A screenshot from In Jennifer's Room.
A screenshot from In Jennifer’s Room, produced by Carrie Ching.

Award-winning multimedia journalist Carrie Ching has been testing the bounds of journalistic storytelling for years.

Carrie Ching
Carrie Ching

In one of her more talked about productions, Ching produced an illustrated video to tell the story of Jennifer — a mentally disabled girl, who was raped and became pregnant while she was a patient at a California developmental centre.

Check out the piece, called In Jennifer’s Room — an example of her avant-garde work. It’s worth the 10 minutes.

Ching has written a story for Poynter called, How news can compete with cat videos: 6 lessons for multimedia journalists.

Any journalists looking to thrive in the industry should be learning to create and contribute to multimedia productions. Ink and paper storytelling alone won’t cut it once the smoke clears in this depressing time of cutbacks, buyouts and layoffs. The landscape is changing and us journalists can’t bury our heads in the sand forever.

Ching says that trying to translate complex stories into multimedia presentations is difficult. However, she says she faced an even more daunting task: “The larger challenge was pushing new ideas forward in a traditional news environment.”

She continues: “Breaking out of traditional journalism formats can be difficult—even unpleasant. New methods are often perceived as a threat. But you can’t just slap TV and newspaper stories onto the Web or mobile or tablets and call that ‘digital’ journalism. The content itself needs to change.”

Amen.

A feature story is like a first date. You have to create interest, earn trust and — wherever possible — inject a bit of wit and a touch of charm.

First, create interest. Just like a date, a reader doesn’t have to spend time you, she chooses to because you’ve caught her eye somehow. Granted, there are some things at play here that you as a writer simply don’t have full control over, including the layout, story placement and headline. But there are things you can do to help the page editors and headline writers along, like ensuring there’s strong art to design your story around and suggesting a good headline. It’s up to you to ensure your personality shines through your writing. The lead is especially important in a feature story — readers are won or lost in the first few paragraphs. It’s where you build expectations and make promises about the payoff from reading the article. Create some suspense. Pull the reader along. Make her wonder what surprise awaits in the next paragraph.

When you set expectations in your first few paragraphs to catch interest . . . you’d better deliver.

Here’s where trust comes in. When you set expectations in your first few paragraphs to catch interest — whether it be exploring an issue in depth, delivering a knowledgeable source or making an educated guess at the future of something or other —you’d better deliver. If you tell your date you’re going to take her somewhere spectacular, you’d better not bring her to Taco Bell for burritos. Quote credible and interesting sources, and highlight why they can be counted on. Get your facts straight. Features have a longer shelf life, so like magazine articles, they need to be properly researched. Keep in mind credibility is hard to earn and easy to lose.

No first date is complete without a touch of wit and charm. And neither is a good feature story. If the subject matter calls for it, don’t be afraid to inject a little bit of humour. Make your readers feel something for your main source. It’s all in the details, so make sure your features are peppered with colour. Paint a rich scene for your readers to imagine. Describe your sources. When you’re gathering material for your feature, don’t just use your notepad and tape recorder, use your senses. Did the house where the woman stayed with her 50 cats have a distinct smell? Was the office of the MP who was adamant about government cuts richly furnished on the taxpayers’ dime? Write what you see, what you smell, what you touch, what you taste and what you feel.

With news reporting, you’re often reporting the straight facts, usually in pyramid style — with a feature, you have a lot more flexibility to be creative. Tell a story.

I bought an iPad 2 this year, more than anything, as a media consumption device. The tablet’s beautiful screen seemed perfect for watching Netflix in bed and browsing the web while on the couch.

With print journalism on the ropes as news on the web continues to catch information consumers, it seemed smart to see what the tablet could do to transform media – as well as how big news corporations were using the iPad to deliver a new experience to readers. But the more I used the iPad, it became clear that it’s more than just a device to transform the way the news is consumed, it’s a step forward in the way news is gathered and published. While I wouldn’t advise ditching the ol’ reliable desktop yet, it’s possible for a journalist to thrive using an iPad.

Here are 10 basic apps that will lead reporters through the process of gathering, creating and promoting stories.

