Friday, March 12, 2010

NPPA Awards: Eavesdropping on the Judges

Here are excerpts from some illuminating "chat room" comments by the judges for the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Awards in the TV news video category, on the final day of judging (March 5). We've edited it a bit for clarity, but retained its raw, informal chat-room aura. They're discussing the winners of categories covering both TV newscasts and their Web counterparts, so note the similarities and differences between what they look for in those respective media ... and what common criteria they find in all high-quality visual journalism. (The Web-only video categories will be judged the week of March 21.)

You can find links to all the referenced award-winning videos below at the Poynter or NPPA websites. We'll be posting some of them in the weeks ahead on


Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter: Welcome to today's Poynter live chat. We have just spent the entire week sequestered in rooms here at Poynter looking at hundreds of photojournalism and editing entries in the 2010 NPPA contest. Photo Judges, what trends did you notice in this year's contest?

3:00 ddelozier: In terms of trends that I saw in this years contest, with regards to web entries, I think there was a wide gap between what was recognized for excellence and the remaining entries. Many of the winning entries were of a very high quality, especially the winning feature entry "In the moment". These entries are clearly where photojournalists need to be moving. I think the quality of some of the entries is a positive sign of just needs to continue and see more depth of numbers.

3:01 Merry: Number wise, the entries were the same as last year. Lots of new names this year. I saw new markets that I haven't seen entered before. But on the other hand, there were lots of names missing from this year's competition

3:01 Guest: Regarding trends of winners - I can't say it's a trend, per se, but a universal truth - that the winners tended to: a) have a surprise "pivot point(s)" b) develop a sympathetic character through meaningful natural sound and moments and c) have clear beginnings, middles and ends.
As for trends.... the in-depth stories weren't truly in-depth.

3:03 Al Tompkins-Poynter: I was surprised that, given that so many stations have cut the length of stories, SO MANY of the entries this year were 2 minutes or longer. I don't know what to make of that. Do you?


3:03 Al Tompkins-Poynter: What specific stories stood out this year? Why did they work?

3:04 ddelozier: With regard to specific stories that stood out to me...I was extremely impressed with the Washington Post's "In the Moment: Witnessing Barack Obama's Historic Inauguration." In terms of pure eyes and was spectacular. It was also a great job of storytelling. The story was compelling, it was remarkably crafted and it told a complete story

3:04 Al Tompkins-Poynter: While judges answer that question let me remind all of you that ALL of the winners this year are posted on and includes judge's specific comments about each category.

3:04 Merry: Steve Rhodes "Sincerely Mr.Stroup" was one that was memorable. It was about a teacher who writes birthday letters to every past student he has had. "The Tyler Project" by Jonathan Malat & Boyd Huppert was another great one. Boyd always makes me laugh or cry on his stories.

Crash for clunkers stood out because of the wow factor. Darren's 48 hour feature on the honor flight was a great example of taking the viewer on a journey through a story.

3:05 Peter Ross: The stories that come to mind immediately: "Dumptruck" "Dancin for Dominos" "Crash for Clunkers" and "The Tyler Project". The reasons, largely, were for their high energy throughout. "Tyler" was notable for its building on surprise after surprise, and overall humanity.

3:06 Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter: One more trend from another judge to share ...
I agree with Dave's comment on web videos. In the web category, as usual, there was an overall trend of natural sound pieces and chronological story telling. (Dawn to dusk, climbing from bottom to top, etc.) As a web journalist, I'd like to see more human interest stories take shape online.

3:06 Merry: Darren's entry was great beginning to end. You can tell he's always listening to the sound and anticipating the next shot. He finds great characters that make his stories.
I agree with Peter. "Tyler" was great, it just kept getting better/


3:06 Al Tompkins-Poynter: Congratulations to Darren Durlach, the 2010 Photographer of the Year. Before we ask him some questions, judges, tell us what impressed you about Darren's work?

3:06 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
C'Mon Son, my pick for Judge's Choice, was a stand-out to me (obviously!) Again, being a solo VJ and web journalist, I love seeing a spot news piece turned by a single photog in a short period of time that still maintains strong storytelling. (Nice, Darren!)

