Wednesday, December 31, 2008

KobreGuide: Top 20 for 2008

For your viewing pleasure, an encore presentation of the most popular stories on KobreGuide this year. Enjoy!

One Man Brand: The Naked Cowboy (Mediastorm)
The Girl in the Window (St. Petersburg Press)
The Fire Within (Los Angeles Times)
India's Fast Lane to the Future (National Geographic)
Odetta: The Last Word (New York Times)
Railfans at Fullerton Train Station (Los Angeles Times)
Stonehenge Photosynth (National Geographic)
Crawford (Hulu)
Bolivia's Women Wrestlers (National Geographic)
Seeds of Peace: Catherine's Secret (Washington Post)
Break Dancing Phnom Penh Style (New York Times)
Air Car (Discovery)
Scream Bloody Murder (CNN)
Hard Times (Washington Post)
Empowering Women in Afghanistan (New York Times)
Pit Bulls: Companions or Killers? (Detroit Free Press)
The Bottom Line (Dallas Morning News)
Boomtown: The Sin City Story (Las Vegas Sun)
The Apollo Legend (Mediastorm)
Gertrude Baines, 114, Votes (Los Angeles Times)
Acid Attacks (New York Times)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Listen to the Best Videojournalism

KobreGuide Editorial Director Jerry Lazar (right) gives a guided tour of the Web's Best Videojournalism... on the radio! Marc Germain is the host. Listen here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

KobreGuide on Web Radio Tonight

Tonight at 8:30 p.m. PT (Mon. Dec. 29), Editorial Director Jerry Lazar will be a guest on The Marc Germain Show.

Be sure to tune in: .

Friday, December 26, 2008

Waltzing with Animation

Ari Folman, writer and director of the celebrated new animated documentary "Waltz With Bashir," discusses his filmmaking process, from interviewing subjects to creating the unique animation for the film, with the New York Times.

Appropriately the Times created an instructive video animation of the interview (2:42). It shows what Folman tells: "You can't Google 'animated documentary' and find a manual of how to do it at home, so we had to invent everything from scratch."

It's an inventive demonstration, and as we previously wondered in our blog entry on Animated Documentaries, how soon will videojournalists start adding animation techniques to their toolkits?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Brian Storm Speaks Truth to J-School Grads

"The moment journalism institutions began answering to their shareholders and their ever-increasing demands for profit margins, the public’s need to know was in jeopardy."

The speaker is Brian Storm, visionary president of MediaStorm, the award-winning multimedia production studio based in New York City. (MediaStorm's mini-documentaries are proudly showcased here on KobreGuide.)

Brian returned to his alma matter recently to deliver an excellent commencement speech at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism graduation ceremony. Here are some highlights:

Walter Williams wrote in The Journalist’s Creed that “The supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.” There’s no mention of 25% profit margins as a metric for success. If you want to make a pile of money, this is not the right profession for you. Frankly, Journalism needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for a quick buck. Journalists lead a rich life, but rarely get rich. We are inherently purpose driven, not profit driven. Simply put, we, the practitioners of this craft, need to take journalism back....

It is one of the most exciting times in history to be a young journalist. You have an almost limitless palette of storytelling tools, an audience unbound by physical borders and the most powerful communications technology ever developed at your disposal.

We strongly encourage you to read his whole inspirational speech over here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

YouTube Goes Wide

Is bigger better? YouTube has expanded its page width to 960 pixels, to accomodate larger 16:9 videos: "This new, wider player is in a widescreen aspect ratio which we hope will provide you with a cleaner, more powerful viewing experience."

But what does this mean for all those previously uploaded 4:3 videos? YouTube assures they "will play just fine in this new player," but users are reporting problems, ranging from pixelation to sputtering.

At minimum, current videos (like ours) will have annoying vertical black bars on both sides, since few will have the patience or inclination to reformat and re-upload their work.

One thing we know for sure. Given the complete lack of consistency in video presentations, the Web is yearning for someone to come along with a viable standard player, platform and format that will work for all media outlets. Only then will they be able to syndicate and share video content (as opposed to simply embedding YouTube players into blog pages).

In the near future, it should be as easy for media outlets to distribute and share videos as it is for them to share text and still photographs. Who's working on that problem?

