Monday, August 31, 2009

KobreGuide Top 10 List for Aug. '09

Here are the ten most popular stories on for the month of August 2009.

We weeded out the most popular stories from July 2009, since we suspect that the traffic surge for those stories this month resulted from having published that month's list, giving it the same "self-fulfilling prophecy" quality as the New York Times Bestseller list.

As it happens, these "most viewed" videos are among our favorites, too! As always, they reflect an array of interests, from a wide spectrum of sources:

Shockwaves Through My Soul

Silverton Saves Its Paper

Tiger Eye: Up Close and Personal

Women at Arms

Last Chance High School

US Citizens Born by Midwife Denied Passports

The Pied Piper

Living on Havana's Edge

Got Geese? Call the Geesebuster!

Hog Wild

Happy viewing!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

'Reset': It's the End of the World as We've Known It. Now Start Over.

Highly recommended weekend read: Reset, by Kurt Andersen

It's a slim volume, but stuffed with original and provocative ideas -- you'll spend as much time ruminating about each page as reading it.

It asks: What succeeds the wretched age of excess that defined the past quarter century (starting with Reagan, and ending last year)?

Now that the unthinkable has happened -- the bubble has burst, the economy is in the toilet, our careers and lives have been irreversibly disrupted and derailed -- what's next?

Andersen's title reflects his optimism that, instead of picking up the pieces and trying to restore what we once had -- which arguably was "too much" and ultimately unsustainable -- we will get back to our roots, so to speak, and rethink things from the ground up.

We'll refocus on our needs, not just our wants.

And we should look at the economic meltdown as an opportunity not to get back on track, but to create a new and improved track.

"Necessity," he writes, "is the mother of re-invention."

For journalists (and photojournalists and videojournalists), that means creatively re-positioning yourself and your talents, and finding a way to make a living that does not rely on dying institutions such as newspapers and magazines and TV news.

Time Magazine, which calls Andersen the "poet laureate of the recession," devoted a weeklong blog to his book.

And it excerpted four meaty chunks of the book itself:

Is China the New Us? Or Are We?

The Coming New New Economy

Boomers: Older and Maybe, Finally Wiser

Immigration: Let's Get Over It Already

No, it's not the end of the world, says Andersen. But it's the end of the world as we've known it (to paraphrase REM). The smart and industrious among us will stop wallowing in nostalgia, and start building a new world. 'Reset' shows us how.

Video: MSNBC 'Week in Pictures' Celebrates 10th Anniversary

MSNBC celebrates the tenth anniversary of its creation of an entire subgenre of photojournalism, the "Week in Pictures" online slideshow feature, with this behind-the-scenes video, below (6:23).

The concept was originated by former MSNBC multimedia director Brian Storm (now founding president of MediaStorm).

"It wasn't an effort to recap the news," he explains. "It wasn't the week in review. We were much more focused on showing people the diversity of the world we live in."

A decade ago, MSNBC editors picked through only a couple thousand images each week. Today they look at more than 65,000 weekly -- or 3 million per year.

Ten MSNBC editors select 150 finalists each week; then 3 editors (in case of ties) debate which are the best, finding the right balance between tragic and lighthearted.

When online readers were eventually allowed to start voting on their favorites, they consistently cast their ballots in favor of lighter fare. But Brian Storm says that those images only helped heighten the gravitas of the more newsworthy images. Also, the sunnier images hooked viewers, exposing them to darker issue-oriented images that they might not otherwise have searched for.

In this video, Tom Kennedy also weighs in with his experiences building the same feature as former director of multimedia at . The concept is now a popular staple at online publications ranging from the Boston Globe to Time Magazine to Yahoo News.

Naturally, we at KobreGuide champion these pioneering endeavours, as we think of ourselves as their video counterpart -- sifting through large quantities of videojournalism stories from diverse sources each week, so that we can cull an array of the highest-quality gems for your viewing pleasure.


* Week in Pictures Archive

* MSNBC Slideshow - 10 Years of The Week in Pictures (59 images)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Teaching Video to Elementary School Teachers

It's never too late -- or too early -- to learn videojournalism.

This video by Anthony Gettig shows Robb Montgomery (pictured) teaching elementary schoolteachers the basics of videojournalism... so that they can pass along the skills to their fourth-graders!

Gettig reports:

Using Flip cameras, Mac laptops, and Final Cut Express, they learned the basics of video production. It was great to see every teacher in the training not only demonstrate their learning by producing short films, but share the ways they can use it in their classrooms. As a K-12 Technologist and new media producer myself, I am genuinely excited to see video journalism reach into classrooms.
Montgomery reports:
One of my Camp Video Journalism Orlando students, Anthony Gettig, produced this short video report.

Anthony and the school’s principal have been promoting multimedia as a way to document the progress they were making with their magnet school program - primarily through the individual achievements of students and teachers.

Last week I was invited to teach more teachers from this Magnet School. When their classes begin in a couple weeks they will be making films for their lesson themes and also of their student projects. Using the video form to document and enhance student self-esteem in the learning process. Brilliant approach.

Students will be taught how to use the video cameras, produce podcasts, write shows and make media matter for their peers and their community.

Gettig recently launched a lunchtime video club where students learn the fundamentals of filmmaking. It is so popular that he is able to use the club membership to enforce discipline and recognize achievement in other areas.

This magnet school in Kalamazoo is serving one of the poorest urban neighborhoods and video expertise is but one tool that the faculty will be using as part of their long-term game plan to transform their community. And they are already beginning to see how powerful visual storytelling can be in supporting that effort.

Video Dominates Globe's Kennedy Package

Even before Ted Kennedy died, the Boston Globe assembled an ambitious seven-part multimedia biographical series on its home-state Senator that first appeared in February.

Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab couldn't help but notice how video dominates the series. Bennie DiNardo, Globe deputy managing editor for multimedia, confirmed that "people were heavily consuming the video," contributing to the Website's huge surge in traffic especially after Kennedy died.

Some of the data suggests that video is the better entry point for long-form content. Certainly, the Globe designed its Kennedy package to give the videos more prominence than the articles. “This was the first time we tried to really produce documentary-quality video,” DiNardo told me. He said finding and making arrangements to use archival footage was particularly difficult: “It was just a whole world that us newspaper folks aren’t used to.”
Once again, proof that there's ample reason for newspaper folks to start getting used to that whole video world. Kennedy package here. Videos only here.

New York Times University?

For the first time, New York Times columnists are participating in the newspaper's three-year-old "Knowledge Network," an adult-education program operated in partnership with local universities.

Can this become a legitimate revenue source for newspapers?

According to Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab:
The courses taught by Nicholas Kristof and Gail Collins, both op-ed columnists, include a “live, interactive Webcast,” three written lessons, and a message board where students can interact with their big-name instructors. For that, the Times is asking $185. Kristof’s course is on the exploitation of women in developing nations; Collins’s deals with the history of American women’s rights since 1960. Wine columnist Eric Asimov’s course, for $125, is a single session that students can attend in person or online. (Booze not included.)

The participation of Kristof, Collins, and Asimov could be a precursor to the membership model the Times is considering in its search for new revenue streams on the web.
Naturally we're wondering how online video technology and storytelling can be incorporated into these lessons.

List of all courses here.

Journalism courses here.

1981: The Beginning of the End?...

... or the end of the beginning?

Long before anyone had heard of the Internet, early home computer users could read their morning newspapers online ... sort of. Steve Newman's 1981 story was broadcast on KRON San Francisco.

Tip of the hat to The Wrap.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Videojournalists Should Be Shot

We've often thought it would be a good idea if journalists-in-training were required to subject themselves to a reporter's interview, so they could get an empathic sense of what it's like to be grilled by a stranger who may or may not care about (nor even understand) what they are trying to tell them.

Then the student journalist should be required to read what was written about them -- and think about how they'd feel if it were published for the world to see (without, of course, any pre-approval). They'd get an opportunity to see if they come across in a way that accurately represents them, their thoughts, their feelings. Do they feel they've been accurately represented and quoted?

Ditto for budding photojournalists -- they should be forced to endure a session with a photographer who follows them around at their home, office, or other event. They should experience that intrusion first-hand, and feel what it's like to be posed or asked to perform certain activities for the sake of the camera.

And then they should look at the resulting pictures, and ask themselves if they feel they've been accurately portrayed to the world.

Now we can take it all one step further. Up-and-coming videojournalists should be followed by an inquiring videographer who documents their every word and mannerism. And, again, they should view the final results, and ask themselves how they feel about it.

So it is with great interest that we stumbled upon this item from the Canadian Journalism Project, by part-time journalist John Longhurst, who has both conducted interviews as a reporter, and been in positions which required him to be interviewed by reporters.

He argues that professional journalists should subject themselves to this "shoe-on-the-other-foot" treatment, to periodically be reminded of their subjects' vulnerability.
It goes without saying that the subject cannot see the end result before it is published or broadcast. To maximize the anxiety, the final result should be posted on the Web or some other conspicuous place where anyone can see it.

Oh, and let's not forget about pictures: lots will be taken and you won’t be allowed to go home to change into different clothing. Some video will be a bonus.

Speaking of video, all TV journalists will have an additional requirement: They will have to do "the walk" or one of its equivalents — sitting at their computers and looking busy, reading a report and looking terribly interested or answering a fake phone call and pretending to be fascinated by the person on the other end.

Trust me — it isn’t easy to "look natural" when walking nowhere while a camera is trained on you.

Once a year, all reporters should be required to be interviewed. I think it will, in the end, make them more sensitive and better journalists — or at least just as intimidated and anxious as the rest of us.
Full article here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

'It Might Get Loud': A Storytelling Lesson

Go see (and hear!) ' It Might Get Loud,' a new untraditional documentary.

Rock icons from three different generations -- Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), the Edge (U2) and Jack White (White Stripes) -- come together to talk about the electric guitar and their musical influences. The maestros swap stories and crank up their instruments on an empty soundstage for a superstar jam session. Along the way, they visit the majestic hall where "Stairway to Heaven'' was composed, and we are taken to the high school classroom where U2 first met and rehearsed in their teens. Jack White composes a song on-camera at a Tennessee farmhouse, and the Edge lays down tracks for a U2 single.

It's directed by Davis Guggenheim, who also directed Al Gore's Oscar-winning global-warming documentary, 'An Inconvenient Truth,' along with a slew of critically acclaimed TV series.

'It Might Get Loud' sets out to explain the influence of electric guitars on our lives in a way that hasn't been attempted before -- by intertwining the intimate stories of three who have famously mastered it. We are treated to small personal moments from three very different lives and careers, shot over the course of a year on two continents and artfully woven together, culminating in a combined jam that was shot with seven cameras on a Hollywood sound stage .

Says Guggenheim: "I hope the audience will fall in love with these guys as much as I did, not just as rock stars, but as individuals and artists who turned their individual life experiences into music: beautiful, raw, in-your-face, visceral, and transcendent."

The film succeeds in capturing what collectively excites us about electric guitars through the prism of three strong protagonists and their private journeys. And in the great rock 'n' roll spirit, those individual solos build to a tour de force ensemble climax.

One element that distinguishes this documentary style is that the filmmaker has imposed his own template and agenda -- bringing together three people who would not have otherwise assembled but for this film.

