I do have the coolest job ever!

A slap upside the head always comes when you least expect it.

“You have the coolest job ever,” said a hockey fan standing behind me admiring one of my photos at the Spokane Arena last night.  I was on deadline preparing to transmit my pictures of a blowout Spokane Chiefs hockey game back to the paper when those six words stopped me cold.

“You have the coolest job ever.”

Up until that utterance, I’d beg to differ.  It had been a long 14-hour day and I was tired. I started in the morning shooting a freelance job. I take extra work now whenever I can.  It helps make up for the furlough days and pay cuts I have endured over the past year.

The economic trauma and turmoil facing my and every other newspaper in the country weighs heavily on my shoulders at times. When someone asks me why I entered the newspaper biz, I tell them it’s because I have a passion for telling stories.  Like any good photojournalist, I see the world a bit differently from most people. There is a creative energy that burns inside me.  When I put a camera up to my eye, life becomes my palette.  I felt it when I bought my first professional camera in high school and I still feel it today…well most days.

“You have the coolest job ever.”

As I sat there hunched over my laptop, awareness washed over me. Here I was at a hockey game that I didn’t have to pay to get in, surrounded by the best cameras, lenses and laptop that I didn’t have to buy. The only thing missing was a cold beer by my side.

Looking back over the past seven days at some of what I have produced for the readers of my newspaper and viewers of our website, I realize that I can’t let the uncertainty of the future kill my creativity. Today, I put a sticky note on my computer monitor that simply says, “Try Harder.” It is my little reminder  that  (slap upside the head)  I do have the coolest job ever!

These are some of the highlights of my past week– a mix of multimedia and stills.

Several dozen great blue herons were perched on pilings in the Pend Oreille River at Usk, Washington Tuesday, March 2, 2010. Area birding enthusiasts said this is the time of year large groups of the giant birds can be seen migrating and resting in certain areas, such as the Pack River Delta along Lake Pend Oreille. Soon they will disperse in smaller groups to nesting rookeries in cottonwoods or other woodlands near water.COLIN MULVANY colinm@spokesman.com

Tim Michaels, who lost part of his leg in a grain elevator accident holds a wooden foot carving a relative brought him during his stay at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash.

Videos: Click image to view.

The king of Cat Tales Zoological Training Center gets a root canal.

In the Kalispel Tribal Language Program, new Salish speakers immerse themselves in daily conversation with elders and then teach what they have learned in nearby public schools.

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RIP Multimedia Shooter.com

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 Richard Koci Hernandez who created and maintained Multimediashooter.com has announced that someone has hacked his site. Richard writes:

I write this with a very heavy heart:

I am sorry to report that this website is down for the count. The site was recently hacked several times this weekend and severe damage was done. I do not have the time or resources at this time to

continue. I wish you all the best. I only wish this hadn’t happened.

[To the ‘hacker’ I hope it makes you happy to destroy something that people put their heart and soul into for years, for the sole purpose of learning and creating a small community

on the web. Just to have you destroy it for no reason. You win. There is a special place in hell for you.]

To those of you who supported the site over the years, THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

I don’t know what more to say, except, remember, it’s all about the STORY, not the TOOLS.

-r

Richard, my jaw dropped to the floor after reading the above. Multimedia Shooter has been a constant inspiration to me a countless other newspaper photojournalists turned videographers. I know it took way too much of your time busy schedule to produce. Yet you did, and you shared what you learned with everyone. So thank you. The entire multimedia community mourns Multimedia Shooter’s loss with you. I am hoping, in time, you will rebuild.

And to the hacker… A curse upon your house…  

  

Can’t we all just get along?

