Monday, October 20, 2008

The Girl in the Window

As we hunt for stories worthy of appearing on KobreGuide, we're struck by how many are beautifully shot and edited, but lacking in basic journalistic principles. Or, conversely, they are well reported but visually unremarkable. There's a simple reason for this.

As newspapers migrate from print to online, reporters are having to learn a whole new set of visual skill sets -- technically and aesthetically -- while photographers, normally accustomed to taking a picture to accompany a text story, are now having to learn how to conduct meaningful interviews on their own. All those talents -- reporting, writing, text editing, shooting, collecting audio, video editing, and producing (i.e. pulling all those elements together into a cohesive multimedia package) -- are unlikely to be found in any single individual. And yet, with modern budget constraints, that is becoming the expectation of publishers.

The formula for success here seems to involve a creative pairing of a reporter who has a good visual sense (and/or training), with a videographer who has good journalistic instincts (and/or training).

Three years ago in Florida, police found a skeletal, diaper-clad, roach-bitten girl, who had suffered a lifetime of neglect. Nearly 7, she couldn't even talk. She was miraculously adopted by a family that provided her professional health care ... and the love that she had obviously not received from her own birth mother.

How could anyone treat their own child so badly? What motivates someone to treat somebody else's child so well? And will the love and care that little girl receives now ever be able to compensate for so many years of abuse?

Those were the questions that inspired St. Petersburg Times ( reporter Lane DeGregory and photographer Melissa Lyttle to tell the story of Danielle, "The Girl in the Window," using a potent combination of video and audio-slideshow. Working in tandem, these journalists captured the sights and sounds of Danielle's evolving reality. Because they caught up with the story after Danielle's adoption, they had to reconstruct her prior life the old-fashioned way -- by interviewing neighbors, police, her care manager, psychiatrist, teacher, legal guardian, and the judge on her case; and by scouring hundreds of pages of police reports, medical records and court documents. Then they had to translate all that into words, pictures, audio and video that pack an emotional wallop.

It's the kind of investment of time and resources that few media outlets are willing to make these days -- but, as you can see here, the payoff is gargantuan. Most newspapers would have been content to simply send a videographer out for a half-hour to get some B-roll and ambient audio of Danielle's adoptive parents playing with her -- and then get the print reporter to record a narrative voiceover to slam together a 2-minute piece. Look at how much further this package goes, and judge for yourself the advantage of hearing Danielle's story from so many other voices and perspectives.

You, too, will need to make an investment. You'll need to set aside some time to absorb and appreciate DeGregory and Lyttle's handiwork. Because no matter how long it takes you to watch and listen to this engrossing tale, be forewarned: It will stay with you for a long, long time afterward.

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