Friday, January 30, 2009

78 Cameras and Something's On

There are still some things that one-man-band mojo backpack videojournalists can't quite cover the same way as the big guys:

For the Super Bowl this Sunday, NBC says it will use 52 high-definition cameras; 93 microphones; 24 digital replay sources; 20 hand-held cameras; five robotic cameras, including two attached to the goal posts; and one cable camera suspended above the field.

BUT! That doesn't preclude the opportunity for less well-armed videojournalists to cover other, often more interesting, Super Bowl-themed video stories taking place off the field, and even around the nation. Join us at KobreGuide as we keep our eyes open for those online gems, and please let us know what you find, by submitting them here. (And, yeh, we're tuning in for Bruce, too.)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

'Media That Matters' Film Fest

KobreGuide welcomes a new channel: The Media That Matters Film Festival. Now in its eight year, the festival showcases short films on the most important topics of the day:

Media That Matters engages diverse audiences and inspires them to take action. From gay rights to global warming, the jury-selected collection represents the work of a diverse group of independent filmmakers, many of whom are under 21. The films are equally diverse in style and content, with documentaries, music videos, animations, experimental work and everything else in between. What all the films have in common is that they spark debate and action in 12 minutes or less.

Every June, Media That Matters presents a new collection of twelve shorts. The festival launches in New York City with a World Premiere at the IFC Center and an Awards Ceremony at HBO where every filmmaker is honored and many receive cash awards sponsored by major foundations and corporations. Previous presenters include Tim Robbins, Al Franken, David Cross, Woody Harrelson, Barbara Kopple and Peter Yarrow.

Our first entry is Perversion of Justice, a closeup look at harsh mandatory Federal sentencing guidelines, and their impact on a young first-time drug offender and mother of three, who's facing life in prison.

Look for more worthy entries from Media That Matters in the weeks ahead on .

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fancy Features for Video Players

What features and controls would you most like to see added to online video players?

How about a button that enables you to watch the video at a slightly accelerated speed without voices sounding like chipmunks, so that you could watch a four-minute video in three minutes? (Can you tell we fast-forward the car chases and romantic montages in our Netflix rentals?)

Or how about the ability to text-annotate scenes or segments, thus enabling viewers to click directly to that scene without having to fast-forward or drag the slider to it -- just like you can click on a scene on a movie DVD? And, to go one step further, how about providing a simple way for users to tag the beginning and end of a specific segment of their choice, and then generate copy-and-paste HTML code enabling others to embed or link to that segment?

We found a video player that provides all those functions at Bloggingheads.TV, a site devoted to split-screen debates ("diavlogs") on current events. True, it's all "talking heads," which lends itself to these particular features -- nothing is visually hampered if you watch while fast-forwarding, and self-contained segments are easy to delineate. That is less likely to be the case with videojournalism stories. But it's still incumbent upon online publishers to invest in developing new features that will enhance the viewers' experience, and upgrading their embarassingly outmoded video players.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Making it Easier to Find Good Video Stories

What makes our job at KobreGuide both challenging and valuable is that great videojournalism is so difficult to find -- and as for the little that exists, nobody hides it better than the media companies that produce it.

Although the situation has improved somewhat over the past couple years, most newspaper websites still treat their own video stories as bastard stepchildren -- relegating them to a bottom-tier ghetto section of their own website. If a viewer is fortunate enough to stumble into the off-the-beaten-path video annex at all, it is then an uninviting and often outright impossible task to stick around and look at other videos. Navigation is a nightmare. And good luck trying to find whatever text story might be related to the subject matter.

It's baffling enough for most web denizens that there is no industry standard when it comes to shape, size, and design of video players and their controls -- encountering each one anew requires embarking on yet another learning curve. Even those who proactively search for video stories on specific topics are stymied by the failure of search engines to find them.

Now we're starting to see the rise of companies such as ReelSEO that specialize in search engine optimization for videos. They've amassed an online series of tips and tutorials from the past year that's worth a look.

That's certainly one step in the right direction -- positioning and annotating your videos (e.g. with strategic keywords) so that people can locate them. But there's so much more work to be done with arranging, grouping and presenting online video so that it lures viewers and enables and even encourages them to see more. We are constantly amazed that even the titles assigned to projects that represent weeks or even months of preparation are so bland and uninspired.

Most newspapers got into the video business grudgingly, vaguely aware that this is the direction they should go because nothing else was working monetarily, and with the dim hope that it would somehow pay for itself someday. When that half-hearted approach didn't strike gold, some reacted by pulling back -- returning their videographers to the ranks of still photography, and making their print reporters relinquish their new vidcams and laptop editing software (often to the reporters' collective relief).

