Friday, October 30, 2009

What Hath Satan Wrought?

It was 40 years ago this week that a computer at UCLA "talked" to a computer at Stanford, thus paving the way for what would become the Internet and, in the '90s, the Web.

If you click on the image at the top right, you'll see a record of the first message sent over the ARPANET, as it was then called, as annotated and preserved by Leonard Kleinrock, who is still a UCLA computer professor.

This record is an excerpt from the "IMP Log" that we kept at UCLA. I was supervising the student/programmer Charley Kline (CSK) and we set up a message transmission to go from the UCLA SDS Sigma 7 Host computer to the SRI SDS 940 Host computer. The transmission itself was simply to "login" to SRI from UCLA. We succeeded in transmitting the "l" and the "o" and then the system crashed! Hence, the first message on the Internet was "Lo!".
And behold!

In their 40th-anniversary salutes this week, an astonishing number of media outlets got their chronology all wrong, and placed the oft-designated "fathers of the Internet," Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, at the scene on Oct. 29, 1969.

In fact, it wasn't until the early 70s that Kahn and Cerf invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), the technologies used to transmit information on the Internet.

Cerf is now Google's Chief Internet Evangelist, and in this 2008 Beet.TV video interview, he provides some interesting perspective on the future of the Web, especially as it relates to video consumption.

You'll find good articles about the birth and development of the Internet in Forbes, and in the Guardian of London. Forbes also has an excellent Internet Anniversary quiz.

A day after the anniversary, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced that it would accept Web addresses (URLs) in non-Latin letters, meaning that next year you'll start seeing Websites in Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Hindi, Cyrillic (Russian), and, most prominently, Chinese.

"This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet," ICANN's President and CEO Rod Beckstrom said.

From our perspective, nothing has evolved as much as video. When we built our first Website in the early '90s, there were less than 1,000 Websites in existence, and most of them were known as "personal pages," manually catalogued by Yahoo (in that pre-database, pre-Google era). Everything was "flush left" and with a 14K modem, it took forever for a small still image to load. You'd pray it didn't crash your computer, forcing you to reboot. Video? Fuhgetaboutit! If you wanted to view a 5-second clip, you'd start downloading it at bedtime to view when you awoke in the morning.

Now, of course, you can watch entire movies and TV episodes via the Web, and we're at the point where the Web is becoming the primary media outlet for video production and consumption. And though more than 1.6 billion people around the world are connected to the network, that still represents only a fifth of the planet's population -- so adventures aplenty lie ahead.

We planned to write this ode on Thursday, the actual anniversary date, but we've been laid low with a nasty cold. So, yes, you might well ask, why is it that we can befriend thousands of strangers from places we've never been, and communicate with them in real time, for free, halfway around the planet ... and we still can't find a cure for the common cold?

Free Alternatives to Essential Multimedia Tools

On his 10,000 Words blog, Mark S. Luckie offers free alternatives to seven of the most commonly used software programs used to create multimedia stories.

His roundup includes programs for Web design, video editing, audio editing, photo editing, audio-slideshow creation, word processing, and even a substitute for Flash.

So if you want to save some money, and don't mind working with less familiar versions of Photoshop or Final Cut, you might want to start looking here.

BONUS: 10,000 words also offers invaluable tips for shooting better videos, here and here.

Death of the DSLR Camera?

Does the popularity (and high quality) of digital point-and-shoots spell doom for digital SLR cameras?

Gearlog, "a gadget guide by geeks, for geeks," thinks so.

As small auto-everything 35mm point-and-shoot cameras began to be able to create SLR-like images, SLR sales dwindled. We're on the precipice of the same thing happening in the digital world. Consumer DSLRs are going down.

How popular are DSLR cameras? According to the Camera & Imaging Products Association, DSLRs accounted for 8 percent of camera shipments in August. That may not sound like much, but considering that most DSLRs cost $500 to $1000, compared with point-and shoots that often cost $100 to $300, this is impressive.

Consumer-level DSLRs won't go away; they didn't in the film days, and they won't now. But they'll become marginalized as more and more people turn toward more convenient alternatives.
Gearlog's report provides fascinating historical context regarding the technological advances in cameras over the past half century.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Your Dream Documentary?

We've started a new discussion topic on the KobreGuide Facebook Group page.

If funding weren't an issue, what would you make a feature-length documentary about?

What other obstacles would you need to surmount besides raising money?

Click the "Discussions" tab and join the conversation.

L.A. Times: Your Videos Are an Embarassment

Forgive us if we sound grouchy, but the Los Angeles Times has put us in a real funk. Why? With each passing day, the quantity and quality of their once superlative videojournalism is rapidly declining. In fact, it pains us to say, it's become an embarassment.

Months ago, we wondered why they went so far as to remove their video player from their homepage altogether. A top exec there explained to us that they were revamping and redesigning their video player, and rethinking their multimedia strategies. He assured us that their video stories would be back, bigger and better than ever.

That hasn't happened. Mostly we're stuck with their (print-edition) film and TV critics looking into a camera and reading their latest review. So today we're handing out some tough love.

What on earth is going on over there? Sure, the paper is smarting from all the same economic woes that have befallen everyone in the journalism biz. But there are small-town papers, with a tiny fraction of their staff and budget, that are producing much better video stories.

Perhaps it's especially shocking and dismaying for us, because it was a powerful Los Angeles Times audio slideshow, Marlboro Marine, that helped inspire us to launch KobreGuide in the first place. The Times itself had done such an amazing job of hiding its own gems, that we decided to create a Website that would ferret out the best videojournalism stories on the Web and put them under one roof, so that even viewers outside a newspaper's territory could enjoy them.

But we've been scouring the L.A. Times lately for more great stories like that, and they're few and far between. Despite what they're telling us, they've clearly reversed course on making video a priority. Go to the site yourself, and see how long it takes you to find ANY video, much less any video worth watching.

So here's what happened today that really put us in a snarky mood.

First, we saw this tweet, from the L.A. Times' own Twitter feed:

Video: Reporter Alana Semuels on how the housing slump has hurt timber towns. Read more at
Well! We got excited! Sounds like a terrific concept for a video piece. If they sent a good videojournalist to one of those towns, just imagine what a terrific visual story you'd get!

