Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NPPA Judges: Why These Winning Videos Impressed Us

Poynter's Regina McCombs led an illuminating online chat with the judges of this year's National Press Photographers Association's Best of Photojournalism contest in the Web video and audio-slideshow categories. In addition to sharing highlights and trends, they discussed what qualities they looked for in winning entries.

(NOTE: We previously eavesdropped on the judges of the contest's TV News Video category, whose winners are being added each day this week to the KobreGuide homepage.)

This year's contest judges include:

* Phaedra Singelis, MSNBC supervising producer
* Mike Stocker, South Florida Sun-Sentinel photojournalist
* Alexandra Garcia, Washington Post video and multimedia journalist
* Vidisha Priyanka, Tampa Bay Online audience editor
* Theresa Collington, WTSP Executive producer for online
* John Kaplan, University of Florida visual journalism professor
* Jack Rowland, NPPA contest coordinator

You can read their online text comments from this year's contest by category here.

Here is an edited transcript of their post-judging conversation, which we've cleaned up a bit, while retaining the "raw" aura of the online chatroom:

12:59 Regina McCombs: First off, let's talk about what really impressed you this year. What were some highlights for you in the entries?

1:01 Phaedra Singelis: We were very impressed by the level of professionalism in some of the student submitted work.

1:01 Alexandra Garcia: "Waiting to Die" really showed that a simple execution can be the most effective. Gorgeous, inspiring photography with an touching, humorous interview with incredible audio quality. Simple and fantastic.

1:02 Regina McCombs: The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill took the best use of the Web category. What prompted that choice?

1:05 theresa: Flawless technical execution, great storytelling, strong usablilty...

1:05 Mike Stocker: The overall quality of their work continued to stand out as we went through all of the entries. They took chances, were concise in their work and above all, told interesting stories.

1:06 Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter: "Powering a Nation" (pictured) was one reason UNC won:

1:06 theresa: Their site and segments are clearly produced with usability in mind...

1:07 theresa: Clear navigation and usability in their digital products that made it simple for the site visitor to consume their content truly impressed me...

1:08 Alexandra Garcia: Powering a Nation really impressed us. We felt like, in so many of their pieces, UNC was pushing the envelope in all areas of the multimedia. From video stories to profiles to compelling video to creative graphics, we felt like that site was both deep and well-edited, which made it easy to navigate.

1:08 Phaedra Singelis: Their piece on mountaintop mining "Battle for the Mountains" was very strong. We liked it nearly as much as the piece on the same subject that ultimately won 1st place. It had good energy and covered lots of different point of views.

1:08 theresa: UNC is leading the way with their use visual graphics and interactivity in a technically sound application...


1:08 Regina McCombs: Anything specific you'll take back with you from the contest in general?

1:10 theresa: Waiting to Die will stay with me. They really used amazing photography coupled with artful, subdued storytelling that suited the medium.

1:10 Phaedra Singelis: I was really impressed by the idea of telling the economy story through the eyes of a postal carrier in "Carrier of the Economy"

1:11 Alexandra Garcia: I also thought some of the story ideas were quite creative. As I mentioned above, our feature slideshow winner was a great reminder to keep it simple when it doesn't need to be complicated, while some of the UNC pieces inspired me to chose the right medium for the right story.

1:12 Phaedra Singelis: I also loved the visuals in "Roping the Wind." Not just mounting a camera on the hood of the vehicle, but showing the clouds moving and the shadows of the wind turbines on the field.

1:15 theresa: Also, Mexico at War is remarkable. Really - it should be the prototype for online storytelling for our industry. I plan to show that in our newsroom as an example of leveraging all digital assets to tell powerful stories online.


1:16 Mike Stocker: We had a very diverse group of judges from various still, tv, and web backgrounds that all brought different expectations to the various stories that we were judging. I think that as an industry we still have a long way to go in effectively communicating online. The best way I believe to do this is to work together with journalists from different backgrounds and learn from each other. We all have a lot to learn, and we also have a lot that we can share and learn from each other as well.

