Sunday, August 29, 2010

Harry Shearer's Katrina Documentary

In our recent item about documentary filmmakers who become Hollywood moviemakers, we speculated that someday the trend might reverse itself -- and, as though on cue, we were reminded that Spike Lee's sprawling If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise premiered last week on HBO. It's his second four-hour documentary about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, following 2006’s Peabody Award–winning When the Levees Broke.

This month the airwaves have been deluged with fifth-anniversary Katrina documentaries, ranging in tone from retrospective to investigative. On Monday, for one night only, Harry Shearer's own post-Katrina expose, The Big Uneasy, will screen in theaters nationwide.

Shearer is a man of many talents -- satirist, radio host, novelist, journalist, fine artist, and more. You've heard him as the voice of many Simpsons characters over the past 20 years, and have seen him perform in a comedic film genre he helped pioneer -- the mockumentary (Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, For Your Consideration).

But there's nothing funny about The Big Uneasy, which features Shearer interviewing New Orleans residents and officials to reveal that "some of the same flawed methods responsible for the levee failure during Katrina are being used to rebuild the system expected to protect the new New Orleans from future peril."

The Big Uneasy is laced with computer imagery that takes you inside the structures that failed so catastrophically, and boasts never–before–seen video of the moments when New Orleans began to flood and the painstaking investigations that followed. The Big Uneasy marks the beginning of the end of five years of ignorance about what happened to one of our nation’s most treasured cities — and serves as a stark reminder that the same agency that failed to protect New Orleans still exists in other cities across America.

Look for theaters near you, and show times, here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Documentary Directors Who Made the Transition to Feature Filmmaking

The Los Angeles Times takes a look at top documentary filmmakers who successfully made the leap to Hollywood moviemaking. It's not as natural a transition as you might expect, but what fascinates us is the qualities they bring with them -- which add up to exceptional visual storytelling abilities.

Documentary directors may be better equipped than most to deliver something that's frequently missing from narrative movies: emotional truthfulness. What's more, nonfiction storytellers directing narrative features are comfortable shooting in the increasingly popular verité style that mashes extemporaneous camera moves with scripted action and dialogue.
Michael Apted is a pioneering example, having produced the 7 Up series, and then giving us features such as Gorillas in the Mist (based on a true story), and now exploring terrain far removed from real life: the next Chronicles of Narnia film.

Paul Greengrass spent the first ten years of his career making documentaries, and his trademark handheld-camera technique ("To be perfectly honest, I couldn't afford tripods") has served him well with hit features such as United 93 (a 9/11 film based on real-life people and events) and two Bourne films.

Some other examples:

Nanette Burstein (pictured)
Documentaries: American Teen, The Kid Stays in the Picture
Feature: Going the Distance

Andrew Jarecki
Documentary: Capturing the Friedmans
Feature: All Good Things

Seth Gordon
Documentary: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,
Features: Four Christmases, Horrible Bosses (upcoming)

James Marsh
Documentary: Man on Wire (Oscar-winner)
Feature: Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980

Amir Bar-Lev
Documentary: The Tillman Story
Feature: Biopic of Jerry Garcia (upcoming)

Jose Padilha
Documentary: Bus 174
Features: Elite Squad 2, The Sigma Protocol (upcoming)

The documentarians-turned-dramatists say the two genres are unexpectedly comparable, and that their nonfiction backgrounds often helped them in critical ways. Even though a feature film may have a manufactured story, directors of documentaries and features are constantly looking for openness from the people in front of their cameras.

Padilha says directors with documentary training tend to be adept at telling stories, and shooting in a style that invites, rather than distances, the audience. "You don't have a script, so you have to focus on the narrative. You come up with a shooting plan based on what you decide the story is," Padilha says.

Documentary directors, Padilha adds, know how to use their cameras in service of that story. In a feature, "Instead of moving the camera by itself, you move the camera with the actors." In a documentary, he says, "The camera is always trying to find what matters in the action, so the audience can find what's relevant."
The documentary filmmakers interviewed for the Times story acknowledged that their hearts may be in non-fiction storytelling, but their wallets do better when they apply their talents to fiction -- especially considering that this year's excellent feature-length Oscar winner, "The Cove," grossed just $857,000 in the U.S.

As feature-length video distribution over the internet becomes more viable (as is already happening via Netflix, Hulu, et al), that financial picture is likely to improve considerably. Might feature filmmakers someday turn their lenses to nonfiction stories?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nieman Journalism Lab's New Free App

Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab released a new app this week (for iPhone/iPod/iPad) that it touts as "the best way to keep up with what's happening with the future of journalism. It brings you all the latest news from the Lab along with the best from around the web: new startups, innovation at established news organizations, and new ways to do great journalism online."

Here's what it features:
— In the Lab: The full text of all our stories here at the Lab, in mobile-friendly form. Scroll through what we’ve been writing, click through on our links — and when you’ve read a piece worth sharing, it’s easy to post it on Twitter, email it to a friend, or open it in Safari.