3:06 ddelozier: Darren is the whole package. He is a very gifted storyteller who has a great eye. But perhaps most importantly, his stories all consistently do the one thing every great story does: it makes you feel something.

3:07 Darren Durlach: Wow Thanks guys. It's truly an honor. There were so many amazing stories this year

3:07 Al Tompkins-Poynter: Darren, I was knocked out by the flood story -- Cmon Son. You were EVERYWHERE for that story, inside and outside. Tell us what was going through your mind
as you shot it.

3:08 Darren Durlach: Well I got really lucky :)

3:08 Al Tompkins-Poynter: I loved how you included the flood in the background as you shot interviews with people who were talking about it.

3:08 Peter Ross: As for the POY - there was such a consistent level of quality. Specifically - creative framing of pertinent bystanders saying interesting things that added layers to stories. There was a "newsy" feel, even to the feature stories. The "Cmon Son" story reveal of gushing water was one of the most impactful moments of the contest. He (and his reporters) have a good knack for knowing which people will provide meaningful reaction sound, and sticking with them to watch events develop through their eyes. He pays close attention to transition shots and sounds that help keep up strong pacing.

3:09 Darren Durlach: It was a slow day and some reporters were out that day so I was able to nat pack it. It wasnt hard to find pretty pictures and reaction

3:09 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska : ]
He shoots his general and spot news as well as his feature stories and even his features have a news value to them

3:09 [Comment From Jeramy Rosenberg : ]
Also particularly well edited, as shown by it's first place victory in the editing category

3:09 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
Maybe you can tell us your approach for "C'Mon Son"? How long did it take you to shoot? What were you listening for? What was the biggest challenge?

3:10 Darren Durlach: The biggest challenge was getting to the frat boys. I had to get around the flood and jump over fences to get there

3:10 Darren Durlach: once i realized how great they were as characters I knew I had a good story

3:11 Merry: Not everyone would do that for a story

3:11 Darren Durlach: It was a lot of luck that day, My news director played it as the lead for the 5:30 and the 10 o clock news

3:11 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska : ]
Darren, I really got the sense you move around a lot on your shoots... how long do you wait in one place before you move on to the next spot?

3:12 ddelozier: That is in my opinion what separates Darren's work from others. He didn't rely on a big flood to make a great story. He found great characters to go with a big flood.

3:12 Darren Durlach: shoot and move, shoot and move

3:12 Darren Durlach: listen for 2 soundbytes and move on unless the character is worth getting into

3:12 Al Tompkins-Poynter: Bu the way, we were lucky to have Darren with us earlier this year at Poynter to teach at an NPPA Virtual Workshop. The whole event is on NewsU, "Six Essential Skills to Maximize Your Storytelling Process"

3:12 Peter Ross: Darren - how do you communicate with your reporter? On the way, during, after, etc. What are you telling them throughout the story process and do you approach a story with some specific angle options?

3:13 Darren Durlach: gotta constantly move. while i'm shooting in tv with one person I'm looking for other people out of the corner of my eye. my reporters and i constantly communicate.

3:13 Al Tompkins-Poynter: Darren that story was full of natural sound. How do you listen for sound?

3:14 Darren Durlach: When I get to spot news, the first thing i do is shoot anything that makes noise because that will be the first thing that goes away

3:15 [Comment From Curt Chandler PSU : ]
Darren -- How long do you keep the wireless on someone before you move to the next character?

3:16 Darren Durlach: it depends on what the person is giving me. ;if they are a soundbyte machine, and a character we plan to profile then I'll leave the mic on the person longer. If it just someone who adds color or reaction, i just listen for a soundbyte or two and move on

3:16 Darren Durlach: time is of the essence in spot and general news

3:17 Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter: Thanks, Darren for joining us. Any final thought or tips you'd like to share?

3:18 Darren Durlach: on c'mon son by the way my chief photographer was with me finding characters. We were on our way to pick up the live truck and heard it on the scanner, he didnt have his gear so was doing some field producing

3:18 [Comment From Curt Chandler PSU : ]
Yeah, congratulations Darren. A great package of stories from beginning to end.

3:18 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska : ]
congrats Darren your tape was very fun to watch.

