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Teaching Online Journalism

Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Several people have contributed thought-provoking comments on my recent post about photojournalists doing multimedia work. They include Colin Mulvany, of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. (example slideshow: Brothers in Arms, produced by Mulvany with photos and audio by his colleague Brian Plonka); Aaron Vogel, a photo-j student at the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif.; Will Yurman of The Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle (see their multimedia); and Bryan Murley, who frequently writes about multimedia at the blog Reinventing College Media.

As might be expected, there’s a deep concern about the quality of the work. In short, if I have to bring back video for the Web site AND a still photo for the paper, is that still really going to be good? And not inconsequently, will the video even be decent?

The question is really more urgent: Do I have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a good still photo?

But there’s a concurrent question and conversation too, and that one is even more interesting to me: Can I tell a good story if I don’t get good pictures?

I think every journalist in the world needs to be thinking about that question. I think a lot of the video that the TV journalists consider acceptable is garbage (especially on local TV news) — it doesn’t help tell the story at all! A lot of Page One pictures in newspapers (I’m thinking of “baby ducks out for a walk”) don’t even HAVE a story! We are becoming more and more image-centered (thanks to our immersive visual culture). Just because people WILL watch garbage (e.g. on video-sharing Web sites) does NOT mean garbage helps us tell a story.

To read their comments in full, go to the post.

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Categories: storytelling


9 Comments

  1. Murley says:

    Thanks for the mention.

    I think a lot of the video that the TV journalists consider acceptable is garbage (especially on local TV news)

    I was thinking about this when you originally wrote about the HD cameras. If the move of still photographers to shooting video will get rid of the ridiculous “reporter walking down the steps / through the door / through the field” shot that shows up in every single local TV news story, then the world will be a much better place. :-)

  2. Colin Mulvany says:

    I think newspapers will do a disservice to their dwindling readership if they make their staff photojournalists shoot both photos and video. Mindy asks: Can I tell a good story if I don’t get a good picture? Perhaps. But if the quality of the image diminishes because the photographer is overworked from multitasking then why do it?

    As a recent multimedia convert, I’ve thought a lot about workflow. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of hand ringing going on in photo departments about these coming changes. What I truly believe is that after some fits and starts, most newsrooms are going to find a way to make multimedia doable. I say this because I have done it for the past year. I know what works and what doesn’t. The reality is if a photo editor sends a photographer out to shoot an assignment, which includes shooting a video story, then there will be a huge time crunch at the end of the day. There is just not enough time in an 8-hour shift to produce the video story while at the same time having to edit and caption the still photo assignment. Not to mention the shooter probably has three other assignments he shot during the day that will need to be moved.

    What hasn’t been talked about much in these types of discussions is what type of video is the photojournalist going to capture? If the idea is to just grab a 60-second clip of a car accident then fine. But if the assignment is to tell a meaningful 2-3 minute story, then editors are going to quickly find the workflow system in place will not work. Shooting daily video, a great idea at the time, will just wilt on the vine. Or not. What I believe is going to happen is that new multimedia departments will be created within newsrooms. Resources will be shifted where needed. Here at The Spokesman-Review, I am a one-man operation (for now). I work out of the photo department, but my salary has been shifted over to online’s budget. I often show up at the same assignment as a our still shooter. At the end of the day (mine is usually longer) the newspaper has a strong photo and online has a multimedia component that is not just repurposed content from the newspaper.

    Right now these types discussions are going on in many newsrooms. I know of one large newspaper that just moved a still shooter to doing fulltime video storytelling. For a while, I thought I was a lone newspaper video journalist. Now my ranks are growing. Newspapers that venture into video storytelling blind will see the light real fast. I can’t believe that most decent newspapers would double the work on an employee and not expect the overall product suffer. Not to mention the rapid burnout that would happen. Maybe newspapers have some sort of death wish. My real hope is that these workflow challenges will work themselves out. I see the glass as half full. Those are just some thoughts to think about. Colin

  3. Mindy McAdams says:

    I think Colin makes a good point about the time required to do video, and to edit and caption still photos. We need to keep in mind that the people who turn video around in mere minutes at the TV news shop can do it fast because they have a lot of experience — and most still photogs turned video shooters are just starting out. When you’re self-taught too, it takes a long time to get fast with editing video.

