Multimedia storytelling gets professional treatment in annual immersion workshop

by Jacob Gedetsis

May 20, 2019

The National Press Photographers Association brings novices and experts together for intense, career-changing experience.

It’s early in the morning on Tuesday, May 14, and 35 students are waiting for class to start. It’s a familiar scene at the Newhouse School—students shifting their class materials around, sipping coffees and making small talk. But this isn’t a typical class, and these aren’t typical students. It’s the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Multimedia Immersion Workshop, an intensive, week-long professional development opportunity for journalists from across the country, allowing them to learn multimedia storytelling from experts working in the field.

One by one, the students introduce themselves: a 20-year journalism vet, a recent college graduate, a local newspaper reporter.

Students practice shooting interview in the Joyce Hergenhan auditorium.
Immersion workshop participants practice their skills in the Joyce Hergenhan auditorium. Photo by Boris Shirman.

“This is one of my favorite parts of the week, hearing how different everyone here is, and coming together to make some great stories,” says Seth Gitner, an associate professor in the magazine, newspaper and digital journalism and visual communications departments.

Gitner co-directs the five-day workshop, which begins with each student pulling a slip of paper with a local story assignment out of an actual hat. The students spend the remainder of the workshop shooting, planning, editing and producing their multimedia stories with the guidance of an expert coach. 

“I am not exaggerating, this workshop changed my life,” says Guy Wathen, multimedia editor for The San Francisco Chronicle.

In 2015, Wathen came to the NPPA workshop as a participant with almost no video experience; this year, he’s one of the coaches. Wathen worked for 15 years as a newspaper photographer, but as the industry changed, he realized he needed to change with it. Reluctant and nervous, he threw himself into the workshop, and can trace his love for video storytelling to a singular moment during the public screening at the end of that first week.

Guy Wathen speaking
Guy Wathen, multimedia editor for The San Francisco Chronicle, was a coach for this year's NPPA immersion event. Photo by Jamie De Pould.

Wathen was nervous as the first seconds of his video began to play, he says. Next to him sat his subject, a previously incarcerated Syracuse man who used his life experiences to inform his work with at-risk youth in the community. Wathen says he wasn’t used to seeing his subject’s reactions in real time, and he was afraid he’d messed something up, that the man wouldn’t like it, that it wasn’t good enough.

“I turned to him and he had tears streaming down from his face,” Wathen says. “I knew from that moment that this was the path I wanted to walk.”

Wathen credits the immersion with helping him land his dream job at The San Francisco Chronicle. The workshop balances technical skills like shooting and editing video with storytelling skills, utilizing empathy to tell personal stories.

Newhouse faculty and coaches present “inspiration talks” and weave technical lessons into the long days as participants work on their stories.

Gioia Kuss, one of this year’s participants, is hoping the immersion will help her break into her “10th career” as a freelance videographer. At the end of the first day, Kuss, 58, says she felt like she was “going from 0 to 60” in the world of visual storytelling.

“At this point of the day I feel like this is exactly what I hoped it would [be], really dynamic, sort of covering as much we can as quickly as possible,” Kuss says. 

“The way that I operate is that I am always learning and that I always want to be learning.”

Jacob Gedetsis '18 is a graduate of the newspaper and online journalism program at the Newhouse School, and a graduate student in english and textual studies at the College of Arts and Sciences.