I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but this year I feel a need to make one.
For 2014, I’m going to try to please myself on every shoot. I work at a place that has formulas and expectations for the videos we produce. At the risk of getting my ass kicked, I’m going to try to avoid shooting what they expect. It’s time to have fun.
I started the first day of the year – a day off – by shooting the piece above with a co-worker flying a drone and me shooting with a single 50mm lens (and a GoPro.) I did it for fun. I think I’m going to approach every assignment this way.
It’s sometimes very hard to break away from habit and expectations. But formulas and routines make for boring videos. What are you going to do to shake things up this year?
I’m part of the ten-member team from Newsshooter.com that will be covering all the new gear at NAB 2013, the mega-show of video equipment at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.
Dan Chung, a Beijing-based photojournalist who came up through Reuters and the Guardian and now does network news along with Guardian and freelance work, has put together a global all-pro squad to cover one of the world’s biggest conventions. Biggest period. Not just for TV and video.
We’re all pros who use this stuff daily. We’ll look at the new gear with a critical eye.
Newsshooter.com is the new name of DSLRnewsshooter.com and indicates the new and broader scope of coverage.
We’ll also be streaming live shows during the conference, including a panel on newspapers and video on April 10th at 5pm eastern time. Yeah, I’m on that one.
Check it all out starting Monday the 8th on Newsshooter, as well as here and on my twitter feed @newspapervideo.
(Updated, see bottom)
I’ve spent the last couple of months occasionally trying to do my job with an iPhone and my new iPad mini.
Had to cover opening night of the fair last night for the 20-somethingth time, so decided to do it mobile. What a disaster.
Got my eyefi card talking to my ipad? Check.
Got a bunch of video editing apps? Check
Got a story? Check
So I shoot the story, get some pr flak voice and sit down in a quiet place to edit.
I’ve shot tons of 30-second iphone videos with clips butted together and emailed in. That works fine.
This time I thought I’d try to put flak audio under b-roll and try to make it a real video. Whoa. Blew up in my face.
Vericorder 1st Video is the only app I know that will layer audio from a video clip so that’s what I used. It’s the most user-hostile video app you can imagine. Ok, hours later I’ve got a bad video put together. On the iPad Mini, there’s no way to tell if a clip is in focus, there’s no way to skim clips for good bites, and frame-accurate editing is an exercise in frustration that makes you want to cut your thumbs off. But I’ve got a one-minute-twenty video.
Export it. Oops, too big to email. Try to FTP it with FTP Client Pro app. Hangs up half way through. Repeatedly. (Of course, there’s no way to use our video upload form from an iPad, so gotta send it in.)
Ok, recut it to a minute. Pull it into other video apps to compress it. Finally get it small enough to email. If I had shot it on my regular camera and edited on my laptop, it would have been done three hours ago.
Oops the desk says it won’t transcode through our video provider, VMIX. Crap. VMIX doesn’t like modern quicktime codecs.
After midnight, I finally give up and pull everything into my laptop, edit a much better piece with stuff I know is in focus, and post it myself. Consider slitting my wrists but decide to do a ‘will it blend’ video of my iPad.
Anyone else out there on the bleeding edge of mobile video production?
Got any app suggestions that will layer audio and video like Vericorder’s? Quick to use apps that don’t constantly crash like Splice? Anything with a ftp client built in? Anyone figured out how to get sound from an audio recorder into a video editing app?
Why does something so simple become so hard with just a little extra thrown in the mix?
Ok, I’m resigned to a laptop from now on.
Update from Glen Mulcahy, who runs the excellent mobile journalism blog VJ Technology, who tells me Pinnacle video editing app WILL split audio from video if you drag clip to audio line instead of video! D’oh!
Happy 2013, everyone! I hope your hangovers are gone by now and I hope hot dogs are not the press room food at the games you have to cover today.
I’m looking back at 2012 and finding some great pieces that didn’t get enough love. First one I found today is a New York Times video by Nicole Bengiveno on Donna’s Diner in Elyria, Ohio. A lot of work went into this story – a story that wasn’t target-rich nor easy to do.
(This comes from the New York Times year in front pages.)
Another New York Times video that is really nice is the one on a rare form of dementia that is credited to a whole crew: shot by Béatrice de Géa; produced by Nick Harbaugh, Soo-Jeong Kang and Nancy Donaldson. I like how this video has breathing room in it.
Brian Kaufman from the Detroit Free Press looked at the old Packard plant in an amazing video. Rich in imagery; poetic in approach.
I’m astounded at these great stories that took weeks or months to do. Newspapers still do this? At my paper, I used to do long-form videos but lately I’m chasing hard news and trying to get videos posted in a half hour, because that’s where the traffic is.