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Video Explosion

Charles Layton wrote an illuminating "state-of-the-art" roundup of the varying quality of newspaper-generated videojournalism for the American Journalism Review, with links to examples of the worst and best:

News video has been around for six or seven years on some newspaper Web sites, but in the past 12 to 18 months it has grown from a significant trend into a near stampede. Call up Web sites at random and you'll find a very large, very mixed selection, much of it disappointing, some so awful it makes you cringe, and some reasonably well executed but trivial... The bulk of online news video occupies a broad, gray middle ground in terms of quality, as the industry stumbles toward a goal it cannot yet quite perceive or articulate... But a small proportion is excellent by any standard...

Those "excellent" videos are especially difficult to locate -- and that's why we created the KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Transition Questions

Does being a good photographer make you more likely to be a good videographer? Why or why not?

Does being a good photojournalist make you more likely to be a good videojournalist? Why or why not?

As newspaper photographers transition to online video, these questions are being asked more frequently. We have our own observations, thoughts and perceptions. But first we want to hear yours. Please comment below.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Free Citizen Journalism Training!

Learn how to report and write news, and even shoot photos and videos -- for free! Yes, you too can become a certified "citizen journalist" for a major metropolitan daily newspaper, and there's no tuition. There's no pay, either, but -- hey! -- you get to see your work published, and isn't that what journalism is all about these days?

Forgive our cynicism, but yet another big media outlet is cashing in on this disturbing "citizen journalism" craze. The Oakland Press has annnounced the formation of The Oakland Press Institute for Citizen Journalism, and is inviting readers to attend free classes. There's not even any admission requirements.

We will be offering anyone who is interested — from high school students to retirees — instruction in news writing, videography, basics of reporting for news and sports, and still photography.
Here's their rationale... and see if you're as horrified as we are:

In our digital age, reports can be prepared and shared with the public in mere minutes. The original keystroke in typing the story suffices for print and online purposes. Photos and even videos can be e-mailed from the scene. Plus, phones can serve as cameras — even for video — and the airwaves and cyberspace are full of these endeavors produced by everyday citizens.

We are trying to tap into this movement as a means of improving our bread-and-butter franchise of local news and sports coverage. There are ways for readers to help tell stories better, quicker and more completely. This applies to high schools academics and sports, to local city councils and school boards, education, health care, business and financial, entertainment and human-interest stories.

For those who complete the instruction, we offer the opportunity to get your work published online or in the print edition. This experience would be especially helpful for high school and college students viewing careers in the communications field. In addition, others can work toward becoming members of our freelance stable of journalists.

Wait a minute, did they say career? We remember when the concept of career implied salaries and job stability... and professional standards. Not just something you do as a lark. We think they must have meant hobby.

Old Dog, New Trick

We've always been huge fans of New York Times technology columnist David Pogue, even before he gave my Lightscoop invention rave reviews exactly one year ago this month.

Today he posted five of the “Best Photography Tricks of All Time,” excerpted from his upcoming book on digital cameras.

I've been teaching photography for three decades, and even I learned something new! The first four tips are among those I hand out myself all the time to students. It's the fifth that grabbed my attention. Even grizzled pros will marvel at its sheer ingenuity. He's addressing compact camera owners, but the basic concepts apply to all cameras. When you use that fifth tip, though (and you will!), just don't use a long lens with a 35mm SLR. Otherwise, very clever!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Videojournalists as Entrepreneurs?

In one of those now all-too-commonplace hand-wringing reports on "How Can Journalism Survive?" (with journalism jobs disappearing daily), NPR's "Day to Day" talked this week to Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism Neil Henry, author of American Carnival: Journalism under Siege in an Age of New Media.

His solution? "Journalists need to become entrepreneurs." How? Listen here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Photogs Fired; Told to Re-Apply as 'Visual Journalists'

Here's a sign of the times: 20 Newsday photographers were fired, and told they could "re-apply" for new jobs with the title "Visual Journalist." Of course, there will be only 5-10 openings. The National Press Photographers Association has the gruesome details.

TV Marvels at Newspaper Video

TV is looking over its shoulder as the quality of newspaper-produced video is starting to gain on it, judging from this report: "Video Gives Print Media New Game: Newspapers Are Still Learning, But Recent Honors Prove They’re Getting the Hang of It."

It smartly points out the essential differences between videos produced by the respective media.

Some excerpts, which cite examples found on

Talk about respect. That’s what the Detroit Free Press got when it won the News and Documentary Emmy for “40 Years of ‘Respect,’” its video news feature on the history of Aretha Franklin’s iconic song and what it means to the people of Detroit.

The piece beat entries from PBS’ “Frontline” and Web sites for The New York Times and The Washington Post in the category of arts, lifestyle and culture.

The win was emblematic of newspapers’ recent emergence as awards contenders, competing on the same prestigious playing field where traditional broadcast news organizations have been competing for decades. Yet most newspapers have been using video on their Web sites for just the past few years.