But others reacted by dipping a few more toes into the video pond, either out of hope or desperation, doubling down on their initial investment. Even so, embarassingly few have figured out how to put their wares on display -- newspaper video sections more closely resemble the jumbled shelves of a dusty pawn shop than an elegant Tiffany case.

Before a newspaper website can truly measure the value of its video, it first needs to bolster its quality, both journalistically and aesthetically, but then it also must candidly assess whether it's properly promoting its goods for maximum consumer appeal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

America's Longest Running Photojournalism Seminar

The 60th annual Southern Short Course in News Photography will he held in Charlotte, NC, Feb. 5-8, 2009, in conjunction with the North Carolina Press Photographers Association and South Carolina News Photographers Association.

It is America's longest running photojournalism seminar. Even though the word "southern" is in the name, the competition and presentations have no geographic limits and are open to anyone, student or professional.

Faculty includes: Michael Williamson of the Washington Post; Preston Gannaway of the Rocky Mountain News; James Gregg of the Arizona Daily Star; Bill Bangham of the International Missions Board; Ross Taylor of the Hartford Courant; Barbara Marshall of Lamb & Braswell, LLC, and Nicole Fruge of the San Antonio Express-News.

More info here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

1,474-Megapixel Inaugural Photo - WOW!

How do you fit two million people in one photograph?

David Bergman found the solution, for his picture of President Obama's inauguration, and you've got to see it to believe it:

Before Tuesday, I had photographed five presidents and covered big events including the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and concerts like Live 8 and Live Earth. But this one was the biggest.

It deserved a big photo.

And big it is. It's an interactive panoramic shot, composed of hundreds of smaller images, so you can zoom in, out, over, under, around, through an historic sea of faces -- and get so close to individuals, famous and obscure, that you can see the whites of their eyes. (Hey, there's Yo-Yo Ma, taking a picture with his iPhone!)

Clearly something you won't find in the print edition of your newspaper.

So how did Bergman accomplish this?

I clamped a Gigapan Imager to the railing on the north media platform . The Gigapan is a robotic camera mount that allows me to take multiple images and stitch them together, creating a massive image file.

My final photo is made up of 220 Canon G10 images and the file is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels. It took more than six and a half hours for the Gigapan software to put together all of the images on my Macbook Pro and the completed TIF file is almost 2 gigabytes.

Use the controls to zoom and pan around the photo. You can also double click to zoom in and double click again to get even closer.

Compare it to CNN's 3D Photosynth project.

They're both like "Where's Waldo?" with real people -- and no Waldo. (Or at least we haven't found him yet.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Documentary About Documentaries

We're intrigued by this trailer for a documentary film about documentary films. It's called Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary, and features 33 influential filmmakers from 14 countries, including such luminaries as Albert Maysles, Errol Morris and Werner Herzog.

Can film capture reality? What ethical issues arise when portraying real lives? How does editing or music condition our emotional response to film? More than 100 clips enliven the discussion, offering a panoramic overview of contemporary documentary cinema.
It's directed by Pepita Ferrari and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, which has created over 13,000 productions and won over 5000 awards, including 12 Academy Awards®. The NFB was founded in 1939 by filmmaker John Grierson, who is credited with coining the term “documentary” in 1926.

3D Inauguration

Using Photosynth, CNN combined presidential inauguration photographs, shot by thousands of attendees, to create visual 3D spaces that you can navigate here. You can see the momentous occasion from every conceivable angle. It's almost like being there, except warmer.

If in fact you were there, you can add your pictures to the Washington scenes by submitting them to

For more info on Microsoft's Photosynth, see KobreGuide's video story on how National Geographic used the technology to shoot Stonehenge..

Sunday, January 18, 2009

KobreGuide on Shutterbug Radio editorial director Jerry Lazar was interviewed by Jack Warren on Shutterbug Radio. It was a lively discussion about the future of videojournalism and KobreGuide's role in it, as well as a look at the most popular and influential video stories on KobreGuide.

Win a Trip With Nicholas Kristof

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, whose video reports are proudly showcased on KobreGuide, invites students to enter a contest for a reporting trip to Africa this spring.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

My Student, The First Photographer

Forgive me while I kvell about a couple of former students...

First, congrats to Pete Souza, on his Today Show appearance — and on his appointment as the official White House photographer for Barack Obama.

It's been a stellar year for Pete... and a stellar career.

Pete's book "The Rise of Barack Obama" made the New York Times' bestseller list in 2008. Pete was working for the Chicago Tribune when he began covering the president-elect long before Barack Obama became a household name.

