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.
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.