Taking me to task

In my last post, “Sequencing Video” I was taken to task from TV photojournalists for letting my camera run instead of starting and stopping when I was shooting a sequence for a story. Oreo writes:

“I encourage you to work however is most comfortable for you, but when I shoot, I (usually) start and stop recording when changing shots. This leads to less wasted media, and less time in editing looking for the shot you want. It is also referred to as “editing in the camera.” I can’t give you any hard and fast rules that I have on when I roll constantly, but it’s usually when the action is happening rapidly or the record button is not easy to reach due to the way I’m holding the camera.”

And from Lisa Parisot:

“I think your technique might work however I teach students in my classes to turn the camera off between shots unless they are recording for sound, or if it is a breaking news event where every second counts. I learned to shoot news when the amount of film stock was limited so we had to sequence in the camera. I teach this method to my journalism students for two reasons – so they learn to edit in the camera which saves time in the edit room and so they learn to anticipate what shots they will need to tell their story.”

I defended myself by saying I don’t do that very often, which is true to my style. I got to thinking though—What do TV news shooters really do when they say they edit in camera? I realize that many of you still edit tape-to-tape instead of the modern method of non-linear–ala Final Cut Pro. Does that change how you shoot?

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Sequencing video

On Tuesday, I am running a two-day in-house training on video fundamentals and Final Cut Express for my newspaper’s MoJos, photojournalists, and web producers. I only have three hours each day to get to the point. Trying to use the time wisely and not overwhelm people is paramount for me.

Yesterday, Liz Kishimoto, an assistant photo editor, came up to me holding a shinny new Canon HV-20 HDV video camera. She has never shot video before. Liz is taking my mini workshop to learn how video is produced. I think it is hugely important for department editors to understand the time commitments and challenges of video production. Doing so will help them better manage these new workflows that are now affecting every department.

I gave her a quick tutorial on the camera. We got into a discussion about how still photography and video storytelling are alike and different. When talk turned to sequencing of video, she had a perplexed look on her face. I had just completed a video on how people in wheelchairs have a difficult time getting around in the snow. I showed her the edited video sequences I had assembled for the story. One sequence of a para-transit driver loading and unloading a client in a wheelchair, featured the proverbial wide, medium and tight shots. I tried to explain the concept of compressing time to her. That a video sequence takes something shot in real-time and compresses it, using a variety of shots, into something much shorter. I impressed the importance of how the viewer understands and accepts this time compression, because it has been ingrained in them through years of watching TV and movies.

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The Lemonade Kid is found!

In my  “What can we learn from TV news shooter’s” post, I asked if anybody had a link to The Lemonade Kid nat sound piece I’d seen years ago. Thankfully “Thom4” came through for me and found it, other classic videos shot by master video storyteller John Goheen.  The Lemonade Kid really peaked my interest in video storytelling early in my still photojournalism career.  I believe I saw it at a NPPA Flying Short Course way back in the early 90’s. It just blew me away. Watching the Nat sound package back then, I had no concept of how it was edited together. All I knew was that it just worked brilliantly as a story. I watched it again today for the first time since I gained some video editing knowledge. What I saw was a master class in video sequencing. This is not a hard news story, or some barnburner with action. It is just a slice-of-life story, with a precocious kid as the star attraction of a street corner lemonade stand. “Thom4” writes:

 “Thanks for the respect and a chance to provide you with the link to one of my favorite TV nat sound packages “The Lemonade Kid.” It was shot by photographer John C.P. Goheen and you can watch it by going to Terranova Pictures under the television projects tab. I heard John speak and show his work at a seminar more than 12 years ago in Atlanta. I had never seen this type non-narrated story before. John does some of the most amazing television photography I’ve ever seen. I would jump at a chance to spend more time learning from him. I steal all my best ideas. By the way, I’m a TV news photographer working in Orlando, FL. I’ve been shooting video for 13 years now.”  

 Play it through once and just enjoy it. Then play it again and watch the edits carefully. Look at how they flow. Watch how effectively Goheen uses his detail shots and the sequencing of wide, medium and tight shots. The other thing that works in the piece the way the narrative is gathered. A wireless mic was all that was needed to capture the sound of the kid and the customers. This allowed Goheen to pull back and get nice long shots without missing a beat in the audio. After checking out The Lemonade Kid, click on Keith’s Lunchyet another Goheen classic. I wish the compressions on both were better, but I am just grateful as hell to see these stories again. Truly inspirational.  

