Sunday, November 30, 2008

2 Summer Abroad Multimedia Programs

San Francisco State University's Journalism Department and the Institute for Education in International Media will co-sponsor two summer programs in multimedia storytelling next summer. One is in Armagh, Northern Ireland, July 15-August 16, 2009, the other in Urbino, Italy, July 1 to July 30, 2009.

Students from all universities and majors, as well as recent graduates, are welcome to apply. Students will earn 3 units of journalism credit through the SFSU College of Extended Learning. Students will learn various aspects of digital storytelling -- including photography, video, writing for the Web, blogging, and Web design -- and will produce an online multimedia documentary about the local community.

For Urbino contact; for Armagh contact For more information and an application visit

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brain Man

We marvel at those whose memory and powers of calculation appear superhuman. Savant Daniel Tammet (pictured) is the second "brainiac" we've featured on KobreGuide, in "Boy with the Incredible Brain."

Previously, in "Unforgettable," we introduced you to Brian Williams, whose condition (labeled hyperthymesia) enables him to remember in vivid detail every single day of his life, from what he ate to what was in the headlines and on TV.

Tammet, however, has a different sort of abnormality. He has a relationship to numbers and words that has drawn the scrutiny of scientists in his native Britain and in the U.S. They marvel at his staggering mathematical calculations and ability to become quickly fluent in new languages. Apparently because he is mildly autistic and has suffered epileptic seizures, he developed an ability to perceive numbers and words as shapes, textures and patterns -- a trait that scientists hope may hold the key to unlocking similar superior mental abilities in all of us.

How does one capture such cerebral subjects on video?

Both "Unforgettable" and "Boy with the Incredible Brain" feature dramatic Man vs. Computer segments, and each does an excellent job of trying to get inside the head of a remarkable individual in a visual way. They're good examples of "showing, not telling." You'd be smart to view them!


Edna Parker, who was certified as the world's oldest person, died this week. She was 115. The new holder of the title of world's oldest person is Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who recently turned 115.

The second-oldest person in the world now is Gertrude Baines (pictured), the daughter of former slaves, who is also the oldest person of African descent in the world. Baines is 114 and lives in a nursing facility in Los Angeles. When she voted for Obama this month, she became the subject of a Los Angeles Times video, featured here on KobreGuide.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Are Soundtracks Fair?

This month the Supreme Court declined to review a case about whether it was legal to play Enya under a video montage of a murder victim’s life. Such "victim impact statements" serve as testimony submitted during the sentencing phase of a criminal trial. At issue is the extent to which music can bias a viewer's perceptions.

Our nation's top justices wouldn't weigh in, but now you can be the judge. There's no question that the same footage can affect your mood one way if it's accompanied by hard-driving uptempo rock and another if it's set to lush orchestral strings. What role should music (or added sound effects) have in videojournalism? Do soundtracks compromise objectivity? Or are they another useful component of audio and visual storytelling? If so, what ethical guidelines should be followed?

We'd like to hear your opinion. Please go to our Discussion Board on the KobreGuide Facebook Group page and let us know your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Unforgettable Brother

It's rare that we discover independent videojournalism worthy of KobreGuide. Mostly we scour newspaper Websites for high-quality nonfiction video stories.

However we found ourselves charmed by a series of video profiles that are part of a feature-length work-in-progress. They are the first-time documentary efforts of Eric Williams, whose previous big-screen credits are limited to the screenplay for Mad City, which, despite the star power of Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta, was forgettable.

His personal project, however, is "Unforgettable." As a lesson to all would-be documentarians, who fail to see great stories right under their noses, Eric found gold in his own backyard. "Unforgettable" is the story of his own brother. Brian Williams is, by all appearances, an ordinary radio news guy, except for one exceptional trait. He has a memory that can't be beat -- even when pitted against the entire internet.

It's a phenomenon known as hyperthymesia, the curious ability to remember every excruciating detail of every day of your life. Brian is one of very few who is known to possess that condition. Thanks to his brother's skillful videomaking abilities, we can share in the marvel and wonder of having a memory like a steel trap, as we observe his superhuman ability to instantly access the tiniest minutae -- from what he ate for breakfast 30 years ago to who Johnny Carson's guests were that night.

We think it's a story you'll long remember!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bad Bugs

It's the third appearance on KobreGuide for New York Times videojournalist Erik Olsen. First he offered a video profile of Serena Williams' practicing partner, in Hitting with Serena. Then he updated us on the work of an artist who found fame at 21 when her design was selected for Washington's Vietnam Memorial, in Maya Lin's 'Wave Field.'