What have you guys done in the past year that you’re proud of? What have you seen from other folks that you’ve liked? Pitch in here and let’s do our own year-in-review!
Happy New Year!
A number of photographers still at the Miami Herald covered 1992′s Hurricane Andrew, one of only three Category 5 storms to hit the U.S.
The storm devastated South Florida and its impact is still evident in many ways.
Some of us went back to the scene of images we shot way back then:
But perhaps more shocking than the realization that it’s been twenty years since the storm, is seeing what the Miami Herald did in covering the aftermath. Nearly all the staff was living without power, some without homes, and yet we still produced what the Society of News Design lauded in this video:
I wonder how we’d do today?
Here’s what my life looks like. Not too shabby. If only newspapers paid like they used to…..
The World Press Photo Multimedia Contest awards were announced today, judged from 300 entries by a panel of respectable folk, including Vincent Laforet, (ex of the New York Times,) Claudine Boeglin, (of the Thompson Reuters Foundation,) Jessica Dimmock, (winner of Magnum’s Inge Morath Award,) Keith Jenkins, (ex of the Washington Post and now senior multimedia guy at NPR,) Wing Jingchun, ( head of visual center for the Southern Metropolis Daily, one of China’s leading newspapers,) as well as Iatã Cannabrava, Poul Madsen, and Anna Zekria. This is not like the Pulitzer Prizes, where the judges may not have any expertise in the category they’re judging. These guys actually have some cred.
Here’s the World Press press release:
“DUTCH PRODUCTION ‘AFRIKANER BLOOD’ WINS FIRST PRIZE IN MULTIMEDIA CONTEST - The international jury of the 2nd World Press Photo Multimedia Contest has given the First Prize to the production ‘Afrikaner Blood’ by Elles van Gelderen and Ilvy Njiokiktjien from the Netherlands. The multimedia production follows young white Afrikaner teenagers in South Africa who attend a holiday camp set up to teach them self-defense and how to combat a perceived black enemy.
The jury chair Vincent Laforet called ‘Afrikaner Blood’ “an incredibly well crafted and nuanced piece with a very cohesive structure and refined execution.” He added: “We as the jury appreciated the restraint that the authors demonstrated in the telling of this story. All of the multimedia elements and careful attention to detail served to push the narrative forward, as opposed to distracting from it.”
The judging was conducted at the World Press Photo office, where the jury viewed all the entries and discussed their merits over a period of four days. A total of 287 multimedia productions from 48 countries were entered in the contest, organized for the second time this year.
Managing director Michiel Munneke said: “This year, participation was open for photographers and producers and we are glad to have had such a broad field of entries from around the world. It is clear from the discussions with the jury that multimedia is continuously moving and developing and there are no set definitions yet. We are delighted that World Press Photo, through this contest, can contribute to the development of the medium and of the visual journalism profession.””
Although they’re working hard to change the perception, World Press awards have always been about the story – the biggest stories worldwide. Not necessarily about the storytelling. And when they started the multimedia category last year, they didn’t stray far from their still photo comfort zone. They took the “multimedia” term literally, requiring in the rules that still photography be combined with other media. “Each multimedia entry must include professional still photography in combination with (but not limited to) audio and visual elements such as video, animation, graphics, illustrations, sound and text.” So no video-only entries. Hey, it’s their sandbox, they make the rules. If one were to include video only, where do you draw the lines? There are lots of other TV and film contests out there.
But that requirement for still photos can make for some awkward moments in stories. Like this year’s winner, which is a mishmash of stills and video, but is none the less a compelling story. ‘Afrikaner Blood’ by Elles van Gelderen and Ilvy Njiokiktjien from the Netherlands was chosen as the best multimedia piece worldwide after days of judging by some of the best in the business.
I want to talk about why such a technically flawed piece can still win a contest like this. Of course, it’s the story. But it’s more than that. It goes beyond the wow factor in finding a good story. It’s about looking at a story with fresh eyes.
All three of these are different looks at things we’ve seen before. These pieces all have an innocence to the way the stories were done – none of them are slick nor particularly well-produced. But in all three of these stories you can see the glint of obsession in the author’s eyes. Innocent obsession, focusing on the story with the eyes of a newborn above all else, is an amazing and powerful thing to come across in a story.
The winning entry, about racist whites in South Africa, makes your skin crawl with disgust at the subjects, so it succeeds on the first and most important level: engagement. But the actual storytelling has glaring problems with the way still photos are dropped into the video seemingly at random, breaking the flow and bringing it to a halt. And it has perhaps the worst beginning of any prize-winning piece I’ve seen, though it gets better after 1:15 into it. It finally gets compelling three minutes into it. Vincent Laforet, the jury chair, praises the piece in a British Journal of Photography story, noting the “squirm factor,” and calling it not only powerful but nuanced. I don’t think I’d have given it top prize but that “squirm factor,” seeing through the eyes of an innocent for the first time, is an amazingly powerful way to tell a story.
