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!

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.