1:16 Phaedra Singelis: I also loved the visuals in Frozen Land, Forgotten People. It also had some nice nat sound which showed how to do audio in a quiet place.

1:16 Alexandra Garcia: Also, for me "A Family Kocktail" was an inspiring portrait--it reminded me: don't just scratch the surface of a character, especially with such a fascinating person. Go deeper in the interview.

1:17 Mike Stocker: We need to surprise and hook our audience much quicker online.

1:18 [Comment From Kenny Irby : ]
Mike, speaking of diversity were there any new organizations for example of ethnic media outlets entered in the competition.

1:18 Phaedra Singelis: "1 corner, 3 places to buy Starbucks" made us all chuckle. It was a great example of how to edit to make a story really sing.

1:18 Alexandra Garcia: I second what Mike Stocker said above. Collaborating with judges with very diverse backgrounds was a great reminder to get different perspectives on your stories.

1:19 Mike Stocker: A lot of the winners such as "A Family Kocktail" had that surprise factor that worked so well.


1:20 [Comment From Craig Duff (TIME) : ]
I'd be interested in hearing what the panelists/judges were looking for as they viewed the entries in video journalism. Since this is a contest created by the NPPA, was there an emphasis on the quality of the shooting? Or were you looking at the overall impact -- visual elements, story, characters, writing, etc. -- of a piece?

1:21 theresa: @Craig - yes photography was truly at the center of this contest, specifically how it related to online storytelling. Check out 5 Dollar Cover.

1:21 Regina McCombs: To answer Kenny's question, there were no specific ethnic media outlets that entered, although there was some good coverage of ethnic communities. I'd love to encourage ethnic media to enter -- the publication size categories make it possible to compete.

1:22 theresa: @Craig 5 Dollar Cover is a great example of using some really rich photography to tell a very personal story. Also - audio was really important. The natural sound and the interviews were really vital to this as our choice.

1:23 Mike Stocker: Kenny, there was some great work being done by some indivdual journalists in Mexico, and the judges loved the piece done by elpais.com

1:23 Alexandra Garcia: @Craig, I think all the judges can agree that we were looking for story. Of course, quality visuals were at the top of our list, but we came across many entries that had beautiful images, but the editing and story of the piece didn't hold up to the images.

1:23 Regina McCombs: There were a number of international entries that were exciting. El Pais won third for multimedia packages, and we saw great work out of Mexico, South America and Scandinavia.

1:23 Jack Rowland: @ Craig - The contest rules were removed from the site once the contest closed. You can see them at http://bop.nppa.org/2010/web_sites/rules/ to read the descriptions for each category.

1:24 Phaedra Singelis: @Craig - I think we judged video the same way we judged all the other categories. When we couldn't decide between two pieces, we weighed the visuals more heavily. Overall, we felt we could really benefit from learning more about script writing from our TV friends.


1:25 [Comment From Colin Mulvany : ]
In the news video category, you didn't award first thru third. I was surprised by that. A lot of newspapers are doing spot news video. What was the weaknesses that you saw, and what can producers do better?

1:26 Regina McCombs: A number of other categories did not have a first place winner. In all these cases, there was a lot of discussion in the room about those decisions. Judges, can you comment on why you made those choices?

1:27 theresa: @Colin - this was a real struggle for us. Many were full of technical errors and ignored the basic principles of photojournalism. We saw lots of evidence of urgency, however we really couldn't award anything that had technical or fundamental errors.

1:28 Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter: Watch and see the judges comments on "Vigil for Teen Crash Victim"

1:28 Alexandra Garcia: We also saw some really great video work entered in the multimedia project category, but those individual pieces weren't entered in the video category, where they would have placed.

1:28 theresa: @Colin your piece was thoughtful and had some great moments in it

1:31 Phaedra Singelis: @Colin - we wouldn't feel comfortable awarding an out-of-focus or off-color still image, and we felt many of the pieces entered didn't meet a baseline standard. We wanted to set the bar for a national contest where we felt competent visuals, audio and storytelling were met.