Now Erik is back with an ambitious video report on the devastation of millions of acres of North American forests, all because of an insect the size of a grain of rice. The tiny mountain pine beetle is responsible for the largest insect infestation in the history of the continent. It's a big problem with far-reaching consequences and no easy solutions. View it here: America's Disappearing Forests.

A Video About a Video About a Video

Dwight Core Sr., took home movies of his son, Dwight Jr., who was born with Down syndrome, during the boy's childhood. He recorded voiceovers of his own thoughts and the imagined thoughts of his young, disabled boy.

Decades later the elder Core’s grandson (Dwight Jr.'s nephew) found and restored that footage. He used it, along with contemporary video of the then-adult Dwight, Jr. to create a documentary, "Think of Me First as a Person." It was praised at film festivals for its honest portrayal of the lives of the disabled during an era of mental institutions. The Library of Congress chose the documentary from hundreds of films to be preserved in the National Film Registry.

Now the Virginian-Pilot has created a heartwarming two-part video story about Dwight, Jr. and his four loving and supportive sisters today, inspired by (and incorporating footage from) the heralded documentary -- and by the recent passing of Dwight at age 48.

View it here: My Favorite Child.

Old-Fashioned Sports Values

Remember those pre-steroids, pre-scandals days when organized sports was supposed to be a vehicle for teaching good values to kids?

This week on KobreGuide, we spotlight two inspirational video sports stories that champion those long forgotten ideals.

They're both about two very different coaches who each came from surprising places to bring opportunities and new perspectives to disadvantaged kids at their respective high schools.

Former NFL receiver and All-American college star returns to his Michigan hometown to coach and re-energize his high school football team. (Detroit Free Press)


For members of the nation's first all-African-American high school rugby team, the sport has opened up new possibilities. (New York Times)

Friday, November 21, 2008

'Trapped' Wins CPOY Gold Medal

Congrats to Jenn Ackerman, College Photographer of the Year's Gold Medal Winner for Multimedia Project.

KobreGuide previously showcased her documentary series, "Trapped: Mental Illness in America's Prisons." It's a frightening look at how state prisons are turning into mental health facilities, without the resources to psychiatrically care for inmates. See for yourself.

Animated Documentaries?

It seems like a contradiction in terms -- one connotes fantasy, the other reality -- but expect to see more animated documentaries as animation becomes more affordable and accessible, and nonfiction video becomes more experimental. Ethical and aesthetic issues abound, but videojournalists need to be attuned to animation's capabilities and limitations, so they can know if, when and how they should use it.

Animation has been a viable component of documentaries for nearly a century, starting with Windsor McCay's 1918 animated re-creation of the sinking of the Lusitania three years earlier (no film footage available!), through all those high-school sex-ed films you had to endure, up through segments of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine." Recent PBS documentaries have featured animation, including a re-creation of the Sixties' "Chicago 10" trial.

For a real treat, see Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff" -- "a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns." It's the most engaging environmental film you'll ever see, and it's just a woman talking in front of black-and-white cartoon drawings.

Next month brings us the much heralded Israeli film, "Waltz With Bashir," about the 1982 Lebanon war and massacre. A hit on the festival circuit, it purports to be the first feature-length animated documentary. Despite its gritty subject matter, it is a strong Oscar contender for Best Animated Film, along with the likes of "Wall-E" and "Kung Fu Panda."

Here's the synopsis:

One night at a bar, an old friend tells director Ari Folman about a recurring nightmare in which he is chased by 26 vicious dogs. Every night, the same number of beasts. The two men conclude that there’s a connection to their Israeli Army mission in the first Lebanon War of the early Eighties. Ari is surprised that he can’t remember a thing anymore about that period of his life. Intrigued by this riddle, he decides to meet and interview old friends and comrades around the world. He needs to discover the truth about that time and about himself. As Ari delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, his memory begins to creep up in surreal images …

Folman has explained that he eschewed the traditional documentary approach -- of having now middle-aged men talk into a camera, telling stories from 20 years ago, mixed with archival footage -- because it couldn't accurately capture the imagery of his nightmares. Filmgoers seem to agree.

However, the film is not entirely animated. In the final minute, we see real footage of the massacre's aftermath in all its horror. As the director explained: " I don't want you to go out of the theater and think, 'Yes, this is a cool animated film: nice drawings, good music.' In order to put the whole film in proportion, those 50 seconds were essential to me," he said.

Sometimes reality simply cannot be trumped.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why the New Name?

Did you notice we changed our Website name? It used to be "KobreGuide to the Web's best multimedia & video journalism." Now it's "KobreGuide to the Web's best videojournalism." For this blog title, we've also removed "multimedia" and made "videojournalism" one word. Why?