The second-place piece by Maisie Crow, Half-Lives: The Chernobyl Workers Now is much better at basic storytelling and successfully combines killer still images (that are prize-winning quality by themselves) with video. It’s a great piece. Technically well done and it’s obvious the photographer dived deep into the story and worked it hard. But the plodding string notes used to set the mood are a little like the overall impact of the piece: monotone and drab. In almost any story, you need peaks and troughs, comic relief along with tragedy. While there are some great moments in here, such as when the wife is shocked at her husband’s revelations, the story doesn’t build and it doesn’t crescendo – which, I suppose, is entirely appropriate for a story about the lingering effects of radiation. Like the subjects, this story leaves us with an uncertain future. I like this story very much but I would agree that it’s not a world-beating piece. It’s too quiet and introspective. But again, with the innocence of a child struggling to understand, it leaves one feeling like a first-time visitor might feel to these radiation-soaked towns, meeting people who know they will die but who are unwilling to flee.
The third-place piece by Jim Lo Scalzo, America’s Dead Sea, is a Kodachrome-colored look at a drying lake in California, complete with dead fish, dead trees, and dead trailers. The pretty pictures make you forget to wrinkle your nose at the fish. It’s a well-done piece, sort of in the style of California is a Place, but without the nuanced storytelling and story arc that Zackary Canepari & Drea Cooper bring to the California is a Place stories. But again, it’s a prize-winner because it looks at the subject with fresh eyes.
So the lesson to take away from this multimedia contest is this: don’t get bored with your story. Don’t lose your innocence. Always look at your story with the wonder and delight of a child seeing something for the first time.
By Elles van Gelder (videographer) and Ilvy Njiokiktjien (photographer), the Netherlands
‘Half-Lives: The Chernobyl Workers Now’
By Maisie Crow, USA, photographer and videographer
‘America’s Dead Sea’
By James Lo Scalzo, USA, photographer
Its time to bring this blog out of hibernation. It’s been a tough year in newspaper land and I’ve been putting my efforts toward my career and limiting my social media to Twitter.
I’m going to try to balance high-end subjects appropriate for freelancers with mobile and small-footprint techniques suitable for MMJ’s.
I’m posting this from mobile and will see how it works.
(by the way, I’ve invested in broadcast-quality gear if anyone needs work done.)
Tuesday night, January 11, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, a documentary by the staff of the Miami Herald will air nationwide on PBS. “Nou Bouke,” which means “we’re tired” in Creole, is a look at the earthquake and its aftermath, along with the tumultuous history of Haiti.
The hour-long documentary was produced in-house at the Miami Herald by videographer Jose Iglesias and independent film producer Joe Cardona, hired for this project, along with Herald journalist Nancy San Martin, who served as executive producer. It was done with the assistance of local PBS affiliate WPBT, but was independently produced and delivered as a finished product.
This took a year full-time for Iglesias to produce. He landed in Port au Prince shortly after the quake and spent days sleeping on the ground as it shook from aftershocks, listening to the wails and prayers of the shocked survivors. He went back time and again, at first producing daily stories, then, as the idea for the film took root, looking for more in-depth pieces.
I’m really proud of our commitment at the Miami Herald to produce this film and I hope it is a trend-setter for talented journalists to break the boundaries of the printed page and parochial web sites. It’s a powerful piece.
Other newspapers are also starting to explore the documentary format.
Newsday produced “Campaign Season: the 2010 Race for Governor,” a documentary produced out of daily coverage of the New York governor’s race, which aired on News 12 in Long Island. From the documentary page: “Newsday reporter Thomas Maier and video journalist John Paraskevas produced this documentary in seven chapters, shown at different points during the course of the campaign, with finishing touches provided by News12’s production team. Then after Election Day, they pulled together a complete hour-long presentation looking at the winners, losers and what this campaign meant for New York’s future.”
Thomas Maier sent me this note:
“I thought you might be interested in this new documentary where the
New York race for governor is the story itself. You can find it here:
Unlike most documentaries of this size, “Campaign Season” wasn’t a set
play, so to speak, but rather a documentary on the fly, assembled over
time in chapter form, with no clear idea of the final election outcome
until it happened. We’re publishing the completed documentary today. In
the world of newspaper videos, I think this Newsday project pushes the
marriage of print and video farther than anything we’ve done before at
In this final version, there is an overall narrative arc propelled by
the characters’ ambition and, more interestingly, betrayal. In a year
when the GOP did well around the nation, the NY Republicans
self-destructed – and this documentary explains why. The very first
image in chapter one is of former NY Sen. Al D’Amato, at a dinner last
spring for GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio. But despite what
D’Amato told the crowd that night, we learn in a later chapter that he’s
really for Democrat Andrew Cuomo and actually hates Lazio.
