Lesson learned: Buy the lens filter

Ya know how the sales person always tries to sell you a lens filter for your shiny new camera?  It usually involves some pitch about how one day you’ll be glad you paid the $20 bucks to protect that front element from all sorts of freak occurrences yet unnamed. Buying all my newspaper’s video equipment online, I guess I kind of missed that lecture.  So yes, I now regret not having a filter to protect my Sony Z1U lens.

At first, I thought the out of focus spots I was getting on my last few videos were from something on the lens. Under further examination with a magnifying glass, I found small pits in the front element. I’m not one to abuse my equipment. On the contrary, I’m obsessive when it comes to protecting it. How the hell did I get a dozen mini chunks taken out of my lens? After little detective work, I just had to groan when I figured it out. I’m pretty sure it happened during this video of an artist grinding on a metal sculpture of a gorilla. The shower of sparks captivated me. The low angle shot is when little bits of molten metal struck my lens. Damn.  I packed it up and sent it to Sony service this week. I feel naked with out it…

Opening your video: How not to lose viewers

Finding a good opening to your video is critical.  Far too often, newspaper produced video fails to quickly grab the viewer’s attention. Online viewers are a fickle bunch, where the click of a mouse button will lead them to some other cooler destination. The key is to smack ‘em upside the head and wake them up. Your first 15 seconds better be good or they won’t stick around long. Here are some of the things I do to let the viewer know that my video is worth watching:

Colleague Dan Pelle’s videos connect emotionally to viewer

In 2005 I attended the Platypus Workshop, a nine-day intensive video boot camp in Ventura, California. The not so subtle battle cry of this workshop was to “tear down the still shooter and build you back up as a videographer.” That did not quite happen to me as I continue to covet my still camera.  I did gain some career altering video storytelling skills though. When the 2007 Platypus approached, I was asked by my newspaper’s editor who I would suggest in the newsroom to send?  Photojournalist Dan Pelle was my quick reply. I already had given it some thought. Pelle’s qualifications were perfect. He’s a strong still photographer with a great eye for composition and moment. Though Pelle is not a gear geek like me, I knew he’d take care of a video camera if given one.

A couple months before Platypus, Pelle got a shiny new Sony HVR V1U, a Sennheiser wireless mic, and a decent fluid head tripod. As he shot his first few stories, I tried to teach him the fundamentals of video. A perfectionist, Pelle agonized over every missed shot and technical glitch.  I just smiled knowing that all that fussing over edits and shots would eventually make him a better video storyteller and editor.

When Pelle arrived back from Platypus, he was tired, and a little bit shelled-shocked. They jammed so much information into his brain he did not know where to start. Slowly he began to find stories that fit his groove. His first, and one of the most popular videos of all time on Video Journal, was a story on a paraplegic dog.

Pelle has a great sense of story in that he is able to connect to the viewer on an emotional level. I helped him with the edit, but the story is all his. As time passed, the editing training wheels came off and Pelle was able to fly solo in Final Cut Pro. I now look forward to each story he does. Every one of his videos is an intimate portrayal of a subject. He took to heart Platypus instructor’s Dirck Halstead’s mantra that a video story “is not about an event, it is about a person.” My only wish is that Pelle could do video storytelling full-time. But alas, the newspaper photo grind keeps him busy. His recent story about a group of neighborhood kids that help a woman struggling with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is one of his best. It makes me miss shooting full-time. My video I just posted pales in comparison. Way to go Dan!

Multimedia Immersion Program website up

The NPPA Multimedia Immersion Program held in the last week of May has posted the videos of it workshop participants. I was a coach again this year and I was impressed at the quality of work produced in such a short time by people with varying video and multimedia skills. Check it out here.