1. The Daily: 99 cents/week

A vision of the future is a good place to start. The Daily, which began publishing solely on the iPad on Feb. 2, 2011, is worth subscribing to. Owned by News Corporation – the second largest news conglomerate in the world – the “paper” has significant resources behind it to experiment with embedding TV news stories, graphics designed specifically for the iPad and often strikingly designed pages using plenty of pictures. It’s also worth checking out the iPad apps developed by a number of media sources to get a sense of where some apps succeed and where they fail. I read a number of them, including CBC, Globe and Mail and several Postmedia papers.

2. Pages: $9.99

This Apple-designed app is arguably the most powerful and elegant word processor available in the app store. Sometimes a writer just needs a pleasant place to do his or her typing, and Pages fits that bill. It can be used for writing and for a bit of design work. One of the shortfalls is the omission of folders to sort your work, which becomes more and more of a nuisance as your body of work builds. But that’s a small price to pay for the aesthetics. Pages also features a useful undo button (since there’s no Apple-Z command on the iPad). There’s also a full-screen view option for those who like to look at a blank page.

3. Dragon dictation: free

Want to turn your talk into text? Voice recognition software certainly isn’t perfect, but Dragon Dictation is one of the best available. The app can turn your recorded interview into text. Granted, you will have a lot of cleaning up to do because Dragon is apt to flub words. So beware because it may turn “prime minister” into “brine munster” and “political scandal” into “pool hall sandals.” Good thing the world has copy editors.

4. Reeder: $4.99

When news breaks, you’d better be on top of it. When a source asks you questions about a current event, you’d better know what he or she is talking about. So you already (obviously) have an RSS feed set up on Google Reader, right? Reeder takes that feed and brings it to the iPad in a beautiful and useful way. And you can Tweet and post links to Facebook from the app.

5. Noteshelf: $4.99

For those who are truly adventurous and want to see whether they can also drop their notepad, Noteshelf is one of the best handwriting apps on the market. The app’s menu is a bookshelf where users can store a library of different types on books. So you could have a reporter’s notepad, a calendar for upcoming events and a book of story ideas. It’s a bit slower to take notes with the app than with a notepad, and it takes a bit of getting used to. You’ll also want to buy a stylus, which can cost about $12.

6. Blogsy: $4.99

As the web grows in news prominence, employers like to see that prospective employees are comfortable working across multiple platforms, including blogging and social media. Experience posting to the web is a valuable asset. For freelancers, a blog is even more essential. It’s a way of getting your name out there, of showcasing your work and finding more clients. While WordPress on Safari is basically unusable and its app is cumbersome, Blogsy provides a clean spot to type and a simple way to grab and embed images and video. In fact, this column was created entirely in Blogsy.

7. Twitter: free

Most national journalists, and many local ones, are now using Twitter to promote their work and engage in discussion with readers and with each other. It’s a good way to keep on top of breaking events and to gauge what’s trending. While there are a slew of Twitter apps, the app created by Twitter itself is more than sufficient – and it’s free.

8. Photogene: $4.99

There are a few ways to get photos onto your iPad other than using the device’s underwhelming camera. You can use an iPhone as your portable camera and easily sync with the iPad using an app called PhotoSync, or you could buy an iPad-compatible card reader to upload photos from a digital camera. Once you have the pics on to the iPad, Photogene is an excellent app for editing images. It has a variety of tools for retouching and enhancing images. You can also add text on top using a fair selection of fonts – for those who like their headlines or cutlines on their photos. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousands words; though I think an image is worth more like 250 words.

9. iMovie: $4.99

For the very well-rounded journalist, who’s also interested in shooting video and producing a TV-style news story, iMovie is a versatile option. As an Apple-created app, it’s stable and easy to learn. You can splice video together as well as add voiceovers and text – everything needed to create a decent video package.

10. A keyboard case: $100

Sorry Apple, but the touchscreen keyboard just doesn’t cut it for writers. Thankfully, the clever folks who invent products realized that the iPad needed something to help us scribes. While this isn’t an app, this list seemed incomplete without mentioning a keyboard attachment. There are a bunch of them easily available online or in Future Shop, where I got the Kensington keyboard case that I use. If you’re serious about using the iPad as a tool in your journalism toolbox, a keyboard case or compatible keyboard is a worthy investment.