“We start with the premise that we’re storytellers, with strong visuals and a compelling story to begin with,” said Nancy Andrews, managing editor for digital media at the Free Press . “We had to learn new skills, but we were also students of the craft.”

Like the Free Press, the Washington Post’s Web site is an awards heavyweight, garnering a multitude of national and local Emmy, Edward R. Murrow and Peabody Award wins and nominations in the past few years. But unlike the Detroit newspaper, whose multimedia team is integrated into the newsroom and varies according to editorial needs, the Post’s video output is generated by an online division separate and distinct from the traditional print newsroom.

“We really wanted to create a narrative voice for our video that was different than that on the broadcast nightly news,” said Tom Kennedy, the managing editor for multimedia at , who previously was the photo director of National Geographic .

The site prides itself on pieces that have more in common with independent filmmaking and documentaries than with traditional, reporter-driven broadcast journalism, pieces like its award-winning coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a look at the causes of childhood obesity, and “Being a Black Man,” a Peabody Award-winning series of videos produced by Ben de la Cruz in 2006.

“We aim for subject-driven narrative, with interactions and dialogue that propel the arc of the narrative and create the throughline of story, and have it told in a natural, fly-on-the-wall way,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Video Timesculpture

Here's some state-of-the-art eye candy for you. It's a new Toshiba ad that resembles the iconic "bullet-time" scene from "The Matrix" -- on steroids. As described in the New York Times "Year in Ideas" special:

Imagine a dozen actors, running, jumping, twirling, even throwing paint, each repeating their activities in a loop while the camera revolves around the scene 360 degrees. With each pass of the camera, they form a more intricately choreographed ensemble. Two guys fall forward on their hands and pop back up again; a woman in the center twirls around; the guys bounce up and down, over and over; the woman twists back and forth. Others walk into the shot, bouncing balls, waving a flag, then those actions, too, start repeating in a continuous loop. Someone throws a bucket of purple paint in an arc; a guy darts underneath it.

But no text description (or still image) can do justice -- you must see this four-dimensional extravaganza for yourself. (You can also see the final result on Toshiba's Website. )

And then when you're wondering, "How did they DO that?" -- look over here to see the behind-the-scenes video.

As the Times explains:

Instead of using still cameras, as they did in “The Matrix,” the filmmakers used 200 of Toshiba’s Gigashot HD camcorders, mounted on a circular rig. This technique of looping and layering, dreamed up four years ago by Mitch Stratten, who directed the ad and calls the approach “timesculpture,” has never been used before. Each character was filmed separately, after careful rehearsals — the man ducking under the paint did so without actually seeing the paint. Each sequence was edited separately and then composited into one shot. ...It took about 10 technicians working 24 hours a day for two and a half weeks to download and process the 20,000 gigabytes of data.

So you can rest assured that newspapers won't be requiring their videojournalists to be entering the fourth dimension any time soon. However, as we're always discovering, cutting-edge video technology is never more than five minutes away from being accessible to mainstream professionals and consumers. And when it comes to "non-fiction" video that's being used to portray "reality," all kinds of ethical considerations come into play.

Right now it may seem ridiculous to be concerned about this whirling anti-gravitational circus being confused with real life, but consider that, on the most basic level, we've seen videojournalism incorporate familiar time-altering techniques, which we've come to unquestioningly accept:

  • Fast-forwarding for either comic effect or to show rapid passage of time (e.g. time-lapse photography of a flower blooming)
  • Slow-motion to emphasize a specific activity or give it a dreamy feeling (or sometimes, pragmatically, just to synch B-roll to VO audio by making the person walk a little faster or slower)
  • Rewinding to signal going back in time, or to cue the viewer that we're going to see the same sequence again
Inevitably the day will come, sooner that we think, that timesculpture is within the reach of every videojournalist -- another tool for our toolboxes. How will we use it creatively... and ethically?

It's tempting to recoil at the increasingly "unreal" aspect of a medium that we are trying to use to depict reality, but maybe we're looking at it the wrong way. It calls to mind an anecdote about Picasso, who was confronted by a critic who complained that the great artist's cubist paintings were unrealistic. "Show me realistic art," he countered, whereupon the critic produced from his wallet a photograph of his wife. Picasso held it in his hand, examined it, and remarked: "Your wife -- she is so small."

Friday, December 12, 2008

One-Person Video Crews

One phenomenon of newspaper-generated videojournalism has been the emergence of the "one-man band" syndrome: print reporters and/or still photographers suddenly being forced to master every aspect of documentary filmmaking, including reporting, shooting and editing pieces by themselves. For less pay.