3:18 Darren Durlach: Thanks guys

3:18 [Comment From Dave Wertheimer : ]
Darren truly has a gift as a storyteller and teacher. What separates him from other winners is his heart. This is something that cannot be taught. I has been an honor to get to know him at the NPPA Workshop.


3:18 Al Tompkins-Poynter: We have a question from a former POY, Tim Griffis, who is joining us online.

3:18 [Comment From Tim Griffis : ]
What were the most difficult entries to judge?

3:19 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
The web entries were definitely the most difficult.

3:20 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
The entries there weren't as technically strong as we had hoped to see, and several that had beautiful imagery had very weak storytelling.

3:21 Merry: The web entries are harder because the stories aren't always easy to find. But when you find them, some are definitely worth it

3:21 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
The web stories were very difficult to judge, some stood out but others needed work, but we didn't want to discourage growth in the industry by not awarding awards.

3:21 Peter Ross: I would say web as well - their style, quality, length and nearly everything else varied so much - and I struggled with what criteria, if any, should differ from the "traditional" TV entries


3:22 Al Tompkins-Poynter: What are you looking for in a winning web video entry? How is it different from a TV story?

3:23 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
It's not different from a TV story, good stories are good stories regardless if we view them on the web or a TV. I wouldn't judge a photo on a website any differently than a photo from a newspaper.

3:23 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
I work primarily on the web, and I think one of the biggest problems is always length. Since we aren't constricted by air-time or print space, I think a lot goes without the tight editing that makes stories stronger.

3:24 Merry: Web stories are mainly different in the fact that they have no time constraints. That is good and bad. Not every story should by 1:30. And not every story should be 10 minutes either. We saw several stories that needed to end earlier than they did.

3:24 ddelozier: I was looking for storytelling and a strong eye. In reality, I wasn't looking for anything different than I was looking for in any other category. I saw some strong storytelling and some great eyes. I would hope and believe that will grow and we'll see more depth in the web categories.

3:24 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale: ]
Besides that, they need the same thing that any good video needs - moments, character, reaction, heart. It's a different screen, but not a different craft completely.

3:24 Peter Ross: I think the web entries need to be shorter than what we saw, and not ignore the basic human challenge that is at the heart of award winning TV stories. Often what we saw were natural soundbite collages

3:25 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
There are people who work on web videos who do a great job and those are the ones we should all learn from.


3:25 Al Tompkins-Poynter: I want to pick up on a question from one of our readers, Michelle Michael. Once again, NPPA has a category for the increasing number of photojournalists who are working solo, as VJ's. In fact, two of our judges work as VJ's at least some of the time. Judges, how did that category go this year?

3:26 Merry: Another year of low numbers. Only 12 entries in this category. I know there are a lot of great SVJ's who should have entered this category.

3:27 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
Very impressed with some of the VJ work, it is nice to see people who can do two jobs at one time. Dave's stuff was great and if I remember right about half of the entries were finalist for the awards. i noticed some work from my home market not entered and I think they had stories that could have been fun to watch.

3:27 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
I really like the solo VJ category. The only difference in treatment really is that we gave equal weight to photography and writing/reporting skills. A good solo VJ has to do both well!

3:28 Peter Ross: I was impressed by the editing skills demonstrated by the SVJ's. I noted only one or two SOY tapes contained entries from this category, an area we all know will grow as the industry continues contracting.

3:28 [Comment From Michelle Michael : ]
What would you like to see more of in the solo video category?

3:31 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
Entries. :) But aside from that, just more strong storytelling and character building. Our top two videos both had great characters.

3:31 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
emotion.... Dave Delozier did a great job finding emotion and working with it with his writing and shooting. That is what set his work out from the rest.

3:31 Merry: More entries! There is solid story telling going on every day by SVJ's, we only got to see a handful of those stories.


3:31 [Comment From Guest : ]
Were there any stories that stood out while judging that didn't make it as a finalist into any of the categories?

3:31 Al Tompkins-Poynter: There is something called a "Judge's Choice" award which will be posted very soon. These are stories that judges found to be really interesting but may not have won.

3:33 Peter Ross: My "Judge's Choice" was a winner somewhere or another - "Dancin for Dominos" was just one of the most memorable stories of the week for me - great pacing, reactions, energy, and hilarious.