The documentary was on the cutting-edge of the news. In our
installment on Oct. 14, *Campaign Season* told Newsday’s audience about
Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo*s $2.5 million income from his chief
fundraiser when they were in private business together in Dubai — the
same day The New York Times featured that finding in a front-page story
about his fundraiser Andrew Farkas.
Perhaps more significantly, this narrative catches the drama of being
inside a political convention and the backstabbing among politicians
vying for the nomination. The video also supplies profiles of all the
major characters, warts and all, and let’s our audience see why events
happened as they did.
However, a BIG supporter of this whole effort is Pat Dolan, director of News12 and whose family owns Cablevision. Pat has always wanted to do just this type of thing, and the sale of Newsday to Cablevision is allowing us to do it. Pat was simply wonderful, a guardian angel, who opened many of the doors that traditionally block such projects. The reporting, filming, narration, writing and editing was done by myself and John at Newsday. But Pat opened up his shop, and I worked with his graphics people and two of his video editors in putting together the final touches.”
More on the Miami Herald production:
We were having a discussion of how to assign video over on the NewspaperVideo email list, and I posted this:
We’ve been doing video for the past five years at the Miami Herald. I’ve learned a few things about video assignments.
First, if your paper is anything like mine, none of your reporters, editors, or photo assignment people will have a clue what makes good video when you’re starting out. So don’t put video assignments in the same pipeline as your photo assignments. If you have a dedicated video producer, let them make the call on what to cover. Choose one thing a day to produce a video from and make sure the person doing it has all day to work on it… they’ll need the time. If your big bosses are making a fuss about video, all your reporters and editors will be requesting video on their stories – don’t automatically assign it. Pick and choose what to do. The person picking and choosing needs to know both video production and your web stats – video on the web ain’t the same as ink on paper.
Second, if you’re after web traffic, realize that there are only a few things that will get hits in video on a newspaper site – primarily hard news and sports. Most of your traffic will come from the story level pages as people arrive there from search engines, so make embedding video with the story a top priority. Because of that, try to do video from the top web stories of the day – which are seldom the same as the lede print story. If you’re compelled to cover feel-good features and cultural events, go into it knowing they won’t get much traffic.
Third, as you’re picking what to cover, make sure your videos are compelling and emotional… facts and figures have no place in video. Show, don’t tell. Make ‘em short and make sure the opening shot is amazing and action-packed – most people click off videos in the first ten seconds, and you have to grab them fast. Videos need a story arc – a beginning, middle and end – so long after your still shooter has gone home, your video guy might be waiting to get that ending shot – it takes much much longer to shoot a video than it does to shoot stills.
And finally and most importantly, always keep in mind that crappy video has absolutely no value to your newspaper. Advertisers hate it; viewers click off it immediately; and your staff will hate doing it. Pick stuff that’s worth doing and give people the time to do it well. Don’t do predictable and newspaper-story-style video – the point of video is to tell a story a different way.
Video is a bottomless rabbit hole that will take huge amounts of time to do. Do not expect your photogs to be able to cover their normal assignment load while also producing video. On the other hand, video is the most amazing story tool ever. No other medium can bring people to tears or make them laugh with joy the way that video can.
Although I forget sometimes that there are newspapers who still don’t do video as part of their daily work, it seems like most do. Video is a part of almost every metro photo department these days. Since every metro photo department is a faint shadow of what they used to be, you have to be really smart about doing video. The time investment every time you press the record button is enormous.
If there’s one message I feel compelled to share after going through a few years of the learning process, it’s that video traffic is a good thing but won’t pay the bills. No advertiser wants to be associated with crappy news clips and amateur quality features – even if they get a lot of hits. All of us need to put our efforts into producing high-quality work and look for things that can be turned into series and channels. At the moment sports coverage seems to be the most fertile for this and advertisers are willing to sponsor ongoing and predictable sports shows. That predictable part is really important – sponsors want consistent quality and consistent frequency.
Which isn’t to say we should spend all our time trying to pay the bills. Use the skills you learn producing consistent high quality stuff to tackle your own stories and make your videos really compelling. I can’t say enough about the power of video to move people. Use it wisely and well. There are many outlets for quality news video stories and more and more of us are doing documentaries and work for broadcast in partnership with other outlets. It’s a big world out there and newspapers are becoming an ever-smaller part of it. Spread your wings, everyone… Never have the tools to produce cinema-quality video been available to us so easily, even on pitiful newspaper salaries. Learn to use them!
In the end, It’s all about the story. Photojournalists are well equipped to tell stories.