While TV news relied on a small team (reporter, cameraperson, editor, writer) -- each professionally trained and skilled at their respective jobs -- newspapers had no tradition in moving images and, budget-strapped, simply piled on extra chores and demanded extra skills from their already overtaxed staffs.

Well now it's happening in TV news, too.

As the Washington Post reports, WUSA, Channel 9, will become the first station in Washington to replace its crews with one-person "multimedia journalists" who will shoot and edit news stories single-handedly. This story is worthy of your attention, because it underscores a dangerous mentality among media management types, who think this is a smart way to save a buck, and seem hellbent on convincing themselves that this will somehow improve quality.

The change will blur the distinctions between the station's reporters and its camera and production people. Reporters will soon be shooting and editing their own stories, and camera people will be doing the work of reporters, occasionally appearing on the air or on in video clips on Channel 9's Web site.

For decades, TV journalists have worked in teams, with the lines of responsibility regulated by union rules or simple tradition. Stories were covered by a crew consisting of a camera operator and a correspondent (and further back, by a sound or lighting technician); their work was overseen by a producer and their footage assembled into a finished story by an editor.

But technology -- handheld or tripod-mounted cameras, laptop editing programs and the Internet -- have made it possible for one person to handle all those assignments, station managers say.

The change is driven by increasing financial pressure on TV stations, as advertisers disappear from nightly newscasts and audiences scatter to the growing number of channels and Web sites. In fact, separate from its new union agreement, WUSA -- owned by media giant Gannett -- plans an across-the-board cut in reporters' salaries as it increases their responsibilities. Multimedia journalists will earn 30 to 50 percent less than what traditional reporters have been earning, with salaries topping out at around $90,000 annually, according to people at the station.

Channel 9 will switch to the new system early next year, becoming the first station in a major market to revamp its entire newsroom.

Leave it to management to put an absurdly positive spin on this:

"We believe strongly that [this change] will raise both the quality and quantity of the product we're putting out" on TV and on the internet, said Allan Horlick, the president and general manager of WUSA. "The concept of a multimedia journalist, having his own beat, with an area of expertise, and a limitless virtual news desk is something we can get very excited about."

However, the concept gets mixed reviews in other quarters.

Veteran TV journalists say their concern isn't the quantity of news that can be produced but the quality, because not all TV journalists are skilled enough to do a job formerly handled by specialists. "There are some people who will be very good at this, and some not as much," said Bill Lord, WJLA's news director. "If you're forcing everyone to do things against their skill levels and desire, your product suffers."

Lord says stations in Nashville and San Francisco have used multimedia journalists on an experimental basis in recent years but have backed away because of "falling quality" and declining ratings.

Another concern: safety. With complicated, fast-moving news stories such as traffic accidents or civil unrest, people on a news crew watch out for one another, said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. "You need to be careful," she said.

The upcoming changes at WUSA have soured veteran reporter Gary Reels, who began working at the station in 1980. "It takes a lot of time to shoot and edit and write and prepare a story, and if you have one person doing all that, something has to give," he said .

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Time Mag Hires 3 Million Videojournalists

You, too, can shoot 3-4 minute video news and features for Of course there's a catch -- you don't get paid.

Yes, the venerable newsweekly is jumping on to the "citizen journalism" bandwagon. We have another phrase for it: "free labor." And who can blame a media institution for asking for handouts in these troubled economic times?

"Ideally, video pieces will be already completed (produced/shot/edited) and ready for delivery, but rough footage ready for editing will also be considered," says TIME video producer Vanessa Kaneshiro, who's accepting pitch ideas at

Judging from what they already offer, the online publication sure could use some help in the video department. But from rank amateurs? Well, that seems to be the trend in this YouTube age.

Times are tough in the art world, too, but you don't see museum curators saying, "Hey, we can't afford a Picasso, so we'll call our members 'citizen artists' and let them splash their own paint on our gallery walls."

Yet the democratization of journalism is endemic. The U.K.'s Guardian reports that German newspaper Bild is selling cheap camcorders to its 82 million readers "in the hope that it will nurture a new generation of citizen video journalists who will use it to collect material and upload it directly to a special desk of content editors."

They're calling it a "media evolution." Or, in German, "volksjournalismus" (people's journalism). Unlike their American counterparts, at least they have the decency to pay for contributions -- 500 euros.

