Designing women (and men) experiment with multimedia journalism

A girl edits her Adobe After Effects project on the computer.

Kylie Lin works on an Adobe After Effects project about popular Evanston restaurants. Photo by Kirsten Huh

Kylie Lin sits hunched over, focusing on a massive computer screen in room 2-131 of the McCormick Foundation Center. She toggles with an animated city on After Effects, an Adobe motion graphics application.

A fluorescent glow illuminates her face as she alternates between two tabs. The first, the animated fireworks she’s adding to the five-building skyline, and the second, a YouTube tutorial on how to do just that.

But the animation isn’t working, so she adjusts the layers and position of the graphic, deviating from the how-to video.

Melanie Lust of Westport, Connecticut, and Jayna Kurlender of Roslyn, New York, chime in with advice as Lin fine-tunes each setting. They exchange nods and share encouraging words.

“I fixed it,” Lin says, watching the fireworks explode as she plays the animation on repeat.

Before Lin came to the Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, she had never used After Effects, let alone animated her own designs. But after instructor Lauren Harris introduced her to the program, Lin has found a passion for and potential career in animation and graphic design.

Cherubs like Lin entered the program intent on improving their reporting and writing skills. But after experimenting with broadcast, motion graphics and digital storytelling, some have discovered an interest in multimedia.

“Before cherubs, I thought I would just be a reporter,” said Lin of Belmont, California. “Now that we’re at the end of the program, I have a solid grasp of what I want to do, and that includes graphic design.”

Taylor Schmitt of La Grange, Illinois, discovered her interest in video journalism through Show Off, an optional Sunday club focused on broadcast journalism. Schmitt attended all four Sundays, working as an anchor, technical director and floor director. She also operated the lighting during instructor Carlin McCarthy’s Producing a TV Newscast workshop.

Schmitt said she never expected cherubs would be a primer in multimedia. She’s considering a career in video production.

“Floor directing was fun for me every week,” she said. “I like interacting with people and being that bridge between the anchors and the control room. I didn’t expect to like broadcast so much.”

Some cherubs said they appreciated the career skills digital storytelling taught them. When instructor Lauren Harris introduced Lust to After Effects during a broadcast lab, the cherub said she was hooked. Lust, who is proficient in Photoshop, InDesign and Lightroom, downloaded a seven-day free trial the next day.

She watched two hour-long YouTube tutorials, producing motion graphics for fun.

Though Lust doesn’t want to pursue a career in motion graphics, she said the animation skills she learned should improve her chance of getting a job.

“Digital storytelling is becoming a lot more prominent in the media landscape,” Lust said. “It’s something everyone needs to have a firm grasp of if they want to be successful in journalism. If you want to cater to your audience, you have to make things simple, visually compelling and easy to understand. Sometimes, motion graphics work better than a story.”

McCarthy said cherubs have learned invaluable reporting skills through multimedia.

“One of the biggest things I wanted students to pay attention to was pre-production,” she said. “It’s been great to watch them hone in on that because it’ll separate them in the field. Being able to think through and have a vision is important, so that can also help in writing.”

And as the program closed, Lin and three other cherubs remained fixed on their animations. It’s a scene she has repeated many times during the five-week program. One night in the fifth week, Lin, Lust, Kurlender, Andrew Rowan of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Aidan Duffy of Princeton, New Jersey went to a computer lab to work on graphic design and video after a late-night lecture.

Engrossed in their work, the group of five didn’t leave the lab until 9:55 p.m. — five minutes before check-in. They made it back to East Fairchild just in time to meet the four community associates.

“We just ended up working until then,” she said. “There’s no pressure behind it. Having the opportunity to work on this program and have the time to just play around and have fun, I like to do that as long as possible.”

“Working with After Effects has been a great experience that I wouldn’t have gotten if I hadn’t come here. I’m really glad I had the opportunity.”