Tour

Covering the Coverage: What I Learned from Week 1

Posted Sep 21, 2009 1:47 AM CDT
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A two-week road trip has a lot of moving parts, and more than a few surprises along the way. Here are some of the journalism lessons I’ll take away from the first half of our adventure:The limits of free

Relying on free technology like YouTube, uStream and Flickr is cheap, but not always easy. Like when YouTube decides, without announcement, to shut down for four hours for maintenance at 10 p.m. ET, just when we were about to upload the day’s videos. Or when it takes four tries to upload the day’s photos to Flickr because your Internet connection keeps going down. Sometimes, you get what you pay for, and you spend a sleepless night learning that lesson.

Know what you’re bad at

None of us had logged significant time in front of the camera before this trip, and we were far from experts at shooting or editing video.

Maybe the smartest decision we made before hitting the road was to hire John McQuiston, a freelance videographer with extensive experience both in front and behind the camera at local TV news operations, as our video guru. He’s made rank amateurs look semi-pro.

There are times when taking the cheap option makes sense; shooting and editing video is not one of them.

Everything is fodder for content

I was born too soon for blogging, Facebook, Twitter and all the other forms of social media to be second nature to me. I don’t live my life in public and online, unlike many of my 30-something colleagues.

But this trip was designed to be online all the time, and I’ve filed reports about practically every aspect of the journey, from the friends I saw to what I ate to even the quality of my bed.

Critics of social media label individual posts like those as banal in the extreme. And they’re right. But what they overlook is that collectively, such posts have a power to let readers experience the writer’s journey just as the writer does.

Social media is the reality TV of journalism – and journalists better figure out how to use it effectively if they’re going to remain relevant to a whole new generation of media consumers.

The importance of sharing space

At our first two hotels, we were constantly running back and forth between our rooms as we edited and uploaded video, selected photos for our daily slideshows, and posted Rebel profiles.

But in New York, the Westin gave us a suite to work out of. Sitting around a table as we did our tasks wasn’t just easier – it made the experience a collective one. We made smarter decisions and were more nimble when in a common room. Plus, it was just more fun. I’d love to knock down some walls back at ABA HQ and buy a couple of dinning room tables in lieu of staff desks. It would totally change the dynamic of the newsroom, and for the better.

The importance of alone time

It’s hard to imagine a more companionable group of travelers than my colleagues. But after a week of 16-hour days, we needed to get away from each other this weekend. (At times last week, I thought our most important road trip rule was our first: No firearms allowed.)

And yet … I found myself, after a day and a half away, missing my colleagues and looking forward to learning what adventures they had this weekend. This journey has become, at least for me, a collective experience more than an individual one.

Below is a quick look at some of what we did on our two days off. But the stories behind the pictures, at least just this once, are strictly off the record.

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