Friday, July 31, 2009

Funniest 1-Minute Video of the Year

After you've spent your week watching worthwhile but admittedly downbeat videojournalism stories about such weighty topics as death, war, homelessness and AIDS, you might be forgiven for wanting to tout the virtues of ... a funny one-minute video ad.

Perhaps you're one of the 15 million-plus international viewers who've already had a good laugh at the Evian Roller Babies, but if not, you're in for a treat. It takes Will Ferrell's "Landlord" to a whole new level.

Not much of a videojournalism connection here, other than to note how video post-production can manipulate reality in ways that Photoshop can only dream of.

But, hey, it's Friday. You've eaten your spinach, you've earned your spumoni. Or call it a "water summit" and throw back a cold one and find your own teachable moment here.

All we know is that, if only more of those annoying pre-roll ads were as charming and inventive as this, we wouldn't mind them so much.

Anyway, we know you're going to pass this along to all your friends -- along with the AP's "behind-the-scenes" coverage. Just remember to tell 'em Kobre sent ya! Happy viewing!

Evian Roller Babies:

AP "Behind-the-Scenes" Story:

SEE ALSO: Evian Roller Babies Official Website (lots of bonus footage).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Video Narration: Whose Voice?

Do you generally prefer video stories that are "narrated" solely by interview subjects (w/natural sound), or those that are scripted for a reporter's voiceover?

Since most newspaper-generated videojournalism is a hybrid of TV news and mini-documentary, we find a variety of approaches.

Most still photographers and print reporters are not trained or adept at talking into mikes like a TV-style field reporter. So sometimes they find they are comfortable writing a VO script that helps glue together the images they have captured -- which they then record themselves, or ask a colleague to read.

Often videojournalists prefer to edit out their questions and let the interview subjects speak for themselves. Or they just opt to keep the camera rolling while they observe their subjects in their natural environment, capturing their candid behaviors and interactions.

There is no one correct approach; it's mostly a matter of what works best for you -- and for your story.

We posed the "narration" question on our Facebook Group Discussion Board, and here are some of the thoughtful replies we've received so far:

Scott Bryant wrote:
Personally, I think of the scripted voiceover and use of lower thirds titles as the "TV way" of doing things. I think newspapers ought to explore different ways of telling stories, ways that distinguish themselves from television. In my opinion, newspapers are doomed if they try to be television on the internet.

Letting subjects tell the story and using nat sound gives viewers a sense of being there without the filter of a reporter. And it lets them draw some conclusions without commentary. Joe Elbert exulted the search for "intimate" images, the ones that really touch us and enlighten us. I think this latter approach to multimedia story-telling is a more intimate approach.
Jamie Rose (Director of Momenta Workshops) wrote:
I think both are appropriate but it is dictated by the subject of the piece. Personal stories about sensitive issues can be more respectful and engaging when told by the subject. However, a quality voice over can help summarize or even complete a piece well.

I would argue that NPR has been doing this for years; not with images necessarily but a back and forth between subject and narrator to tell the story. Therefore, I'd say voiceovers are not totally a "television" way of using multimedia. I have tried to emulate the delicate balance NPR uses with subject/narrator in all my personal audio slideshows.

The one thing I've refrained from doing though is only using my voice. My voice is fine but there are people out there who are a lot better at reading a script. A common pitfall I see in portfolio pieces is hearing someone's grating or halting voice overs on their own pieces when a friend or colleague might have been the better choice.

The final comment I have though is I prefer sincerity above all else. The omniscient, pompous voiceover is never a good idea. However, if you feel strongly about a subject and the story is a good one, the choice between a script or an interview will normally rise to the top as the best way to communicate your message.

Great question! I look forward to other people's commentary too.
Randy Flaum wrote:
When we find the subject who happens to give a good "narrated" then you've got it. That doesn't happen too much. I'd rather have a natural audio over a voiceover but at the same time if the reporter adds something during the story it can really help. I don't even mind hearing a reporter's question once in a while. Viewers understand that there's a person behind the rolling camera so why not let that person add to the story? It's when every story has a reporter voiceover that I start turning off the video.
So there you have three excellent responses. What's yours? Go to our Facebook Group page, and contribute to our Discussion Board.

Haven't joined the Facebook Group yet? Now's the time! Here's why. We've got a contest going. It's called the 1234 Contest. When we hit 1,234 members, we're giving away a free Prof. Kobre's Lightscoop (ret. value: $35) to a randomly-drawn member. Right now, we've got 1,232 members -- so we're almost there. If you're one of the next two people to join, you'll have a chance to own your very own Lightscoop, which will instantly and dramatically improve your SLR flash photography.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

KobreGuide Showcases 300th Video Story

We just re-counted to make sure, and, yep, we just posted our 300th video story on KobreGuide !

Go team!

We've been showcasing the Web's best videojournalism for nearly a year now, finding and selecting a compelling new one every weekday from the world's top media outlets.

It's a good time to take stock.

As you can see by clicking our Channels tab on the navigation bar, we've featured videos from 55 different media outlets, ranging from big newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times to equally meritorious ones that don't often get widespread attention, such as the St. Petersburg Times or the Detroit Free Press.

Click our "Topics" tab, and you'll see our 20 categories are far-ranging, from Adventure to War, with lots in between.

As you can see from our "Award Winners" section, we've been prescient when it comes to selecting prestigious honorees.

When we launched last fall, we offered a "Got a Minute?" section where time-strapped viewers could find short shorts for a quick hit. Curiously, we're finding that producers and audiences instead are building an appetite for longer online videos... and so we accordingly created our "Got an Hour?" section, where you can find high-quality long-form videojournalism.

To see any of our 300 posted video stories, visit the "Hall of Fame" archives -- or use our handy Search function.

We didn't want the creme de la creme to get lost in the fray, so we created a special room for our "Top Ten." Yeah, we know, there's actually 13 there at the moment -- sometimes it's hard to decide what's the best of the best. Don't sue us!

What else?

Obviously you found your way to our KobreChannel blog, but have you joined our Facebook group yet? Now's a good time, before the venture capitalists seize upon us -- you can say you knew us when.

