Friday, May 7, 2010

Good Weekend Reading On Videojournalism

We amassed some good weekend reading for you. Browse the excerpts here, and then click on each title for the full story.

Also, given our finite number of eyeballs, please feel free to forward us links to any good online articles about visual journalism that you've seen and would like to share with your colleagues and fellow enthusiasts.

Separate Yourself from the Pack

By David Bergman (Guest blogger for Scott Kelby's Photoshop Insider)

I’d like to share the key to making a living in this crazy business of photography:

You need to separate yourself from the pack.

But how do you do that? I’ve realized that there are a few things I consistently do when preparing for a shoot.

1) If I see a group of photographers standing together, I run the other direction.

At most of the events I cover, there are a lot of other photographers. The wire services and local newspaper shooters always do a great job covering the event. So what can I bring to the table? If I just shoot the same images as everyone else, there’s no reason for me to be there.

The easiest way to separate myself is to literally move away from the other photographers. I try to take chances and go for the high risk shot. It doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, it’s worth it.

For example, I was assigned to shoot the Live Eight mega-concert in Philadelphia a few years ago. This was a huge international event with performances by Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Keith Urban, Maroon 5, Jay-Z, and more. There were expecting a million fans.

When I arrived, I saw that there were only two photo positions for the 50-plus credentialed photographers and the spots were way back by the sound board. I don’t like shooting from the back because the pictures just aren’t as dynamic as the shots from the photo pit in front of the stage. More importantly, there were more than 50 photographers all shooting exactly the same thing! I don’t care how big the event is, there’s just no reason for me to shoot the same pictures as everyone else.

It wasn’t going to be easy to break away from the group because the publicists and security guards had made it very clear that we weren’t allowed to shoot anywhere else. I knew I wouldn’t get into the pit in front of the stage, but as fans started to stream in, I noticed that they were giving out wristbands for the front, standing-room section.

I left my 600mm lens with a friend in the back and pretended to be a fan. After seamlessly melding into the line, I managed to snag a wristband! Next thing I knew, I was in the front row pressed up against the barricade and right next to the photo pit. The only thing to do at that point was hide my cameras until the last minute and hope I didn’t get kicked out.

I’m not suggesting that it’s always necessary to break the rules, but in this case, most of the fans in that section had cameras anyway. I shot the entire show from that spot and made pictures that were different from the ones shot in the back.


Newsy raises $2M for honest-to-God mobile video journalism

By Paul Boutin (Venture Beat)

Newsy, a startup formed in 2008 and based in Columbia, Missouri, announced this morning that the company has raised $2 million from undisclosed angel investors. The money, president Jim Spencer wrote in a prepared statement, “will allow us to grow our news operations and deliver a remarkable product.” Separately, Newsy’s free iPad app, released last week, shot to No. 6 on Apple’s list of most popular news apps.

What’s the big deal about Newsy? In short, Newsy is trying to do for the mobile video explosion what Ted Turner did with the cable TV explosion thirty years ago: Deliver a new kind of news enabled by the technology.

“You should go look at our iPhone app, at the quality of video we can deliver over 3G,” Spencer told me during a phone interview. “That wasn’t possible two years ago.” Imagine what two more years will bring.

Newsy does neither original reporting nor automated aggregation. Instead, the company calls its product “analysis.” Newsy prepares two-to-three-minute videos that highlight and explain the different coverage angles on a topic from different media sources. The goal isn’t to look for biased reporting, but rather to provide viewers with a wider range of valuable information on a hot topic. Newsy’s human journalists summarize the expanding newsosphere so you don’t have to do it yourself.

Newsy operates a website version of its news analyzer, which you can currently use for free and without being interrupted by ads. For example, see Newsy’s recent report on Florida governor Charlie Crist’s defection from the Republican Party. Newsy’s reporter narrates a mix of reports from Fox, CNN, Florida newspapers, plus political blogs you’ve probably never heard of. It’s a great clip that opens immediately with Crist giving his reasoning to an audience. An unnamed female anchor then guides viewers through reactions and reports from Fox, CNN, and a couple of blogs you may not have heard of. How will Crist’s move play out? Newsy hits a half dozen pithy takes from people who come across as experts.


Are We Done with DSLR Video?

By Jonathan Shuler

Two weeks ago Vincent Laforet gave the VJ world permission to shoot on traditional rigs again. He did it during an interview with Dan Chung of DSLR Shooter at the NAB conference and ever since the VJ/PJ blog world has been a’tizzy about how excited they are to get away from DSLRs and back to ENG kits like before. Cliff Etzel of Solo Video Journalist said, “I’m calling it as I see it. DSLR video is a fad – at least in solo video journalism it is.”