Pete actually will know his way around the White House better than our new president, as Pete also was the official White House photographer for Ronald Reagan! Pete published a book of images from those years titled "Images of Greatness: An Intimate Look at the Presidency of Ronald Reagan."

You can enjoy his online portfolio here, with pictures not only of Reagan and Obama, but ranging from Wrigley Field to post-9/11 Kabul.

Pete was in one of my earliest photojournalism classes at Boston University, back in ... well, a few years ago.

And to prove that I'm a bipartisan professor, my former San Francisco State University student Shawn Thew has scored the current cover of Rolling Stone magazine -- with an image of a forlorn looking George W. Bush that was used for a humorous photo-illustration.

Keep up the great work, guys! Just call me Proud Prof!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Power of VO Narrative

KobreGuide is blessed this week with not one but two terrific video stories from Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader, both produced by the team of David Stephenson and Amy Wilson:
Turtle Man and Despite Rocky Start, He's a Fighter .

What these stories share is a potent combination of clever shooting and writing. Often the pursuit of quality writing is overlooked in video stories. In these two cases, it's a pleasure to hear the writer's Southern-twanged folksy voiceover, and in fact a big part of the stories' entertainment factor is that you feel like you're listening to an engaging campfire tale.

That said, if you only heard the narration, you'd be missing out on the compelling visuals, and especially how they deftly augment the spoken words without being redundant.

The lesson here is that, in this age of "one-man-band" videojournalism, writers should not be expected to shoot great video, and videographers should not be expected to deliver pro-quality VO narrative. True, some videographers have that extra gift, but when we look at the credits on KobreGuide, we usually find that even the best shot stories benefit from having a dedicated writer aboard the project.

Now, writing for the page and writing for the ear (and correlating words to visuals) involve separate sets of skills -- but that's another story for another time...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Motown: 50 Videos for 50 Years

The Detroit Free Press ( once again shows us how a newspaper can create great video stories when it puts its heart and soul into it. To the rest of the world, Detroit evokes images of an auto industry in crisis -- or at best the current Detroit Auto Show. But today marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of Detroit's Motown record label, and the paper is celebrating in style -- with 50 (count 'em!) video vignettes that take us behind the scenes of that legendary musical playground.

They kick off with a guided tour of the fabled Motown vaults, including rare outtakes of classic songs and sessions. Another video features the hitmaking Motown songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland reflecting on their success -- for the first time in 40 years. A third illuminates the legacy of a powerhouse Motown bass player known simply by his surname, Jamerson. The ambitious newspaper team, which traveled coast to coast to report and shoot these video stories, will post three per week until they hit the magic 50.

We'll be watching... and listening!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Get Rich on YouTube?

"YouTube Videos Pull In Real Money," according to last month's New York Times headline:

Making videos for YouTube — for three years a pastime for millions of Web surfers — is now a way to make a living. One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site.
It ain't necessarily so, says the Los Angeles Times:

YouTube video creators make money, but not a fortune. In the year since Google's preeminent video service launched its ad-revenue-sharing program with partner users, some have turned amateur video production into a full-time job. But not everyone is having the five-figure-per-month success of Michael Buckley, host of the WhatTheBuckShow, who was profiled by the New York Times.
Why the discrepancy? Apparently YouTubers sign agreements with Google preventing them from publically disclosing advertising income. Google cleared certain partners to disclose financial earnings for the New York Times story -- obviously, the most successful ones.

The big question, we're almost afraid to ask, is how does the quality of video content correlate to number of viewers and, hence, ad revenues?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poynter Seminar: Backpack Journalist

Whether they call you a One-Man-Band, VJ or Backpack Journalist, here's your opportunity to learn to write, report, photograph, even edit your own video stories for online and/or broadcast.

Poynter's "Backpack Journalist" seminar offers tricks of the trade from Al Tompkins (pictured) and Regina McCombs for covering a story when you're alone in the field. This is truly a "multimedia" seminar that attracts journalists from many media including radio, TV, print and online.

You’ll learn:
  • Video storytelling principles including motion, sound, lighting, transitions, sequences and composition

  • How to capture remarkable sound that sets your storytelling apart

  • How to think "visually" for the Web

  • How to find and capture memorable moments and characters in your stories
  • How to make ethical decisions about editing in video and audio

  • How to file stories quickly, even when you are working alone with sparse resources
Seminar dates: 6/1 - 6/5
Application deadline: 4/20

Tuition: $995

More info here.

Final Call for Concentra Entries

Less than one week remains to enter the “Concentra Award for Outstanding Video Journalism 2009”. The deadline is 5pm on January 16. Organizers of the award have already received several dozen video pieces for the 10,000 euro award ($13,460 US). The award also includes a special prize for short, rapidly created news items – the Breaking News Award. The jury line up for the 2009 award is now also complete.