Meanwhile, KobreGuide is still a labor of love, so please show your support by shopping at our Amazon store for all your videojournalism needs!

On a non-commercial note, the best way to help us in our mission to champion videojournalism excellence is simply to keep us posted when you spot it. We're small but mighty, and appreciate the extra eyeballs. Just click the "Recommend a Story" link on our navigation bar -- and please be sure to read our guidelines first.

So that's our tour. Looking back on our earliest stories, we are fascinated by how this hybrid media form has evolved over the past couple years.

For us, it all started with the Los Angeles Times' powerful multimedia account of the "Marlboro Marine" (above), whose iconic photograph became an emblem of the Iraq war. The soldier and the photojournalist who snapped his portrait relate how it changed their lives and connected them in ways neither could have imagined. That potent combination of audio and images constituted an exciting new form of communications; as well crafted as the text story was, it couldn't carry the emotional impact of the haunting voices and sights that augmented and fortified it.

Coincidentally, our 300th story is also about war. It's an Associated Press video series that takes a closeup look at "Wardak Soldiers: On Foot Patrol" (right), the personal stories of American troops in Afghanistan, coping with the dangerous daily task of loosening the grip of the Taliban.

Numbers 2 through 299 cover a lot of ground -- and a lot of issues that impact all of us. We are perpetually astonished at the variety of storytelling approaches explored in this fledgling field -- visually and journalistically.

Video is proliferating like crazy all over the Web, just as we had anticipated. It's getting harder to find the good stuff, the stories worthy of your limited time. We're here to find those needles in the haystack for you.

So start catching up on any of the 300 you've missed... and we'll be busy hunting for the next 300 gems.

Happy viewing!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Take a Tablet and Call Me in the Morning

Could the Tablet be the cure-all for the journalism biz?

More specifically, will a thin magazine-sized iPhone-like device give online videojournalism the boost it needs?

Bill Gates and Microsoft gave it their all, but failed. Maybe it was the timing.

Amazon's Kindle has caught on with text readers, but lacks visual spark -- not to mention all those cool 99-cent apps.

According to PC World, TechCrunch just released conceptual drawings of the prototype for its Web tablet project, called the CrunchPad (above). The simplified device is a touch-screen tablet designed specifically for Web surfing, video chat, and light e-mail use. Here's a demo:

Alas, TechCrunch is no Apple ... and now the 800-pound gorilla itself is confirming what has long been rumored. According to the Financial Times, "Apple is racing to offer a portable tablet-sized computer in time for the Christmas shopping season, in what the entertainment industry hopes will be a new revolution."

The device (right) is expected to be launched alongside new content deals, including some aimed at stimulating sales of CD-length music, according to people briefed on the project. The touch-sensitive computer will have a screen that may be up to 10 inches diagonally.

It will connect to the internet like the iPod Touch – probably without phone capability but with access to the web, and to Apple’s online stores for software and entertainment.

The entertainment industry is hoping that Apple, which revolutionised the markets for music players and for phones, can do it again. “It’s a portable entertainment device,” said one entertainment executive. “It’s going to be fabulous for watching movies.”

Book publishers have been in talks with Apple and are optimistic about being included in the computer, which could provide an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle, Sony’s Reader and a forthcoming device from Plastic Logic, recently allied with Barnes & Noble.

“It would be a colour, flat-panel TV to the old-fashioned, black and white TV of the Kindle,” one publishing executive said.

Apple does not appear to have briefed film studios, but Hollywood executives said they would be willing to contribute more content than is now available over iTunes.
The machine would reportedly cost around $800.

Surely you can see the implications for newspapers and other media outlets here.

Spokesman-Review multimedia guru Colin Mulvany could, and ruminated at length on his Mastering Multimedia blog:

These touch enabled tablets could seal the deal by forcing print journalism to go mostly digital. [It] makes me wonder if this will be the disruptive technology that sends print newspapers down the black hole for good.

A touch enabled tablet... would allow me to view text, multimedia and video in ways the smart phone struggles with today. I think of the applications of a tablet for photojournalists. Being able to download photos from their cameras to a tablet, then quickly tone, caption and send them back to the newspaper would be great. Having to lug a laptop in the field is true pain. This is a market segment that is only getting started. It has the strong potential to disrupt not only newspapers, but magazines as well.

Consumers, if they embrace these new touch-tablets, will have their news pushed to them at lightning speed. They will be connected to everyone and everything. They will choose how to shape their digital lives by deciding what news feeds and publications to subscribe to.

Where mainstream media outlets have shed their most talented people, those same workers are going to be the ones that will build the new journalism of the future. My guess is that it will be built around these new web tablets and handset devices. Monetizing the content will be foremost on the minds of these new digital publishers. Freed from the cost of presses, ink and newsprint, a new publishing model will develop.

News content is going to change, too. Web tablets are not just text readers, but will be multimedia hubs. Music, video, photos, animation, interactive graphics are going to be what consumers will gravitate to. It will change how journalists tell their stories. For many of today’s journalists, this new paradigm will be the deal breaker. For others, these new opportunities will present unique challenges that will drive the future of digital journalism to new and exciting heights.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Meet the Journalist of the Future

Three qualities once made journalists valuable -- their access, their expertise, and their monopoly on mass communications.

Now that all three of these traits have been broadly disseminated via the Web, what now makes us special -- and worth paying for?

Adam Westbrook takes a stab at answering that, on his personal blog. Currently working as a broadcast journalist for Bauer Media, one of Europe’s largest media companies, he has more than 5 years experience on the front line of broadcast news. He recently accompanied the last British troops serving in Iraq as they prepared for withdrawal, reporting from Baghdad and Basra, where he produced content for radio, online video and audio slideshows.

"I’ve covered some of the biggest stories of the past three years," he writes. "I’ve interviewed government ministers, genocide survivors, ex-cons and premiership footballers."

In his essay, "Introducing the Journalist of the Future," he paints his portrait "based on books, blogs, a couple of talks I’ve given recently and all the noise on Twitter."

