Adding graphics to non-visual stories

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.

Streamlining reporter iPhone video with Dropbox

We are always looking for new ways to use our iPhones. Earlier, I wrote about how News Journal photographer Suchat Pederson started to use his iPhone, paired with an Eye-Fi card, to send images directly into our photo server without the use of a laptop.

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.

iPhone + Eye-Fi Workflow

News Journal staffers have had company iPhones for five months now, and have moved from viewing them as a novelty to finding out how the best utilize them when gathering news. Reporters that never shot video are now shooting video, photographers I didn’t expect to use Instagram are using Instagram and developers are working to create apps for various special projects.

Personally, I have used my iPhone to tweet photos and information from assignments, tethered it to my computer to transmit images and have used it to shoot video when out of memory in either my Canon or Sony.

Out of all of the uses for the iPhones so far, my favorite has to go to our chief photographer, Suchat Pederson. Shooting with a Canon Mark III, Suchat has paired his Eye-Fi SD card with his iPhone, which he hangs around his neck. Every photo that Suchat tags in-camera is automatically transferred to the camera roll in his iPhone (by default, the Eye-Fi will transfer every photo taken, but you can change it to every tagged photo using the Eye-Fi app). From there, you can bring your photos into an app like Photogene2, which lets you batch apply IPTC information and then send the photos in via FTP, email or a variety of other methods.

Using this method, a photographer is able to transmit professional quality images directly from the scene, as opposed to relying on your iPhone camera for up-to-the-minute web content. Already, Suchat has used it to transmit images from accidents and sporting events, allowing our website to have a gallery up before he is even back in the office.

The best way to learn a new skill? Give yourself a project.

In the past, I would always struggle to learn new languages (programming or spoken). It would start out well enough … I’d dive in head first, scouring the internet and the bookstore for any information that I could find. I would take in the basics easily enough … I can probably print “Hello World” in more languages than I can count on my hand … but soon enough, something will come up that requires my attention, and learning actionscript/python/javascript/php/etc gets placed on the shelf.

For me, the best way to learn something has been to find a project to work on. I learned html/css first through customizing my Blogger blog, and then by building my own website (the iteration before the current one). Most recently, I wanted to build something to help readers navigate our recently created financial literacy page. As it is now, stories are sorted based on the date they were published, even though they can be written for very distinct age-based audiences. I had recently read a tutorial on using jquery to show and hide content and utilize hover effects, and thought it could easily be translated to an interactive that allowed users to show and hide content after selecting a particular age range.

My advice if you want to learn a new skill. First, find a project that you know you want to work on and that will hold your attention through the distractions that are bound to come up. Then, determine what skills will be needed to complete that project and go from there. It has been much easier for myself to address a need that already exists as opposed to trying to create a need because someone has said this is a skill I should have.