But we clicked the link, and were taken here. Actually, we're going to spell out the entire URL for you, to re-emphasize how un-"user-friendly" newspaper content-management software has become:,0,3380214.story

Once we arrived, we found a well reported, well written text story, on a worthy topic, by reporter Alana Semuels:

Housing slump hits California timber industry like a buzz saw

Weak demand for lumber is forcing some mills to close and leaving many loggers and truckers unemployed.
We also found a link to an uninspired "photo gallery" -- PHOTOS: Housing downturn hits logging town -- made especially more disconcerting by the fact that the seven images are on a separate Web page, making them feel utterly useless and detached from the article itself (which is an uninviting ocean of gray text). Why couldn't the pix be scattered throughout the text, for more visual appeal, as the print version no doubt would design it?

Next we see a link to a "Graphic" :

Graphic: Lumbering along

Again, on a separate Web page, we are shown bar graphs depicting slumps in the price of wood and lumber production, and a California map highlighting towns where sawmills closed. It looks as boring and uninspired as a science textbook. We're guessing that an editor or art director was ordered to attend a Webinar on how to tart up Web stories, and now routinely assigns unimaginative charts and graphs that are exercises in civic duty, not audience engagement.

So where's the video???? Nowhere to be seen!

Adventurous souls that we are, we do what no mortal should be expected to do -- search high and low for it. Among lists of text links at the very BOTTOM of the L.A. Times Web pages, under the heading "Multimedia," you will find a tiny link for "video." We clicked it.

That takes you to a page of one of the saddest collections of newspaper video we've ever encountered. Among a batch of badly arranged and unenticing thumbnail images (with similarly blah text descriptions), we find this: "Housing slump hits California timber industry..."

Going where probably no human has gone before, we click it.

It takes us to this page:

(Again, look at that unwieldy URL!)

...with this title:

"Housing slump hits California timber industry like a buzz saw"

And there, at last, is our video. We rub our hands in anticipation. Hard-hitting investigative videojournalism, that takes us behind the scenes of the text story? Introduces us to the major players? Lets us hear the tale in their own words? Shows us the problem up close with impactful and memorable visuals?

Not a prayer.

Here's what we get for our scavenging efforts:

A 44-second video of reporter Alana Semuels, seated against a black background, doing nothing more than introducing herself to the camera, and reading a text description of her print story.

Thanks to their proprietary and problematic video player (that the paper spent months and mucho dineros developing), a huge "PAUSE" icon obscures her face throughout the entire presentation.

See for yourself:

Now, as though this isn't horrid enough, imagine if you somehow stumbled across this video, and now wanted to actually read the story it's touting? Obviously all you need to do is click the link right next to the video to take you there, right? The link that says... well... hmmmm...

Actually, there is no link whatsoever to the print story. So if you start with the video, good luck finding the story it wants you to read. Which makes you wonder: What was the point of the video in the first place? It invites you to read a story that you'll have to work hard to find. (Remember, we got to the text story via a Twitter posting that advertised "video." ) Did the multimedia department need to fill its daily quota of "Videos on $5 a Day"? Or did they just figure, screw it -- who cares about the boring old California lumber industry? It's opening weekend for Michael Jackson's movie.


Despite promises to the contrary, the L.A. Times joins the ranks of newspapers that are missing a golden opportunity to apply resources to the future of journalism. The media institution should be a shining beacon; instead it's a disgrace.

It's a chicken-and-egg situation that we know well -- the L.A. Times won't spend money on video because they say nobody's viewing it... But nobody's viewing it, because it's so lousy!... Plenty of people are watching engaging, informative, high quality nonfiction video -- and their numbers are increasing. The New York Times has wisely positioned itself in the vanguard of superlative videojournalism, having committed to a staff, budget, and Website navigation scheme that ensure an appreciative and devoted following. It's way past time for the L.A. Times to get with the program.

C'mon, L.A. Times! Here's your opportunity. Half-hearted steps lead nowhere. You've still got more resources and talent than most media institutions these days. Apply them to video. You won't be sorry.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Free Download: 6 x 6 Videojournalism E-Book

We've previously alerted you to Adam Westbrook's valuable "6 x 6" blog series of tips for videojournalists.

Now he's updated and assembled them into a 32-page e-book, that's available as a free download.

It’s also packed with bonus tips which you won’t find in the series itself, plus a page of resources and links to help you on your way. The six chapters cover the technical skills, like video, audio & storytelling, plus the non-technical skills, like branding & business.
No need to even register or fill out forms. All the London-based journalist and teacher asks, in exchange for the free download, is that you "hit me with feedback, good or bad. What did it miss out? What would you put in?"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

CJR: The Reconstruction of American Journalism

"The Reconstruction of American Journalism," a comprehensive, in-depth report by Leonard Downie, Jr., and Michael Schudson, for the Columbia Journalism Review, is mandatory reading.

Leonard Downie Jr. is vice president at large and former executive editor of The Washington Post and Weil Family Professor of Journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Michael Schudson is a professor of communication at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The report proposes "new steps for maintaining a vibrant, independent press, with special emphasis on local 'accountability journalism' that is essential to civic life."

(Commentary from five responders, and a podcast with the authors, can be found here.)

Some highlights:
What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis, and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs....

Reporting is becoming more participatory and collaborative. The ranks of news gatherers now include not only newsroom staffers, but freelancers, university faculty members, students, and citizens. Financial support for reporting now comes not only from advertisers and subscribers, but also from foundations, individual philanthropists, academic and government budgets, special interests, and voluntary contributions from readers and viewers. There is increased competition among the different kinds of news gatherers, but there also is more cooperation, a willingness to share resources and reporting with former competitors. That increases the value and impact of the news they produce, and creates new identities for reporting while keeping old, familiar ones alive. “I have seen the future, and it is mutual,” says Alan Rusbridger, editor of Britain’s widely read Guardian newspaper. He sees a collaborative journalism emerging, what he calls a “mutualized newspaper.”