Westbrook argues that we must become Web designers, collaborators, specialists, flexible adapters, entrepreneurs, storytellers, jacks of all trades.

Take a look and see if you agree, and let us know what your vision of tomorrow's journalist looks like.

Friday, July 24, 2009

3D YouTube Videos? Put on Those Funny Glasses!

A Google employee's work on an online "stereoscopic player" (as a side project) came to light on YouTube's help forum, since the obvious implication is that we'll soon be watching (and able to create) 3D videos -- yup, just like those blockbusters at your local gigaplex.

The 3D project caught the attention of some astute bloggers:

* Search Engine Roundtable: "YouTube Testing 3D Videos"

* NewTeeVee: "Now Playing on YouTube: Experimental 3D Videos"

Users are able to choose from one of ten 3D viewing styles (e.g. “Red/Cyan Glasses: Full Color"). Uploaders can enable the view mode by using the tag “yt3d:enable=true.”

Here’s a snippet from an Idaho farmer’s market from a YouTuber who’s been fiddling with the feature. (NOTE: Double-click on each of the embedded videos below to see their original 3D versions, with scrolldown options: Red/Cyan glasses, Amber/Blue glasses, Green/Magenta glasses, etc..)

For the full-fledged techie treatment, try this:

Depth-Dependent Halos: Illustrative Rendering of Dense Line Data

For something prettier, try the 3D experiments of this Japanese YouTube creator, especially "3D Waltz of the Flowers":

Now all you videojournalists need to put on your thinking caps and determine how this technology is going to best help you tell your stories.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

10 Final Cut Pro Tips

Oliver Peters, video/film editor and contributing editor/writer to Videography magazine, has worked in radio, TV and film since 1970. On his DigitalFilms blog, he offers Ten Tips For A Better Final Cut Pro Experience.

Many experienced editors making the transition to Apple’s Final Cut Pro often struggle with some of FCP’s core operating features. This is especially true of many Avid editors who view working in Final Cut akin to learning a different language. Here are 10 quick tips on how to run and organize FCP edit sessions that will hopefully ease your frustration.
Though most are intended for editing fictional films, the principles apply well to videojournalism. Check them out.

Is News Aggregation a 'Fair Use' Issue?

Intellectual Property Colloquium is a series of one-hour online audio programs that aim to discuss conversationally -- without lecture nor debate -- issues pertaining to copyright and patent law.

To shed light on the controversial "fair use" doctrine, host Doug Lichtman, a UCLA Law prof, recently convened the lawyers in the Shepard Fairey v. Associated Press case, along with a New York Times attorney for "some outside perspective."

For a panel of lawyers, the dialog was surprisingly non-contentious, and even shed light on the tangential issue of whether news aggregation constitutes infringement.

Give a listen here.

SEE ALSO: Excellent commentary (and transcript) from Zachary M. Seward at Nieman Journalism Lab: "NYT Co.’s top lawyer doubts that aggregation is a copyright issue."

We're bracing ourselves for the inevitable next step: video aggregation.

California Shield Law Covers Student Photog

According to an NPPA report: "A San Francisco State University photojournalism student who was at the scene of a neighborhood street killing does not have to surrender his photographs to police, a judge ruled last week, because the student was working as a journalist in the eyes of the state's shield law."

It's a complicated case:

Police were ordered to return evidence they had seized from the student's apartment after the 22-year-old SFSU student refused to talk to police about what he'd seen on April 17 when a 21-year-old man was shot and killed during a dice game. The photojournalist refused to answer police questions at the scene, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, so police obtained a search warrant to get the photographer's DNA and to search his apartment.

The student has not been identified by name, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, because he fears for his own safety.

Police response to the judge's ruling was crass, at best. "We're just going to try to find another angle - we're just going to find some witnesses who aren't cowards, like this student is, hiding behind the shield law," police Lt. Mike Stasko of the police homicide detail told the Chronicle. There have been no arrests made in the killing of Norris Bennett, the shooting victim.

Superior Court Judge Tomar Mason ruled that the California law that protects journalists allows them to keep sources confidential and to withhold unpublished information from law enforcement. Mason ordered police return the photographer's item to him and quashed the search warrant, ruling that the fact that the student was acting as a journalist at the time was "uncontroverted."

The student's attorney, Michael Ng, said his client had been working on a project on the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood when the incident occurred, and that the photojournalist had been trying to shop the essay around to papers such as the Wall Street Journal and the Bay Area News Group chain of dailies.

Read Wired Magazine's in-depth report, with enlightening background info on previous shield law rulings.

Full disclosure: This is my student. He truly does not want his name used because he fears that the killer will come after him, plain and simple. To be honest, I am not sure how I feel about the shield-law principle in this instance... but I am happy for my student.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

NPPA Virtual Video Workshop: Learn From Winners

Why not learn from the best?

On Sept. 19, spend the day online -- at the National Press Photographers Association's Virtual Video Workshop, featuring winners of NPPA's Best of Photojournalism video contest.

You'll get detailed accounts on the creation of their videos. You'll learn their methods, listen to their insights, watch their work and ask them questions in this daylong online event.
Speakers include:

* Darren Durlach, WBFF-TV in Baltimore, NPPA's 2009 Ernie Crisp Television News Photographer of the Year;
* Travis Fox, The Washington Post, the recipient of multiple NPPA awards in the Web video categories;
* Boyd Huppert, KARE in Minneapolis, a three-time winner of the NPPA Special Award for Reporting;
* Greg T. Johnson, WFAA-TV in Dallas, NPPA's 2009 Video Editor of the Year

This event will be hosted by Poynter Institute faculty members Regina McCombs and Al Tompkins.

If you can't attend the live event (online or in person), or can't commit to the entire day, an archived replay will be available soon after the live workshop. Your registration for the live event will also give you access to the replay.

Tuition is $55, with discounts available.

More info here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Web Video Series Explores Courtroom Drama

The Wichita Eagle ( launched a Web video series today that documents "the human drama in the daily court cases that have an impact on people’s lives."

It's called "Common Law."