Lesson for videojournalists: Look for instances in which it makes narrative sense to physically bring together characters who might not otherwise meet. Their natural interactions and conversations can be exponentially more colorful and illuminating than anything that might be revealed through individual talking-head interviews.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Americhip: More 'Video-in-Print' Tech Details

Update to yesterday's post about pioneering "video-in-print" technology:

The company behind it is L.A.-based Americhip, which bills itself as "the leader in multisensory marketing" -- which includes, yes, those perfume-scented magazine ads and even "peel and taste strips."

Here are some more details about print-embedded video, courtesy of CNET:

The screen, which is 2.7 millimeters thick, has a 320x240 resolution. The battery lasts for about 65 to 70 minutes, and can be recharged with a mini USB cord--there's a jack on the back of it. The screen, which uses thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT LCD) technology, is enforced by protective polycarbonate. It's a product that has been in development at Americhip for about two years.
So... we ask again: Can anybody envision using this technology to embed video STORIES -- and not just ads -- in print publications? ... Anyone? ... Anyone? ...

Here are two more videos to show you what it all looks like:

Thursday, August 20, 2009

First Video Ad in a Print Magazine

In September, Entertainment Weekly will publish the first video ad -- in its print edition.

The British press is abuzz with this technological breakthrough, but the American press is remarkably blase about it.

We found stories about it on the Websites for the U.K.'s Guardian, Daily Mail, Telegraph, London Times, Irish Times, the BBC, even the kids' version of BBC.

Apparently they're all transfixed by the "Harry Potter" quality of moving images on a printed page, though it's not nearly that impressive.

It works like one of those singing greeting cards -- opening the page activates a superslim computer chip. The screen is about the size of your cellphone display (2" x 1.5").

Each chip can hold up to 40 minutes of video.

The first will contain previews of CBS's 'Two and a Half Men' (pictured), 'The Big Bang Theory,' 'Accidentally on Purpose,' plus other shows from the network's fall lineup. And ads for the new Pepsi Max.

The cost of the video ad hasn't been reported, and it remains to be seen whether it will have a positive effect on sales, as Esquire experienced last year when it employed the novelty of using the Amazon Kindle's e-ink on its cover.

Naturally, our question is: How long before print magazines use video for editorial purposes? You can tell some good stories in 40 minutes!

Here's a sneak preview of the CBS/Pepsi ad supplement in Entertainment Weekly's Sept. 18 Fall Preview edition, containing the video-in-print player:

6x6: Video Lessons from a U.K. Journalist

Adam Westbrook is a broadcast journalist for Bauer Media in the U.K. He is producing a series of six blog entries, each containing "six tips for the next generation of freelance multimedia journalists."

He says it's inspired by the big response he got from his previous post speculating on the required skill set required for the "journalist of the future."

Last week Adam covered "branding" -- how to package and market yourself as a freelance multimedia journalist.

This week's lesson is about online video.

Here are some excerpts:

01. video doesn’t need to be expensive

Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t do video just because you haven’t got any cash. High quality can be achieved on lower budgets...

02. shoot for the edit

Filming with the final piece firmly in mind will keep your shooting focused and short. So when you start filming, start looking for close ups and sequences. The latter is the hardest: an action which tells your story, told over 2 or more shots...

03. master depth of field

Your aim – especially with closeups – is to have your subject in clear focus, and everything behind them blurred...

04. never wallpaper

With pressures of time or bad planning you can often find yourself “wallpapering” shots just to fill a gap. Make sure every shot in your film is there for a reason...

05. look for the detail and the telling shot

Broadcast Journalists are taught to look for the “telling shot”, and more often than not make it the first image. But you can enhance your storytelling by looking for little details which really bring your story to life...

06. break the rules

The worst thing a multimedia journalist can do when producing video for the web is to replicate television. TV is full of rules and formulas, all designed to hide edits, look good to the eye, and sometimes decieve. Online video journalism provides the chance to escape all that. Sure it must look good, but be prepared to experiment ...
Next week, Adam will address "Storytelling." Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 Lighter & Brighter

C'mon over and take a peek at our completely redesigned Lightscoop® Website at

What's a Lightscoop®? Glad you asked!

Lightscoop® is a smart low-tech device that creates soft, flattering light by redirecting your camera’s pop-up flash to a ceiling or wall.

Don’t let your convenient little pop-up flash ruin your photos with evil red eye, ugly shadows, hot spots, bleached out faces, underexposed colors, and blurry movement that exist only in your photographs, not in the real world.

Slip a Lightscoop® on your camera and never miss out on another fabulous picture! Lightscoop® creates soft, natural light and lets you capture the scene the way you see it.
Oh, heck -- why don't we just show you!

And now a word from our sponsor:

Where can you get your very own Lightscoop®? Glad you asked!

In Memoriam: TV News Giant Don Hewitt

Without Don Hewitt, there would be no KobreGuide.

Hewitt, who died today at 86, single-handedly invented not just TV news but also the TV newsmagazine, arguably the progenitor of the highest quality videojournalism stories showcased on KobreGuide.

By the time he started CBS's '60 Minutes' stopwatch ticking in 1968, Hewitt's accomplishments were already monumental:

In 1948, Hewitt directed the first network television newscast (featuring Douglas Edwards).

In 1960, he produced the first televised presidential debate (Kennedy vs. Nixon).

In 1963, he created the first half-hour network newscast ('CBS Evening News With Walter Cronkite').

Hewitt's technical innovations abounded: cue cards for newsreaders (forerunner of today's TelePrompTer); "supers" or type in the lower third of the TV screen; and all the now-familiar camera positions and angles still used to cover news events and political conventions today.