The Internet has made all this possible, but it also has undermined the traditional marketplace support for American journalism. The Internet’s easily accessible free information and low-cost advertising have loosened the hold of large, near-monopoly news organizations on audiences and advertisers. As this report will explain, credible independent news reporting cannot flourish without news organizations of various kinds, including the print and digital reporting operations of surviving newspapers. But it is unlikely that any but the smallest of these news organizations can be supported primarily by existing online revenue. That is why—at the end of this report—we will explore a variety and mixture of ways to support news reporting, which must include non-market sources like philanthropy and government....

What is bound to be a chaotic reconstruction of American journalism is full of both perils and opportunities for news reporting, especially in local communities. The perils are obvious. The restructuring of newspapers, which remain central to the future of local news reporting, is an uphill battle. Emerging local news organizations are still small and fragile, requiring considerable assistance—as we have recommended—to survive to compete and collaborate with newspapers. And much of public media must drastically change its culture to become a significant source of local news reporting.

Yet we believe we have seen abundant opportunity in the future of journalism. At many of the news organizations we visited, new and old, we have seen the beginnings of a genuine reconstruction of what journalism can and should be. We have seen struggling newspapers embrace digital change and start to collaborate with other papers, nonprofit news organizations, universities, bloggers, and their own readers. We have seen energetic local reporting startups, where enthusiasm about new forms of journalism is contagious, exemplified by Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis when he says, “I am living a dream.” We have seen pioneering public radio news operations that could be emulated by the rest of public media. We have seen forward-leaning journalism schools where faculty and student journalists report news themselves and invent new ways to do it. We have seen bloggers become influential journalists, and Internet innovators develop ways to harvest public information, such as the linguistics doctoral student who created the Congressional voting database. We have seen the first foundations and philanthropists step forward to invest in the future of news, and we have seen citizens help to report the news and support new nonprofit news ventures. We have seen into a future of more diverse news organizations and more diverse support for their reporting.

All of this is within reach. Now, we want to see more leaders emerge in journalism, government, philanthropy, higher education, and the rest of society to seize this moment of challenging changes and new beginnings to ensure the future of independent news reporting.
Read the entire report here.

Photojournalists: 'Seek Justice' to Win a Canon Kit

Want to win a Canon EOS 5D Mark II Premium Kit?

The Centre for Documentary Practice (CDP) seeks to support an emerging documentary photographer who submits the best-judged folio that aims to Seek Justice. The prize, a Canon EOS 5D Mark II Premium Kit, is designed to contribute to the continuation of, or an extension of, the submitted project synopsis. The CDP Award is free to enter.
The folio may be on any subject but must have the intent to be used to make a positive difference to the subject or the context in which the subject exists.

The award will be judged by two of the keynote speakers from the CDP Online Symposium: Seeking Justice. The winner will be announced December 14, 2009.

You are eligible if you are not represented by a gallery or agency and have not worked (earned a salary or wage) as a photojournalist for more than five years. Only one entry per person is allowed.
Deadline: Nov. 30, 2009

Enter here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Q&A with 'Real Florida' VJ Maurice Rivenbark

Every weekday, KobreGuide selects and showcases an example of the best videojournalism on the Web. We shoot for a variety of topics, themes, and sources. This week, we're trying something a little different. As we noted on Monday, we're devoting all five slots this week to a single videojournalist, Maurice Rivenbark, featuring stellar videos from his "Real Florida" series on the St. Petersburg Times Website.

"Mo" Rivenbark has been a staff photojournalist at the St. Petersburg Times since 1981. He has photographed stories throughout Florida, across the United States and abroad. Over the last couple of years Rivenbark has additionally been producing video stories for the paper .

Rivenbark often collaborates with Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg, producing video reports to accompany and augment the writer’s “Real Florida” series about Florida culture and people who make the state unique.

So far this week, we've featured "The Classy Bikini Bicyclist" (pictured), "Clyde Butcher Photographs on Lake Kissimmee," and "The Gator Symphony." Look for the next two this Thursday and Friday.

We emailed Rivenbark some questions about his work. Here are his generous responses:

1. Can you tell us what the biggest challenges have been in putting together these videos?

Thinking ahead and thinking about the story as you shoot it, especially the audio. To produce these reports without voice-overs, you have to get the subjects to tell you the story in ways you can use. Sometimes that is from a sit-down interview and often it's interviewing as you shoot.

2. What is your impetus/inspiration for telling these stories?

I've worked with Jeff on stories over the years and always enjoyed it. Most of his stories make great video reports online in addition to our printed newspaper. Additionally, I've been focusing on stories that I can shoot in high definition and then pull the stills from the video for print. It's been working very well on these and we are now starting to expand the process into daily reports.

3. Do you face any particular technical challenges?

Obtaining solid audio, be it natural sound or interviews, is always something I pay close attention to. And since I depend on the video images for the stills, it can be very challenging working in low light conditions to get clean sharp video frames at times. However, I find it a far smoother process to not switch between shooting stills and video, but to use one tool to its full potential. Up to this point that tool has been the a true video camera. As I start using the new DSLRs which capture HD video, it may make switching easier switching between stills and video, but I expect I will still shoot mostly video and pulls stills from the video. Much of that has to do with the somewhat different approach you take in producing a video story and knowing when simply shooting a still would be best. In the past when I have shot stills in addition to video, I have most always ending up going with frame grabs in the end.

4. As a still photographer, what have you had to learn about audio?

Without a doubt, audio is the center of the video story. Coming from a still photo background, it took me a bit to realize that you can have great video images, but without complete audio you are sunk. Often much of the audio and natural sound comes from having the subject wear a wireless mic throughout the shoot.

5. What surprised you most in preparing these stories?

I continue to be amazed at how folks are so willing to share their stories and for the most part how comfortable they are with the process. I expected the video camera to be a major barrier between myself and the subjects, yet far more often than not, it's a bond between us.

6. How are these video reports different from those you have done in the past as a still photographer?

The stories are quite the same, but the process and the reward are much different for me. I have to know and understand the story clearly and gather far more material to work with than I would have in the past. Many of the good sequences in the video are a small picture story in themselves, something I'm still working to improve. Next the video editing process takes far more time than editing, toning and captioning the stills alone. Cutting or editing the video is similar to the writing process. While I have no talent for writing, I find great reward in producing a video report that compliments the printed story or can stand on its own.