 

    

    

The weather video

It snowed seven inches Wednesday in Spokane, a ton for our neck of the Northwest woods. This morning I stood looking out my living room window at 6:30 a.m. pondering whether to go shovel the driveway, or cut and run. I honestly thought about leaving the task to my wife so I could get an early start trolling neighborhoods looking for weather video prospects. I almost got away. Suffice to say, I did my part and cleared the driveway first. Sweaty, but feeling invigorated, I hopped in my trusty old four-wheel drive and went scouting for people dealing with the morning mess. 

The morning-after-the-storm weather video is still new to me. TV lenslingers know the drill well– as snowflakes begin to fall, live trucks fan out across the town. Breathless reporters give viewers up the minute coverage of slick roads complete with a little snowplow action in the background. They must hate the mindless repetition of it all. This is my first weather video so I have not gone all jaded yet. 

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Busting through the newsroom silos

 

One of the scary things I found about moving into management is that I have all these grandiose ideas banging around my head. I kind of feel like Obama did after winning Iowa–- actually believing, if elected, that he can change the world. We know the reality is most politicians fall into that cauldron of politics, quickly forgetting us little guys. My challenge here and the reason I accepted the promotion from videojournalist to multimedia editor at The Spokesman-Review, is that I truly believe I can help facilitate needed change. I know I’m naive, but I got to take a shot. I just hope the silos of the newsroom are not too thick for my soft head. Things were actually moving along pretty swiftly before I showed up on the scene. Upper management at the Spokesman is all about change. Fearless really. But that does not mean there is a total buy-in to this overall new web-centric vision with the rest of the newsroom clan.
 
Change in a newsroom, I believe, best happens slowly. It should be done in a way that most people have time to prepare themselves mentally for a new workflow, beat reassignment, or a change of job duties. Sadly, it rarely happens that way. Panic sets in. Old business models are blown up. Change is then inflicted on to people who are still reeling from all the previous changes. When this happens, fear and anger can take over and progress on changing newsroom culture slows to a crawl.
 
This past year felt like one big tremor of change to me. Forced (ok, pried with treats) from my comfy video-editing cave, to face a newsroom of skeptical co-workers who many see video as just one more layer of work being piled on them. My challenge is to find a way to integrate multimedia into our newsroom and do it in a way that doesn’t just add more work to their daily load. Instead, I want to give reporters and photographer’s new storytelling tools to help them reach the readers that have left the newspaper…forever. It’s all about creating a new workflow– for everyone. 
 
The web is transforming itself into a visual medium. Online viewers are increasingly embracing the net for its new visual offerings. High definition video is just around the corner. When this becomes the norm, we had better be ready. Our viewers will expect us to be. If we can’t offer them killer HD video news content, in the click of a mouse, they are going to go someplace that does.
 
There is an industry phrase batted around that says those that have drank the online Kool-Aid somehow “get it.” Unfortunately, too many of us think that “getting it” makes us part of the cool kids clique in the newsroom. The challenge for me is not worrying about the ones that have all ready crossed over to a web-centric workflow, but finding ways to help the majority of the newsroom who are still struggling to find there place in a rapidly transitioning industry.
 
So here is my super-secret newsroom silo bustin plan.
 
  1. Don’t be a jerk.
  2. Be open to helping anyone that wants to learn multimedia.
  3. Craft an in-house video training program that is ongoing and reaches not only the visual people in the newsroom, but non-visual folks as well. Just like I need to learn to write better, word people will have to tap their (mostly) dormant visual side of their brains. 
  4. Have lots of conversations with everyone about what multimedia is and is not. Good news judgment comes easy for word editors, but looking at a story idea and deciding if it has true visual multimedia potential, still needs some work.
  5. Fight the good fight when it comes to getting the right tools into the right hands of people that want go Mojo.
  6. As we start to redesign our website, make sure that multimedia functionality and presentation is addressed. We need to do it right the first time. 
  7. Innovate by doing things that no one has tried before. 
  8. Work harder at being a better video storyteller, so I can then share what I learn with others.
  9. Don’t be a jerk. 
 
Any other suggestions will be most welcome. 

