Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — and finishes by 5:30pm | I Will Teach You To Be Rich

The whole cult of time and task management actually serves the opposite of its purpose for me, personally: It makes me feel guilty, as if I’m putting off becoming more efficient with my time.

Time management: How an MIT postdoc writes 3 books, a PhD defense, and 6+ peer-reviewed papers — and finishes by 5:30pm | I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Notes on managing technology decisions

Over at the Knight News Challenge blog, I’ve contributed a short list of tips on dealing with developers and choosing a platform for your project:

3. Hire human beings, not a programming language or Web framework. Unless you’re doing the programming yourself, stay focused on your end goal and steer clear of mandating how the humans you hire do the job. Don’t look over the designer’s shoulder and worry about which shade of eggshell white to paint the walls until you have something really great to hang on them. Like content, for instance.”

You are getting your Knight News Challenge application ready, right? The deadline is October 15. Get on it.

Innovation is easy: Hand the camera to the stuntman

So the wife and I were watching Bourne Ultimatum this weekend on DVD.

(Yes, yes, I know, a few of you still know me as the former film student who was inspired to make movies because I knew I could do better than Lethal Weapon 2, but I still like a good action flick, OK?)

Anyway, good chase scenes.  Not mind-blowing, but good.  Except for this one shot

Matt Damon is racing across the rooftops of Tangier when he finally gets an angle on the bad guy.  He leaps across the alley and through the window — and the camera follows his character through the air, right up to the point when he hits the glass. (The shot in the trailer, linked above, might not be the exact same shot, or it’s from a different take, or my short-term memory that involves the glass breaking is faulty.)

While we watched it, that shot felt a little weird — the visual style of the film is really loose, handheld, crazy frenetic stuff, so it should have been felt normal, but it seemed at the time like a wild angle — a camera on a crane wouldn’t have been able to get right behind the leaping stuntman, and doing that shot in a studio up against a greenscreen would have been wrong and obvious.

So what did the filmmakers do to get the shot?

They explain it in the DVD’s special features, and as I search around for more details, this clearly went out in the press kit for the DVD release — and maybe the theatrical release itself, as it’s in many ledes of many reviews, and in more technology-focused stories about Second Unit Director Dan Bradley and his stunt/chase work.

I’m still not clear on whether the camera crew was unable or unwilling to leap behind the Damon double, Arri 235 in hand, but the bottom line is that a second stuntman operated the camera for that shot, rigged up to a wire just like the Damon double.

Keeping in mind that I worked on union and non-union productions with no budget and with millions of dollars back in my day as a lighting and rigging technician on movies and television, here are some the questions the filmmakers obviously either answered or shrugged off on the day in Tangier when they had to get their shot, the climax of the foot chase/race:

  • Is the camera insured if the stunt guy operates it?
  • Is the stuntman insured if he’s operating a camera?
  • Does this break the rules of either the camera crew’s union or the stuntman’s union?
  • Is there a bond company stooge on set, and how long will it take to convince him or her that this is a good idea, covered by the production’s insurance?

The point is this:  The status quo, the expectations, the rules and regulations, the conventions did not get in the way of getting the shot and telling the story.  Yes, there are reasons for the rules, but there are often good reasons to break them, too.

So, look around your newsroom.  Is there a stuntman who can hold a camera?  Is there someone with innovative ideas willing to hook their harness up and leap into the void?  What if it’s not their job?  What if it’s not what the budget says they’re supposed to do?  What if you get the shot?  What if you don’t?  What does failure mean if you don’t try to do something new?

Hand the stuntman a camera.  Find out.

Carnival folo

Some of the best posts I see coming out of this past weekend’s Carnival of Journalism are drifting into the blogosphere after the fact, as folks not on deadline analyze what we prattled on about for a few grafs each, who did the prattling, and how to muster up some real temporal freedom in newsrooms.

Doug Fisher, a contributor to the carnival, circles back around to take a closer look at the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina, a newsroom Jack Lail mentioned in his own carnival entry.

Anderson editor Don Kausler Jr. said this in Lail’s post:

“In our shrinking newsroom, we no longer have enough reporters to cover traditional beats such as government, education, business, health, etc. Now all of the reporters on our content staff are general assignment reporters. They are assigned to geographic regions, and they cover government, education, business, etc., in that region (or they wrangle content from freelancers).”

Fisher responds:

“I find myself wondering who is going to keep an eye out so that things that might be seemingly isolated or random among geographic areas don’t get overlooked as pointing to a larger pattern. This, it seems to be, puts additional pressure on the editors to see that 10,000-foot view. But even if they do, will the GA reporter thrown in to do the story have the time to develop the expertise.”

This is a hard one for understaffed newsrooms. When the shrinking-profit-margin layoff virus hit the paper I worked at in California, we cut both specialists and GA reporters working a geographic beat. They weren’t replaced, and the newsroom wasn’t re-organized to cover the losses.

And if a newsroom does give up its specialists and re-organize around geography, does it need to keep one body working on investigative, or enterprise, or education, or business — something where they can go in-depth and anchor the front page a few times a week?

Probably, but that one extra body doesn’t exist in most newsrooms.

“So perfectionism is a good place to hide: Everybody is always too busy to innovate.”

Which brings me back around to time.

My original question for the carnival bloggers was meant to find ways for newsrooms to take back some time from the print edition.

Print edition workflow is a huge timesink, as files get passed back and forth, budget lines are floated, edited, mulled over in meetings, questions are posed, and the actual process of writing gets jammed into a small space on deadline.

Michelle McLellan, writing at the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Leadership 3.0 blog, says it’s hard to let go of the newsroom culture of perfectionism:

“The research tells us that traditional print news organizations tend to reinforce perfectionism to a fault. People focus on details at the expense of big-picture thinking. Perfectionists are afraid to leave anything out, much less stop doing something. This is why stories get longer, workloads get heavier and to-do lists grow to discouraging proportions. These newsrooms also are risk-averse. So perfectionism is a good place to hide: Everybody is always too busy to innovate.”

McLellan goes on to list 10 steps to getting an individual journalist to adopt a new practice, whether it’s online or off — well worth a read, especially for those of us saddled with the task of actually talking to reporters and editors every day, trying to get them to pick up some new tricks — if they can find the time.