But Hewitt's crowning achievement was envisioning and executing a TV version of Life magazine, unabashedly combining in-depth celebrity profiles with hard-hitting news investigations. He went on to produce '60 Minutes' for 36 years, during which time it became the biggest hit in the medium’s history.

A Sunday evening fixture, '60 Minutes' ranked among the top 10 primetime shows for more than two decades, and was TV's top-rated show four times, most recently in 1992-93. At its peak, in the 1979-1980 television season, it was seen in an estimated 28 million homes. It has since maintained a spot in the Top 20, an unparalelled stretch of more than 30 years.

Its popularity was matched only by its excellence. Under Hewitt's stewardship, which ended in 2004, '60 Minutes' won 73 Emmys, 13 DuPont/Columbia University Awards and nine Peabody Awards.

As with the best videojournalism it eventually spawned, its secret formula consisted of marrying the highest quality visuals and journalism. Instead of following the conventional TV wisdom of putting words to pictures, Hewitt pioneered the concept of putting pictures to words.

But the ingredient that most distinguishes '60 Minutes' -- and, likewise, the most outstanding videojournalism today -- can be found in the title of Hewitt's own 2001 autobiography, 'Tell Me a Story.'

The driving force behind Hewitt's new mini-documentary format was its incorporation of old-fashioned showbiz principles, as he'd be the first to brag about. At the heart of every '60 Minutes' segment is a solid story, with a strong protagonist, a dramatic hook, and a compelling narrative arc that keeps audiences informed and, yes, enthralled.

“We could make the news entertaining, without compromising our integrity,” he wrote. "The formula is simple, and it's reduced to four words every kid in the world knows: Tell me a story. It's that easy."

This Sunday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. '60 Minutes' correspondents will devote the entire hour to their boss and his lasting contributions to the television news industry. It's a helluva story.

CBS News obit here; New York Times obit here.

First '60 Minutes':

Don Hewitt on Creating '60 Minutes':

Don Hewitt's Obituary:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Antarctic Photo Adventure: 'Hell Yeah You Go' features "Hell Yeah You Go," the amazing Antarctic Ocean adventures of marine biologist-turned-photojournalist Adam Lau -- who just happens to be one of our SFSU students.

They say each hour spent in a bouncing boat is equivalent to downing a few beers. After four hours out, sucking down seawater, you're losing coordination. You're drunk.

Salt sprays, you spray back with the shutter. Ice rips open your lips, revealing a sick smile. Somehow you've achieved enlightenment. You realize for the first time - this is what goddamn photojournalists do. You feel like a professional for the first time. You suck Antarctica into your lungs.

You feel alive.

Water cannon hits you like a ton of bricks. Everything goes quiet. Adrenaline clears the mind. The world runs in slo-mo. Body switches to autopilot. Step A) plant the feet; step B) aim; step C) fire.
Read Adam's full account here, and look at his photography on SportsShooter, and on his own Website.

Video Proof That You Can Walk and Grow a Beard at the Same Time

Christoph Rehage spent exactly one year (Nov. '07 - Nov. '08) walking 4646 km through China (Beijing to Ürümqi, past the Gobi desert).

In the spirit of Matt Harding, who famously danced his way around the globe for a series of charming videos ("Where the Hell is Matt?"), Christoph produced this excellent time-lapse video, "The Longest Way," consisting only of daily full-face self-portrait snapshots that enable you to see the variations in his locations -- and the evolution of his hair and beard growth.

It's a simple idea, cleverly executed.

This is not a strict "1 pic a day" video, because I wanted to make it a bit more alive by adding some additional movement. Sometimes during the film you would follow me turning around, or something would happen in the background. I tried to capture these moments to make the video more interesting.

Though his Website, "The Longest Way," was not functioning when we checked (traffic overload?), we'll keep trying to visit to see Cristoph's "extensive travel diary, describing every single day" -- but for now, we think this video succeeds in telling a good story.

Monday, August 17, 2009

'After Staff': Life After Photojournalism

Miki Johnson's Resolve blog is designed to be an "international online community of photojournalists, documentary photographers, and photo industry professionals working to keep visual storytelling economically feasible and socially relevant."

I’m sure we don’t have to tell anyone that there are fewer staff jobs — at newspapers, magazines, and wire services — than there used to be. And in the face of even more cuts, we’ve been impressed to see former staffers adroitly shift gears to freelance editorial, commercial work, collaboration with NGOs, and the fine-art and wedding markets. We decided to do our part too, by developing this online home for resources, stories, and discussion about this sea change for photojournalism and photography in general. Although no one has all the answers, together we can find them...
All last week, Resolve featured the theme "After Staff" -- interviews and advice from photographers who’ve left, or been laid off from, a staff job.

We met newspaper photojournalists who, mostly through necessity, morphed into wedding photographers or even art photographers -- even a respected art photographer who, to support his family, became a distiller.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist David Leeson, who last year left the Dallas Morning News after 30 years of shooting for newspapers, was among those featured.

[T]he further I get from my life in newspapers, the more I realize that the best I can be is to be who I have always been, a small voice hopefully providing something of value to my world. In many ways, little has changed in my life. The day I knew that my career as a newspaper photojournalist had reached the end, I told my boss (and friend), the director of photography at The Dallas Morning News, that I had never been dedicated to a newspaper. Rather, I had always been dedicated to the ideals of photojournalism: through credible and ethical image making, we can bring needed change to the world.