My journey to video nirvana

Many people ask me if I miss being a still photojournalist. As I transitioned to producing multimedia full-time, it was a question I knew I would eventually face. But now, with three years of treading the online waters, I can give an equivocal “No” as my answer. Even I surprised myself with this response. I enjoyed, no, loved  the craft of still photojournalism. It had been my daily passion for 18 years.  I was pretty good at putting the lipstick on the pig as assignments go. But as newspapers, including mine, began to implode, I knew I had to eventfully change. Gone was the space to showcase my passion. Gone were many of the talented reporters I had worked with that helped me fulfill my vision of a good photo story. What I was faced with was a second half of a career with little professional growth potential. I could have left my paper, but that didn’t feel right to me. Go where? Another newsroom that would eventually go through the same gut-wrenching downsizing?

Years ago, a mentor of mine told me after turning down a job at The National Geographic—“Newspapers need talented people to stick with them more than ever.” A noble cause I thought at the time, but one that has come back to haunt me time and time again. “Newspapers need talented people,” plays like a looping eight-track tape in my mind. The reality is that talented people are being driven out of the newspapers in droves as publishing conglomerates squeeze every last penny out of the remaining “assets” that haven’t been laid off or bolted for greener pastures.

So what is the future of newspapers? What magic ball has that answer? I really don’t think anyone knows the time or the place when the presses will be silenced for good. Ten years? Twenty? Fifty? What I do know is what I’ve learned from observing from my 14-year-old daughter. Newspaper reading should have rubbed off on her. I have been a good role model as I tried to get her interested in reading the newspaper. I have failed miserably. What I have come to understand is that she, like the rest of her generation, is never going to read the paper product. She and her friends are screenagers. Raised in front of a computer monitor, with a universe of information and social networks just a click away. The tactile feel that newspaper readers pine for is and always will be foreign to the younger generations. Their brains are wired differently and no amount of pandering to them with niche publications is going the change that.

About four years ago, I had an eureka moment. I was at an assignment to photograph a veteran of three wars—WWII, Korea and Vietnam (two tours.) I listened as Glen Douglas, an elderly Native America chief and master storyteller recalled some of his war experiences. I was mesmerized at the stories. When the reporter finished the interview, I told Glen that I would come back the next day to video tape his war stories. Up to that point in time, my experience with a video camera had been several bouts taping my daughter’s birthday parties. As Glen sat before me, my whole universe changed. I had to be the reporter, photographer, and editor. It was an empowering moment… “Glen, tell me about the first time you had to kill someone…” That night I sat at my dining room table with my Mac laptop in front of me. I edited an hour of video into five segments with iMovie. I figured out how to compress the video with QuickTime Pro and burned them to a CD. The next morning I handed the disk to our online editor Ryan Pitts and asked him to see if he could figure out how to put video on the website. My phone rang 15 minutes later. “It’s up, looks great,” said Pitts. A couple of days later a woman called me and said she stumbled on the videos at 2 a.m. “I was crying in front of my computer monitor,” she said.

I can tell you quite honestly; in my entire career, that was probably the first person that told me I brought them to tears with my journalism. What I learned from that experience is video is powerful medium. One that can reach people in ways still photography or written words can’t always convey.

Flash forward four years. Here I sit, having surviving yet another round of layoffs. I rolled the dice and took the lead in my professional destiny. Now I am equipped to at least start making some form of impact on my paper’s digital future. Thankfully, management and the publisher invested in my vision by giving me the tools and training to be successful. Where many in my newsroom are angry about the past, I feel nothing but excitement for the future. I have embraced the idea that video will become one of the mainstays of online journalism’s future. Will video save our industry? Nope. But it is a start. At Spokesmanreview.com our online future is a wide-open palette. Our coming redesign will allow us to start fresh and create a site that will help lead us through this difficult transition. What’s important now is for the remaining smart and talented people to hold steadfast and help make the changes needed to insure the survival of the newspaper in whatever form it eventually takes. 

What we can learn from TV news shooters

For the longest time, still photojournalists loved to talk smack about the TV lenslingers that would often get in our shots. But as newspaper photojournalists transition to shooting video, they should realize our TV brethren have something to teach us. The cultures of TV news and newspapers are finally starting to blend. We are both looking to achieve the same things– bring our viewers news and information in the quickest way (form) possible. For newspaper journalists, it means  changing newsroom workflows, where deadlines are now and not in the late afternoon.

