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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-03-02

Sports Shooter Conversation: With Colin Mulvany
By G.J. McCarthy, Columbia Tribune

Photo by Amanda Smith

Photo by Amanda Smith

Colin Mulvany
(Editor's Note: With so many publications looking for alternative ways to reach readers, the Internet is giving many newspapers an outlet to continue to do story-telling that is being hampered by space and economics on the print side. Colin Mulvany has been a staff photographer at the Spokane Spokesman-Review for 17 years but in the past year and a half has join a growing number of still shooters working in video and multi-media.)

G.J. McCarthy: First off, Colin, I just wanted to say thanks for taking part in this.

Colin Mulvany: My pleasure.

GM: From what I see on your blog page (Video Journal: http://www.spokesmanreview.com/blogs/video), in the various contributions from staff members, your paper strikes me as one that's making a pretty smooth transition to multi-media. What was the impetus for going in this direction?

CM: It really started about a year and-a-half ago, when I was getting interested in doing video. At that time I had my own video camera, and was starting to use iMovie and play around with it all; I realized there was a lot of potential to do some storytelling. I was at an assignment for a story on a war veteran who'd been in World War II, Korea and Vietnam; he was also an Indian chief and a storyteller. So at the interview with the reporter, I started listening to this guy and I said, "You know, I really need to do a video of this guy talking." It was so powerful. I arranged a time to come back and do a video interview with him. He talked for about an hour, and I went back to the office and took five stories that he told and created these little mini videos - about three minutes apiece. I took them to the online people and said, "OK, I've finally done a video - you guys have to find a way to put it online." [laughs] They said they'd figure it out, and they put it up and it got a response.

GM: What kind of response, and from whom?

CM: People were calling in and emailing me and saying they were in tears when they were watching it a two o'clock in the morning online. At that time, it was pretty hard to find stuff on our website, but the people who did find it were moved by the piece.

GM: So as far as community response goes - from what you're saying now, and from seeing comments to your video blog - it's been pretty good, I'm guessing?

CM: The community response to Video Journal has been awesome. And when I say "community," I mean worldwide. I get emails from all over the world by people who are frequent visitors. Each month, Video Journal's hit numbers have grown. It went live on August 1, 2005, and by December 31, it had over 300,000 hits. That's a lot for our size paper.

GM: So you started with video - what was the reason for that? Were you looking for another outlet as a visual journalist?

CM: I was. A lot of things had happened at our newspaper as far as shrinking size and such. The Spokesman-Review has been known for a long time as a great place to do long-form storytelling, big projects, but the economic realities of our industry have changed so much and we can't do that as much any more. It was hard for me to make that transition from doing 10-part series to going back to daily community journalism. So yes, I started looking for other outlets.

GM: How has the transition been received by people at your paper?

Photo by Chris Onstott

Photo by Chris Onstott

Colin Mulvany at work.
CM: The management here has been really receptive to allowing me to do all these things. Each time I've gone to my editor, Steve Smith, and said, "I need my own video camera" or "I need other gear" he's been really receptive and has told me to go get what I need. And really, this developed over a period of six months or so. I sort of learned and did as much as I could on my own, and then I went back to Steve and said that I'd hit a wall and needed help. If I was going to do it right, I needed some sort of workshop.

GM: I take it your talking about Dirck Halstead's Platypus Workshop?

CM: Yes, I asked my editor it would be good if I could go to Platypus and he agreed. I went down to Brooks Institute in Ventura, Ca., and did the 9-day video boot camp with Halstead and P.F. Bentley, and really, it changed my career and my professional life. I came back to the paper really jazzed and approached management with what I'd done at the workshop - my final project - and said that we needed to do more of this. My editor took it to the publisher, telling me I needed to do this full-time. I sort of froze in my tracks - it was all happening so fast! A couple of weeks later, I went before the publisher and did a presentation, showed him two or three of my videos, talked about the potential, and told him about how much money I needed to outfit the paper to do more of these videos, and better -everything from more professional video cameras and wireless mics, to a good laptop that could run the software. I had a check the next day.

GM: That's great … if only it were always that easy! So what then?

CM: It took a couple of months to figure out the best way to put these stories online - a lot of planning with our web team. We're really big into blogs at SpokesmanReview.com, and we decided that these pieces would be perfect for that format. It was all designed and ready to go within a couple of days of that final decision. What's really cool about the blog format is that I'm able to post all the content -nobody else has to do anything, and there's not a lot more work being created for other people.

GM: It seems like you've sort of assumed a lot of the responsibly for all this. Do you have a new title, new responsibilities? Are you no longer considered a staff photographer?

CM: I'm a "multi-media content producer" - that's what I call myself now. I'm not in the photo department rotation anymore, not really handling daily assignments. I'm lucky in that I'm one of only a handful newspaper photojournalists to be allowed to the make the transition to doing multi-media full-time. It was hard to leave being a daily shooter for over 18 years, but I'm having a blast tackling this new medium. There's so much to learn, and I'm only about 10 percent there. And to be honest, who knows how long this will last - the pressure on manpower in our photo department is pretty tight, and I wasn't replaced when I left. My coworkers are having to work harder because I'm not in the rotation.

GM: Speaking of your coworkers … it seems like a lot of the content is produced by you, but there are other members of the staff contributing to Video Journal. What has this been like for them, and how do you all handle the balance between daily assignment workload and this online content?