I did believe I would likely retire as a newspaper photojournalist at The Dallas Morning News. But understanding that I am still in active service to my profession, even though I am no longer on the DMN staff, has softened the blow. The loss of a title did not change who I am.
Bill Owens is known for his seminal photography book, Suburbia, which stemmed from his work as a staff photographer at the Livermore Independent starting in 1968. But he gave up photography decades ago for a career as a distiller. Now he says he shoots mostly for fun, and has turned his attention to shooting video.

On cameras:

People always ask, “What kind of camera?” I say, “Whatever camera fits in your hand.” It’s not about the camera, it’s about having an idea in your head and an eye. If you don’t have an eye, go have lunch.
On video:

You’ve got to be making film. It’s film that sells. People can’t take their eyes off of videos. I can put up any kind of film and they’ll stand there and watch it all the way to the end. But if it’s a still photograph they’ll glance at it and walk away. I’m going to take some of my digital films that are up on my website — and thank god I never posted them on YouTube — and I’m going to turn them into DVDs and try to sell them at MoMA and art museums as a DVD collection.
Read more from "After Staff" here; Resolve Blog here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Air Guitar Contest: vs.

Yes, there really are competitions for air guitarists. On KobreGuide, we proudly feature a short video profile, "Air Guitar Champ," by San Francisco Chronicle's Mike Kepka. Go watch -- it's hilarious.

When we lecture to classes about what makes videojournalism a distinctive medium, we often point to the visual virtues of Kepka's creative approach as an example of something you would not see on TV. And then we'll ask the class to imagine what a more conventional TV approach might look like and sound like. What elements would it contain?

Well, wonder no more. Every bit as good, in its own way, is Garland McLaurin's new 6-minute video from : "The U.S. Champions of Air Guitar." Its polished narration, on-camera interviews, and use of event B-roll are all unquestionably high quality. Though both stories share a theme, SFGate focuses on one individual, whereas Time pulls back the camera and introduces us to several participants. And without a doubt, Time's is certainly more traditionally TV-inspired and information-laden than what Kepka shows us on But some might argue that Kepka's quirky style makes his subject more memorable and, in its own way, provides the more emotionally enriching experience.

Both pieces are worthy of your attention, so please go take a look and let us know which you prefer -- and why.

When Life Hands You a Pink Slip, Make Lemonade

Here's a trailer for what looks to be a promising concept for a timely documentary called ""Lemonade," making the rounds on YouTube.

More than 70,000 advertising professionals have lost their jobs in this Great Recession. Lemonade is about what happens when people who were once paid to be creative in advertising are forced to be creative with their own lives.

Director Marc Colucci writes about the daunting experience of interviewing subjects about personal setbacks on the ad industry blog, "Please Feed the Animals."

We're looking forward to seeing the whole lemon!

Free Video Format Converter

Videojournalists may find this AVS Video Converter to be a useful tool for switching from one format to another -- a common problem when certain files can't be uploaded to video-sharing platforms that have strict limitations on the types of files they'll accept.

This one can handle most popular formats, including AVI, MPEG, WMV, MOV, QT, MP4, 3GP, FLV, and plenty more. Plus, you can use it to rip and burn videos to DVD (or copy DVDs to your hard drive). And it comes with a simple video editor -- for adding transitions, effects, titles -- though admittedly that's designed mainly for home video.

As a free download, the price is right for trying it out. The downside is that it's Windows only (not Mac).

P.S. The Website also offers free Audio Conversion software -- same idea, including audio editing capabilities.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Videojournalism Lessons Worth Sharing

Wonder what they're teaching the kids these days about videojournalism?

Greg Linch, recent University of Miami grad, now interning at the Dallas Morning News, strikes us as an ambitious and accomplished videojournalist-in-training.

He shares VJ lessons he's picked up along the way from notable practitioners on his blog, The Linchpen, as a bulletpointed "brain dump."

While we don't necessarily agree with all his advice, most tips are well observed, and at least serve as jumping off points for discussions about establishing protocols and standards for this ever evolving field.

Here's a sample, which you'll notice doesn't suffer from stuffy academese:

* The story rules. If it's all pretty pictures, make me a slideshow.

* Ditch standups. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hear you. I’m watching your video because I care about the subject — not you. Sorry.

* On that note, I don’t really want to see them talking either. More so if it’s just them sitting in a chair, in a boring office, with their boring talking head. The less talking head, the better. If I only see a talking head once, I’m happy.

* There’s a saying that audio is 70 percent of video. Most people are more forgiving if the visuals aren’t great, but if the audio sucks, they’re probably saying see ya. I can’t emphasize audio enough.

* Headphones. Always. It shouldn’t even need to be on here. And they’re not your be-all-end-all. The audio meter to see levels is your bestest friend in the whole wide world.

*Story. Just wanted to make sure you remembered.
... and our personal favorites:

* There’s no magic. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s almost all skills you can learn with practice.

* You’re doing an important job. Keep at it and kick butt.
So thanks and kudos to Greg, as we wish him well and look forward to following the next chapter of his career, starting this fall as a producer at Publish 2, an online collaborative journalism experiment that itself deserves watching.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why We Admire 'Shockwaves'

On Friday, KobreGuide showcased the New York Times video story, "Shockwaves Through My Soul," and we promised to share with you today why we admire it -- and what qualities distinguish it as first-rate videojournalism.

Naturally, everything we feature on KobreGuide is meritorious -- and adheres to our stringent criteria. But at the same time, we also realize that, with deadline pressures and limited resources, even the best stories won't excel in every category.

What we like about this particular story -- the tragic tale of Sgt. Jacob Blaylock, by Erica Goode and Rob Harris -- helps point out the deficiencies in so many other video stories we find on the Web.

So if you haven't already seen it, do so now; reading our comments first will only ruin your appreciation of it.

