ways. The focus on technical skills that so many people in our field buy into is mostly smoke and mirrors. If only I knew Final Cut Pro or produce a video, I would not have been laid-off — this is so damaging to our field in terms of our credibility and our emotions.

Economic factors are driving reductions in the workforce, but with the change of technology makes many veterans in our field feel particularly hopeless. Many are arriving at a point in their careers where they are ideally prepared emotionally to tell important stories that really need to be told, but they feel like they no longer belong in the field. They are actively looking for work outside the field because they do not see opportunities for their work and no longer feel needed. This workshop was about understanding a long-term approach to multimedia storytelling that will enable our community to embrace this new form of story.

MJ: How many people applied to the workshop? Do you feel like the first year was a success and why?

PM: After three weeks of publicity, about 90 people applied, we accepted 50, and 48 showed up. The workshop was successful because people worked together, took risks, failed, and learned from their mistakes. Having a safe place, a nurturing environment, is really important if people are going to be able to truly experiment. We created such a space, and the stories came to life.

All 12 guest speakers, as well as 45 staff members, team leaders, producers, and TAs donated their time. This workshop was a success in that everyone had something at stake, including the organizers and leaders. We all know someone who is being affected by economic realities and the changing media. And we all are concerned but excited about the future of the field and storytelling.

MJ: What were the advantages and disadvantages of having students and laid-off professionals together?

PM: Students and the laid-off professionals learned from one another and were able to help each other with different parts of the storytelling process. For instance, the pros know how to tell stories from years in the field and a depth of knowledge as visual storytellers. Still, they are used to telling stories with still images rather than with the vertical set of information possible and necessary in multimedia storytelling. On the other hand, college students are entering the field with a new set of production assumptions and are unhindered in their technical approach, but they’re often awkward without real-world experience telling stories. Everyone had the opportunity to learn from the people around them and shared many insights as they worked side by side.

Check out these great articles about the workshop too, from team leaders Tom Kennedy and Jim Merithew.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do you or your colleagues have mixed emotions about multimedia?

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

One Comment

  1. December 11th, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Magali Favilla

    Thanks for the information and facts!

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