Take a look at previous nominees and winners here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Whole Lotta Shakin' Going Away

Imagine downloading software that will make jerky videos smooth, stabilize shaky videos, brighten dark videos, and remove noise and pixilation from videos to reveal crisper details -- for only $40.

Originally developed for high-end forensics use (think CIA), MotionDSP's "vReveal" desktop software was unveiled at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and should be available next month.

Apple announced at the recent Macworld Expo that its iMovie '09 version of its ubiquitous movie-editing software will have some form of automatic video stabilization to clear up shakes. Additionally, Adobe and Sony offer editing software that includes video-enhancing features for under $100.

All this should help make YouTube become more watchable, at least in terms of viewing quality if not content quality. But it should also be a boon for videojournalists who can't afford to invest in expensive video-editing software, as even vReveal comes with conventional tools that enable you to edit and stitch clips together, and it works with the Windows XP and Vista operating systems.

Smooth sailing ahead!

LIFE Comes to Google

Need to find more Web activities to fill your day? You can now search millions of images from the LIFE magazine photo archive, stretching from 1750s etchings to today. Most were never published and are now available for the first time through the joint efforts of LIFE and Google:
Only a very small percentage of these images have ever been published. The rest have been sitting in dusty archives in the form of negatives, slides, glass plates, etchings, and prints. We're digitizing them so that everyone can easily experience these fascinating moments in time. Today about 20 percent of the collection is online; during the next few months, we will be adding the entire LIFE archive — about 10 million photos.
Have fun!

(Pictured: Iconic LIFE photo of sailor kissing nurse in Times Square during impromptu VJ Day celebration, following announcement of the Japanese surrender and the end of WWII. Shot August 14, 1945 by Alfred Eisenstaedt.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

British Videojournalism Dissected

In-depth research of British videojournalism, carried out by Neil Thurman of City University London’s Department of Journalism, has found that newspaper editors believe that adding video to their websites provides “huge opportunities” to increase revenues as TV ad spending moves online.

The study also found that:

• Online news publishers should embed video at the page level where it can gain up to 20 times more views than if it is only available through a stand-alone player;
• Newspaper editors believe that they have an opportunity to compete with broadcasters in online video because of their access to exclusives and their journalists’ expertise;
• Editors urged journalists to focus on developing skills to allow them to select and edit video to complement their written work;
• Online publishers should focus on creating original video content which proves popular with news audiences.


Web editors have found that video content produced for TV doesn’t work well online, as users prefer ‘real’ and ‘raw’ footage rather than the ‘polished’ type produced by broadcasters.

On the whole, newspapers are very positive about their use of online videos. The only concern was that popular online video stories tended to be “lightweight”, “visual” and “quirky,” fueling worries that the increased prominence given to video will lead to less in-depth coverage and investigative reporting.”

Related findings:

• The BBC’s admission that, despite having offering online video for more than 10 years, for most of that time it had not performed “a very useful function at all”.
• The head of BBC News Interactive thought that some of his colleagues in TV news and newsgathering “didn’t really get” what the News website was doing.
• Online editors were dismissive of the idea of the ‘robo-journo’, and were not convinced that it was possible to be an exemplary journalist in print and video.
• The BBC will be doing “far less video” on their News website than in the past as they seek to bring the “right kind of video” through to the site, video that complements their textual output rather than duplicates it.
• Users are turned off by mid-roll advertising and ads of more than 10-15 seconds.
• Online editors believe that the role of the anchor / presenter is diminishing in the world of online video, and the skills of the camera operator are likely to remain a specialist domain, one that is not necessarily complementary with producing text.

The intensive study of online video at UK news websites includes in-depth interviews with nine top editors of the UK’s national newspaper websites, as well as Sky News and the BBC News website.

A 34-page pre-publication draft of Thurman's study, "Convergence Calls: Multimedia Storytelling at British News Websites," can be found here (PDF file).

David Leeson Video Workshop

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Leeson is offering a workshop, "From Still Photography to Videography," in the Bay Area, Jan. 24-25.

David Leeson was already a seasoned photojournalist when he began shooting video in 2000 for The Dallas Morning News, thus his experience gained through photography heavily influenced his approach to video. Over the next eight years he developed a methodology that incorporates the skills of the still photographer into a world of motion and sound.

In this workshop you will learn how to transition the skills you already have as a still photographer to the skills needed in video.