First, though the video is more than 15 minutes long, it feels like five -- not a wasted frame. And it hooks you instantly. Too many stories take way too long to capture your attention. Remember, when someone is watching a feature film, they've already purchased their ticket, and have settled into their seats with their popcorn and beverage. They're already a captive audience, willing to be patient if the story takes a few minutes to develop. Not so for Internet audiences, who are just a click away from the next distraction, and demand instant engagement.

At the same time, the opening of "Shockwaves" does not give away the story. Too many newspaper Websites are still offering videos that are structured like the fabled "inverted pyramid" that we all learned from wire service stylebooks -- they encapsulate the most important info at the top, and then provide details in decreasing order of importance. Imagine if Hollywood adhered to that formula!

Visually, the story blends stills, video, and official documents in creative ways. Unlike many stories that rely on a single narrator, this one draws upon multiple narrators and perspectives -- including Blaylock himself (via his video diary and songs), his military buddies, even Blaylock's girlfriend who was with him at the end.

Similarly, the audio employs a variety of narrators -- including the reporter's own spare yet insightful voiceover. Most powerfully, Blaylock's own haunting music tastefully provides the soundtrack for much of the piece.

Above all, we appreciate the story's narrative arc. It never gives away the tragic ending, but your sense of dread grows as you watch. Because Blaylock is referred to in the past tense throughout, you know it's going to end badly, but you're not sure how or why. As the outcome gradually becomes apparent, the story builds dramatically to that final denouement. In other words, it unfolds like a movie, not a news report. You'll notice the ending is deliberately not tipped in the headline, the subhead, nor the text description of the story.

What makes this story rise high above others like it is that it paints a much bigger; it dramatizes a much bigger issue. One man's sad story emblemizes a shocking trend. (In Blaylock's own relatively small unit, incredibly three others met his same sad fate.)

Finally, "Shockwaves Through My Soul" accomplishes the most difficult storytelling task of all. It packs a huge emotional wallop. It moves us. It makes us care. Once you watch the unsettling story of Sgt. Jacob Blaylock, you will never forget it.

Videojournalist Arrested While Shooting Healthcare Protest

Those Congressional healthcare reform public forums are getting ugly, with protesters disrupting and shouting down legitimate debate, and police being called in to calm things down.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch videojournalist Jake Wagman was arrested while shooting a recent such event, raising an age-old legal issue of photographer/videographer rights. (See Chapter 16 in "Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach")

You can see Wagman's own video of protesters at a town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, leading up to his arrest, here.

You can read the Post-Dispatch's story about the raucous event here, which includes an account of Wagman's arrest.

[Police spokesperson] Rich Eckhard said Wagman and a P-D photographer were repeatedly asked to back up and stop taking flash photographs because the bursts of light were making it hard for officers to see.

Wagman moved back, then came closer to the officers, he said. Eckhard did not know how close Wagman was to the officers, but said the reporter was asked several times to "stay back."

"We have to maintain the peace, we have to restore order," Eckhard said. "It's not time for debate at that time of the evening when you have assaults and people reacting to assaults."

Arnie Robbins, editor of the Post-Dispatch, issued this statement Friday.

"In arresting our reporter, we think the police overreacted and were overzealous. While we understand that police have difficult jobs and were in a volatile situation, we hope they understand that reporters, too, have difficult jobs and were in a volatile situation."

Robbins also said, "On two separate occasions, police asked our reporter to move farther away from the scene. He identified himself and complied -- he was also wearing his press badge clearly visible around his neck. On a third occasion, two police officers asked him to leave.

Before he could explain who he was and that he was standing where two other officers had told him to, a police officer counted to two, handcuffed him and arrested him. Even later, after identifying himself as a Post-Dispatch reporter, the police processed him.

"We absolutely think that our reporter handled himself responsibly. We absolutely do not think that charges are warranted," Robbins added.

Wagman was not using any type of lighting when videotaping. He said he was shooting video near a parking lot of Bernard Middle School when he was asked by a St. Louis County police officer to step back. Wagman, wearing a Post-Dispatch identification card around his neck, asked where he should stand. He was directed to an area of the sidewalk. He complied, he said.

A few minutes later, Wagman said, another officer asked him to move further away from the scene. Wagman identified himself as a reporter and did as he was told, he said.

Then two different officers approached the sidewalk where Wagman stood.

Here is Wagman's account of what happened next:

"A pair of officers began instructing everyone to leave. I asked, 'I'm not sure why I have to go.' (We were, after all, on public property - a school.)

"One of the officers responded, 'You can either leave now or come with me to jail.'

"I attempted to interject. He cut me off. He began counting. I attempted to interject again. I was unsuccessful.

"Once the officer's count reached 'two,' he grabbed my wrists and handcuffed me behind my back. My camera -- which had been recording the conversation - dropped to the ground."
Carlos Miller is a multimedia journalist who was arrested by Miami police after taking photos of them against their wishes, which he believes to be "a clear violation of my First Amendment rights." Since that arrest in Feb. 2007, he has been fighting a lengthy legal battle against the State of Florida to prove his innocence.

Miller wrote about the Wagman arrest on his Website, 'Photography is Not a Crime: It's a First Amendment Right,' where you can find archived accounts of similar situations.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New KobreGuide Top 10: 'Shockwaves Through My Soul'

KobreGuide brings you the Web's best videojournalism every day. The best of the best is reserved for our Top 10 section, and new entries there are rare.

Today we added a new selection.

It's the powerful and poignant story of Sgt. Jacob Blaylock (pictured), an American soldier whose return from Iraq was haunted by memories of fallen comrades. It's called 'Shockwaves Through My Soul,' by Erica Goode & Rob Harris for the New York Times.

