I just spent two and half days in Chicago covering the Obama campaign and election day on a freelance assignment for Terra.com, a well known Spanish language site that is increasingly getting into the news content production business. Competing sites like MSN Latino, AOL Latino and Google News are primarily news aggregators, meaning they don’t produce much news -they just package it, acquired it or aggregate it. I commend Terra for doing this and for launching TerraTV and its webcasts, because if no one generated quality content, there wouldn’t be anything to aggregate.

This post is a reflection of what I learned from working as a multimedia reporter on this assignment. Although I worked with a cameraman/editor for the video pieces, I assure you that one journalist cannot do it all; the one-man band concept should be avoided if you care for quality. I did have great fun working these elections as a MoJo (mobile journalist), but I also finished exhausted, wondering how this effort could have been done differently. We are all learning how to do this and that’s why I am writing this entry.

The work done and formats used:

Video: my cameraman/editor and I filed three two-minute TV-like news packages while in Chicago. Editing and filing took an awful lot of time primarily because my cameraman was using a Panasonic 60 camera that recorded on tape, which then had to be digitized before editing the piece.

  • Digitizing: Converting from MiniDV tape to a digital format takes one minute per every minute shot, meaning that at times we had to allow 10-15 minutes for the conversion. This does not sound like a lot of time, but it is when you are working on deadline under difficult circumstances.
  • Editing: Editing with MAGiX 10 software was also quite slow, given this is not a product made for news and that the cameraman assigned to me shots and edits mostly weddings, not news!
  • Filing: After having edited the piece, we had to compress the package (about 4 minutes) and then FTP it using a quite reliable Verizon Wireless connection (another 4 minutes).

Here are the three videos I am talking about: Barack Obama busca el voto latino en Chicago, Intensa Jornada Electoral en Chicago y Obama, Nuevo presidente de Estados Unidos.

Audio: I did two ‘phoners’ for Terra Latin America. The producers called me to my cell phone and I talked for two or three minutes at a time. This was fun, easy and not time consuming.

Writing: I wrote this article two nights before the elections. I had done some reading and reporting before arriving to Chicago but only had time to write the piece from the hotel on the evening of Nov. 2. I did my best given time constrains, but under ideal circumstances (old newspaper days, I guess), I would have spent a lot more time reporting and thinking about the article before getting it done.

Blogging: As part of my arrangement with Terra, I committed to do my share on an election group blog, which Terra labeled “Minuto a Minuto Desde Chicago, Phoenix y Washington, DC“. I had great fun blogging but I didn’t have (or find?) more time to do more of it. In the end I contributed with eight posts from Oct. 31-Nov. 4. The biggest obstacle was not having an Internet connection at the media facilities in Grant Park (I solved that by stealing a not-so-reliable WiFi connection), not having a workstation and having to constantly be on alert for the video packages. I therefore feel the blogging suffered greatly from having to do too many things at the same time.

Photography: Terra did not ask me to take pictures but took my Nikkon D40 camera with me. Having the camera was an extremely good idea because I ended up uploading three pictures to the blog, thus increasing its attractiveness. Funny, the most visited link was related to weather in Chicago while I was there. You can see the post here.

Twitter: prior to going to Chicago I decided that I was not going to add Twitter to my crazy schedule. Yet, I ended up posting about four Tweets from my Blackberry. You can visit my Twitter account here.

My analysis:
As editors or executives at a news media organization, we can’t expect a reporter to be Superman. A journalist can effectively mix a couple of jobs (i.e., writing & blogging; video & audio) but we have to remember that the more ask out of a journalist, the more quality will suffer. Therefore, I suggest we assess the needs and priorities of our organizations, the kills and technical expertise of those involved in a project and the willingness of journalists to drink the multimedia Kool-Aid.

At a more strategic level, news editors and media executives need to be smart about the art of publishing content in the digital era. We should not expect the traditional reporter, or editor, to be the only ones gathering or producing information. We need to engage anyone interested in a topic, ranging from regular citizens to readers (users) of a given product. We must also think how to take advantage of technology and how to save money.

How could Terra and I have made best use of citizen journalists and technology to cover the 2008 Election Day? We could have…

  • used Qik and a good cell phone to broadcast events live from Grant Park. In fact, some else had the same idea. Check it out here. Granted, the quality is not great but part of the cost of innovating is compromising.
  • given blogs to young political junkies interested in venting out against Republicans or Democrats
  • partnered with non-media group or organization already committed to creating original multimedia content. For example, CNN partnered with VirginVoting.

Coverage dates: November 2, 2008-November 4, 2008

Location: Chicago, Illinois

I welcome your comments or criticism. I also want to hear how you or your media organization covered Election Day. Thanks! Andrés