7. How do you collaborate with the print reporter and editor? Challenges? Division of duties?

Jeff and I work much the same way we use to. Generally I'm listening and shooting during his interview and reporting. Sometimes I'll ask questions - just as I would have in the past. The real difference now is that I generally do another short interview to get the audio that I'll need to weave the story together. When I proposed the idea of video reports to Jeff in the beginning, his only concern was that we not turn it into a broadcast TV type of report and on that front I think we've been quite successful.

8. Because so many of our viewers are either professional or student photographers or videojournalists, we like to tell them a little about the technical aspects of putting together a story. What equipment do you use?

SLR camera: Canon
Video camera: The primary camera I use is the Canon XH A1, sometimes the Canon Vixia series and even the Canon PowerShot SXi was used for one of the stories entirely.
Lenses: Canon - various still lenses
Tripod: Manfrotto carbon with video head
Shotgun mic: Sennheiser
Wireless mic: Sennheiser
Lavalier mic: Sennheiser
Computer: MacPro desktop and MacBook in the field
Editing software: Final Cut Pro

9. Any other comments about your stories you’d like to share with our viewers?

While we were late to start into video at the Times, we learned from what others were already doing. In addition to looking online at places like the Washington Post, I made a trip to the Dallas Morning News early on which helped me grow. But from the beginning the knowledge and direction that our Senior Video Producer Jack Rowland brought to the table has been invaluable.

I am convinced that as the industry moves forward, every photojournalist needs to be skilled in in producing a solid video story in addition to powerful still images. The cameras we all will soon be using will make that possible - and I know our audience will surely expect it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poynter Assesses Future of Newspaper Video

On the occasion of last week's demise of in Las Vegas, Poynter columnist Ken Sands surveys the relatively high cost and low quality of newspaper video efforts:

In discussions with a handful of video journalists, these themes have emerged:

* There's a market for good video, especially in big cities, but good video is too labor-intensive to be cost-effective.

* It's very easy to produce amateurish video, but difficult to sell advertising into it.

* As a result, video often is the first thing cut from downsizing newsrooms.

The question, amid all of the cuts in the newspaper industry, is who will be best-positioned to take advantage of money-making video opportunities if and when they emerge?
Read Sands' article... and share your thoughts.

Bill Eppridge Awarded Missouri Honor Medal

Celebrated photojournalist Bill Eppridge receives one of the profession's highest honors, the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, from the Missouri School of Journalism today.

The award is "in recognition of his more than 45 years as a photojournalist, capturing for the people of the world critical moments in the history of the world."
Bill Eppridge, a 1960 Missouri alum, has covered a remarkable assortment of stories for Life, National Geographic and Sports Illustrated magazines. He was a staff photographer for the original weekly Life during the 1960s until the magazine folded in 1972. His assignment list reads like a history book of current events covering the latter half of the 20th century.

Eppridge recorded the Beatles' first momentous visit to the United States and photographed Barbra Streisand on the verge of superstardom. He was the only photographer admitted into Marilyn Lovell's home as her husband, Jim, orbited the moon in the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft.

Eppridge went to Vietnam, captured Clint Eastwood on the set of Dirty Harry and was at the original Woodstock Music Festival. His landmark photographic essay on heroin addiction in Needle Park won a National Headliner Award and inspired the motion picture, "Panic in Needle Park," which starred actor Al Pacino. That photo essay is included in "Things As They Are: Photojournalism in Context Since 1955," the 2005 ICP award-winning book by World Press Photo.

Eppridge is a past recipient of the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award, the National Press Photographers Association's highest honor. He was on the road with Robert F. Kennedy, covering his 1966 and 1968 presidential campaigns for Life magazine, when he took one of the decade's most poignant and iconic photographs: a stunned Los Angeles busboy, Juan Romero, cradling the candidate in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, just seconds after Robert Kennedy was shot. Those photographs are in Eppridge's most recent book, "A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties."


* Bill Epperidge bio
* Award announcement
* About the Honor Medal

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why Still Photographers Need to Make the Transition to Video

From In the New Media World, Photographers Who Embrace Change Will Succeed, by Wayne Ford (pictured), on the "Black Star Rising" blog.
As an art director, I can certainly envision photographers utilizing their skills across a number of emerging sectors to broaden their commercial base and fill the voids left by declines elsewhere.

For example, it was predicted at the recent Online News Association conference in San Francisco that by 2012, 95 percent of all online content will be video. Even if that figure proves optimistic, that is certainly the direction we are heading. And that presents opportunities for photographers.

A photographer assigned to produce a portrait for a magazine, for example, could easily produce a short sound-bite video of the portrait subject to accompany the story online. Using a camera like the video-enabled Canon 5D, there would be no need to bring additional equipment.

Taking advantage of this access gives the photographer an inside track as the market for online video continues to grow.

'Real Florida' Video Series on KobreGuide

Maurice Rivenbark has been a staff photojournalist at the St. Petersburg Times since 1981. He has photographed stories throughout Florida, across the United States and abroad. Over the last couple of years Rivenbark has additionally been producing video stories for the Times’ Website .

Rivenbark often collaborates with Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg, producing video reports to accompany and augment the writer’s “Real Florida” series about Florida culture and people who make the state unique.

This week, KobreGuide proudly showcases five videos we’ve selected from this popular series, and we’ll be featuring one per day. Though they are self-contained, we also provide links to their companion text column, so that you may enjoy the complete package.

We hope you agree that the Rivenbark-Klinkenberg teamwork is a winning formula that other newspapers should seriously consider adopting for their own locales.

So keep an eye on KobreGuide's St. Petersburg Times channel this week. Enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2009

A New Golden Age of Visual Journalism: KobreGuide's First Anniversary (Part 2)

I conceived of KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism when I could not easily locate quality multimedia and video online. I knew it was out there because I had looked hard to find it. Today, with the KobreGuide assembling all the best multimedia and videojournalism stories in one place, I have for the past year been wowed by the range and quality of the material being produced around the world using this story-telling format.