We will begin by focusing on a judge, a [public defender] and two sheriffs’ deputies who have agreed to share in our experiment. We hope you’ll learn about how each of them go about doing their jobs, and the people and cases they face every day.
The first episode concerns a 41-year-old grandmother who "made a bad choice about how to deal with adversity in these economic times." She stole more than $6,000 from her employer to help pay her brother's mortgage.

The concept is promising, but frankly we're hoping for more in-depth characterizations and storytelling. In this initial two-minute venture, we get to see short excerpts of the public defender making her case (both in court and to an off-camera interviewer), and the judge ordering probation, and... well, that's about it.

We don't really learn much about the case or anyone involved with it. We don't see or hear from the prosecution or the employer; we never hear from the accused or her brother. There's scant information and not much light shed on the legal process or its participants.

It's understandable why courtrooms are natural magnets for journalists, with their built-in conflicts and characters. But this miniaturized "slice of life" approach is devoid of drama and depth, and can't hold a candle to all those legal-themed reality TV shows starring judges.

As we said, "Common Law" holds promise. Ideally, future episodes will provide more balance, background, and insight.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On 'Deadline': Pure Eye-Candy Video. Enjoy!

Here's the most fun you'll have looking at an online video today. Though it's called 'Deadline,' it has nothing to do with journalism. But perhaps the techniques used (and explained in the accompanying "behind-the-scenes" video) will inspire videographers of all stripes.

It took three months to plan and four days to shoot -- and frankly who has that much time to devote to the creation of a two-minute video?

A college student, of course. In this case, the apparently tireless Bang-yao Liu, who went through 6,000 Post-it Notes to make these imaginative stop-action animation effects.

'Deadline' has garnered more than two-million YouTube views, thanks in part to a favorable shout-out from Twitter-meister Ashton Kutcher.

Here it is:

And here's how it's done (not that you'll be trying this yourself anytime soon):

This was Bang-yao Liu's senior project at Savannah College of Art and Design. We hope and presume he got an A!

Friday, July 17, 2009

ReelSEO's Big List of Online Video Resources

ReelSEO's Mark R. Robertson has put together a terrific list of online video resources that he personally follows. Though its scope extends beyond videojournalism, there will be plenty of interest here to anybody who appreciates the industry's technical and creative innovations.

With the online video industry in what seems to be a continual rapid growth mode, it is difficult to keep up with all that is going on with regard to news and information about online video platforms, online video marketing, video advertising, mobile video and everything else... Consider adding the following sources to your daily RSS feed for keeping up on all that is going on with the online video industry. ..
Brace yourself -- there's a lot here. It will make for good weekend exploration. Enjoy!

Momenta Workshops for Documentary Photography

Momenta director Jamie Rose shares their lineup of upcoming workshops for "quality documentary photography within a practical, real world learning environment."

David Alan Harvey: The American Family Workshops Series

San Francisco, California from September 25-28, 2009
Miami, Florida from January 8 - 11, 2010

Join David Alan Harvey & Momenta Workshops for aspiring and professional photographers alike. Photographers will work with David Alan Harvey to develop their narrative storytelling during this workshop while photographing on the theme the American family. The tuition for this workshop will include editing sessions with instructors on a daily basis, lectures, workshop materials, slideshows, lectures and a public transportation pass. A final night celebration party and slideshow will be hosted by David Alan Harvey and Momenta Workshops for photographers, subjects and local photographers. An online digital portfolio review by David Alan Harvey is a requirement for acceptance into this workshop. Tuition for each American Family series workshops is $1150.

Festival! Peru with Ami Vitale

Lima, Chinca and Cuzco, Peru from October 18 - November 1, 2009

National Geographic photographer Ami Vitale will takephotographers to experience and document the start of bullfighting and cockfighting season as well as the Senor de los Milagros procession in beautiful Peru. The workshop culminates as Peru celebrates Halloween also known as the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) and All Saints Day, the celebration of loved ones lost over the years.The price includes most meals, in-country transportation and housing as well as one-on-one access to instructors on a daily basis, personal portfolio reviews, in-the-field mentoring, all handouts and workshop materials, plus slide shows and lectures. The price of the workshop before September 1, 2009 is $5394 (US dollars). After September 1, 2009, the cost of tuition will be $5694 (US dollars).

Myanmar (Burma) 2009: The Art of the Photostory

Various locations, Myanmar from November 8 - 21, 2010

Explore one of the most mysterious and unspoiled destinations in the world with our internationally renowned photographers and instructors. Beginning in the old colonial city of Yangon, discover a country filled with visually rich city streets, vibrant rural markets, awe-inspiring temples, and peaceful countryside monasteries. Under the guidance of our experienced instructors, you will explore shrines, temples, and captivating cultural scenery bathed in monsoon light will serve as a colorful canvas on which to construct a visual and audio narrative of travel through the region alongside its inhabitants. The workshop fees include all workshop related costs including accommodations, travel and meals (excluding soft drinks, beverages & alcohol) where indicated on the itinerary, daily one-on-one access to an instructor, personalized portfolio reviews, all handouts and workshop materials, daily slideshows and lectures, software and equipment training. The price of the workshop is $4459.

Project India 2010 : Working With Nonprofits

Various locations, India from January 17-30, 2010

Inarguably one of the most important and influential countries of the next century, and home to one of the worlds most changing social environments; India is the location of our first Project workshop in 2010. Come with us to work with a selection of the varied NGOs and nonprofits that have helped shape India's development projects over the last 50 years. Learn the skills necessary to work successfully and profitably with these organizations in one of the most culturally diverse countries on Earth.The workshop fees include all workshop related costs including accommodations, travel and meals (excluding alcohol), daily one-on-one access to an instructor, personalized portfolio reviews, all handouts and workshop materials, daily slideshows and lectures, software and equipment training. Tuition costs for this workshop is $4320 (US dollars) before December 1, 2009 and after December 1, 2009, tuition is $4620 (US dollars).