  4. Colin Mulvany says:

    True, TV can produce content faster. But look at what they are doing. In most of the TV news stories I’ve seen, the video is a live shot of a reporter telling viewers the story. They add a sprinkling of b-roll and a quick sound bite from a subject then move on to the next story. Most TV shops still edit tape-to-tape which is faster than the newer non-linear method. They also a have production staffs who do nothing but edit tape.

    I think it is very important that newspaper video journalists draw a line in the sand and say right now: We are not going to be like TV. We have an opportunity to showcase quality storytelling in a new and alternative way for our readers and viewers. Newspapers will just embarrass themselves if they post bad video just because they can. Thoughtful well-produced, stories should be the entry point, not an eventual goal.

  5. Will Yurman says:

    Colin,
    I’m curious how you see the future evolving for newspaper websites. Are you concerned that as expectations rise from editors and publishers for more content, that inevitably you won’t be able to produce, as you describe(and do) “quality storytelling in a new and alternative way for our readers and viewers.’

    I agree that simply doing what television does would be a mistake for newspapers, but I wonder what the reality will be. TV does what it does in part because they have to – they have to fill their airtime, and a standup with some b-roll makes that easy.

    My paper doesn’t seem likely to add staff – so as our appetite for web content grows, I’m wondering what will happen to our ability to tell stories.

    I’m curious what you think as someone on the frontlines :)

    -will

  6. Colin Mulvany says:

    Wil, my crystal ball is as fuzzy as anybody’s. My core belief is that when publishers see how much work video entails, they will either pony up the money and shift resources, or just back down. With all the cutbacks in our industry there is not much room for adding more to the workload without driving people from the profession with burnout. Again I can’t stress enough– good video storytelling takes time. Photojournalists need to help define this workflow before it is too late. Yes, the expectations from editors and publishers will be high. If they really want to do this, then they are going to have to invest in the future. That means training the right people, buying professional level cameras, accessories and software. It means dedicating a person that REALLY wants to do this type of storytelling.

    As for the future of newspaper websites, video will play a big part eventually. Too many newspaper websites are still only shovelware– content from the newspaper that is just rolled over into online. Web-only content is what will bring viewers to your website. Blogs, video, audio slideshows, podcasts and other multimedia has to be a major part of every newspaper website. If not, viewers are going to go someplace else to get it. The tipping point for multimedia happened this year as the growing number of users has transitioned to high speed Internet. They will drive the future of multimedia Internet content.

    My advice to photo editors: If you have someone on staff that is interested in video storytelling then find a way to get them to the Platypus Workshop (it’s a nine-day video boot camp for still shooters.) Get them the right equipment. Outfitting a video journalist is about the same as a still shooter. The clock is running.

  7. Mindy McAdams says:

    Colin gets it too:

    “Web-only content is what will bring viewers to your website. Blogs, video, audio slideshows, podcasts and other multimedia has to be a major part of every newspaper website. If not, viewers are going to go someplace else to get it.”

    I’ve heard a lot of publishers and top editors complain that they do not get the results they want from their Web sites. Well … they really need to change what they’re doing.

    Colin is right: Shovelware is not going to bring people to your site.

  8. Tomas Stargardter says:

    Beeing a good still photojournalist goes a long way into helping you get good viedo footage. Since you are not depending on movement alone to tell the story then once you add movment to your photography skills the end product is much better. I remember reuters people talking 15 years ago a bout editors sitting in rooms punching out grabs for their wire photo servive. This idea is feasabel today and will work well for major events such as sports events (world cup). For now if you want top quality results for a print publication, you as a shooter will need to concentrate on your still images.

    From my experience my brain just works a little different when I shoot video as compared to shooting stills.

    My fear is that the newpwper owners and editor in order to save a buck will force the merging of the video and still gathering and compromise the quality of both.

  9. Mindy McAdams says:

    What Tomas wrote reminded me of an important lesson I learned in a film class long ago (at Penn State). We were watching a lot of movies by the great master Akira Kurosawa, and our professor pointed out that Kurosawa almost never moved the camera. He let the action come into and out of the frame naturally.

    Years later I saw a spoof of Oliver Stone’s filmmaking style. In a voiceover, the spoofer was shouting: “Move that camera! Yeah! Move it!” Because Oliver Stone is … well, he’s no Kurosawa.

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