Since the KobreGuide launched last year, I also have witnessed a vast improvement in the overall quality of multimedia/videojournalism, often produced by former newspaper and magazine still photojournalists. Many of these talented shooters working for local papers or national magazines were handed an audio recorder and/or video camera and told to start making multimedia stories -- while, of course, they were still shooting their daily print assignments.

The first attempts of these newbie multimedia makers were not always polished. Photographers had to learn the skills of interviewing, voiceover, and collecting natural sound. Even their shooting approach had to change. No longer was it enough to watch and wait for the one telling shot that would make the front page or magazine cover, or win a Pulitzer. No longer did the photographer need only seven dynamite pictures for a picture page. The multimedia photojournalist had to bring back 40 good shots -- enough images to cover a 3- to 5- minute multimedia piece. The multimedia photojournalist had to capture images that would serve as transitions, images that would carry a story line, images that would reveal the past or anticipate the future.

Still photographers, who were at home with their Nikons or Canons, were handed a Sony or Panasonic video camera and expected to quickly master this new hardware, which featured strange buttons, XLR plugs and shotgun mics. Not only does a videocamera take pictures at 29 frames per second, it also simultaneously records sound. Photojournalists were expected to interview subjects and gather far more information than traditionally necessary for photo captions.

Still photographers, whose former sole job was to capture meaningful still images to accompany a writer’s story, were now expected to become the writer, the producer and the editor of their story in the new online world. They were tossed into the role of soloist in a one-man-band, with an unfamiliar instrument.

While some photographers balked at the assignment, others leapt into the fray. They had, in fact, chosen photojournalism in order to tell stories with pictures. Now they had their chance. No longer stymied by a lack of space to run photos in the newspaper or magazine, no longer second fiddle to reporters, the new multimedia/videojournalists could find, report, shoot, interview and produce a complete, comprehensive, original package without depending on anyone else.

Today, former newspaper and magazine photojournalists have morphed into complete visual storytellers. Newspapers from the St. Petersburg Times to the Spokane Spokesman-Review are producing memorable multimedia stories. The Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times showcase strong short documentaries daily. For many photojournalists, online multimedia and videojournalism have inaugurated a new “Golden Age” of compelling visual journalism.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

KobreGuide Celebrates Its First Anniversary (Part 1)

KobreGuide officially celebrates its first anniversary this month.

It all started several years ago when we were researching two new chapters for the sixth edition of "Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach" -- Video and Multimedia.

Both endeavours were in their infancy, and searching for online examples proved frustrating -- not only because they were scarce, but the noteworthy ones were also well hidden. Major media outlets did not yet know quite what to do with this new hybrid form of visual journalism, and how to integrate it with their text stories and still photographs.

That became the impetus for KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism -- a one-stop showcase for the creme de la creme.

Though we started searching in earnest for first-rate examples of videojournalism nearly two years ago, it wasn't until October 2008 that we had put the finishing touches on the Website and uploaded nearly 100 video stories from the nation's major media outlets.

Jim McNay, an old friend and colleague who had run the photojournalism programs at Brook Institute and San Jose State University, did the bulk of that initial pre-launch search, plowing through scores of Websites to find the proverbial needles in the haystacks. Subsequently, two accomplished former students -- Kathy Strauss and Beth Renneisen -- have served as our primary scouts.

Since this KobreGuide trio has individually and collectively looked at more online videojournalism than just about any humans on the planet, we thought this would be an appropriate juncture to ask them to share with us their perceptions of the current state of the art...



The most fun looking for stories to post on KobreGuide has been the chance to find previously unknown little multimedia story gems and shining a light on them for a wider audience.

Sometimes that has been discovering work by someone beginning a career. This happened when we received a tip about Jenn Ackerman’s story called “Trapped: Mental Illness in America’s Prisons.” Since producing this story Ackerman attended the selective Eddie Adams Workshop, has done work for the New York Times, and this year, won an Emmy for this story. And many of you saw it here first. Cool.

Another little pocket of storytelling gold has been the work of our neighbors to the north. We don’t often think much about Canadian soldiers fighting in the Middle East, but a Toronto Star story, “Without Warning” of a returned fighter has its own sudden turn in the presentation that goes off like a visual IED. It’s an unexpected surprise. On a more upbeat note, Toronto Globe and Mail journalists bring us “A Farm Family” in which a farmer goes abroad, finds a wife and saves his family farm. The story runs counter to what we so often hear about farms forced to close. That makes the story a delightful surprise.

So here’s to many more years of the opportunity to surprise and delight audiences. Happy viewing!



It’s been exciting combing the Web for videos over this past year. Papers like the New York Times, Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News are dedicating great resources for multimedia while other papers are cutting way back.

It’s surprising how difficult it is some weeks to find anything to post on our site and then, bingo, a real winner surfaces once again. Clearly many publications are frantically trying to predict the future and to decide where to put their energies. Maybe it’s a leap of faith to put their resources into visual storytelling but clearly the stories that make us laugh, cry and think are the most powerful ones.

It’s not just the fulltime staffers producing these stories. AARP hires freelancers for moving stories such as “A Day with Francisco,” by Michelle Cassel and “Silverton Saves its Paper,” by Sonya Doctorian. Small film fests like “Media That Matters” uncover heartwarming independent productions such as “Looking Back,” by Emile Bokaer. These are the stories which in the past would have been published as photo stories in the paper. Now they are the stories that keep our attention and stay with us long after the video ends.



In spite of the lip service the industry has given video, actually finding it on news sites can be a frustrating treasure hunt. Sites may include a video tab in their top navigation bar, only list video in small type at the very bottom of the home page, lump it in with multimedia, or not flag video content at all. If a video player (or icon for same) is not displayed with a current story on a home or section page, a user would not know to look for it elsewhere, even though — as evidenced by YouTube — a good evergreen video has a far better shelf life online than a typical text story.

Conversely, the stand-alone video player of a site may not indicate that there is a text story to accompany it. Since some editors prefer non-redundant text/video combinations, the video may lack context without the print story. A good example of this was “David Byrne Bike Ride" found on Byrne, of the rock band Talking Heads, was ironically just that in this seemingly pointless video. A camera was apparently mounted on his handlebars, and shot skyward toward his head while he pedaled and talked about traffic — never actually showing any of his surroundings. On further investigation, it was determined that this video was related to the release of Byrne’s new book on bicycling the world, which was not indicated anywhere in the video component. The “talking head” point of view of the video could have been intended as 1:29 minutes of intentional irony — but the concept only made sense if the viewer was familiar with the back story. (Subsequently, the New York Times did a much better job with the same material.)