1:31 theresa: @Colin - with respect to spot news, again, hustle is important but becomes irrelevant if the piece is poorly edited, or out of focus or shaky. The basics still need to be covered - like using a tripod, white balance, etc and while we saw hustle, we didn't see anything that really did a good job while adhering to the things we know to be important...

1:31 Mike Stocker: Colin, The judges were not only surprised, but it was also a little depressing to see some of the basic components missing from the quality of a lot of the videos produced. Education, training and technical proficiency were sorely needed in a majority of the work we saw in those categories. I think we need to work harder, and take some cues from our tv friends that know how to produce successful video stories.

1:32 theresa: @Colin there's a great opportunity here for next year - someone can truly own this category...


1:32 [Comment From Adam Wisneski : ]
does anyone see this type of content (audio slideshows and non-traditional news video) gaining more attention with the rise of television through broadband connection? For example, would a family sit down and watch a mediastorm piece while they eat dinner?

1:34 Regina McCombs: Adam, I think it's going to be fascinating to see what happens with mobile devices -- phones and tablets -- and see how it changes consumption of multimedia, especially if we can find ways to let people save and view later. There's a lot of potential there.

1:34 Mike Stocker: Adam, that's a good question. I think if the story telling is there, and the viewers have access to something that interests them like some of the top work we saw, than yes, they will watch it.

1:35 [Comment From Kenny Irby : ]
Judges, informed by this judging experience, what are your thoughts about excellence in blended multimedia storytelling? Are there clear guidelines that you would suggest for benchmarking web storytelling. Be specific!

1:36 theresa: @Kenny - yes!!! There was some stellar work here that really sets the bar for excellent multimedia storytelling. Check out this from the St. Pete Times on Real Florida. Great example here of a photojournalist crossing over into video.

1:37 Alexandra Garcia: @Kenny, I'd encourage people to be more judicious about when and how to incorporate stills into a video piece. It can be done well, but we saw far too many pieces that had stills that seemed "thrown in" for the sake of blending the two.

1:38 Mike Stocker: Kenny, multimedia can not be an afterthought. I think more planning needs to take place at the beginning of a project or story so that the story teller has a clear path, and doesn't get stumbled up by trying to piece components together at the end of a project that don't necessarily fit together.

1:38 Phaedra Singelis: @Kenny - I think the Ted Kennedy piece from the Boston Globe was a great example of blended storytelling on the web. They used video, still, text, etc. and it was well organized and had great depth as well.

1:39 [Comment From Peter Huoppi : ]
Are there plans to expand the number of video categories? It seems like in this contest and in others like the monthly multimedia contests, long-term projects win out over shorter-form daily work. Or is the medium still too young to have enough entries in expanded categories (more similar to the still categories)?

1:39 Jack Rowland: @ Peter - The advent of video-capable digital SLRs has created an increase in slideshows with small amounts of video. These currently cannot be entered in the audio slideshow category so must be entered in video. I think we need to find away to create categories that can better embrace these types of visual stories to acknowledge the way people are developing their skills.

1:40 Phaedra Singelis: @Peter - I hope that some day we wrap all video categories into the TV contest.

1:40 [Comment From Craig Herndon : ]
Doesn't the introduction of mobile devices in this discussion, fly-in-the-face of the quality issues, a la the video category?

1:40 Regina McCombs: I'm talking about distributing content via mobile, not gathering via mobile devices, but that raises the question of best gear available, how that affects quality, all those things...


1:41 Regina McCombs: Judges, what is one piece of advice you'd give to people entering next year?

1:41 Phaedra Singelis: Edit tighter!

1:42 Jack Rowland: Enter the right category.

1:42 Mike Stocker: Edit, edit edit

1:42 Phaedra Singelis: Take a script writing class.

1:42 theresa: @Regina - pay attention to the details and the basics, especially with breaking news video.

