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.


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