Video storytelling: We simply must do better

Second Place News Video 2009 BOP contest

Second Place News Video 2009 BOP contest

The other day I found out  I’d won second place in the News Video category in the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism contest. My excitement at winning was tempered in that a third place was not awarded in my category. This left me befuddled. Judges twitters’ and Facebook posts had trickled out over the week saying they were not impressed by what had been entered. Having judged a lot of multimedia contests, I felt their pain. Weak stories dominate most multimedia contests. The cream rises fast. But for BOP judges to feel there was not enough cream to award a third place in the news video category just makes me sad. Sad because it simply says we need to do a better job with our video storytelling.

I think there are several reasons in play for all this weak newspaper video being produced:

Not enough training.

Too many newspapers, chasing a trend, handed out video cameras like candy to photojournalists and reporters. With little training, the results have been cringe-worthy. Many of these new video producers do not understand even the basic fundamentals of video storytelling and editing. They are flailing around in the dark trying to make it work. One-day training seminars just don’t cut it. Unfortunately, most newspapers are too cheap to actually send their people to real video training workshops like the nine-day Platypus or the NPPA’s five-day Multimedia Immersion workshop.

Lack of mentors

There are not enough mentors and coaches to help people improve. Most newspapers started from scratch when it came to video production. Unlike TV news, which mastered the art of video storytelling over decades, newspapers had no institutional knowledge when it came to video production. There are few video-masters in place at newspapers that can help train and mentor video storytellers.

Video storytelling basics

Many newspaper videographers are struggling with the medium. So much of what I see entered in contests are void of any storytelling arc. The videos meander along, failing to define early to the viewer what the story is about. What’s the conflict? Where’s the resolution? Why no surprises built in to keep viewers engaged in the story? Too many newspaper-produced videos are just plain boring and uninspiring.

I am hoping these early growing pains will work themselves out. In the meantime, I hope successful video producers will continue to share their knowledge with others that are learning. If we work together, we can all improve our video storytelling. Maybe then, the BOP judges will feel comfortable enough to give out third place awards.


9 thoughts on “Video storytelling: We simply must do better

  1. As one of those “video-masters” who is helping train our photo staff, after only the NPPA MM workshop and a couple of years of experience myself, I agree with the premise of this post. And I am often asked, “why are we doing this anyway?” by my staff students. And I don’t have very inspiring answers. I asked our ME for Online the same question recently, hoping for compelling numbers to support our efforts. Or something. She said people love video, look at YouTube. Which was not the answer I was hoping for.

  2. Mike, it is up to us to explain why we need to add video to our storytelling tool box. We need to be educators, not only for the people shooting the video, but for management that is struggling to understand this foreign media. It is going to be rough seas for a while, but soon we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was all about. Video at newspapers is here to stay. The 18-year-olds’ of today will become our bosses in the future. You won’t have to ask them if video is important.

  3. Congratulations! Every time I read one of your posts I realize how far my own videos have to go. Here’s to challenge and progress!

  4. Maybe the problem is, in part, the competitions themselves?

    In a mature industry, one with established models for success, competitions rarely cause any serious damage. But in the current state of turmoil – how many successful models can you point to?

    In 2009 isn’t a videojournalism competition limited to newspapers similar to a 100 meter dash for red-headed people?

    The competitons are not promoting success, excellence or competitive advantage, so what are they promoting?

  5. The competitions are promoting the organizers, the judges and the participants. Saying “they dont promote excellence in online video” is a non-sequiter. OK so they are not perfect but they are certainly worth doing.

  6. I do agree that video is just so much different then a photo as far as technical aspect of it it’s like flying the plane you can’t just jump into it, it takes long long hours and experience of working with the live camera. Congratulations on your second.

    Video Production Florida

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