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.

1 comment:

oly said...

I love Kobreguide. It is probably the best place online these days to find the great work being done by video journalists. Thanks for the kind comment about the David Byrne vid peice by the NYT. Here's the link in case anyone wants to watch it: