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.

Building a photoblog

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.


#turbovideo storms through Delaware

Back in early 2012, I wrote about Gannett’s plan to give all of its reporters and photographers iPhones and have them make the pieces of technology a part of their daily workflow. As expected, due to lack of training and equipment (most notably, audio equipment) adoption within the newsroom was mixed.

I’ve had my fun with the iPhone initiative in the past but, fast forward a year later, and Gannett has sent out some of its best multimedia journalists to train newsrooms and evangelize the multimedia mindset in what they are calling #turbovideo training. As with anything, there was initial skepticism. Those that had been around for the previous Gannett-wide video training pointed out how quickly those directives fell by the wayside. This was different though. This wasn’t trying to get a reporter/photographer to shoot on an A1U and edit on Avid. The iPhones were small enough and simple enough for even the least tech-savvy to be able to knock out a video package.

Of course, the training wasn’t perfect. As talented as the instructors were, the reality at their workplaces (and their resulting ideas of how video should be done) didn’t always mesh well with the realities at The News Journal. For example, lead instructor Brian Kaufman showcased his year-long project on an abandoned Packard plant in Detroit. Of course, examples such as this are meant to inspire more than anything, and on that front he more than succeeded. But he was quick to admit that, when on a video assignment, his editors do not expect him to shoot stills. On top of that, he will typically have only one assignment a day. Contrast that with our normal days, where shooting stills and video on two assignments, then editing five reporter/photographer videos is not considered abnormal.

Without a doubt, the focus of the training was on reporters just based on their numbers in the newsrooms, and to that end the training was a success. Since #turbovideo training, we have been getting a constant stream of reporter video, and they have been more willing to collaborate with the visual staff both in the field and back in the newsroom. There was a time, not too long ago, that I could easily say that I got more help from competing tv stations in the field than from my own coworkers. Now, they are doing standups, flagging me down before interviews start and just have a better understanding of what we do in the field. It also hasn’t hurt that some of our recent reporter video has been some of our most watched, including a 100k+ views reporter video featuring female arm wrestlers and a 30k+ views reporter video about a wallet with 800 dollars returned after three years.

I’ve attached a few examples of our more successful reporter/photographer video below. No, they aren’t perfect, but they are videos that would never have been shot prior to the training.

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.