— On Twitter: Our Twitter feed, updated throughout the day, is an essential guide to the most interesting links on the traditional journalism world, new startups, advertising, marketing, and social media.

— Hot Links: We’re excited about this one. We’ve curated a list of the most influential corners of the future-of-news Twitterverse and, using the web service Hourly Press, scan through them for the links they’re talking about most. This list of 10 links, updated hourly, is the purest jolt of future-of-news talk online.

— Friends of the Lab: Here you’ll find the latest from our sister projects — Nieman Storyboard, Nieman Watchdog, and Nieman Reports — plus some of our other friends from Harvard. Plus, we give you quick and easy access to the public RSS feeds of some of the best sources of journalism news: The New York Times’ media coverage, paidContent, Poynter, MediaShift, Romenesko, Columbia Journalism Review, and Mashable. As always, tap on the headline to get the full story.

— Search: Curious what we’ve written about The Guardian, aggregation, Bill Keller, or MinnPost? We’ve got full-text search of the Lab’s archives, so you’re just a few taps away from finding out.

Download the free app here. And here's a video demo:

Nieman Journalism Lab iPhone app from Nieman Journalism Lab.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NPR Salutes News21 Multimedia

NPR's "The Picture Show" blog salutes the News21 multimedia project, which fosters investigative reporting and visual storytelling in journalism classrooms at eight universities nationwide.

Coburn Dukehart writes: "Many of the multimedia projects I’ve seen produced by News21 fellows shine in terms of the photojournalism, audio gathering, and multimedia storytelling."

NPR touts Spilling Over, a News 21 package produced at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that was recently showcased on KobreGuide. It's the story of a Lousiana family facing tough choices due to the nearby BP oil spill that disrupts their entire fishing community.

NPR also recommends a Syracuse News21 production, "All That Lingers," the result of weeks spent with military veterans who've deliberately isolated themselves in the state of Washington.

All That Lingers - Apart From War from MPD - SI Newhouse School.

Spilling Over from Powering a Nation.

To see more ambitious multimedia projects from up-and-coming videojournalists brimming with talent, energy and dedication, visit It's a testament to what rigorous classroom education combined with in-the-field enthusiasm can accomplish.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Telegraph21 Champions Online Documentaries

KobreGuide has discovered a vibrant new online outlet for short documentary films. It's called, and it was co-founded this year by Lauren Kesner O'Brien and Steffie Kinglake.

While KobreGuide focuses exclusively on the Web's best videojournalism, Telegraph21 touts itself as "a video magazine featuring the best documentary films and art videos from around the world." While we scout and cull the best efforts of major news organizations, Telegraph21 does the same with leading independent documentary filmmakers -- often helping them pare down their feature-length efforts to ten-minute Web-sized morsels.

So in some ways we're running on parallel tracks, with considerable overlap in sensibilities. In fact, today's KobreGuide selection, "Gum for My Boat," comes to us from Telegraph21. It introduces us to members of the Bangladesh Surf Club, an oxymoron in a country with plenty of beach, but a conservative Islamic culture that frowns on swimming. Filmmaker Russell Brownley is himself an international surfer, adding special insight to the project -- and differentiating it from what you might expect from a typical newspaper videojournalist.

O'Brien writes: "Gum for My Boat is a great summer film but also shows such a cool side of Bangladesh, surf culture at its best, and beautiful beaches, colors and scenery. A good film to soak up summer during the hot days of August."

Like KobreGuide, Telegraph21 points viewers to extra goodies with each video, including links to related stories, slideshows, producer bios and Q&As. But the main thing the two sites have in common is that, unlike most aggregated sites, they are "curated" -- meaning that the selections are scouted and hand-picked by professionals. You don't have to wade through the YouTube swamp to get to the good stuff.

O'Brien is herself a documentary filmmaker, whose work has been shown on BBC, PBS, MSNBC and CNBC, and who no doubt has a bright future in other alphabetic configurations. She lived in Armenia for three years to co-produce a non-fiction film there. Kinglake's background is in managing nonprofit organizations and communications campaigns. The two have been friends since college.

The name telegraph21 is both a nod to the nineteenth-century invention that allowed people to communicate in real time, and an expression of bringing that same spirit of innovation into the twenty-first century.
Videojournalists can submit their work for consideration here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Looking Back with Archival Images

USA Today invested time and resources into assembling a noteworthy multimedia package, showcased on KobreGuide this week, that looks at the rebuilding of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina five years ago.

Anniversaries of major events and catastrophes offer news organizations an opportunity to both look backward, and to examine present-day circumstances. The juxtapositions and lessons can be illuminating. Audiences love historical reviews, especially when accompanied by visual artifacts. For video purposes, it's obviously impossible to travel back in time to shoot footage, so that's when photographic archives prove especially valuable.