Photo by

Colin's gear
CM: Shortly after Video Journal went live, one of our photographers, Jesse Tinsley, latched on to this pretty quickly. He even bought himself his own audio gear and taught himself audio editing, producing some of his own shows under the radar. The rest of the staff is starting to come around. You know, one of my new job duties is to help plant the seeds for this new technology in our photo department and our newsroom; I've always believed that the best way to make something happen is to just do it. Case it point, that first video I shot. There wasn't a reason to even use video on our website. But once it was posted, people began to see that potential. In a lot of ways, since I'm the producer, I've been going after this on my own - gathering audio, editing, and posting content on my blog; I'm not making more work for anyone else. I find that once coworkers in the production chain see that, they'll be willing to embrace more multi-media content.

GM: So really, you're hoping that more people will gain an interest if you ease them in.

CM: Yes. What I'm really trying to do here is get the ball rolling. Back when I started, just doing video, a lot of my coworkers just sort of shrugged their shoulders at it - video wasn't something they were interested in, something they wanted to go to. They're photojournalists - still photographers - and that's where they want to stay. But once I started doing still slideshows with audio, they perked up. Now they had something to connect with.

GM: What are some of the challenges you all deal with in this transition?

CM: Well the biggest issue right now is the audio editing - it's a whole new thing you have to learn before you can get much done. I'm giving them the tools to go out and gather the audio, and when they get back I'll sit down and edit the audio with them. Until they can make that transition to doing the audio editing themselves, it has been a bit of a slow process.

GM: How long are these pieces taking to produce, on average?

CM: It depends. I've been able to turn a video piece in one day - a full eight-hour day. More detailed stories - more documentary of an approach - can take upwards of a week to do. Like the guy on the street corner video - that was about a four-day shoot, then about two days to edit. A lot of video. Now with audio, the Soundslides (http://soundslides.com) program has made that a lot faster. I've done a show in less than three hours - audio and stills. But like video, some audio pieces can be done quickly, while some might take a lot more editing to make it fluid - like you're taking a bunch of puzzle pieces and trying to put them together. That could take a whole day. And it depends on the urgency, too. If it's a breaking news piece, you slam it as fast as you can; if it's something more involved, more traditional in its storytelling, you give it the kind of time it needs.

Photo by
GM: Let's make all the techno-nerds happy (self included!) and talk about gear. Did you start out using your own stuff? What kind of equipment are you using now?

CM: Initially I did. The gear was initially video based, and it still is, to a degree. I started out learning to edit video and audio in Final Cut Pro. We have two video cameras now - the original was a Sony DCR-VX2100, the older, workhorse of documentary video photojournalists. Our newest one is a Sony HVR-Z1U - it's more of a professional-level video camera, although I'm not shooting in high definition since it's not needed for the web.. But it has professional mic inputs, and the audio features I need. We also purchased a mini disc recorder, but unfortunately it didn't work with our Macs. So we're still using video cameras to gather our audio, but we're going to make the transition here pretty soon. Part of our new capital budget involves buying about three audio recorders - probably the flash-driven recorders. And I think once the photographers have that as part of their kit, they'll be more apt to go out and start doing this stuff.

GM: So what are your plans for the future? Where do you hope this goes?

CM: I look at it overall, and there's definitely a sense of urgency in our industry - a lot of people are in denial about what's happening at newspapers. The truth is, readership is fracturing, younger readers are getting more and more of their information from the web. I believe that generation is unfortunately lost to newspapers, and no matter how much we pander to that demographic, they're not coming back. The future is about keeping the readers we have in the family. As a transition from hard-copy to the web, we want Spokesman-Review.com to be where they get the information they need - multi-media content that is web exclusive, and helping draw more readers to our site. Part of what I'm doing is being the research and development department for online media at our paper.

GM: What advice do you have for others wrestling with some of these ideas?

CM:As more and more people get broadband connections, multi-media content is what they're going to want. I think this kind of content will just be expected from our viewers; if it's not there, they're just going to go somewhere else to get it. My advice for photographers is to get the multi-media religion fast. One day an editor in panic is going to come to them and say, "We need multi-media content on our website!" I think it's important that people be ahead of the curve to have a better say in the process. They need to take the initiative, rather than the other way around. Another thing is that photographers might hit some resistance from folks out in the newsroom - the reason is that they may not understand what multi-media even is, because they're word people, they're not schooled in it. You're going to have to help those people. To me, the best way is to just go out and do it, and find a way to get it into your online site. Once people see it, they can get invested in it. Things will start to move. You can talk about it for so long, but until you go out and do it, nothing is going to happen. I just think it's really important that photographers grab on to this now, because it's just going to be expected of them later on.

GM: To finish up, do you have any final thoughts on multi-media journalism?

CM: I'm lucky in that I've been able to do this full time, so for me it's a full-time learning environment. Again, I really recommend that photographers start to go out and dabble in this stuff -go out and do your first audio piece, learn to edit. Just go out and try it, and don't be afraid to fail."


(G.J. McCarthy is a staff photographer with the Columbia (Mo.) Tribune. You can check out his work at: http://www.sportsshooter.com/ilyitch.)

Related Links:
Mulvany's member page
McCarthy's member page

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