3:33 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
"crafting a contradiction" from KUSA stood out. I really enjoyed how it was shot and I thought it was a neat story.

3:33 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
Yes. There were a few that we liked for one reason or another but that didn't have all the components of a winner. "Polk County Rockslide" had some amazing footage. "Fat Squirrels" made us chuckle.

3:33 Al Tompkins-Poynter: We have not mentioned the Reporter of the Year is once again Boyd Huppert of KARE 11. His work has been celebrated so often by NPPA--what did he do this year that surprised/delighted you?

3:34 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
my Judge's choice was a story from the war in Afghanistan. I have a high level of respect for storytellers who put there lives on the line to bring us the news.

3:35 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
Nothing Boyd does surprises me, he's been doing it so well for so long that I expect great things.

3:35 Merry: His stories always have great pacing, he doesn't give away the surprise too soon. I always say Boyd's stories will either make you laugh or cry. He gets to work with some talented photographers every day and it's always great to guess which one shot each story.

3:35 ddelozier: The winning entry for reporter stood out because of his ability to identify a very simple focus for each story and then he stuck to it. The writing blends with the natural sound or sound bites and it all weaves together to tell a simple story about people. I felt the runner-up in this category was extremely strong as well. Both write extremely well...but don't overwrite. Simple words for a simple and focused story.

3:35 Peter Ross: Same old Boyd - the gold standard - writing to the corners with words that enhance the video we're seeing, not replicating it. His humanity comes through in every line, great deal of empathy. And he always finds a way to include real facts, not just feelings. He is an American treasure.

3:37 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
Boyd's tape ranged from the relatively basic "Economy in a Box" to the in-depth "Tyler's Project". In all of his pieces, there's a human element that I think anyone can connect to. Even if you haven't lost your job, you feel a connection to the recession. Even if you don't have a terminal illness, you can appreciate a simple dream like wanting to rebuild a classic car. They're just so easy to connect with and care about.

3:37 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
I think his biggest strength is how a story unfolds natural with each turn getting better and better


3:37 Al Tompkins-Poynter: Judges, what lessons do you take from the 2010 contest and how will it affect the way you shoot in 2010?

3:38 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
Lesson from 2010 - I'd like to find a character for every story. Even if it's a simple daily turn-around. Characters = memorable.

3:38 ddelozier: My Judge's Choice was the Washington Post's feature: In the Moment: Witnessing Barack Obama's Historic Inauguration. I thought it was one of the best shot stories I saw all week and the images were all spectacular. It was an outstanding example of storytelling and should serve as a compass for everyone working in web or broadcast.

3:40 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
Great question Al! I am looking forward to getting back into some great habits the POY has. Moving around the scene, changing who has the mic, looking for the little reaction shots that can advance a story. Over all I just feel reenergized to get back on the street and shoot the way I use to. This has been a great week and I have taken a lot with me.

3:40 Peter Ross: The contest is an important reminder of why the basic tenets of storytelling don't change, no matter the year, and how "aiming for the heart", as Al would say is always the right direction.

3:40 ddelozier: I think the biggest thing I will take is the re-inforced idea that a great story is born from a big story. Great stories are born out of great characters and the development of them with great images. So the next time you get the assignment that sounds boring...think again.


3:41 Al Tompkins-Poynter: Final thoughts from the judges?

3:44 ddelozier: There's a lot of great work being done out there in a time of change in this industry. Those that are doing the best work are those who focus positive energy on the things they can control and don't worry about the things they can't. What you can control is what you bring each day to the story that's in front of you. If you do that...the rest takes care of itself. Have's why you got into this business.

3:44 [Comment From Crystal Lauderdale : ]
Final thoughts: Technical quality should be a given - shot variety, steadiness, clean audio. For greatness go beyond that - character, moments, reaction, pacing.

3:44 [Comment From Steve Fedoriska (judge) : ]
Good work can still be done, you just have to work hard and think outside of the box. If my story is poorly done, I have no one to blame but myself.

3:45 [Comment From Curt Chandler PSU : ]
Thanks for the inspirational comments and the links to all this great video.

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