It's a disturbing story that surprisingly gets us to know and care about its protagonist, even as it informs us about a bigger, darker picture.

There is much to commend about this moving video. Our first reaction when we watched it was, "This is why we created KobreGuide."

But first you need to see it for yourself. Anything we say beforehand will only detract from a viewer's own experience.

And we do want to talk about this video -- at length -- as we feel it abundantly illustrates all that is good and righteous about high-quality videojournalism. But not right now.

First, go watch it with fresh eyes. Then come back Monday, and we'll gladly share what we admire about this eloquently produced, heartfelt gem.

Where Can You Find the Best Video Storytelling Lessons? Hollywood!

Most of what passes for videojournalism these days is a collection of shots of people talking and, if we're lucky, showing us what they do. Big snore! What can be done to make these pieces more compelling, engaging, and, dare we say, entertaining?

Videojournalists need to learn visual storytelling techniques from the masters: Hollywood filmmakers.

No sense reinventing the wheel here -- we have a century of experience to draw upon. We encourage aspiring vidjos to pursue the examples of great screenwriters, directors, cinematographers, and editors -- and apply appropriate techniques to their non-fiction endeavours.

Here are three inspiring titles to get you started -- and collectively pull you through the three major aspects of telling stories visually: creating/composing your story, shooting it, and editing it. Ideally these should be intertwined endeavours, in that each step informs the others, and at every stage you should be contemplating all of them.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee

McKee's popular screenwriting course has been attended by thousands of wannabes -- but also most of Hollywood's top studio execs, actors, directors, and filmmakers of all stripes. This is that class's best-selling bible, and it's chockablock with the basic dramatic fundamentals that will help you shape and structure your video story.

Replete with script examples from more than 100 modern films, most will find McKee an easier read than Aristotle (who was the first kid on the block with these lessons a few centuries ago). Though this is obviously targeted for fictional moviemakers, any videojournalist who embraces its lessons in story elements and principles -- and how and why they hook audiences -- will find themselves far ahead of the game.

Character, crisis, climax, resolution, scene development -- it's all here, and can all be applied to non-fiction stories. Just knowing these components will automatically help guide your story planning and structure.

Setting Up Your Shots: Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know (2nd Ed.), by Jeremy Vineyard.

Every page of this cleanly designed book introduces you to a basic shooting style or technique (e.g. Jump Cut Sequence, or Split Screen), accompanied by illustrative line drawings and specific examples of movie scenes that incorporate it -- and why.

It's divided into sections such as "Composition Techniques" and "Techniques of Perspective" to help you sort out what's accomplished while shooting (e.g. with focus or camera movement) versus what's a byproduct of the editing process.

Even though you've seen and are familiar with many of these common techniques, just being visually reminded of their existence is often enough to get you thinking about the best way to shoot and edit your own videojournalism tale. You'll encounter ideas that may not have occurred to you, making it an invaluable reference work.

This new updated 2nd edition adds 25 techniques to the 1999 original -- along with references to 200 new films. It's guaranteed to improve your visual vocabulary and cinematic language, and hence expand your pallette when it comes to finding fresh, innovative ways to paint your story.

In our spare time, we've been fooling around with some of the simple shooting and editing techniques explained here -- Open Up, Close Out, Delayed Revelation -- and encourage you to be similarly playful with the selections as well. The more you try, the more you'll have "ready to go" when you need them. But as any professor would remind you, in actual practice don't go overboard -- it's also important to know when to exercise tasteful restraint.

In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing (2nd Ed.) , by Walter Murch.
Murch was Frances Coppola's go-to guy for all those years-long masterpiece projects. Though he is celebrated for his painstaking technique, it's also his vaunted aesthetics that makes this volume a must-read for anybody who sets a finger on Final Cut.

You'll get both philosophical musings and hardcore advice from the master whose work distinguished The Godfather II and III, Apocalypse Now, and a slew of celebrated films that owe their success, in large part, to their brilliant (if seemingly invisible) editing.

Murch's colorful career spans several generations of technological progress. This volume was originally published in 1995, the year that digital editing overtook linear editing. The updated second edition includes a lengthy Afterword devoted to digital that more than doubles the length of the book!

Although technical skills are critically important for editors, immerse yourself in Murch for a perfect blend of pragmatic and artistic considerations. After reading this, you'll never think of a simple "cut" in the same way again.

(NOTE: Instead of linking you to Amazon, we're encouraging you to patronize an independent bookseller or your local library.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

YouTube's 'News Near You': Really? Where?

This notion that YouTube will become your one-stop source for local news -- delivered by both professional and "citizen" journalists -- has been getting some attention lately, notably in the New York Times:

YouTube which already boasts of being “the biggest news platform in the world,” has created a News Near You feature that senses a user’s location and serves up a list of relevant videos. In time, it could essentially engineer a local newscast on the fly. It is already distributing hometown video from dozens of sources, and it wants to add thousands more.
But when we checked out its (deservedly) well-hidden "News Near You" feature, which has actually been around for months, we found that it's got a long ways to go.

First, we have to look at the potential merits of such a feature in the first place.

Ideally you'd find a cluster of locally produced videos related to nearby people, places, events, issues. At one end of the spectrum, some might be created by reputable media outlets; but at the other end, others might be generated by PR firms promoting clients who attach reputable-sounding names of ersatz organizations to their videos. (In other words, as with all YouTube endeavours, there's no reliable filter to discern credibility, much less quality.)

In between, you'd find "reports" from an army of "citizen journalists," ranging from semi-pros to rank amateurs. The quality of the visual aesthetics, the storytelling, and of course the journalism itself, can run the gamut.