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I’ve been looking at a lot of newspaper-produced video this month. Judging multimedia contests has been taking up of lot of my spare time lately. On my last post, “A creativity crisis,” I waxed philosophical about how everything I was shooting was starting to look the same. I also looked at what our brothers and sisters in TV news were doing and I came to the same conclusion—we’re all in a storytelling rut. Lenslinger fired back, in his usual pithy well-versed prose, with a  Feb. 28th blog post called “Yawning at the Renaissance”:

With newspapers rotting unread in our nation’s driveways, legions of print people are taking up the videocamera. But it looks like a few of them are gonna drop the damn things, if they don’t stop wringing their hands over how NOT to be like TV. Oh, I get it. Newspaper folk have long held my kind in the lowest regard. Our winking hyperbole and flashing graphics and pretty figureheads offend their sensibilities. So they openly dismiss us as clowns with spray paint and wave off even our finest efforts as graffiti that‘s beneath them. Now, however – their tune has changed slightly. No longer able to merely marginalize my craft, they’re tricking out their brightest with slimmed-down gear while boasting how their new-age toys and old school intellect will soon render the old TV News breed obsolete. So, how’s that going for ya?

Well, not too bad actually. But there is a lot of room for improvement. Lenslinger is right in that newspaper journalists have ragged on TV shooters for what seems like eons. And having big egos in this mix doesn’t help matters as both sides continue to rub salt in all those old wounds.

So let’s stop. It’s a new day and I think we should all drop the snarky talk and look for ways we can help each other out. Yes, we all know that TV news has lost its sparkle. And yes we know that many at newspapers think they invented this new fangled thing called video storytelling. So let’s move on folks. There’s nothing new to see here.

I have always looked for ways to extend the olive branch to TV journalists. Why? Because in many ways, as an online video producer, my work mirrors what TV news shooters are doing (minus the stand-ups and live shots.) We’re both storytellers and we’re all are looking for ways to be better at our craft. Wouldn’t it be great for newspaper videojournalists to reach the technical proficiency of a master TV new photog? And wouldn’t it rock if TV news shooters could ditch the standup and go back to telling community stories that weren’t weather or car accident related? Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but over time, I think we will have more in common then we see now. 

Lenslinger’s post was dead on. The only miss might have been firing a salvo at the pundits for espousing the fundamentals of shooting video:

Their various sites tout video fundamentals as new truths they’ve just wrestled from the primordial news. Jump cuts, white-balancing, sequences – I never knew how misinformed I was until some dude in a sweater vest wrote six hundred words on a concept my ’tween daughter figured out ten minutes after powering up a Sony of her owny.

I guess I fit the pundit pointy-head profile. I wonder if he was referring to my 600-word tome on sequencing video?No matter. I make no apologies for trying to spread the religion of video fundamentals to a new generation of video journalist.

The one thing I see, is that most of the videos being produced for newspaper websites, including mine, need a lot more work in the fundamentals and less on the flash of presentation. If the story content and delivery is not compelling, then no amount of lipstick is gonna make a poorly produced video look alluring to a fickle audience.

So, as Lenslinger yawns at this renaissance of newbie video shooters emerging up from the muck of ink, I ask for him to be patient. Even you Lenslinger, at one time, needed to be told to keep your camera on sticks. Err, maybe not.

 

Team Multimedia

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 One thing I’ve learned from my early forays into video journalism is that there are a lot of talented writers in my newsroom that can help make my videos more compelling than if I produced them alone.

Some of my first videos I shot included Spokesman-Review police reporter Thomas Clouse doing stand-ups from the scenes of breaking news events. Yes, they were rough. I hadn’t quite figured out that I didn’t need to be like TV and show the reporter on camera. Clouse would be the first to admit he didn’t have that certain blow-dry helmet hair look that is needed to be considered in same league as our TV reporter comrades. 

Voice-over work scared me early on. Like most people, I hated the sound of my recorded voice ( I got over that quickly). Writing a script was also unfamiliar to me, so I turned to people who could help me out. I was amazed at how open print reporters were to doing voice-over and script writing for a video or audio slideshow that I was working on. Only a few times did I have to twist an arm gently.

Everyone in the Spokesman-Review newsroom knows they need to eventually have multimedia skills. Most reporters are most open to the idea of doing multimedia, yet they seem lost as to what skills they should be acquiring.

