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.

#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.

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.

Revisiting the iPhone a month in

It has been about a month since we were given the iPhone 4S here at The News Journal. In that time, we have launched a new digital subscription model and Gannett offered buyouts to some of our senior staffers. I thought I would take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of how our smartphones are being utilized by reporters and photographers.

The Good

It has been the reporters that have been the most enthusiastic to jump on the iPhone bandwagon. Reporters have been sending in images from events where we don’t have a photographer and from breaking news. In some cases, even when with a photographer, a reporter will send in an image from a breaking news event and have it up online long before anything is transmitted by the photographer. Reporters have also not been shy about shooting video. Embedded below is a video shot by Chad Livengood, who has since moved back home to work at the Detroit News, for a story on medical marijuana use in Delaware. While there definitely could have been more b-roll, I think it looks pretty damn good. Having Chad shoot the video on his iPhone also freed up the photographer to do what she does best, take pictures.



Aside from it’s obvious use as a visual tool (I have about 10 different photo/video apps), I have used it to keep track of my assignments by VPN’ing into our server and have synced my Entourage calender with the calendar in my phone. I also ditched my Tom Tom GPS for the free turn-by-turn navigation app Waze, and linked my Google Reader account to Feeddler RSS to keep up on any news when I have time between assignments.

The Bad

The most glaring shortcoming of the iPhone has been data transfer speeds. Before the phones arrived, editors salivated over the prospect of shooting and transmitting video from the field. A handful of OWLE rigs were purchased with this in mind. When we started testing the phones, any dream of HD video from the field was quickly dashed. Even when uploading at lower resolutions, files stalled or crept along at a snail’s pace. Granted, our office can be somewhat of a black hole when it comes to Sprint reception, but rare is the case when we are working in ideal conditions. Similar problems have been discussed on SportsShooter, and several workarounds were tried (tethering via USB or transferring files directly to the iPhone and FTP’ing from it) with mixed results.

When I was down in North Carolina on a recent assignment, I found myself in a similar situation. For some reason, my personal hotspot option was not available (it has come and gone a few times now, currently it is back), and so I transferred my photos directly to my iPhone through the sync option in iTunes. I then attempted to transfer my files via FTP, first through PhotoSync and then through Transfer Big Files, but both times the images that ended up in our photo server were very pixelated. It was as if iPhone specific versions were transferred onto the phone as opposed to full-resolution images, which very well may be the case. I also tried to sync the photos with PhotoSync through the File Sharing section of the Apps tab in iTunes, but the photos never appeared in any library that I could find.

The Ugly

Phillies

As with any new skill, it takes practice to gain a certain level of technical ability. So of course, I can’t hate on any reporters who are motivated enough to use their iPhone to take pictures. Far from it, I love it when they do so! I do wonder, though, when I see an image like this as the main image with a link to a gallery filled with images of similar quality. But perhaps that’s just a sign of the times…