But let's first ask: why zipcodes? Nowadays, is local news really local? If the Web has taught us anything, it's that our own backyards are bigger and further away and harder to locate than ever before. Sure, we want to know about crime rates and school budgets in our district -- and even what's on local restaurant menus and movie screens. But don't our interests extend beyond physical borders these days?

Who among us is looking online for what our geographic neighbors are doing? And if we can't trust and/or count on our local newspapers and TV stations to get it right, why are we suddenly willing to bank on novices?

OK, that's all hypothetical. Now let's examine the reality of YouTube's program.

First, as with everything on its site, the navigation is a horror -- confusing, complicated, dense, scattered, illogical. Go ahead, try to find this "News Near You" feature on your own.

OK, we'll help. First, find your way to the News section:

Then scroll down to "News Near You."

Here's the joke. In a major metropolitan neighborhood such as Los Angeles -- where presumably there's a lot of news near us -- we recently found only 14 videos, 12 of which were movie reviews and sports outtakes from the Los Angeles Times (e.g. a press conference interview with a skateboarder).

You can almost hear the newsroom conversation:

"What are we supposed to do with these pointless video clips?"

"Ah, throw 'em up on YouTube."

The other 2 were from OCRCRE. What's that? The Orange County Register's Real Estate section -- and they're not videos at all, but rather audio interviews that run while you're staring at an image of a realtor's ad.

Can you spell pathetic?

For all YouTube's bravado about entering (re-building!) the world of journalism, we've so far seen scant evidence of quality videojournalism.

Tellingly, YouTube can barely manage its own press coverage.

If you go to its own Press Room, it indicates that "YouTube's been getting a lot of press! Click here for some highlights."

But its own Media Coverage link takes you to a Web page that hasn't been updated since April 2008 -- sixteen months ago!

If YouTube's version of news serves any purpose, it's to remind us that we should all better appreciate -- and champion -- the efforts of our professionally produced hometown newspapers and TV stations to establish financially stable presences on the Web.

And if that means having to pay small subscription fees to keep them solvent, that's far superior to any of these amateurish automated news aggregation schemes we've seen so far.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We Have a Winner!

When we reached 1,234 members* of the KobreGuide Facebook Group, we had a drawing for a free Prof. Kobre Lightscoop (retail value $35), which dramatically improves SLR flash photography.

And our winner is.... Amanda Koster (right), whose SalaamGarage leads groups of visual journalists to Third World countries, where they work with NGOs to help raise funds and awareness for worthy projects.

Congratulations, Amanda! We hope you'll take your new Lightscoop on your upcoming excursions to India, Guatemala, and Vietnam, and let us know how you like it. (Better yet, show us!)

Thanks to all who've signed up for our KobreGuide Facebook Group. It's the best way to stay abreast of stories and developments. (And you can follow us on Twitter, too!)

And please keep an eye on all the great work Amanda is doing over at

* Our Facebook Group is now up to 1,252 members. If you haven't joined yet, please do -- and invite your friends.

'One in 8 Million' is Taking Your Questions Now

The New York Times multimedia staff that puts together its delicious 'One in 8 Million' weekly feature is now fielding viewers' questions.

'One in 8 Million' is an oral history project in which a different individual among New York City's 8 million residents is profiled each week of 2009. As Jodi Rudoren, deputy Metro editor, put it in a memo earlier this year: "The criteria for profile subjects are simple: Interesting person. Great talker. Never before mentioned in the NYT."
We get to know each person through their own images and accompanying audio, ranging from 'Michel Kramer-Metraux: Wedding Wardrober' to 'Mark Mocha: Ex Bank-Robber.'

Times staff members involved with producing 'One in 8 Million' are answering questions from readers Aug. 3-7, 2009, for its 'Talk to the Times' feature. Questions may be e-mailed to

P.S. Compare the Times' approach to individual 'everyday people' multimedia portraits with the Washington Post's similar 'On Being' weekly series.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dream Job Opening: Reporting About Journalism

Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab is looking for a full-time reporter and editor:

This person would do the kinds of things we do around here: tracking innovation in new and established newsrooms; investigating business models that can sustain quality journalism; and profiling people doing new things with technology and news.
What a dream assignment!

Official job posting is here. Good luck!

Free Online Tutorial: Final Cut Studio

We've already told you about topnotch online training in multimedia software at

Now you can sample their entire set of tutorials for the new Final Cut Studio suite for free. Offer is good for members and non-members.

Full production studios and one-man shops alike need to learn the features of Apple's professional suite of video and audio production applications. In Final Cut Studio Overview, author and Apple Certified Instructor Damian Allen gives a crash-course in this all-in-one solution for any video studio or freelance editor.

Damian gives a quick look into each application in the studio, highlighting selected new features for experienced users. From video editors, color graders, motion graphic artists, and movie scorers, there is something for everyone in Final Cut Studio Overview.
Truthfully, most of it will be overkill for typical one-man-band backpack vidjos. But, as we always say, there's no such thing as too much education. And the price is right!

Should you decide to sign up for other classes (at a reasonable $25/month for all you can eat), check out's latest in its "Creative Inspiration" series.

It's about PowerPoint.

PowerPoint?!?!? Those horrid presentations that every Dilbert in the world is forced to sit through?

Well, this isn't your father's PowerPoint. It's taught by Nancy and Mark Duarte, the wife-and-husband team behind Al Gore’s famous slide show about global warming. They have built a thriving business out of creating high-impact PowerPoint presentations for prominent high-tech companies: Duarte Design.
This installment of Creative Inspirations tells the story of how this power duo elevated PowerPoint presentations to arguably the most compelling form of modern media. Nancy will be the first to tell you that it’s not the technology that matters most, but the story.
And that's a lesson we at KobreGuide can stand behind.