Project Uganda 2010 with Jeff Hutchens & Jamie Rose

Gulu & Lira, Uganda from February 28 - March 13

Our most popular workshop every year proves to be Project Uganda and rightfully so. Working with local nonprofits and local leaders in Northern Uganda to help create a documentary archive of images around their work is a once in a lifetime experience. Each photographer is assigned to a different nonprofit to work with for the two weeks to create a photo story with the guidance of award winning instructors Jeff Hutchens and Jamie Rose. Jeff was nationally recognized for his work during the civil war and Jamie Rose won the White House News Photographers Association's Project Grant for her work with Doctors Without Borders in Northern Uganda. The workshop fees include all workshop related costs including accommodations, travel and meals (excluding alcohol), daily one-on-one access to an instructor, personalized portfolio reviews, all handouts and workshop materials, daily slideshows and lectures, software and equipment training. Tuition for this workshop is $4056 (US Dollars).

More info at Also: Momenta Facebook Group / Twitter .

Thursday, July 16, 2009

David Simon to NYT, WP: Make Web Readers Pay Now!

Yet another call for making viewers pay for online journalism -- this time from David Simon in the current Columbia Journalism Review.

Simon is the Baltimore Sun reporter-turned-TV producer (Homicide, The Corner, The Wire) who offered Congressional testimony in May on the sad state of affairs in the newspaper business. Back then, his solution was for newspapers to pursue a non-profit model. Now he's singing a different tune.

His thought-provoking article, "Build the Wall," acknowledges that most readers won't pay for news, but if the industry moves quickly, perhaps enough will.

Simon specifically addresses New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Washington Post publisher Katharine Weymouth.
Content matters. And you must find a way, in the brave new world of digitization, to make people pay for that content. If you do this, you still have a product and there is still an industry, a calling, and a career known as professional journalism. If you do not find a way to make people pay for your product, then you are—if you choose to remain in this line of work—delusional.
He offers a bold all-or-nothing blueprint:

On a specific date in the near future—let’s say September 1 for the sheer immediacy of it—both news organizations must inform readers that their Web sites will be free to subscribers only, and that while subscription fees can be a fraction of the price of having wood pulp flung on doorsteps, it is nonetheless a requirement for acquiring the contents of the news organizations that spend millions to properly acquire, edit, and present that work.

No half-measures, either. No TimesSelect program that charges for a handful of items and offers the rest for free, no limited availability of certain teaser articles, no bartering with aggregators for a few more crumbs of revenue through microbilling or pennies-on-the-dollar fees. Either you believe that what The New York Times and The Washington Post bring to the table every day has value, or you don’t.
Given that the Times is already surveying its subscribers to find out what they'd be willing to pay to access online content, it seems assured that this is the direction that it will go. The big question, which Simon also addresses, is how will this affect smaller local newspapers? He offers several possible scenarios, some grimmer than others.

In all, a lengthy treatise well worth your time.

Naturally, because of our obsession with videojournalism, we have yet to encounter a financial plan that effectively leverages each newspaper's most unique asset, and so far its only one that can be safeguarded against being devalued by easy reproduction and distribution. If you have given thought to that sort of scheme, we're all ears!

Congrats to 'News & Documentary' Emmy Nominees

Congratulations to all nominees for the 30th annual Emmy awards in the "News & Documentary" category, which includes a number of online videos that we are proud to have showcased on KobreGuide :

Outstanding Informational Programming -- Long Form

* Growing Up Online (Frontline)

New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming -- Current News Coverage

* Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War (Reuters/MediaStorm)

* Choosing a President (New York Times)

* The Healing Fields (Washington Post)

New Approaches to News & Documentary Programming -- Documentaries

* The Boys of Christ Child House (Detroit Free Press/

* Intended Consequences (MediaStorm)

We're always pleased when judges of major awards select video stories that we've chosen to champion and share with viewers long before they were awards contenders.

Naturally it makes us wonder which stories we pick this week might be vying for prestigious awards next year -- and are pleased to be able to present them to you now, so that when they get tapped for glory, you can say you saw them when.

And, yes, we're still tickled by the fact that the Television Academy is bestowing awards on videos that have appeared only online. "New Approaches" indeed!

The awards will be presented Sept. 21 in New York. Meanwhile, see previous nominees and winners on KobreGuide's Emmy awards channel.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Death of Photojournalism: 1 Day Later

Dirck Halstead thought that maybe he came off as sounding more bleak than he had intended in our post yesterday, so he followed up with this much cheerier email we think is well worth sharing:

I am afraid that I have become increasingly realistic and therefore pessimistic about the future of our trade, which is not really my nature.

I find that when I get in these moods, the best thing for me to do is to go out and speak to young people. I had that chance today. Cornell University sponsors a summer program for what they consider to be "the brightest high school students in the land."

They split them up in three groups of twenty, and one of the groups is spending the summer here at [University of Texas].

I was asked to talk to them . These are not photojournalism wannabes. They are, however, at the exact age that I decided to run off to Guatemala for my first LIFE story. So I took it seriously, and after showing them some pictures, spent the next hour just talking about journalism and what a wonderful career it is to aspire to, that will open so many doors to so many different kinds of people.

They were very attentive and asked very good questions (which you don't normally get from college students), and the way I left it with them was this:

"Most of you will now be going off to four years in a college or university. Many of you have scholarships already. Thank God for this opportunity at this time, because while you are in school these next few years, EVERYTHING will change. From journalism, to business, to world affairs, to how crops are harvested. This will be the period of the 'big reset.' If you can huddle inside those ivy cloisters, do so. Bar the door. Ride it out.

"Because when you emerge in 2015, a lot of things will have been settled. There will be opportunities which have scarcely been thought of, and your time in college will allow you to prepare for this new world. Above all, don't be afraid. Dare to dream, and to work to make those dreams come true. The new future will be entrusted to you. Use it well."
Halstead's original article ("Revisiting the Death of Photojournalism, Ten Years Later") appears in the July issue of The Digital Journalist, the monthly online magazine for visual journalism that he has published for the past twelve years -- itself an indicator of his ongoing passion for, and commitment to, our eternally evolving field.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Death of Photojournalism: 10 Years Later

The July issue of The Digital Journalist is online, featuring a gloomy essay by editor/publisher Dirck Halstead (right): "Revisiting the Death of Photojournalism, Ten Years Later."