US vs.Them

Nick Eaton, our new sports video journalist at The Spokesman-Review, ran into one of those cringeworthy US vs. TV moments earlier this week when he shot a video story on mascot tryouts at Eastern Washington University. From Nick’s blog post:

“OK, it’s funny. A reporter gets into the suit and “auditions.” Har har har. Makes for a funny 30-second clip on the 5 o’clock news. But wait, Keith (the reporter) starts telling the judges how to react on camera. “Tell me, for the camera, how horrible my dancing was.” Essentially, fabricating the entire story, down to what the judges say about him.”

So what I want to know from any TV news shooters out there is how do you really feel about this. When does news become just a comedy routine?  What do your really think about having to shoot this kind of schlock and do you feel it hurts your credibility when you actually produce a real story? Or is this what TV news has become. Here are both stories:

KXLY TV version

Spokesman-Review version

Says Eaton:

“The report is presented in a way that makes it obvious Keith is not trying to do any objective reporting. And it’s obviously not about the people who actually auditioned for Swoop that day.

It’s about Keith.

And that’s a huge difference between TV and newspaper video. I don’t think any newspaper reporter would go to an event and make the story about them. It’s just not what we do. In TV, it’s all about the reporter, the on-screen personality.

It’s TV news stories like this that will always create a divide between what TV new does and what emerging video journalists at newspapers are producing. The sad thing is, the TV reporter missed a decent story. Thankfully Eaton told a true story of what happened that day.

The Spokesman-Review transparent newsroom

“The story of how a small newspaper opened its editorial decision making process to the public in order to gain credibility with great results. A case study produced by Innovation Media Consulting on American Newspaper about The Spokesman Review  newspaper in the United States.”

This is a video I shot about our Transparent Newsroom at the my newspaper. It was just shown at World Association of Newspapers meeting in Sweden. I sent the raw tape to London and a media consultant company edited it together. It is more flashy then my conservative editing style, but I think it works. Our Transparent Newsroom Initiative has gained a lot of attention lately. We do things like provide live webcasts of our story budget meetings twice daily. It is just one the innovative projects we are working on that I will profile later.

Stop bitchin’ and just train yourself

The number of newspaper video journalists is growing amongst the dwindling ranks in newsrooms. The Newark Star-Ledger in New Jersey recently converted 20 reporters and photographers. In my own newsroom at The Spokesman-Review, three more reporters are being outfitting with Macbooks, Final Cut Express and video cameras. But just because someone dumps at bunch of gear on you doesn’t make you video journalist. It takes training and a lot of hard work to master the fundamentals of video and audio production.

If your newspaper provides you with video training, realize it is just the beginning. For you to be successful, you’ll need to take ownership of your evolving career. I’m always surprised at how many journalists in newsrooms demand training, but when their newspaper fails to deliver, they refuse to invest any of their own time in reinventing themselves. This is not a time for complacency. Sometimes I feel journalists at newspapers are like the proverbial frog that fails to jump out of the water as it is slowly heated to boiling.

As newspapers accelerate their move to online, it is more important than ever for journalists to have new media skills. The problem is that many smaller newspapers in these lean times do not have the money or staff knowledge to provide training to their employees. Why invest your own time in training yourself? If you want to stay relevant in the journalism world you’d better have new media skills. This latest round of personnel shedding by newspapers will not be the last. When all the volunteers and those near retirement are gone, where do you think the next round of people targeted is going to be? If I am a publisher or senior editor and I have already cut to the bone, I’m going to probably start icing employees with the least amount of online skills.

We are now in a period of accelerated learning. No longer will the skills we learned in college be enough to sustain a career. Journalism has changed. The people who went into the profession to just write or just take photos will soon be considered dinosaurs. Many talented journalists have left newspapers or now live in fear of being laid off. For those that remain, I say take control of your destiny. Reinvent yourself. I did. Look at this transition as if the glass is half full. Understand that the potential for doing great journalism is platform agnostic. The storytelling tools are changing, but not the need for great storytellers. Here are some of the places I go for inspiration and training each day.