"We started it during the World Cup in 2006, encouraging people to send us their pictures, because we knew our journalists couldn't be everywhere at once," says Michael Paustian, deputy editor-in-chief of Bild. "It has been a huge success, so that we now get around 4,000 photos a day."

Around 9,000 of these pictures have been published in the paper, while tens of thousands have appeared on the website. There have been citizens' takes on everything from celebrity break-ups to the disabled interior minister doing his morning exercises in a specially converted wheelchair.

"Technology has improved to such an extent that we'd be foolish not to take advantage of it," says Paustian. "There's one button to turn it on, one to record, and zap, before you know it, the material is with Bild." The publication literally has eyes -- and buttons -- everywhere! Zap!

Extending the volksjournalismus project to videos seems only natural. But it has unsurprisingly stoked the wrath of German organizations for journalists, who are convinced that ordinary mortals will trample the profession's ethical codes -- a concern that Americans would no doubt find amusing. Their real fear, it turns out, is that professional journalists will be punished for amateurs' boorish behavior by being barred from legitimately covering events.

Then there's always the concern about "standards." But Paustian says: "It's not the reader that makes the decision about what material we use. We've got people here to do that."

Still, the pros feel their profession is under attack, and their careers on the line. Paustian insists that the project is not about cutting jobs, and in fact has created jobs. "The specially established department which sifts through the picture material that's sent through to us employs 10 people."
Christian Meier, a German media expert, says the video reporter scheme throws up scores of legal questions, such as: "Who vets the pictures, who makes sure that personal rights and laws are not being broken, how do they deal with material that involves criminal activity which might not sometimes be apparent until after the material is published?" Details!

The most popular download on is a reader's recording of the crash landing of a Lufthansa Airbus at Hamburg airport. Other hits have included a DJ exposed for making a "Heil Hitler" greeting. A favorite last week was a naked couple discovered in a drunken coma in their garden by a neighbour, who also recorded the police arriving to take them away.

Paustian notes: "Without the use of lay people we'd never have access to such images." Edward R. Murrow weeps.

When a plane crashed in a residential San Diego neighborhood recently, CNN's "iReporters" were all over it. iReporters? Those would be invididuals who happened to be in proximity of the tragedy and volunteered to capture the still and video images on their cellphones, and transmit them to CNN, with audio of their own perspectives: "Awful!"... "Horrible!" ... In short, vague disaster-related adjectives that even J-school undergrads know to pluck from their copy. offers a "toolkit" for iReporters with tips and pointers about basic journalism precepts (truth, fairness, etc.), but as Los Angeles Times reporter Patt Morrison points out: "These useful instructions about the principles and practices of journalism aren't likely to be uppermost in the mind of someone who's just seen body parts scatter in a terrorist bombing. Professionals in any field -- medicine, fire-fighting, journalism -- know how to keep their heads and swing into action and get the job done, all the more so in a crisis or disaster."

Here is CNN's official take on "citizen journalism": "Lots of people argue about what constitutes news. But, really, it's just something that happens someplace to someone. Whether that something is newsworthy mostly depends on who it affects -- and who's making the decision. On, that is you!"

Back in the day, we journalists were a proud crew, not willing to blithely hand off our duties to anyone with a cheap videocamera, or to convey the impression that it takes virtually no training, experience, skill or talent to tell a story thoroughly, fairly, fast and accurately -- and put it in proper context. Reporting consisted of more than pointing a shaky cellphone camera at a disaster, and providing an "Ohmygod!" narration track. We didn't call those bystanders "iReporters." We called them eyewitnesses. And we interviewed them ourselves, and incorporated their observations into a bigger story, that included real facts, figures, and quotes from authorities, victims and other sources.

All over the world, Web publications like Time and CNN and Bild are looking to beef up their newsrooms with free or cheap labor, by turning their audience into their staff. As they close bureaus, they open opportunities to the average Everyperson, who will provide average "reports" of average quality -- despite Bild editor Paustian's assertion that "Our citizen reporters quite simply make journalism better and more interesting."

We live in a YouTube shoot-and-share world. But at KobreGuide, we champion excellence and professional standards. Videojournalism is an art form. Inviting museum visitors to fingerpaint on the walls is neither better nor more interesting.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

'People's Inauguration': Your Video Opportunity!

A Virginia businessman is spending more than $1.6 million to rent prime Marriott hotel rooms and promising that assorted down-and-out citizens — from the poor to the terminally ill to wounded soldiers — will have a perch of privilege on Pennsylvania Avenue for the parade.

The Washington Post reports that this Capraesque gesture — dubbed “The People’s Inauguration,” replete with two gala balls — is the gift of Earl Stafford, a 60-year-old Air Force retiree who made a fortune founding a military technology company.