Way back in 1999, I wrote an editorial lamenting how difficult it was becoming to pursue a life in photojournalism. Budgets were being slashed at the newsmagazines for photography, entry-level jobs at newspapers were becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, and once such an internship was secured, it was hard to move up the ladder. Compared to the glory days of photojournalism in the 1970s, the situation was looking bleak.

As I reread that article recently, I realized that what I was talking about then were some cracks in the dam. Today, the whole damned dam is gone.
Halstead's lament about the demise of suitable outlets for photojournalism, notably print newsweeklies, is more pertinent than ever -- along with his campaign, then and now, to encourage still photographers to augment their skills with audio and video so that they can be transferred to the Web. (He applies the term "Platypus" to the new breed of hybrid photojournalist/videojournalist.)

And even though videojournalism struggles as media outlets withdraw resources, Halstead is hopeful:

In a recent Platypus class, my students asked me, "Why would you be a photojournalist today?" I answered, "You have to be crazy."

I have always considered being crazy as important to a photographer as being curious. Constitutionally, we thrive on chaos and challenge. Being a photojournalist is more a calling than a trade. Those people who will do anything to come back with a story will be out there shooting for a long time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reuters Publishes Its Videojournalism Guidelines Online

Much is being made of the fact that Reuters has published its full handbook online. It's a useful compendium of journalism considerations, ranging from prose style to ethics guidelines.

As we clicked through the various sections, what caught our attention, of course, was the "Brief Guide to the Standards and Values of Reuters Video News" and "The Complete Reuters Video News Handbook."

A lot of it is basic journalism principles combined with plain common sense. But, as often happens when you try to define and codify these things, it veers into areas that aren't as neatly black and white as news organizations (and their audiences) would like them to be.

For instance, here's a sticky issue it tries to address:

"Never alter a still or moving image beyond the requirements of normal image enhancement."

Even though that's listed as one of the "10 Absolutes of Reuters Journalism," any professional practitioner will tell you that there's nothing "absolute" about it, as long as the concept of "normal" is open to wide interpretation. Nevertheless:

We have a duty to show the scene of any story accurately without adding or removing – either physically or electronically – any contents. Reuters Television staff must do only what is minimally necessary to improve the technical quality of video. Our staff must never manipulate or add/remove the contents of video. Audio must never be added which may affect the editorial interpretation of a sequence or story.
And speaking of audio, here's a morbidly fascinating precept, that stands out so brazenly in its specificity as to make you wonder whether such a thing actually happened in 1963:

"NEVER add the sound of a gunshot on mute coverage of the assassination of a president."

In an age when the "democratization" of our profession is blurring the boundaries of what constitutes journalism, it is refreshing to wade through a document that at least attempts to distinguish good from bad, and right from wrong. So bravo to Reuters for establishing and publicly disseminating a set of guidelines that deserve to be followed -- even if, like all moral beacons, they are necessarily subjective.

Take some time to look it over yourself, and please let us know what you think.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What Would You Pay to Access

The New York Times is surveying subscribers to determine if they'd be willing to pay $5 a month to access content on its Website, which is currently free of charge. The newspaper is also testing a 50 percent discount scheme ($2.50/month) for those who retain their home-delivery print subscription.

Read reports from Bloomberg, Poynter, and Paid Content.

Our question: What if all online videojournalism and multimedia (and of course advertising) was offered free of charge, and you had to pay to access the rest of a newspaper's online content (text, images)?

What if newspapers invested sufficient resources to create topnotch video stories as an inducement to lure viewers through the front door, and then required them to pay to visit all the other rooms in the media castle? Videojournalism, after all, is their most customized (and least easily duplicated) editorial asset.

That would build a substantial audience for all those currently neglected and underappreciated video stories -- which, to our thinking, is the storytelling form that best maximizes the Web medium's strengths.

What New Media Has in Common with Jell-o

Did you have any idea how fascinating Jell-o is? Not just the product, but its colorful history. It's the subject of an engaging chapter in the new bestseller, "Free: The Future of a Radical Price," by Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson.

Jell-o, a 19th century invention, was arguably the first product to exploit the concept of "free" as a successful marketing technique -- not by giving out free samples, but rather by printing tens of thousands of pamphlets with Jell-O recipes for its salesmen to distribute to homemakers for free.

Gelatin comes from flesh and bones. It's the translucent, glutinous substance that skims to the top when you boil meat. But if you collect enough of it and purify it, adding color and flavor, it becomes something else: Jell-O. A clean powder in a packet, far removed from its abattoir origins of marrow and connective tissue.
After its inventor had failed to make a go of marketing it, he sold the company to an enterprising businessman named Orator Frank Woodward, who devised the free pamphlet scheme.

Thus was born one of the most powerful marketing tools of the twentieth century: giving away one thing to create demand for another. What Woodward understood was that "free" is a word with an extraordinary ability to reset consumer psychology, create new markets, break old ones, and make almost any product more attractive. He also figured out that "free" didn't mean profitless. It just meant that the route from product to revenue was indirect, something that would become enshrined in the retail playbook as the concept of a "loss leader."
Anderson, who is also the author of "The Long Tail," was recently a guest on NPR's "Fresh Air" with host extraordinaire Terry Gross. He discussed "Free" in the context of media institutions struggling with how to survive in a world where their product has been seemingly devalued to zero.