Technical issues may also confound the user on some sites. Video libraries are not being maintained as carefully as print archives, rendering searches futile, and links that previously worked may disappear on second visit, or not work when shared with others. Video players load too slowly, and connections to a story or other parts of a series may not work. Worst of all, the player itself may not stream the video well, emitting sketchy audio, sticking on a frame, or pixelating. Even Newsday, while investing copious time and money in high-quality video production, has an attractive, but unreliable video player.

This is not just an issue for locating and playing video. How well a site actually functions when items are clicked, its quickness of response, and relevance of its design elements to their topics is crucial in determining a site’s overall success or failure — regardless of the site’s content or appearance. Poor performance is known to be just as important as weak aesthetics in sending a visitor immediately elsewhere.

Bottom line: You can’t see the light if there’s a basket over it. Put video where users can easily find it, and make it easy for them to play it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

MediaStorm Videos Focus on Street & Circus Acts

MediaStorm has posted the results of its fifth weeklong Advanced Multimedia Reporting Workshop, held last month in New York.

Six pros formed two teams to hone their skills by creating high-quality stories incorporating audio, video, still photography, and editing -- under the tutelage and supervision of MediaStorm's seasoned producers.

Both videos are highly recommended viewing -- as well as the behind-the-scenes video that introduces you to the videojournalists-in-training.

* Family Kocktail, by Deanne Fitzmaurice, Stan Alcorn and Doug Grant. (6:50)

Kryssy Kocktail was a loner who dreamed of running away from her troubled family to join the circus. Now she eats fire, lays on a bed of nails and sits on an electric chair as a performer in the Coney Island Circus Sideshow in Brooklyn, NY. In realizing one dream, she discovers another: to be a part of a family.
* The Art of Attraction, by Paolo Black, Melissa Pracht and Scott Lituchy. (11:45)

The New York Post called acrobatic street-artist twins Tic and Tac "The Best Buskers in New York City." At seven, twins Kareem and Tyheem Barnes were playing hooky from school and break-dancing on trains for $50 a day each. Tic and Tac catapult themselves into New York's iconic home of street-artists, Washington Square Park, where they pull crowds and big money with their neck-crushing acrobatics.
* Behind the Scenes, by Maisie Crow. (9:05)

MediaStorm intern Maisie Crow takes us behind the scenes of the MediaStorm Advanced Multimedia Reporting Workshop, to see six participants join the MediaStorm team to conceive, report, and produce two multimedia stories over the course of a week... The six participants included a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer, the head of visual communications at a major international corporation, editors at NGOs, a university photographer, and a brand consultant.
The next MediaStorm workshop will be held in New York, Feb. 20-26, 2010. Tuition is $3,500. Application deadline is Dec. 14.

Frankencamera Downloads Apps Like an iPhone

Imagine if your camera worked like an iPhone and enabled you to download applications that could alter your images while they were being shot?

Currently your camera can tweak your images in numerous ways -- and once an image is shot, you can revamp it endlessly in a program like Photoshop.

But even the world's greatest digital camera is limited by what's in its body. So imagine trying to take a single image in which one side is well lit, but the other side is not. Your camera can currently adjust so that part of the frame will be properly exposed, but the other part will be too dark or too light.

Frankencamera to the rescue! That's the invention of Stanford University computer science professor Marc Levoy (pictured), which will rapidly fire two shots -- one exposed correctly for the dark park, the other exposed correctly for the light park -- and then merge them into one perfectly exposed image, using the best parts of both images.

The Frankencamera could perform the same way for focusing -- taking several shots, each focusing on different parts of the frame, and then instantly merging them into a perfectly focused shot.

The idea is that, by using an open-source digital camera, programmers can create software to teach cameras new tricks -- and that, like your iPhone, your camera will no longer be limited to the manufacturer's software that it came packaged with.

Obviously the Frankencamera, made from a hodgepodge of existing parts, is a monstrous prototype, destined for downsizing and redesign. But rather than compete with manufacturing giants, Levoy intends to convince camera makers to incorporate open-source capabilities into their existing closed-end proprietary products.

Consequently, all the existing controls -- focus, exposure, shutter speed, flash -- will no longer be limited by what comes pre-installed with the camera, but can be commanded and superceded by external programmers. Users can upgrade their capabilities with the touch of a download button.

The innovative algorithms will be generated by a new breed of "computational photography researchers," who will be able to take their experiments out of the lab and bring them to photo studios, and everywhere that cameras go.

In addition to using algorithms to create optimal lighting or focus throughout a single frame -- currently not possible with current commercial cameras -- the Frankencamera can enhance a 30 fps low-res video by periodically capturing a high-res still image, and using the extra data in that image to imbue the entire video with richer detail.

In essence, by opening up your camera to a network or community of developers, your technical possibilities will catapult exponentially beyond today's capabilities.

This will clearly have exciting ramifications for still photographers and videographers. But let's not lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, images will always require human spirit, creativity, and imagination. And there will never be an app that can replace that.


* Stanford University News Story

* NPR Report

Friday, October 9, 2009

Weekend Eye Candy: 'Sorry I'm Late'

Just for fun, treat yourself to this whimsical live stop-action animation, shot against a gymnasium floor.

It's written and directed by Tomas Mankovsky, but as you'll see from the minute-long credits roll (which is half the length of the two-minute video itself), it's got a crew of dozens.

The credits roll also shows you how the effects were accomplished, but for infinitely more detail, visit the 'Sorry I'm Late' Website, where there's an extensive behind-the-scenes "Making Of" section that reveals all.

A tip of the cyberhat to the New York Times' Lens blog's highly recommended weekly "Must See Video" feature.

Rare Video Found: Babe Ruth Strikes Out

Last week we marveled at the amount of attention being paid to a short snippet of an Anne Frank home movie, the only known moving images of her. The mesmerizing power of video transcends the "realness" of still images of the same subject.