When we started this project more than a year ago, there was very little quality video journalism, and audio slideshows were just starting to come into their own. We needed a way to describe these hybrid productions of still images, moving images, audio (nat sound), audio interviews, and photog voiceovers. "Multimedia" seemed to fit the bill. But two things happened.

One, multimedia became an increasingly vague term. Ask ten people what it means, you'll get ten different responses. Interactive clickable calenders are considered multimedia. Bottom line: it's become meaningless.

Two, the quality of online nonfiction video has taken a quantum leap, as media organizations allocate more resources to it.

Three, in the same spirit that news photography evolved to photo journalism, and then morphed to "photojournalism" (which I first used as the title of my textbook nearly 30 years ago), we decided to stake our flag on this brave new planet and declare it for the kingdom of Videojournalism (one word). And, yes, good videos can still incorporate still images within them.

A year ago there wouldn't have been enough videojournalism to fill our Website. Now there is. And it's worthy of its own textbook -- so stay tuned for more news about that!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Neatness Counts!

One of the things we pride ourselves on at KobreGuide is how we've nicely organized our video listings -- by channel and topic -- so that it's easy to find something great to watch. Unlike some video sites we know, wherever you are on KobreGuide, you're just a click away from more great stories. Our confidence in the importance of our well organized and easy-to-navigate grids system was underscored by this New York Times blog item: YouTube Pales Next to Hulu’s Spiffy Multiplex

Even though YouTube is a huge success with its audience, the site itself is a mess. It is visually distracting, and I never can find what I want when I want it. On Hulu, it is a lot easier to understand what is going on and find the episodes you may want to watch.

Let’s say you wanted to relax and watch a movie on your computer. What does Hulu have? One click at the top of any page gets a list of some movies and ways to find more. How do you find all the movies on YouTube? I spent five minutes wandering around the site and I still don’t know.

So maybe before Google sends more people to Hollywood seeking films, it might want to build a better online theater in which to watch them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Death of the Story?

We've often said that videojournalists have much to learn from Hollywood when it comes to storytelling and creating dramatic narrative arcs.

But now it seems that even Hollywood is beginning to lose its way, according to this New York Times report about a new MIT Media Lab project called The Center for Future Storytelling.

The center is envisioned as a “labette,” a little laboratory, that will examine whether the old way of telling stories — particularly those delivered to the millions on screen, with a beginning, a middle and an end — is in serious trouble.

Its mission is not small. “The idea, as we move forward with 21st-century storytelling, is to try to keep meaning alive,” said David Kirkpatrick, a founder of the new venture.

Once president of the Paramount Pictures motion picture group, Mr. Kirkpatrick and company are not alone in their belief that Hollywood’s ability to tell a meaningful story has been nibbled at by text messages, interrupted by cellphone calls and supplanted by everything from Twitter to Guitar Hero.

“I even saw a plasma screen above a urinal,” said Peter Guber, the longtime film producer and former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment who contends that traditional narrative — the kind with unexpected twists and satisfying conclusions — has been drowned out by noise and visual clutter.

What do you think? Is traditional storytelling structure dead?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Lioness ... and Other Remarkable Women

Perhaps you saw the full-length documentary "Lioness" this week on public television. It tells the story of a group of female Army support soldiers who unintentionally became the first women in American history to be sent into direct ground combat. Without sufficient training, these young women ended up fighting in some of the bloodiest counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq war. Their candid narratives describing their experiences in Iraq and scenes from their lives back home form a portrait of the emotional and psychological effects of war from a female point of view.

The directors of "Lioness" produced a video op-ed piece for The New York Times, arguing that it's time for U.S. legislators to acknowledge female warriors and properly train and equip them for battle.

Look for it here on KobreGuide:

There's a disconnect between what U.S. policy says female soldiers can do and the fighting they are actually doing, so they're not getting the training they need.

Other KobreGuide video reports on remarkable women this week:

In northern British Columbia, a self-trained biologist is battling fish farms in hopes of saving the orca whale population.

The artist found fame at 21 by designing the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. Look at what she is creating now.

Deadly Denial

Here's a powerhouse trio of in-depth video reports, reflecting years of reporting, from Denver's Rocky Mountain News:

Tens of thousands of America's former nuclear bomb builders are sick, dying or already dead because of their exposure to radiation and other poisons. After decades of stonewalling, the government started a compensation program in 2000. After four years of bungling, Congress reformed the program, demanding that it be "compassionate, fair and timely." Today only one in four claimants has been compensated and millions more of your taxpayer dollars have been wasted creating hurdles instead of help. For many of the nation's cold warriors, the government's game is deadly denial.

View Deadly Denial, an investigative video series about tens of thousands of nuclear arms workers who unsuccessfully applied for compensation for severe job-related illnesses.

Monday, November 10, 2008

PBS Frontline's "News War" -- The Future of Journalism?