Among the topics Anderson addresses:

  • Why the traditional advertising model hasn't worked on the Web;
  • Why media outlets haven't yet figured out how to customize video ads and match them to appropriate videos that showcase them in appropriate environments;
  • How the Wall Street Journal is successfully employing the "free-mium" model, which invites everyone through the front door at no charge, and gives away an appreciable amount of content, and then charges for niche or premium content;
  • How each medium copies the previous one -- radio was TV with pictures; the Web was print with hyperlinks -- and then builds to the next plateau;
  • Where all the money really went when Craigslist decimated the newspaper classified ad business (Hint: it didn't go to Craigslist);
  • The impact of "free" on the quality of journalism, with so many fewer professionals on the beat, domestically and internationally;
  • Given that newspapers are dying but, despite e-books, print books are thriving, what is the role of the print magazine in this age?
  • Will financial desperation destroy that formerly sacred impermeable wall between editorial and advertising, given that Google has successfully married church and state? (Or was our long-held assumption -- that editorial/ad adjacency connotes the possibility of corruption -- erroneous in the first place?)
For journalists and videojournalists struggling with the question of how to make a living in a world where their products are being given away for no money, this half-hour interview is well worth a listen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Video Stories Deserve Updates

We've often noted how unfortunately rare it is that newspapers follow up on their hard-hitting video stories.

The media has a notoriously short memory, and there are so many great video stories that capture a situation so well that they leave you wondering what will happen next.

Such was the case with the Los Angeles Times' heartbreaking video about Jani Schofield, a 6-year-old schizophrenic, and her beleaguered but devoted parents. We showcased "A Place for Jani" on the KobreGuide's Los Angeles Times channel.

Today the newspaper paper laudably provided an update, "For Jani Schofield, some progress -- and major setbacks."

It is not a video, as we might have hoped, but a text article. Alas, the news is not good -- and so, under the circumstances, we can understand why it might have been more difficult to have sought and gained video access.

Naturally we hope the situation takes a turn for the better, for Jani and her family, and look forward to seeing a video update with some hopeful news.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bland Titles

Don't hate us for asking this, but why is it that some of the most interesting video stories have the most boring titles?

In an apparent effort to sound weighty and grandiose, they often end up sounding, well, meaningless.

Look at this random sampling of titles of video stories that we're otherwise proud to showcase on KobreGuide, and you'll see what we mean:

Great Responsibility, Looking Back, A Life Alone, Chain of Life, A Meaningful New Mission, Stories to Learn By, A Fighting Chance, Guitar Man, Science Homework, Part of the Family, Campaign, A Place to Call Home, Wait for Me, Popular Science, A Man's World, A World of Words, A Dirty Job, Left Behind, Hard Times, Unusual Friendship, Remember Me, Age of Uncertainty, The Bottom Line, Uprooted, A New Dawn, Friends for Life, Common Ground, Breaking the Silence, Rapid Descent, Black Market, Blind Ambition, Learning to Fall, Last Goodbye...

Again, the stories themselves are terrific. But their titles? Big yawn!

We suspect that a lot of the problem has to do with the fact that the newspapers' regular headline writers, schooled and seasoned in marrying colorful nouns with muscular verbs, aren't assigned the task of titling videos. And so they're just given short descriptive labels by the videojournalists themselves, who are traditionally more visual than verbal.

Compounding the problem is that the title you see chyroned at the beginning of the video ("A Doctor's Tale") frequently does not match the title adjacent to the video player ("A Medical Marvel"). And they vie with each other for awfulness.

Another common syndrome is that many video titles can't be appreciated, or sometimes even understood, until after you've seen the video! (Which you're not likely to see, because the title is offputtingly cryptic!)

We realize that, in a newspaper's quest for dispassionate objectivity, there is a proclivity for taking the "just the facts, ma'am" approach to writing titles.

But don't newspaper editors realize that a catchy or intriguing title can entice a potential viewer to click the "Play" button, and thereby exponentially increase the size of a video's audience? Whereas lackluster titles can be a potent eyeball deterrent?

We cast our vote for assigning the task of video title writing to the same folks who are charged with writing Page One grabbers. The best videos -- like those spotlighted on KobreGuide -- deserve nothing less.

After all, if you're going to spend days, or even weeks, shooting and editing a top-notch video, why not put a few more minutes of thought and effort into naming your baby before sending it out into the world?

Seen a really clever or compelling video title lately? Please share it with us. Quick, before we doze off again...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Fast, Cheap, Easy Way to Learn to Edit Video

There are no shortage of books on digital video editing, but many of us require a more hands-on approach to learning challenging new technical skills. But often our budgets and/or schedules prevent us from signing up for a class -- presuming there's even one that's geographically accessible.

So what to do if you're understandably flummoxed about wading through dense how-to manuals, and yearn to have a real expert walk you through the steps -- painlessly and affordably? to the rescue!

If you haven't already encountered this online training bonanza, you're in for a treat.

The educational enterprise, which has been around since the dawn of the Web, now offers a whopping 627 courses on the ins and outs of a huge variety of software mostly pertaining to the creative arts, from Flash to Photoshop. Each course contains a series of video "chapters" that are each only a few minutes long -- 39,400 in all.

We routinely recommend the Final Cut classes to still photographers who are making the leap to multimedia -- and, in fact, to anyone who wants to learn how to edit digital video. There's something in every sequence for practitioners of all levels, from beginners to established pros.


Final Cut Express 4 Essential Training (2:47), taught by Lonzell Watson.

Final Cut Express HD 3.5 Essential Training (6:05), taught by Richard Harrington .

And everyone involved in moviemaking can benefit from this introductory course:

Digital Video Principles (2:35), taught by Larry Jordan. Need to get up to speed (or refresh your memory) on concepts such as progressive, interlaced, frame rate, data rate, fps, aspect ratio, sample rate, resolution, waveform? Here's where to start.

Mastered all that? Larry Jordan also teaches nearly two dozen Final Cut Pro classes for, adding up to more than 100 hours of online instruction. As we said, something for everyone.

The company's founder, Lynda Weinman, is herself an accomplished Web designer and prominent graphics educator. She has made sure that her own faculty are not only experts in their respective fields, but also top communicators and teachers in their own right.

Learn at your own pace, at your convenience, in the privacy of your own home or office. You can spend as much or as little time as you want on each "lesson," and go back as often as you need. While you'll normally want to undertake an entire course, in its prescribed sequence, sometimes you'll just want to search for and dip into individual lessons as needed.

About ten percent of each course's videos are offered for free, on a "try before you buy" basis.

Now here's the best news.