1:42 Jack Rowland: Put the video camera on a tripod

1:43 Jack Rowland: Get the microphone close!

1:43 Alexandra Garcia: I'd also say that the DSLR video is gorgeous but gorgeous video still needs to have a story or a narrative.

1:43 theresa: @Regina - also, you may want to have a separate web page to post your entries on. We had a whole lot of broken links or pages that had moved. We did our best with Google - but in some instances, things were lost. Put it on a page you have control over.

1:43 Alexandra Garcia: Show your work to a colleague, to a friend, to a family member before your publish. Does it make sense and do they get bored?

1:44 Phaedra Singelis: Use a tripod. Color correct. Check your audio levels. The basics first. Then make the first 30 secs really great. Surprise me.

1:44 Alexandra Garcia: Don't use music as a crutch.

1:44 theresa: @Regina make sure audio is as important and as thought out as your video.

1:45 [Comment From Cliff Cheney : ]
@Phaedra Singelis - Why would you want video judged with TV stories? Do you think they would fare well against more traditional TV story formats?

1:45 Mike Stocker: Have a hook, and grab the viewers attention. Story telling is the bottom line. Find characters and tell their stories

1:48 Jack Rowland: I think we all should be working toward taking the best of what visual journalists do and using those things to create new forms of visual storytelling that are better than what we've done before. It's still about the story, not the gear and the way the story is told.

1:48 Phaedra Singelis: @Clff - I don't think the audience knows the difference between TV video and web video. Our site msnbc.com has both. We shouldn't be producing them differently based on platform in 2010. Good story telling with video is good story telling.

1:48 theresa: Don't give it all away at the top of your video stories. The 'inverted pyramid' doesn't work very well in video stories - start your video story with good nats, introduce a character and maybe offer the viewer a surprise or a twist.

1:49 [Comment From Craig Herndon : ]
@ Regina- Thanks for the clarification. I guess on the receiving end concerns about impact on screens smaller than an iPad are an issue. Did you guys have any back room cross talk about smaller interface delivery?

1:49 Mike Stocker: Phaedra, I think that journalists that are producing video online should take a look at some of the TV winners.

1:49 Regina McCombs: A little bit, but we'll probably have to deliberate about that more for next year's contest. Multimedia is always changing!


1:49 Regina McCombs: Any final thoughts, judges?

1:52 Phaedra Singelis: There was some really teriffic work. I was happy to see less work suffering from the "My name is.... " intro and getting quicker to the great sound bite. Also, one other note: keep text to a minimum. Never while someone is talking and make it legible if they are watching it on a small screen.

1:54 [Comment From Guest : ]
How are you guys defining multimedia? If it's strictly video it's not multimedia

1:54 [Comment From Cliff Cheney : ]
The web affords a freedom to experiment with new styles and aesthetics that might not be appropriate for a site like MSNBC. Would you want all video stories to be judged as if they could be consumed by mainstream media and exclude those that don't fit?

1:55 theresa: @Cliff - check this out: http://www.dhirajsingh.com/11.htm

1:55 Alexandra Garcia: @Ellyn, We saw some great work and many categories that could have used better work. In this uncertain time in our industry, I hope we can all stay inspired to attempt to live up to that great work and to submit even better work next year--and continue to push the storytelling envelope.

1:55 Phaedra Singelis: @Cliff - We're all for experimentation!

1:56 Regina McCombs: @guest: The multimedia categories were not won by anyone who only had video. The judges felt there had to be multiple story forms to place in those categories.

1:56 theresa: @Cliff that's an example of a well told, brilliantly executed story that's pretty non-traditional. After looking at all of the entries - the good stories, that used the medium to support and enhance storytelling were the clear winners. Some experimental formatting is really exciting when it is well done.

1:57 Mike Stocker: Alexandra, I couldn't agree more, we need to stick together and try to continue to produce captivating stories.

1:59 Phaedra Singelis: Visual journalists are journalists first. Good story-telling, good reporting will make your stories stand out.

No comments: