A week ago Friday, I had my last day at The News Journal. Walking out of the newsroom for the last time after four years was definitely strange, but I know that they will continue to do the kind of work that helps to shape public opinion and public policy.
In the past four years, I’ve had the privilege to cover crime in Wilmington, the University of Delaware women’s basketball team as they progressed through the NCAA tournament, the 2013 inauguration of President Barack Obama and the passage of marriage equality in the state. I’ve also been able to follow stories as the develop over years, as when we covered the prescription pill problem, the electronic monitoring program that resulted and the subsequent rise in heroin abuse.
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut creatively. As a videographer/photographer, I know what my editors like, and shooting to their tastes can ultimately save me time. However, doing so means that I am not challenging myself and making sure that I am growing as a journalist and artist. More than anything, #turbovideo training was a much needed wake-up call to challenge myself and see what new skills I can learn and how to apply those skills to my work.
One such challenge was to work harder to find graphically interesting ways to present non-visual stories in video. While it is nice to think that video is only done when the subject matter is appropriate, more often than not, video is becoming an expected part of many stories. This is especially true of Sunday packages and any series. How then, can we create video that remains visually engaging when all that we have are talking head interviews? Turbovideo trainer Brian Kaufman addressed this by making printouts of photos and racking the focus on them in the studio. He would also take static objects, like stacks of paper, and move the camera around it.
Here at The News Journal, we have been playing around with digital solutions. The example below is from two videos. In the first, a follow-up to the New Castle Courthouse shooting, I used Google Earth for a fly-over to show where David Matusiewicz took his children when he kidnapped him, and then a waveform generated in After Effects to visualize the radio traffic on the day of the shooting. The examples from the second video include more After Effects work, mainly animated graphs and charts to visualize the number of foundations headquartered in Delaware.
In 2012 I set out to teach myself how to build custom WordPress themes in order to finally launch a much talked about, but never realized photoblog at The News Journal. Right off the bat, we knew we wanted to shy away from a Big Picture-style photoblog. It’s already been done, and done well. Also, we don’t have a dedicated photo editor who would have time to curate images from the various wire services.
Instead, our first thought was to build a blog that would highlight the work being done by our staff, and have it fed automatically through their smartphones and photo services such as Flickr, Instagram and TwitPic. I wrote about the blog theme last year, but unfortunately, it never took off.
Fast forward a year and I decided to try and tackle a photo blog again. This time, with a community-centered blog that encouraged outside contributions, highlighted photo communities and events in the state and no longer relied on what is an already overworked staff for content. The new photoblog, now titled First State Focus, launched last week and is easily one of the projects I am most proud of here at The News Journal.
While this has worked well for our photographers, one of the major draws to adopting iPhones in the newsroom was the prospect of reporters shooting videos of breaking news and interviews when videographers and photographers can’t make it there. While this has been met with varying degrees of success, the biggest hurdle remains transmission.
Reporters would email video from their camera roll, severely compressing the file to the point where a 100+MB file would come in under 10MB. While these clips were still viewable … and viewers are often more forgiving of visual quality when watching clips on the Web, they stood out like a sore thumb next to footage from our Sony HXR-NX5U’s or Canon 7D’s.
When we looked at the majority of our reporter video, we saw that most of it was from our sports reporters as well as from our reporters downstate, where we have only one photographer and no videographers. These were reporters who had easy access to a Wi-Fi connection, either in the press box, or back at their home after an assignment.
Our solution to this transmission issue was to have all of these reporters create Dropbox accounts and join one shared folder. The main account received storage bonuses for each new account that signed up, allowing it to handle the influx of video. Sending in video through Dropbox, as opposed to mailing it in to an address that goes to ten different people, also has made it easier for video editors to be able to tell when something has been grabbed, as it will disappear from the shared folder. Of course, the greatest benefit to this process is that reporter video now gets to editors in full HD, as opposed to compressed beyond recognition (we did try Google Drive, but those videos came through compressed as well).
Below is the video we made to show reporters how to set up and use their Dropbox accounts.