Stafford is picking up the tab for three nights with meals at the hotel for scores of the normally uninvited and overlooked. He’s even promising gown, tuxedo and hair-dresser costs for those most in need.

If this isn't the premise of a Hollywood movie, then it's certainly a golden opportunity for an enterprising videojournalist to document the magical transformation of the disenfranchised. Assignment: follow one or more of the pauper-to-prince partygoers before, during and after the gala events. Don't just interview them -- show them interacting and partaking in the festivities. What a sensational story!

The Marvel of Memory

In 1953, at the age of 27, Henry Gustav Molaison underwent an experimental brain operation to correct a seizure disorder, only to emerge from it fundamentally and irreparably changed. He developed a syndrome neurologists call severe anterograde amnesia. He had lost the ability to form new memories. For the next 55 years, each time he met a friend or ate a meal, it was as if for the first time.

And for those five decades, the New York Times reports, HM (as he was anonymously known to the world) "was recognized as the most important patient in the history of brain science. As a participant in hundreds of studies, he helped scientists understand the biology of learning, memory and physical dexterity, as well as the fragile nature of human identity." (UPDATE: Illuminating Los Angeles Times obit here.)

When Henry Molaison died last week at 82, we were reminded of a subject whose brain functions on the opposite end of that spectrum: Brad Williams has an unfathomable capacity to remember everything, which scientists have labeled hyperthymesia. His fascinating story is here.

NPPA NewsVideo Workshop

The National Press Photographers Association's 2009 NewsVideo Workshop will be held April 5th-10th, at the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education (OCCE) in Norman, Oklahoma.

Special for members: Register by December 19, 2008 and receive a 5% discount off the Workshop price. Non-members: Your registration fee now includes a complimentary membership to the NPPA.

Visual Journalists: If you shoot video for a TV station, newspaper or other web entity, production company, freelance, church, the military, this is the place for you.

Whether you are a veteran handling video, new to the art, or primarily take stills and want to put some new skills on your resumé, the Workshop offers you a chance to learn video’s cutting edge from the best in the business. It's a week-long, intense immersion into the world of moving pictures and sound.

You will spend 12 – 16 hours each day learning from a faculty of more than 20 nationally- and internationally-recognized, award-winning journalists, including Bob Brandon, Bob Dotson, and Darrell Barton. These three alone have 11 Emmy Nominations, 5 Emmy Wins, 4 Photographer of the Year Awards and 1 Sprague Award among them.

The topics covered at the 2008 NewsVideo Workshop include: Storytelling, Lighting, Composition, Audio Editing, The Reporter's Perspective, Live Shots, Sports, News Management, New Technology.

Register here.

$13,000 Videojournalism Prize

Journalists and filmmakers around the world have until January 16 to submit their best works to the Concentra Award for Outstanding Video Journalism, based in Belgium.

The award will recognize videos from broadcast TV, news Web sites, newspaper sites, and digital TV stations. Stories that are produced in one day and last up to five minutes will also be considered for the Breaking News Award. Entries must last between one and 10 minutes. All submissions, including entries in English, must include English subtitles.

The award ceremony will be held on March 4, 2009 in Brussels. The winning videojournalist will receive 10,000 euros (about $13,000) in prize money.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pulitzers: Still No Video Category

The good news is that The Pulitzer Prizes in journalism have now been expanded to include many text-based newspapers and news organizations that publish only on the Internet. Entries made up entirely of online content now qualify for all 14 Pulitzer journalism categories. (Pulitzer Administrator Sig Gissler explains all to "Editor & Publisher" magazine.)

The bad news is that this includes still photographs, but not video. (Incidentally, the Pulitzers exclude magazines and broadcast/cable outlets -- which means their Websites will also be eliminated from consideration, despite the progressive blurring of the definition of "online news." Presumably ineligibility also extends to online-only magazines as well, such as Salon and Slate, despite the fact that they arguably fulfill the requirement of being "updated at least weekly and include original reporting." )

More clarification: "In addition to text stories, the competition will continue to allow a full range of online content, such as interactive graphics and video, in nearly all categories." But the prizes are for the text stories themselves. There are two photography categories (for Feature and Breaking News), but they will both "continue to restrict entries to still images."

KobreGuide features the 2008 Pulitzer feature photography winner, Preston Gannaway (New Hampshire Concord Monitor), who harrowingly portrayed a family coping with a wife and mother's terminal cancer as they prepared for life without her, and dealt with the impact of her death. Though the Pulitzer was awarded for her meritorious print-version photo series, her online audio-slideshow indubitably carries more emotional power. It's called Remember Me.