When I look at the big picture, I see that multimedia production doesn’t have to be an island unto itself. We can use the traditional newsroom structure of: A reporter writes and photographer handles the visuals. Except now it is: The reporter writes scripts and does voiceovers, and photographer (or multimedia producer) shoots and edits the video. In the end, the production has more depth because it plays to the strengths of each person’s talent.

I watch a lot of newspaper-produced video from around the country. I’m surprised how few people use the writing talents of their newsrooms to add objective narration in their videos.

I have my favorite writer in the S-R newsroom. Kevin Graman is the most open to working with me as team. He can bang out a script in a short amount of time. Best of all, he has a killer low voice that resonates confidence and truthfulness. Over time, we have worked on a half dozen or so videos, many of which I consider my best work.

We go to a story together, like a traditional reporter/photographer would. He gathers information like normal for the story he’ll write for the newspaper. I do my thing, interviewing subjects, gathering b-roll. We talk a lot about defining the video story so that it does not go off on a tangent.

Back at the office, Graman takes the time in his normal story writing workflow to come and see how my video edit is shaping up. We have a conversation about the voice-overs I need and what they should say. Usually it is something to the effect of: “I need a 20 second opener that defines what this story is about. And, “I need a lead-in to this subject’s interview.” Or my favorite: “Get me out of this video. I need an ender that sums up the story.” About twenty to thirty minutes later, with a well-written script in hand, Graman is ready to record his voiceover. It usually takes about three or four takes for him to get his cadence right. When I drop the recorded voice-overs onto the timeline in Final Cut , my video just comes to life.

My advice is to find your own Kevin Graman in your newsroom. It will instantly raise the bar in your video storytelling. Just remember, newsroom reporters don’t need to be in front of your camera. We’ll save that spot for the pretty people of broadcast news. 

Good video should connect emotionally to your viewer

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 In order for video storytelling to be effective, I believe it has to connect with viewers on an emotional level. The hardest part about my job as multimedia editor is that I have to be the “no” man.  I get lots of requests from reporters  to shoot video to go with their stories. Many of these requests are turned away because they don’t meet a threshold for good visual storytelling.

I come from a still background and have lots of experience shooting picture stories. Because of that, I am able to quickly identify whether video would work as a story. Word people don’t always approach video the same way I do. They see the sum of all the facts they’ve gathered as being the story. What they fail to understand is without strong visual components, you can’t tell a video story very well. I tell them: “If there is nothing to show, it is not a video.”

As I think about some of videos that my visual co-workers and I have produced, the most successful of these have always been the ones that connected to viewers emotionally rather than on just the facts. Don’t get me wrong; fact videos do have their place. We do a lot of breaking news videos based mostly on what the police or fire public information officers say. Those videos serve their purpose—to disseminate information quickly.

When I cruise through the story budgets, I’m always searching for that elusive emotional gem. When we package a daily video with a print story, I look for ways to tell the story a little differently then what the reporter is doing. Instead of thinking broad, I think defined. That can mean focusing on just one or two subjects out six the reporter might have talked to.

I have a self imposed “No Epics” rule. That means when I am out shooting, I try not to go off on tangents. I force myself to define my story by distilling it down to its simplest form. At the Platypus Video Workshop, before we could start shooting our final projects, we were forced to state what our story was in one sentence. It is an exercise I use to this day.

With a short focused story, it’s important to have something that people will care about as they watch. Asking the right questions of subjects becomes incredibly important. One of our MoJo reporters was jesting the other day that TV news reporters always ask the “How do you feel question?” I now understand why. When people share their feelings, it can paint a stronger picture than with words alone.

One of the greatest benefits that newspapers online sites have over TV news is that we have the ability to go deep with the facts with our writing, then give viewers a different approach to the same story with video. When the stories, photos and video are combined in to one neat package, no other media can match us for depth of information. 

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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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.