Posted on June 26, 2006
What I learned from the online photojournalists
I spent the weekend at the NPPA National Summit in Tampa, Florida, and as I expected, there was a lot to learn. Much of it came from Richard Koci Hernandez, a photojournalist who works at the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News and produces the associated site MercuryNewsPhoto.com. Like Jen Friedberg, Seth Gitner, David Leeson, Brian Storm, Joe Weiss, and a few others, Richard is a standout leader in multimedia photojournalism.
So, the first thing I learned: Richard says the dilemma in carrying both a video camera and a still camera has been solved, period. The solution is to carry an HD video camera. The resolution of stills you grab from HD video is more than adequate for use in the print newspaper, he said. Wow!
“With high-definition video, you can literally take the feed and go frame-by-frame and pick whatever still you want. Don’t gasp — I know that’s horrible for still photographers! And you feel dirty doing it. You always get the ball in the right spot. You always get the person walking through the light at the right moment. It does feel dirty.” (This is a direct quote from Richard; I recorded his Friday morning session with his permission.)
Cameras: Sony HDR-FX1 (U.S. $3,700) | Sony HDR-HC3 (U.S. $1,500 — Richard said this one is totally fine, and we don’t need to invest the big bucks in the first one; at the Merc, he has used both models) | Note that the Canon XL H1, for example, sells for about U.S. $10,000 … Ricahrd did not mention that one!
Note that you’re NOT going to get decent still images from a video camera that is not HD. You’ll get stuff you can maybe use on the Web … but not for print.
If you have any video artifacts in the still image, you can run it through Noise Ninja from PictureCode.
Richard also showed us the Flash Video FAQ. This site is awesome! It compares (side by side) a bunch of different versions of the same video (all in Flash). If you’ve spent any time at all trying to figure out the best settings for exporting video for the Web, you will know why this is cool.
The photographers at the Mercury News use iMovie to edit all their video, and GarageBand to edit all their audio. Both of these are very easy to learn, and the Merc photographers all have Macs. (I think they will start using Final Cut Pro soon, but that’s just me guessing.)
I talked to one photojournalist who’s at a newspaper where all the photographers are required to use Windows computers (not Macs). Yikes! I heard the explanation, which makes perfect sense from a corporate point of view, but it seems such a pity that a whole staff of photojournalists is prevented from using the easy, intuitive tools that come with Macs today. (Then again, my j-school does not provide any Mac labs for photojournalism students, so …)
Richard made the world’s best argument for why any journalist should not stick his or her head in the sand and try to avoid learning multimedia skills:
“If someone in our photo departments doesn’t take control, and encourage someone who wants to do video to do it, someone else will take control — and they will hand you the Mona Lisa with all the numbers and a brush, and say, this is the way we want you to do it. And you’ll have to do it that way.” (This is also a direct quote from Richard, from my recording of his session.)
Because they took the lead — and some of them learned video, or Flash, or Dreamweaver (and they paid for hosting a site outside the Knight Ridder firewall, which had largely prevented the Merc from putting good multimedia and video online) — the photojournalists at the Mercury News now have the expertise to say whether a particular story lends itself to video.
Bottom line: The Merc photojournalists are not at the mercy of a print reporter or editor (who may know nothing about video) who says, “We want video with this story.” They have the authority to say, “No, video won’t work for that story.” How good is that?
It’s pretty darned important to understand that you get that kind of authority ONLY by first proving that you know how to do the thing — whether it’s video, audio, slideshows, Flash, or databases!