You can get ALL these courses for ONE fee, which is less than the cost of a single how-to book. The all-you-can-eat price is only $25 per month -- even less if you get a $250 annual subscription.

Register here, and let us know what you think!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Long-Form Video Comes of Age

The New York Times reports today that audiences are sitting still for, and even seeking out, lengthier videos. Excerpts:

As the Internet becomes a jukebox for every imaginable type of video, producers and advertisers are discovering that users will watch for more than two minutes at a time...

Production companies are now creating 10- and 20-minute shows for the Internet...

A year ago all but one of the top 25 shows on [Blip.TV] clocked in at under five minutes. Now, [its] average video is 14 minutes long... The longest video uploaded in May was 133 minutes long, equivalent to a feature-length film...

Much of the video innovation is coming from people who — empowered by inexpensive editing equipment and virtually no distribution costs — are creating content specifically for an online audience...

“If there’s good storytelling and good production values, people are willing to engage with the content,” said Eric Berger, a senior vice president of Crackle, the Sony video site.
While most of the Times report pertains to entertainment content, its salient points -- regarding Web audiences' longer attention spans, and that medium's unique ability to create video content that doesn't have to be squeezed into a predetermined time slot -- certainly pertain to videojournalism as well.

Newspapers that once issued edicts to constrain video segments to the length of a pop song are now letting pieces run 5 or 10 minutes... or longer.

For a peek at what the future holds, visit KobreGuide's "Got an Hour?" channel.

Friday, July 3, 2009

MediaStorm's Advanced Workshop Videos

Eight talented visual journalists recently completed MediaStorm's fourth intensive Advanced Multimedia Reporting Workshop.

You can watch the results, and an illuminating behind-the-scenes video of their experiences, by clicking on the images below.

"Hold Out"
Developers want to demolish a Brooklyn neighborhood to build a basketball arena and numerous high rises. But a small neighborhood and a handful of residents stand in the way. By Zachary Barr, Jeff Hutchens, Nacho Corbella, Uma Sanghvi.


"A Tail of Identity"

Enter the world of identity where sometimes putting on a mask allows you to be your true self. By Toni Greaves, Jeff Davis, Steve Rowland, Gregory Warner.


"Behind the Scenes"
With a focus on hands-on training, the teams learned about workflow, collaboration and the importance of focus on narrative and visual storytelling. The participating professionals and MediaStorm staff reflect on what they took away from the workshop and what they hope to integrate into their everyday work.

Inspired? MediaStorm is now accepting applications for its upcoming Advanced Multimedia Reporting Workshops:

Workshop Five: September 19-25, 2009
Application Deadline: July 15, 2009

Workshop Six: December 5-11, 2009
Application Deadline: October 1, 2009

For more info, or to apply, go here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Survey: What do Videojournalists Get Paid?

Videojournalist Angela Grant, over at her News Videographer blog, is conducting a survey about what solo videojournalists get paid.

I have about 28 responses right now, which isn’t too shabby. Still, I’d like to get more before I release the results. Could you take the survey? Only 10 questions, and a couple minutes time tops.
We're eager to see the results ourselves, so please go help her out. Follow this link. Thanks!

Big Ouch: Gannett Axes 1,400 Jobs

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Gannett Co., the largest U.S. newspaper publisher by daily circulation, will cut between 1,000 and 2,000 jobs out of its 41,500-person work force in response to continuing revenue declines, according to a person familiar with the company's thinking.

The cuts will come from the U.S. Community Publishing division, which consists of Gannett's more than 80 local dailies, the person said, and won't affect the company's flagship, USA Today.
AP Business Writer Andrew Vanacore provides a more specific number:

Newspaper publisher Gannett Co. plans to cut 1,400 jobs in the next few weeks, about 3 percent of the work force, as it faces a prolonged slump in advertising revenue.
Tellingly, the most likely place to find that AP story is not at a newspaper Website, but at Yahoo or Google News , neither of which pay for its use, but make money whenever someone views the story on their respective sites. And therein lies the problem.

KobreGuide's Top 20 Videos in June

Here are the top 20 most viewed video stories on KobreGuide during the month of June 2009:

Pit Bulls: Companions or Killers?

Conjoined Twins

Courtney Hawkins Comes Home

Bolivia's Women Wrestlers

Waiting Topless

Acid Attacks

Growing Up Online

Hungry: Living with Prader-Willi Syndrome

Second Chance: The Jazz Singer

Burned in the War

The Sand Dancer

The Girl in the Window

A Hendrix Experience in Hollywood

Journey Along the Border

Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr

Turtle Man

Being Aron Ralston

Gertrude Baines, 114, Votes

Stalemate in Korangal Valley

Ana's Story

We're hard pressed to find a common denominator here -- the subjects and themes are wonderfully diverse. Some are serious, some are lighthearted. Many are bleak, others are hopeful. Just like TV execs trying to predict a new series' potential for ratings success, it would be foolish to pursue non-fiction video stories on the basis of what you think will be popular.

One element we search for in selecting stories worthy of KobreGuide is passion. As we scan the list above, we can't help but notice that, whether a story was produced by a major media institution such as the New York Times, or by an independent shooter, they all seem to exude a distinctive spirit, a tone that says, "Hey, look at this!"

The lesson here for videojournalists? Follow your gut. First make sure the story appeals to YOU. Then you'll naturally imbue a story with your verve, and your enthusiasm will become infectious.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How Can Still Photogs Expand Their Multimedia Skills?

Will Yurman is a newspaper staff photographer who, like many of his confreres, has had to add an abundance of multimedia skill sets to his repertoire -- audio gathering and editing, slideshow production, video shooting and editing, even constructing interactive 360-degree panoramic images.

Online journalism professor Mindy McAdams conducted an insightful interview with him for her excellent blog. The Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle visual journalist expounded on the differences between shooting stills and video, and emphasized the importance of audio in multimedia stories. Read it here.

McAdams previously talked to photo editors and multimedia producers at four newspapers to find out what skill sets are in short supply in today's newsrooms. "Video editing, storytelling and audio skills led the list." Read it here.

On KobreGuide, be sure to see Yurman's work and read our interview with him.