Perhaps it will serve as a reminder to the Pulitzer Board that newspaper videojournalism and multimedia is a new category worthy of their attention and accolades.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Short Training Film

The National Council for the Training of Journalists accredits journalism education programs in the U.K.

In response to changes in newsrooms, where more and more print reporters are being asked to shoot video, the NCTJ says it's encouraging all its course providers to deliver videojournalism training.

To that end, they've just posted a "short training film [8:38] offering advice and guidance to students, trainees and journalists on shooting news videos for websites."

It covers some important basic principles. You can see it here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dust: No Subject Too Small

After a successful run on the festival circuit, the feature-length "Dust," by German documentary filmmaker Hartmut Bitomsky, arrives in theaters this month. (Bitomsky has been Dean of the School of Film/Video at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia since 1993.)

The New York Times called it "eccentric and profoundly informative." If its glowing review is any indication, "Dust" should prove once and for all that no subject matter is too small for a videojournalist's consideration:

His film is both an essay and an exposé, a meditation on the philosophical implications of dust — which exists, according to one of his interview subjects, in a liminal state between matter and nonmatter — and an analysis of its place in the physical world.

Which is, of course, everywhere. Scenes of professional cleaners in offices and laboratories, and of ordinary people tidying up their homes, only emphasize the futility of trying to control or eradicate dust. And visits to abandoned industrial sites and demolished buildings show that, left to its own devices, dust will take over the world...

Comprehensive though it is, “Dust” feels like a preliminary investigation, a pilot for a multi-episode, hundred-hour series that would track dust all around the world.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lessons From '60 Minutes'

Lessons for all videojournalists from 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley:

1. On finding a subject:

"We emphasize the telling of a story as opposed to an issue. Once in a while, a producer will come to the door and say, 'Clean coal.' And I'll say, 'That's an issue. Go find a story.' Steven Spielberg did not do a movie called The Holocaust. He did a movie called Schindler's List. It completely encompassed the entire issue, but it's about this guy and his story.... (60 Minutes creator) Don Hewitt used to tell us, 'Find people who can tell the story better than we can.'"

2. On writing your script:

"The writing process is very collaborative, and there's no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting. We probably cut a piece four or five times before we think it's ready to see. We'll write the perfect script on the first draft, go into the edit booth, cut the thing, and it's awful. We do another pass, it's still bad but some things are beginning to work. Third, fourth pass, it's starting to look like a 60 Minutes piece, but it's 18 minutes long, has to be 12. Another pass, it's 12:30, looking like a piece ready to show to (the executive editor and executive producer). Sometimes they eviscerate it."

3. On structuring your story:

"I often think of 60 Minutes stories as three-act plays. In classic newspaper writing, the story peters out by the end. At 60 Minutes, you want the arc to build, the piece to become more fascinating with every passing minute as it crescendos somewhere in that third act. It builds and builds and builds. It needs to ring like a bell at the end."

-- 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, quoted in Written By (Dec. 2008), the magazine of the Writers Guild of America.

Let Subjects Shoot Themselves

YouTube is actually looking for quality videojournalism. Being YouTube, they're not scouring professional media institutions -- that's our job at KobreGuide. Instead, they're looking for grassroots amateur contributions -- "citizen journalism."

In partnership with the Pulitzer Center, YouTube has launched Project: Report, a videojournalism contest "intended for non-professional, aspiring journalists to tell stories that might not otherwise be told."

The challenge?

Produce a piece that empowers an underrepresented community to tell its own story to the world. First, choose a group of people that are rarely covered by the traditional media. Then let them use the camera to document their own lives, and to tell their own story. It's up to each individual reporter to collect the footage captured by the members of this group, and to weave that material into your own reporting to create a compelling and unique story. The video must be 5 minutes or less.
The notion of a collaborative videoproject that enables its subjects to shoot each other is intriguing, and indeed a worthy effort is role-modeled on Project: Report.

Photojournalist Andre Lambertson conducted a weeklong video training session with seven former child soldiers in Liberia, and guided them as they produced video interviews of themselves. It's a compelling way to tell their story, about their evolution from warriors to peace-builders, from the inside. These young men call themselves "Future Guardians of Peace." In an accompanying video, Lambertson gives insights on how to approach this type of project. Both the video, and the video about the video, can be found on KobreGuide.