When I first started shooting video, there weren’t a lot newspaper videojournalists working full-time. I looked for inspiration in TV news stories. I realize that most of what TV news does is not something I or any other newspaper video shooter would want to emulate. Stand-ups and live shots are not for us. But back in the early 90’s, lenslingers of old, were able to do some incredible nat sound pieces. That was before the insultants and producers got a hold of the newscasts and jammed Eleven-Stories-in-Eleven-Minutes into our collective eyeballs. I think too many of us believe, as we’re huddled in our supply closet video editing suites, that we’re actually inventing a new way to tell a video story. The fact is, the cream of the TV shooter crop, has done this for decades. Do a search on You Tube for of any of Charles Kuralt’s On the Road series. He was a master storyteller. In the hay-day of the TV nat sound piece, TV news shooters were able to roam their communities alone, looking for those small stories that rarely got told. The boy hawking lemonade (a classic– anybody have a link to this?) where a wireless mic and a young boy was all that was needed to create TV magic.

Last month, at the Northwest Video Workshop, my co-instructor Kurt Austin of KGW in Portland, Oregon, showed his recent nat-sound pieces. A story on how Nintendo Wii is being used by senior citizens for exercise, and a fun story of a guy who dresses like a clown, blowing a trumpet from a traffic island for morning commuters, reminded me of the nat stories I watched in my youth. Both these pieces connect to viewers in ways the new style of live-shot journalism doesn’t. The sad thing for a talented videojournalist like Austin, is that he only gets to do these type of stories rarely now.

Thankfully, newspapers are picking up the torch for the lost art of the natural sound piece. We are giving it our own spin. What we can learn from TV photojournalists, is how to tell a more effective story. One of the things I, and most every newspaper shooter needs to learn, is how to edit for pacing. Many of our stories wander around, never getting to the point. We fail to edit in the little magic moments and surprises that keep a viewer staying to the end of our masterpieces. We create epics, because we can. We are afraid to use are own voice to objectively narrate our stories. So where do we turn for help?

For me, I like to watch the masters work. Checkout the yearly BOP TV news winners, dissect the edits. Watch closely how a story is paced. Is it frantic or precise? Does it match what is going on in the story? Look at the sequencing of the video. Count how many seconds a b-roll clip stays up. How many of us have used a one-second video clip? Not many I bet. Look for the nat sound pops. That one or two seconds clip where a subject says something profound or the camera focuses on a tight shot with great audio. These make great transitions, but we on the newspaper side rarely use them. Does the narration work? Or does it get in the way?

For other inspiration, check out this Youtube like site for professional storytelling video. There are some gems to dissect and help you improve your editing and storytelling.

Moving up from iMovie

Last month, I had the privilege of helping lead the Northwest Multimedia Workshop in Yakima, Washington. Forty photojournalists, journalists and web producers attended the two-day video boot camp. My job was to teach them Final Cut Pro 6 in less than three hours. It was a challenge, but I pulled it off. The students all finished their projects on time. I was amazed at how fast they were able to start editing. It wasn’t that way for me.

I remember my first time trying to edit in Final Cut Pro. I felt nothing but fear as I looked at the program interface for the first time. I had been an iMovie man for sometime. It wasn’t until I attended the 2005 Platypus Workshop that I crossed over for good. iMovie is great for amateurs, but if you are doing any type of serious editing, then you really should move up to a real video editor like Final Cut Pro/Express or Adobe Premiere Pro.

What a true video editor gives you is the ability the easily unlink audio tracks from your video track and move them independently. This makes it easy to do a split edit. Split edits are what really set apart a professional edit from an amateur production. The best way I can describe a split edit (also called an L cut) is when you hear the person talking before you see them. I call it leading my audio. In a way a split edit is like a transition. Without it, the viewer is jarred when they see a speaker as they start talking.

One of the best features professional video editing software has is the ability to add audio cross fades. A cross fade is like a cross dissolve transition that you would add between two video clips. It fades out the outgoing audio over the incoming audio clip. Cross-fades really help smooth out those jarring audio bumps. As I’m editing my videos, I always put my playhead at the beginning, hit play, close my eyes and just listen. It is amazing at what you hear with you aren’t looking at the timeline. If something is not smooth, I stop and add a cross-fade. The default cross-fade is usually too long so I shorten it up until it sounds just right.

