You have to get up pretty early in the morning to learn how world-class competitors beat everybody else. In this case, it was a simple turn at the end of the pool, and the way a multimedia team – in this case, The New York Times – tells that story.
This week the Times published a rich, interactive multimedia feature on US swimmer Ryan Lochte. Late last September, three staff members from the Times showed up at the natatorium at Queens University of Charlotte, where Lochte trains, along with a dozen or so other Olympic-caliber swimmers on the SwimMAC Elite team. We were invited to watch Times multimedia editor Bedel Saget and photographers Larry Buchanan and Leslye Davis at the beginning stages of their production process.
When we four students arrived at 6 a.m., the Times team was already in the natatorium. Davis and Buchanan were in swimming suits, lugging around underwater cameras. They had booked a scuba diver – who doubles as a Queens communication instructor – to create additional underwater footage. The summer Olympics occur for only 17 days, but the preparation takes months, even years.
The Times came to Queens with all sorts of cameras and equipment. One underwater camera tracked the specific underwater body movements of swimmers. The Times team also had a drone, but for safety reasons, the team chose not to use it. There were cameras available for regular out-of-water shots, each with a specific lens for the shot they needed. It was so exciting to see the different equipment they would use and the steps they took.
The project itself included many steps, and additional animation would be performed later. A digital storytelling segment can last for a few seconds, or a few minutes, but the time required to produce the segment can take weeks and months. Olympic athletes practice for months or years for a single event. World-class storytellers do the same thing.
When the Times media team felt like they had much of the footage they needed, editor Bedel Saget took time out of his morning to describe the process. He gave us advice on professionalism and discipline. Don’t get distracted easily, he said. Remember that your news organization counts on you to make deadline commitments and deliver a product they’re counting on. Collaborate with and take advantage of your colleagues’ strengths. Choose the type of medium that tells the story best. Let the subject tell their own story.
It was an awfully early morning, but a great opportunity to learn from world-class champions, inside and outside the pool.
Top photo: Queens students Ella Fox (me), and Becca Chen take notes from New York Times photographers Larry Buchanan and Leslye Davis on multimedia production, in September 2015. Photo below: Times multimedia editor Bedel Saget discusses the process with Fox, Chen, Eliza Wireback, and Connor Keith.