See part three of PBS Frontline's "News War," entitled "What's Happening to the News," segments 16-25. The series examines the mounting pressure for profits faced by America's network news divisions and daily newspapers, as well as growing challenges from cable television and the Internet.

Network executives, newspaper editors and publishers, bloggers, Wall Street analysts and key players at Google and Yahoo! discuss the battle for market dominance in a rapidly changing world.

The primary challenge to both newspapers and broadcast networks is the growing power of the Internet as a news distribution platform, pulling consumers and advertisers away from more traditional media.

But Internet news providers like Yahoo! and Google say that they are not in the business of creating content, relying instead on traditional news-gathering organizations.

If not newspapers, who will create content for the Internet news aggregators? Bloggers? Self-appointed pundits? Anyone with Internet access and an opinion, informed or otherwise?

This is clearly no longer traditional "reporting." But is this journalism?

Read about it here. View it online here. And start praying for the soul of the Fourth Estate.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Multimedia Job Opportunity

San Francisco State University’s Journalism Department seeks a tenure-track Assistant Professor with expertise in multimedia, digital delivery of news media, and media entrepreneurship.

The successful candidate must have at least five years experience with online journalism and multi-media news delivery and some experience teaching journalism. Teaching responsibilities will include undergraduate-level courses in such areas as multimedia/online journalism, digital skills (Excel, interactive maps, searchable databases), publication/graphic design, and media entrepreneurship. The candidate should be forward-thinking about journalism in the 21st century and will be expected to assist the department in shaping its evolving multimedia curriculum as it prepares students for professional careers in an industry that’s undergoing profound transformation. SFSU is an AA/EO employer.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Going Back to Crawford

It is as remarkable that Hulu chose "Crawford" as it is that George W. Bush chose Crawford.

Before launching his bid for president in 1999, Bush decided he needed a home in Texas, other than the governor’s mansion. Both supporters and opponents agree that he moved there to enhance his regular-guy image, but even locals wonder why he chose tiny Crawford (population 700) to be his “Western White House.”

Hulu was founded by NBC Universal and News Corp as an online distributor of mainstream entertainment from Hollywood movie studios and TV networks. For their first feature-length online film, they curiously selected the 75-minute documentary, "Crawford."

However, if you watch "Crawford," about the impact of Bush's tenure there on the local citizenry, you'll agree that, whatever your political leanings, it is indeed hugely entertaining, and in many instances hilariously funny. Suffice to say, you just can't make this stuff up. It combines the best of Hollywood storytelling with serious video journalism, and should serve as a beacon to all news outlets who yearn to inject quirkiness and levity into non-fiction multimedia stories, without sacrificing gravitas. So: kudos to Hulu!

In any case, you can understand why "Crawford" seems like an especially topical "end-of-an-era" selection this week for KobreGuide. It's longer than the videos we normally showcase, but we encourage you to carve out some time this weekend to savor it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One More for Election Eve

What a long strange trip it's been -- the longest, costliest, and arguably wackiest presidential campaign in American history. And now, here we are. The New York Times puts it all in (balanced) perspective for you, in this three-part video retrospective that covers The Landscape, The Candidates, and The Voters over the past two years. It's called, simply, Choosing a President. Enjoy!

Election Trio

As the big day approaches.... KobreGuide offers 3 stellar candidates for your consideration:

Video Haiku: The Campaign in Moments
An eclectic collection of offbeat images and short videos from the long and whimsical campaign trail. (Washington Post)

From Iraq to the Campaign Trail
Iraq War veterans are turning to politics with the same sense of duty that pushed them to enlist. Meet two on the trail. (New York Times)

Race in the Race
Mixed-race Angelinos smartly address the role of ethnicity in their lives and in the Presidential election. (Los Angeles Times)

We hope you'll elect to view all of them. Then exercise your freedom of speech and let us know what you thought about them.

Hard Times: End of the Road

Washington Post videojournalist Travis Fox has completed his cross-country videoblog, Hard Times, which explores how Americans are coping with the economic downturn, and how it may influence their vote -- as showcased on KobreGuide. Here is his final entry, and be sure to watch his entire series of videos:

The circuitous route I took between Santa Barbara and Washington totaled nearly 5,000 miles, but in a nation riveted by perhaps the most historic election in American history, it was also so much more. A month ago, I went to Google Maps to define a route that would take me across America, through mountains and desert, big cities and small towns, and, inevitably, through parts of this country both red and blue. After three rental cars, 17 states and almost a month on the road, I returned with a snapshot of this nation wracked by economic crisis and fears of the future, where Americans of every stripe have one eye on the problems of the present even as the other looks nervously toward nation’s next chapter after Election Day.