When I watch a lot of newspaper-produced video, these two things usually standout if not used properly. A video production should be as smooth as warm butter. Nothing should take the viewer out of the moment. 

December NPPA Monthly Multimedia Contest results are in…

The cream rose to the top this month. I can tell that a lot time was invested in each of the winning productions. I judged every category, evaluating every one of the videos and slideshows. What I saw was a lot is unevenness in the entries. Some looked like first time attempts at multimedia, while others looked like the producers had really mastered the fundamentals and beyond. That last category was a small number though. Most newspaper videographers still have a long way to go in the level of basic storytelling. Issues like uneven audio, pacing, defining the story early were lacking in many if the entries.

With videos, sequencing still seems to be an issue with many. I think this stems mostly from a lack of formal training. If you are doing a lot of panning and zooming in your videos, then you need to stop (please). Shoot wide, medium and tight shots of everything that you would have included in a pan shot, and then edit those together. Every video workshop I’ve attended has told attendees to zoom with their feet instead of with their finger. Good advise. It is important to understand that you can’t break the rules until you’ve master them.

 My favorites for the month…

 

1.      Ian’s Place. Many people picked on this newspaper’s attempt to attempt a video storytelling. See this post over at MulitimediaShooter.com. I bow to their prowess now. everything about this story is perfect. This is an example of how newspaper videographers can craft a story that is totally different than anything TV news would attempt.

2.  Raven and Jason. I first met Canadian photojournalist Rafal Gerszak at the Western Canadian Photojournalism Conference last winter. At that time he was just getting interested in doing multimedia. Wow, great job out of the gate Rafal with this mini doc on two drug addicts. What sets this video above so many about this subject is the empathy Rafal builds for his subjects.

3.    Marlboro Man. Another great Media Storm project. This one has a compelling narrative with strong photography. What is missing is a layer of natural sounds weaved between and under the narration.

 

      Reminder! NPPA members, you can enter your multimedia shows produced in Dec. in the Jan contest. You have until the 15th before the contest transitions into judging mode. At which time you should log back in and help judge.   

 

 

   

Let’s start this conversation…

I have been silent long enough. There are a lot of conversations taking place in the blogoshere about the future of newspapers and I want to be apart of it. Many newsrooms like mine are finally becoming web-centric. Resources are being shifted; multimedia and web-only alternative storytelling are beginning to take hold.

 I am the first multimedia editor at the 93,000 circulation family-owned The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, Washington. For 18 years I was a still photojournalist, but in 2004 I knew the gig was up. Declining Circulation and advertising revenue and a shrinking news hole at my newspaper led me to explore the emerging world of multimedia journalism. Soon video and audio slideshows became part of my new storytelling toolbox. My Video Journal vlog became my publishing platform for all things multimedia at Spokesmanreview.com. These past several years I have been able to sow the seeds of what I have learned. Small victories, like teaching staff photojournalists how to edit video and audio, are finally reaping the benefits of well-crafted multimedia storytelling.

 What I realize now is that there can no longer be just reporters or just photographers in a newsroom. We all must be able to create and post multimedia content online. This is scary stuff, especially for those that don’t like change. I believe, to my core, that the web and multimedia are the future of newspapers. How long it takes to make this transition is anybody’s guess. Our industry needs to stop thinking about the way we used to do things and start envisioning new and innovative ways reach online viewers. We have to be able to capture the readers that have turned their back on our print products.  For this to happen, the silos of the newsroom, marketing and advertising departments have to come down.  

The Spokesmanreview.com website has been called fearless for its innovative use of web-only content. It was one of the first newspaper websites to use staff produced blogs and vlogs for content. We now use Mojos (mobile journalists) for online breaking news reporting. Our daily news meetings are webcast live and we consistently add layers of multimedia to online stories whenever possible. All of this is done on a creaky content management system hand-coded in-house since 1996. Thankfully, change is coming. A new CMS (Ellington) is in the house. A ground up redesign is in the works. A new, dedicated team of multimedia savvy web producers is ready to hit the ground running Jan. 2, 2008. This coming year will be full of challenges for The Spokesman-Review newsroom and myself. The goat trail that is Spokemanreview.com is about to transform itself into a superhighway of something special. Come along for the ride. Along the way let’s explore what is happening with multimedia at newspapers. We all have questions. Let’s work on the answers together.