Round Up: Guild Freelancers Spring Training Day

Last Saturday I attended the Guild Freelancer's 2013 Spring Training for Journalists at San Francisco State University (SFSU). This is my first US based journalism event and considering the low cost, I was very impressed. It featured speakers such as Carrie Ching, Kim Komenich and Seth Rosenfeld and included workshops on everything from advanced FOIA to iphone photography.

The downside of the day (for me at least) was that several of the workshops I wanted to attend ran during the same time slot meaning I had to pick one or the other. But this is the nature of larger events and understandably clashes are to be expected. I was also disappointed with the internship seminar as most of the participants were SFSU students and it felt very geared towards that audience. Similarly, it focused on how to find an internship rather than offering advice on how to make the most of internships and then translate that experience to help find an entry level job.

However, I still found the day interesting as much of it focused on multimedia and allowed me to better understand where US publications stand in terms of multimedia and online news development in comparison to Australian ones. Currently, I'm focusing on improving my multimedia skills so viewing something like Carrie Ching's production, In Jennifer's Room, opened my eyes to what I suppose is the direction journalism is headed. And personally, I am really excited.

Here are a few gems of advice that I took away from the day:

- Be technologically fearless. Don't let technology get in the way because you know more than you think you do.

Kim Komenich's lecture entitled 'Multimedia on the cheap' was exactly that: how to be a poorly paid journalist and still delve into the world of multimedia without fancy gear. Aside from this he encouraged the audience to use the journalistic skills they already possess and pursue multimedia stories no matter how basic they are.

- Seek intimacy in interviews. Have people introduce themselves three times: beginning, middle, end. 

Mike Kepka is a photographer and multimedia producer for the San Francisco Chronicle. His series 'the City Exposed' focuses on interesting characters in San Francisco and it is essentially these characters that makes SF so unique. Kepka deconstructed one of his multimedia pieces, The Trumpet Kid, and discussed everything from interviewing techniques to those all important shots that will save your butt while filming and editing. Aside  from the tips above, he also mentioned that what you think is the best quote, often has to be cut out first. For someone who finds it difficult to aggressively self edit, this is a piece of advice that should be taken and applied to every feature article/multimedia piece/news story/radio segment.

- Bad audio sucks. 

Every multimedia presentation reiterated this point: even in multimedia pieces audio drives the piece. Without quality audio, you have nothing. I always thought good video drove a piece but as I learnt, especially in Carrie Ching's talk, that if you have great audio, you can work with the rest. Some key tips were: always check your levels, if worst comes to worst do the interview in a car and never let the interviewee hold the microphone.

- Be adaptable. Be flexible. Be resilient. 

Carol Pogash was the keynote speaker and much of her talk centered on being flexible and adaptable - advice which is more important than ever. She has no background in journalism yet has worked as a TV anchor, news reporter, author, feature writer, editor and more. So while she is a jack of all trades, she is also a master of many and therein lies the difference. Pogash explained just how obsessed she is with her work and how this has meant she makes very few mistakes (only one in her career) and is now known for her quality reporting. While Pogash comes from an era when getting a journo job meant annoying an editor long enough to get an internship gig and eventually landing yourself a job borne from it, she is no stranger to the tough job market of today and therein lies the 'nut graph' of her advice: be adaptable.

- Passion is critical.

Just weeks ago the website, Career Cast deemed newspaper reporter the worst job in 2013. So if journalism is poorly paid, has little job stability, very few job openings and greater demands on journalists - why stick with it? I ask myself this question a lot and often the best answer I come up with is: because this is where my passion lies. This was also reiterated by journalists throughout the day and it was somewhat comforting to know that despite all the changes, cuts and instability - they are still passionate about what they do.

The Great Blue Herons of Stow Lake

Last week I was fortunate enough to spend some time with one of Golden Gate Park's  most interesting characters- Nancy DeStefanis. In a former life, Nancy worked with Cesar Chavez and campaigned for women's rights. Now she dedicates her time to the non- profit San Francisco Nature Education where she teaches not only the public, but disadvantaged communities, about nature in the big city. Nancy  DeStefanis counting the Blue Heron chicks at Stow Lake. Photo: Alessandra Bergamin.

I was there to write about the Great Blue Heron colony at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park of which Nancy was the first to discover some 20 years ago. She now runs Heron Watch- a program designed to educate visitors and school kids about the colony and more so, this majestic bird.

I am relatively new to the environmental journalism world and slowly, I am getting used to writing feature stories where the main character is a place, rather than a person. But this was an instance where the person was as much a character as the place and so I chose to interweave the life of the Blue Heron colony with that of Nancy DeStefanis. As now, when I think about it, it is hard to imagine one without the other.

You can read the story published on Bay Nature here.