Lynda.com For less than a dollar a day, you can have access to a vast software training library. The training is done by watching video demonstrations and is very effective way to learn. My newsroom has a yearly subscription to Lynda.com

Can’t afford Lynda? Then go to YouTube and search for tutorials. There’s a ton of stuff related to video editing and audio production. You just have to wade through the crap to find it.

Blogs are a great way to find inspiration and tips. My favorites that I read everyday are:

Newsvideograher.com Video producer Angela Grant has created a destination where you can find a mix to tools, advice and community related to newspaper video production.

Teaching Online Journalism. Online journalism instructor and Adobe Flash wizard Mindy McAdam’s blog has been on the online front lines for the last several years. Her thoughtful posts delve deeply into the nuances of doing affective online journalism.

RosenblumTV Michael Rosenblum helped start the video journalism movement some 20 years ago. Now all his hard work is paying off. He runs the Travel Channel Academy, which trains legions of VJ’s for TV and newspaper video production. The best part of his blog is when he connects history to the fall of TV news. He put a lot of what is happening at newspaper into perspective.

Journerdism. Will Sullivan, interactive director at the St. Louis Dispatch trolls the web and posts a daily mix of industry news. If something is happening in the online journalism world, Sullivan knows about it.

Failure is an option

2008 Multimedia Immersion Program

As the airliner tires leave the tarmac of the Louisville Airport, my fatigued body is too tired to sleep. My mind is ablaze with memories of the past week. I was honored to be a coach again at this year’s NPPA Multimedia Immersion Program. Over four very long days, Forty-nine students crammed a small hotel ballroom in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. What raised my eyebrow about this sold out audio slideshow and video storytelling workshop was who was in attendance. Yes the requisite photojournalists made up a good portion of the attendees. My surprise was in how many of the chairs were filled by newspaper editors, educators and freelancers–many who paid their own way. Last year’s workshop was attended mostly photojournalists who had little experience behind a video camera. This year, of five students I coached, four were already shooting video for their respective newspapers. The challenge for me was to help them sharpen the storytelling skills they already have.

With the newspaper industry wallowing in a vat of uncertainty, it was remarkable that the “Paper Doom” vibe was pretty much non-existent. This group of media professionals had a collective agenda. They all wanted to learn effective multimedia storytelling skills that they could bring back to their publications.

I was also struck by this year’s speakers at not only the Immersion Program, but at the NPPA’s companion Convergence 08 conference being held in an adjacent ballroom. UNC new-media professor Rich Beckman talked about improving not only multimedia storytelling, but advocating for visual storytellers to step it up. “There is a history of visual journalists leading the way in times of upheaval,” said Beckman. He believes in the manage up vs. manage down approach in newsrooms; where multimedia journalists with new skills help inform and enlighten management to the unique challenges of doing quality multimedia storytelling. Beckman really hit the point that if the people who manage you don’t understand what you do, how can they make informed decisions about workflow, staffing and equipment purchases?

I sat in on a presentation by Brian Storm, owner of the multimedia production studio called MediaStorm. During the Q&A, I asked him how newspapers could improve their multimedia? Slow down was Storm’s answer. He said that meaningful storytelling with strong journalism and production values will trump bad video for hits over time– every time. I mostly agree with Storm on this to a point. Still, I believe there is room for both projects and quality short form video on newsroom websites.

Finally, I think the best advice given at the Immersion workshop was from Richard Koci Hernandez, Deputy Director of Photography and Multimedia at the San Jose Mercury News. “It is ok to fail,” he told the workshop attendees. Hernandez might be on to something here. What keeps people in newsrooms from learning new  media skills? If it is fear of failure then it needs to be quickly addressed by newsroom management.

For me, failure is just a learning opportunity. Most everything I’ve learned about multimedia and photojournalism is steeped in my failures as a visual journalist. I’m ok with that. Really.

Planes landing soon and I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.