I feel like we forgot how we got here. Does everyone remember three years ago when there was no DSLR video?.

I was shooting on Panasonic HVX200s and Canon HF20s when I needed something really small. Do we all remember that? If you guys want to leave the DLSR Video Journalism sandbox, that’s cool, but I’m staying.

I can’t wait for everyone to leave and go back to shooting on $7-12K rigs that push up overhead on production and insurance, weigh roughly twice as much, have blindingly inferior low light performance, poor wide angle options, and expensive propriety storage mediums; all on chipsets smaller than a nickel. I’m sure it will be a party.


Demotix adds video content and custom ecommerce system to new site

By Judith Townend (

Demotix, the citizen journalism site and photo agency, has launched a new site and user payment system.

The site - which has grown to 3,000 active contributors in 190 countries since launching in autumn 2008 - will now feature a video content, as well as a new ecommerce system.

"Every contributor will have a hidden page on their dashboard where they can see what has been sold, for how much, and when they'll be paid," CEO Turi Munthe explained.

"It will make their lives much simpler, and will make us much more transparent. Having it run automatically also simplifies our life tremendously."

Demotix says it can sell images for professional rates to mainstream media and other buyers, with 50 per cent going to the producer.

With the new site, there are also changes for buyers, Munthe said. For example, the URL structure of Demotix has been altered to make every image searchable outside of a story. This will make searching for images inside Demotix, and on the external web, much easier, he said.

He also hopes content commissioning will be simplified: "We've built a dead simple ecommerce sales platform which will allow anyone to licence Demotix imagery direct from the web. We get a lot of one-off queries for pictures that would be far more simply done automatically." The new process will be easier for buyers, and easier for Demotix, he adds.

Munthe expects the site's use of video to develop as its photo agency has: "Demotix has always been a word of mouth build, and video will be the same.

"We'll be reaching out to new video users in our key geographic areas, and we'll be trying to educate our current users to get into video, but we'll eventually - and shortly - be looking for interesting video partners too."

The first video features an interview with a journalist from Kazakhstan, discussing freedom of speech. It's appropriate, says Munthe, in a blog post, because "Demotix unashamedly stands for free speech and a democratised media".

My first video journalism shoot with the Canon550D

By Adam Westbrook

I was recently commissioned to produce a five-minute video package ahead of this week’s General Election in the UK, on the controversial ban on prisoners being able to vote.

It was a commission for the VJ Movement, and has since been featured on Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

It was also the first test for my new Canon 550D DSLR camera and related paraphernalia.

The story

We spent a fair amount of time thrashing out the story arc for the piece, something VJ Movement take very seriously.

Together we’re trying to produce video journalism which doesn’t conform to the old rules of a TV news piece. This first commission doesn’t quite go the whole way with that, but the opening sequences and the atmospheric introduction of the main character attempt to try a few different things.

We used John as the main character to drive the narrative forward, rather than flipping between talking heads, which works well, and he lent himself well to colourful soundbites and nice sequences.

The story is limited though by its complex and legal nature; there’s a lot of elements to it not just John’s personal story which all need to be included – a challenge to both shoot and write to.

The gear

For the most part the 550D performed well, and produced some excellent images. I have the most basic 18-55mm lens but it’s a good all-rounded for most shots. Importantly it performs very well in low light, which helped in the darker locations I was filming in for this piece.

It also produces a nice colour for the images. Some limitations with recording time though: you can only record for a maximum of 12 minutes at a time, regardless of the size of your SD card (I have absolutely no idea why). You might also spot a couple of out-of-focus shots too, a result of not being able to focus properly on the LCD screen.

The rough edit contained a few handheld shots but we removed them as they were too shaky. Being an SLR it’s not an easy camera to keep steady -- more support for always using a tripod where you can.

The biggest challenge, as with all the DSLRs, is audio. As well as a Rode VideoMic attached to the camera, I recorded all the interviews separately onto a Tascam DR-07 and synched it in Final Cut Pro.

I am very happy with the quality of the audio – but ran into trouble with frame rates. If, for example, I changed the shutter speed down to 25fps to brighten the image, the audio recording was not recorded at the same speed.

All minor problems to iron out with more practice, and I personally don’t find it too much of a hassle to sync the audio in post – if it means the sound is good quality.

The DSLR debate

I’ve enjoyed working the 550D: very happy with what I got for the price and also glad to have the flexibility to take photographs and produce audio slideshows with a single camera.

Meanwhile the debate over whether video journalists should use DSLR cameras continues; the detractors – for example Cliff Etzel – label it a “fad” and accuse users of a “lazy” obsession with shallow depth-of-field.

And of course Cliff is right, it’s the story not how the pictures look. But personally, I think it’s possible to care about both.

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