This week, in its video report The Great Bambino Resurfaces, the New York Times shares freshly discovered 8-millimeter footage of Babe Ruth, circa 1928. It's only 90 seconds long, but nonetheless noteworthy:

It features the only in-game footage of the baseball legend playing the outfield, where he spent more than 2,200 games. It also features a rare glimpse of Ruth striking out, then arguing with the umpire, while a young Lou Gehrig looks on.
The Times offers an in-depth print story and blog item about the discovery, and the Major League Baseball archivists who helped identify it. But it's the Times video story that actually shows us the video itself.

For most newspapers, that alone would have been sufficient. But the Times video admirably goes behind the scenes and introduces us to those two archivists, who oversee and log 150,000 hours of footage dating back more than a century. That treatment enables us to better appreciate their detective-like skill and expertise -- not to mention their passion -- for scanning grainy old footage for details, and sorting out when and where particular games were played, and (we can't resist) who's on first.

Though you'll probably be mired in this season's playoffs this weekend, take a trip back in time to enjoy some vintage baseball footage -- and the story behind it. We've posted it on KobreGuide for your viewing pleasure.

Oprah Follows Up on 7-Year-Old Schizophrenic

KobreGuide originally showcased the Los Angeles Times' heartbreaking video story, A Place for Jani, about a family struggling with the extreme challenges of raising a spirited daughter, then 6, with severe schizophrenia.

In July, we noted that the L.A. Times had updated the story, but lamented that it was only a text report, and not a followup video.

Oprah Winfrey picked up on the story and traveled to California to meet Jani Schofield, now 7, and her family for a remarkable show that aired this week, which you can now view online.


* 'Jani' on KobreGuide

* 'Jani' on KobreChannel

* Jani on 'Oprah'

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Free Tips from Bob Kaplitz's Multimedia Minutes

We found a terrific resource for videojournalism instruction -- and it's free!

Bob Kaplitz is a principal and senior strategist for Audience Research & Development (AR&D), a TV news marketing firm which he joined in 1980 after a distinguished career in broadcast journalism, which included reports on the CBS Evening News.

He's created a slew of excellent short instructional videos that offer tips for improving your video. He offers these "Multimedia Minutes" on his blog.

What makes them especially valuable is that Kaplitz uses actual footage from pros, and has annotated it with superimposed text that crisply points out the attributes and deficits of various aspects of the video and audio, as you're looking and listening to it.

It's like having the teacher right there at your side, critiquing it as you watch.

Among his topics:

* How to Use a Hidden Camera
* Creatively Shooting Your Own Standups
* How to Take Control of a Story
* The Most Important Word in Storytelling
* So You Want to Save the Best for Last?
* How to Spice Up a Story
* How to Use Words Sparingly
* Shooting Your Own Standups
* How to Shoot a Story that’s Tough to Shoot
* Asking Better Questions with Facts
* How to Lure Viewers and Hold Them
* Action-Reaction Approach to Strong Storytelling
* From Ho-Hum to Engaging Storytelling
* A Lesson Thanks to Jay Leno & Kanye West

Visit Kaplitz's blog for free videojournalism lessons from a pro.

Listen to 'Half the Sky' Authors Kristof & WuDunn

If you missed them on 'Oprah,' you can hear Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, husband/wife authors of the acclaimed new bestseller, "Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide," on this wonderful hour-long Blog Talk Radio segment.

It's hosted by the South Asian Journalists Association, at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, and moderated by Newsweek International contributing editor Vibhuti Patel.

The trio address the book's theme: the emerging role of women in developing countries.

Kristof's topnotch New York Times videojournalism, often about women's struggles in Third World countries, has been frequently showcased on KobreGuide.

Here's a sampler:

* Acid Attacks
Women in Pakistan are being subjected to an alarming kind of terrorism, often inflicted by their own husbands.

* The Face of Slavery
Meet Long Pross, a teenager who was tortured and forced into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She's recuperating now, but how can we rescue other girls like her?

* A Dirty Job
Compared to scavenging in a toxic garbage dump, working in an oppressive sweatshop can seem like a cherished dream.

* My Personal Foreign Aid Program
Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof travels to the Dominican Republic to assess the merits of his Plan USA sponsorship of a local child.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Online Journalism Award Winners Announced

Congratulations to the winners of the 2009 Online Journalism Awards, announced yesterday.

Launched in May 2000, the OJAs are administered by the Online News Association.

Among the many categories of awards are "video journalism" and "multimedia presentations."

Here are those winners, with judges' comments and links to the entries (some of which have been previously showcased on KobreGuide).

Multimedia Feature Presentation, Small Site

National Film Board of Canada, Waterlife

Gorgeous. Crazy good. Stunning. User experience is unlike anything we've seen. They threw in, in an organized way, the kitchen sink on this project and succeeded in presenting an innovative and informative look at the issue of water. There is multi-dimensional, multiple media story-telling going on here. Heads and tails above the rest.
Multimedia Feature Presentation, Medium Site, Quenching Las Vegas' Thirst
(ALSO: On KobreGuide)

There's an awesome coordination between map points, graphics and video. That's innovation. They built a heat map of residential water use that's remarkable. Las Vegas put it all together.
Multimedia Feature Presentation, Large Site

Washington Post Digital, Sacred Ground: The Building of the Pentagon Memorial

Once you start exploring, it's a great piece. It has depth because it lets you explore not only the site, but how it was planned, how it was built via interviews with the architects and a 3D walkthrough. It works very well at different levels. Excellent use of the technologies and the tools.
Online Video Journalism, Small Site

Danny Wilcox Frazier, Produced by MediaStorm, Driftless: Stories from Iowa
(ALSO: On KobreGuide)

This is a stark, black-and-white tale of an Iowa family of farmers. It feels extremely original, the camera work seems expert and the interviews will break your heart while never lingering on any one expression or sentiment. There's a richness, restraint and even a little dark humor here that was nowhere in any of the other videos.
Online Video Journalism, Large Site

Slate V, The Power Recap

Very funny expression of presidential campaign highlights, built entirely on selection of key moments in stills and video and then blending them in a frenetic editing style that works to create the "viral video" formula. It is an interesting commentary experiment offering the kind of analysis that cannot ordinarily be found in straight journalistic reporting by newspapers. (SEE BELOW!)

Kudos to the Online Journalism Awards finalists, including:

Online Video Journalism, Small Site

* AARP Bulletin Today, Journey to Remember

* AARP Bulletin Today, What Will Happen to Andy?

* Hank Wilson, No Snitching, No Suspects

Online Video Journalism, Large Site

*, You Tube Baby
(ALSO: On KobreGuide)

* Washington Post Digital, Fashion Week in New York City

* Washington Post Digital, Seeds of Peace
(ALSO: On KobreGuide)

Multimedia Feature Presentation, Small Site

* Ottawa Citizen, The Karsh Generation

* Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, Women.Children.Crisis.

Multimedia Feature Presentation, Medium Site

* The Courier-Journal/, Tragedy on the Track

* The Oregonian/, Pregnant with Cancer

* Lane DeGregory, Melissa Lyttle, Desiree Perry, Jack Rowland & Ted McLaren,, The Girl in the Window
(ALSO: On KobreGuide)

Multimedia Feature Presentation, Large Site

* The Boston Globe/, Ted Kennedy

* Los Angeles Times, Mexico Under Siege: The Drug War at Our Doorstep


Full list of finalists in all categories here.

Full list of winners in all categories here.

And for those patient enough to scroll all the way through these, here is a sampler of Slate V's winning entry, The Power Recap (Online Video Journalism, Large Site). It's only one of a series of six remarkably funny and clever high-speed glimpses of last year's Presidential race, so be sure to check out the others -- along with all the OJA finalsts and winners.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Anne Frank: The Only Existing Video

You've seen a photo of Anne Frank; you've read her diary. So why does the prospect of viewing previously little-known video footage of her intrigue you?

You're not alone. Though it's only a few seconds long, the video is going viral, lighting up Facebook and Twitter.

Proof of the power of video over still images and printed words?

Here's the background, courtesy of the Anne Frank House channel on YouTube:

July 22 1941. The girl next door is getting married. Anne Frank is leaning out of the window of her house in Amsterdam to get a good look at the bride and groom. It is the only time Anne Frank has ever been captured on film. At the time of her wedding, the bride lived on the second floor at Merwedeplein 39. The Frank family lived at number 37, also on the second floor. The Anne Frank House can offer you this film footage thanks to the cooperation of the couple.

NPR's Scott Simon on the Art of Storytelling

YouTube has been adding more instructional videos to its Reporters' Center, since we first reported on it back in June.

They come from a variety of authoritative sources and cover a broad array of topics, including how to distribute and promote your video stories once you've completed them.

Still, some of the best are from the top pros, such as NPR's Scott Simon, who shares some timeless tips on the art of audio and visual storytelling.


1. A story ought to have a point. Not necessarily a moral or a lesson or even a punchline. But always a point.

2. Give people telling vivid details they can recall when telling the story to others.

3. Beginnings must capture the audience's interest.

4. Stories must be told in short breathable sections.

5. Speak conversationally. (Avoid long dependent clauses.)

6. Don't be afraid of new storytelling technologies. Use them.

7. Have fun. If you enjoy making surprising discoveries, that will communicate to your audience and keep them coming back.
But let Scott tell you himself...

Visit YouTube's Reporters Center to view dozens of other journalism-themed instructional videos.

Friday, October 2, 2009

KobreGuide's Top 10 Videos for Sept. '09

Here are the ten most popular video stories that were originally showcased on KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism during the month of September 2009.

They represent a broad array of topics, from fun to serious, from a wide variety of media outlets.

All are worth a repeat viewing. If you missed any of them, now's a second chance to see them.

* Death of a Marine

* The Amazing Skidboot

* Choosing Thomas

* Arab Christians: The Forgotten Faithful

* My Kidney, His Life

* Surviving the Death Race

* Ian Fisher: American Soldier

* A Day with a Tap Legend

* Fallout: The Legacy of Brookhaven Lab

* The Letter from Iwo Jima (pictured)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Read Any Good Vooks Lately?

Simon & Schuster today introduces four new online video books -- or "vooks," as they're calling them -- which on the one hand seems like a technological step forward (a novel punctuated by 17 video enactments) and a step backward (you have to read the text on your computer monitor or, worse, your iPhone). Kindles don't support video, a shortcoming that the publisher tries to turn into a virtue: "No special software required."

In short, you can now read and watch a book at the same time -- an endeavour likely to stir debate in itself as to whether that's a cultural advancement or yet another step on the path toward mass illiteracy. For better or worse, social networking will be enabled on each title's Website, so that you can interact with other readers, and even the author.

Of the four new titles, two are fiction and two are "how-to" fitness and beauty books, for which video admittedly seems more practical and pertinent.

The video is supplied by TurnHere, an Internet video production company which claims to have a network of 7,000 professional filmmakers.

According to an AP report, "Video books are unlikely to become standard in the near future if only because of the expense of filming. Executives at Vook and Simon & Schuster would not say how much it cost to shoot video for the four books, although ... the budget for an individual title was less than $100,000."

Factor in the newly complicated logistics of the creative process, which transforms from a solitary enterprise to a collaborative one, and you can imagine publishing execs wondering if vooks are truly a meritorious innovation, or merely another harebrained scheme to prop up a dying industry.

(The New York Times reports on the pros, cons, and consequences of vooks: "Curling Up With Hybrid Books, Videos Included.")

The first four titles sell for $6.99 each, which is $3 less than for most Kindle e-books.

Will people buy vooks? Will they read and watch them? Will video augment or diminish the pleasures of print?

Top editors of print magazines know that the best editorial packages are those in which the text and images are independently powerful, but when combined they do more than complement each other -- they create an impact larger than the sum of the parts.

Too often, videojournalism merely mimics the text story it accompanies (and vice versa). Ideally each should be freestanding, and yet provide information and sensation that the other cannot, so that readers/viewers are delivered an overall experience that they couldn't have received from just one or the other.

We wonder whether a vook can combine text and video as creatively and compelling as, say, our favorite vagazine.