They should inspire professional videojournalists to think about other uses for this novel approach to collaborative videojournalism.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Last Word: VideObit

Though it may seem macabre, the New York Times interviews prominent people in anticipation of writing their eventual obituaries. Some subjects are aghast when invited; others appreciate the opportunity to offer their own life summation and career perspective.

The newspaper has carried over this tradition online, conducting video interviews intended to be viewed posthumously in a series called The Last Word. It started last year with humorist Art Buchwald, who cheerfully introduced himself on camera: "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died!" It continued with philanthropist Stewart R. Mott and photojournalist (and Cambodian killing fields survivor) Dith Pran. The final video, as it were, incorporates images and footage of the subject's life and career.

And now the mini-bio series focuses on singer Odetta, who died this week at 77. She was a cornerstone of 1950s folk music, and her voice helped form the soundtrack of the 1960s civil rights movement. And that's what makes her Last Word tribute special -- we not only get to hear from her, but we also get to hear her, both in archival footage of concert performances, and improvisationally singing a capella for the interviewer. Her voice, and her memories, are strong.

We don't know who is next in line for their Last Word, or even who the Times has recruited to participate in this exercise, but we'd like to coin a new word for this promising new form of videojournalism: VideObituary.

A Bridge Too Far?

We have seen the future of interactive videojournalism.

His name is Dan Goldman.

He works for Adobe.

Dan's your man.

We're rewriting the ethics chapter of our videojournalism textbook as we speak.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Scream Bloody Murder

There may never be a sufficient online audience for feature-length documentaries. Most computer users don't have the time, patience, or opportunity to watch more than a few minutes of video at a time on their monitors.

However, producers of longform documentaries, including TV networks and filmmakers, are recognizing the value of creating mini-video segments and trailers to promote their programs.

"Scream Bloody Murder," Christiane Amanpour's two-hour documentary about the heroes who tried to stop genocide when no one listened, premieres this week on CNN. To promote it, CNN posted a compelling segment of that documentary online. In "Witness to Torture," we are introduced to Nusreta Sivac, who survived horrific atrocities while imprisoned in a Bosnian concentration camp. She is still haunted daily by her nightmarish experience. For her, the war never ended.

In a rare move, CNN also put together a short behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Scream Bloody Murder," incorporating interviews with Amanpour and her producers, called "In Our Words." Like "Witness to Torture," it is a self-contained documentary unto itself, and appropriately targeted for the intimacy of watching it on a computer monitor rather than a TV screen.

But in all instances, be forewarned: There is graphic content, and viewer discretion is advised.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Video Sleuthing

Finding the answer to a perplexing question is often the motivation for good videojournalism. Such was the case for Tracy Chung, who wondered what happened to all those South Central Los Angeles farmers who were driven off the nation's largest urban farm in 2006. Where did they go? The video story itself is featured here on South Central Farm Revisited.

Because her exploration was part of YouTube's new videojournalism contest, Project: Report (more on that in a future post), another videographer accompanied her on her otherwise solitary detective journey to document her as she prepped, reported, shot, and edited her piece -- all in one incredibly long day.

We are the beneficiaries of this behind-the-scenes coverage, because we get a rare in-the-trenches perspective of all the decision-making, creativity, and even hard physical labor that goes into preparing a compelling short video that still meets professional journalistic and aesthetic standards.

Look for the links to this insightful three-part video series on KobreGuide.

Interactive Intimacy

On we previously spotlighted an innovative use of interactive video: A Conversation with Sir Ian McKellen, in which the acting legend discusses Shakespeare and "Richard III," line by line. You click on any of a series of questions about Shakespeare or the play, and the actor addresses the camera and answers it, as though talking directly to you. He'll even chit-chat while you're figuring out which question to click next, humorously cajoling you to select one already! It's the closest thing to having him in the room with you.

Now the Los Angeles Times has cleverly adopted this technique for its online mega-package about how south-of-the-border drug wars are impacting us in the U.S. : Mexico Under Seige.

In an interactive video Q&A session, staff writers Sam Quinones and Richard Marosi each fill your monitor as they look directly at you and answer such questions as: Is it safe to travel to Tijuana? How are drugs getting across the border? Why can't Mexican police handle the problem? You can even type in your own questions for them to answer another day.

As with Sir Ian, while they patiently wait for you to click on another question, the reporters just sit there, against a black backdrop -- not as a still image, but on a video loop, to give the impression that they're a living, breathing presence. It's the kind of intimacy that is designed for the one-to-one interaction that you're more likely to find on a computer monitor than on a TV screen.

We look forward to seeing what other uses videojournalists can find for this non-linear storytelling technique.