You’ll also learn how to better utilize the key elements of motion and sound through video. Leeson’s curriculum will teach you how to better utilize motion and sound in your daily story telling and includes time saving tips for better editing. You’ll also learn how to make stills from your video that rival the quality of a 35mm DSLR. Leeson pioneered the use of frame grabs in high definition video and will provide you with all the information you’ll need to begin producing great still images from your videos.
You can learn more about the workshop here. You can see David's videos here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What's the Perfect Online Video Length?

How much of a typical online video is actually watched? TubeMogul attempted such a study, though its definition of typical included only short-form content, and excluded YouTube.

For a two-week period, TubeMogul measured viewed-seconds for a sample of 188,055 videos, totaling 22,724,606 streams, on six top video sites (due to partnership limitations, we cannot disclose which sites). Limitations of this approach include the fact that we are only studying short-form content (full television episodes being streamed on sites like Hulu were not included), and that, because our code is not yet in their player, YouTube was not included (although many of the videos in the sample mirror identical videos on YouTube).

The results are dramatic: most online video viewers watch mere seconds, rather than minutes, of a video.

Online video viewers' short attention span seems especially relevant to advertisers looking to strategically trim ad budgets as the economy contracts. For starters, it is clear that post-roll ads are of limited effectiveness. A three-minute video that has a post-roll ad in the final seconds, for example, will only be viewed by 16.62% of the initial audience, on average.

Another takeaway is that overlay ads should be displayed as early as possible in a video, preferably within the first few seconds. On YouTube, where most overlay ads appear at about 10 seconds in, 10.39% of a video's initial viewers are not likely seeing the ad.
However, another analyst found a different way to interpret the same data, to determine the ideal length for Web video:

Nothing too surprising about the numbers. They seem to support the notion that “shorter videos work better on the web”. But that conclusion depends on us using a metric that is based upon “complete views”. If we count only viewers who watch the entire video then a shorter video will always have “more viewers”. To retain even half the viewers the video has to be under a minute - 30 seconds would be even better.

But supposing we add another metric - say “minutes watched.”

Going from the chart:

1000 people watch a one-minute video, 464 are likely to finish - total 464 minutes watched
1000 people watch a two-minute video, 237 are likely to finish - total 474 minutes watched
1000 people watch a 3-minute video - total 484 minutes watched
1000 people watch a 5-minute video - total 471 minutes watched
1000 people watch a 30-second video - total 330 minutes watched

CONCLUSION: Ideal run-time for web video - 2.5 to 4 minutes.
But because video is linear, does that mean producers will try to guarantee ad views by leaning toward the "inverted pyramid" print model (i.e. putting the important stuff at top, and then filling in the details)? If so, that puts the kibosh on good old-fashioned storytelling -- with a beginning, middle and end; and rising action, climax, denouement, conclusion. Wouldn't it be better to put a "hook" at the top, inject some foreshadowing, and let the suspense build throughout, to keep viewers riveted to the end?

Also: As with "browsing" a text article, are we taking into account folks who "fast-forward" through a video, sampling a little bit here and there, and skipping other parts? That's how plenty of people watch DVDs or shows/movies on Tivo. (Note: Some platforms forbid viewers from "sliding" through the story, usually at their own peril -- if you're impatient and can't fast-forward, you're more likely to abandon the piece entirely.)

And the one seemingly immeasurable factor that no study has yet taken into account is quality. Presumably folks will stick around a couple extra minutes for excellent videojournalism that holds their interest. That's what we at KobreGuide are banking on!

What are your online video viewing habits? We know you're busy, but under what circumstances would you watch a video that's longer than 3-4 minutes?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

World's Oldest Person: Caught on Video!

With the passing of Maria de Jesus of Portugal, age 115, the new holder of the title of world's oldest person is Gertrude Baines (pictured), who is 114 and lives in a nursing facility in Los Angeles.

Last November, when Baines was the world's third oldest person, the daughter of former slaves cast her vote for Barack Obama. The Los Angeles Times was there to capture her story on video, which is proudly showcased here on KobreGuide.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

5 Jobs for the Price of 1

Wonder what a videojournalist does? Here's an actual job description from a current help-wanted posting for a Texas media outlet:

Responsibilities include: Strong reporting skills and solid news writing. Skilled digital news photographer and familiarity with non-linear editing.

Requirements: Prior experience in a television news environment. DVC-Pro and professional non-linear editing equipment operation knowledge and experience preferred. Required to work weekends, holidays, and evenings as necessary. Be able to work under deadline pressures. Must be able to lift and/or carry and manage news photography and lighting equipment.

In short, you've got to be able to do the work of five people: report, write, shoot, edit -- and shlep. And never stop.

Welcome to 2009!