Here's how two other newspapers, with fewer staff and resources at their disposal, cleverly incorporated video in recent anniversary-themed stories.

To travel back 15 years, Tulsa World staffers offered their own on-camera perspectives, accompanied by archival images, and TV newscasts, of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of a federal building where 168 people were killed.

Spokane's Spokesman-Review reached back a full century to revisit the Big Burn of 1910, which obliterated entire towns: "Three million acres burned. At least 85 people killed." In a narrated voiceover, incorporating archival images, a staffer "looks back at the forest fires of 1910 in Idaho and Montana, the largest in U.S. history."

News organizations should think about how they can create compelling video stories of major historic events by using invaluable photojournalism images from yesteryear.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Top 10 Video Share Websites

The proliferation of video on the Web is due not just to an increase in professionally produced fare, but primarily because it's so cheap and easy for average idiots to shoot footage and spread it around. And much of the impetus for that activity has been Websites that make it cheap and easy to upload and share video for the world to see.

Everyone knows about YouTube, but in fact there are dozens of video sharing sites out there -- most of them free -- that offer features similar to, and in some instances superior to, YouTube's.

TopTen Reviews, which is sort of a Consumer Guide for techies, recently rated video sharing sites, offering comprehensive reviews of each and a useful side-by-side comparison chart. Here are the leaders of the pack:

YouTube, Metacafe, Break, Google, DailyMotion, Yahoo!, Revver, Vimeo, VidiLife, and Stickam.

Here's some of the criteria that their reviewers used:

Audience Features (e.g. search capabilities; screenshot previews; content description; viewer ratings system)

Producer Features (e.g. video creation tools; educational resources; public/private options)

Content (e.g. large library; aesthetic and legal regulations)

Ease of Use (e.g. intuitive organization and navigation; quick loading; minimal buffer delays)

Help/Support (e.g. FAQs; user guides & forums; customer service)

So which site was number one? No surprise here -- YouTube. It wasn't the first video sharing site, and its content is not always the greatest, but it's now synonymous with video itself, having garnered nearly a fifth of the world's Internet traffic. (Here's the TopTen review.)

TopTen reviewers especially liked YouTube's "functionality and community."

The real strength of YouTube is the members that interact, comment, and post videos for specific interests. It’s possible to find a video on YouTube for any interest, occupation, hobby or pastime...

Perhaps the most telling effect of YouTube’s video sharing formula is the fact that YouTube has gone from being the star to creating stars.... Now presidential candidates use YouTube as a way to give their debates and speeches a national audience, because YouTube has such a broad user base....
But is YouTube the best choice for videojournalists, who want their non-fiction stories, often on weighty topics, to stand out from the crowd? What has your experience been with video sharing sites? Which ones do you use... and why?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Making the Leap from Print to Video

Making the transition from photojournalism to videojournalism is a tough challenge. But making the leap from print to video -- now that's a big mountain to climb. Especially when your newspaper still expects you to keep churning out news and feature text stories.

And yet that's exactly what's been happening in newsrooms across the nation for the past few years. The assumption is that vidcam technology is sufficiently cheap and ubiquitous, and instinctive to use, that any reporter can point and shoot some footage while on assignment ... and then stitch together something in Final Cut that flickers and talks to go along with the story.

Lost in the equation is any notion that videos must constitute a) good journalism, and b) good storytelling.

Ian Shapira is a veteran Washington Post journalist who pursued a master's degree in "interactive journalism" at American University, nights and weekends, while still hammering away at his day job.

In the newspaper's Story Lab blog, he posted his first video effort online, and invited his readers to assess his progress. It's a four-minute profile of a DC-based DJ. But what caught our attention was his candid assessment of what it entails to bridge that chasm between print and video.


My transition from writer to video journalist has not been comfortable. I constantly fumbled with the tripod -- right in front of my subject -- which was about as embarrassing as getting caught with one's fly open. And I spent so many hours late into the evening with the video editing software Final Cut Express that I wondered whether I was even doing journalism anymore, or computer science.

More important, I discovered that making a compelling video for a website such as The Post's requires a fundamentally different kind of journalistic skill. As a writer with a pen and notepad, I have several logistical advantages over the video folks: I can reconstruct scenes that I am physically not able to witness; I don't need to lug around heavy equipment to film or record every tiny yet important atmospheric nuance; and, perhaps most obvious, I can persuade people in sensitive situations -- often, the very people who make the essence of a story -- to be quoted in an article, while those same people might scram when you utter the words "Can I mic you up?"
As fate would have it, his colleague Whitney Shefte, an accomplished Post videojournalist, concurrently made the reverse transition -- penning her first-ever article, a profile of a blues musician (for which she shot an accompanying video). Here's what she had to say:

[W]riting is telling and not showing. A written story asks for more of my own voice. It requires me to verbalize my observations instead of just piecing together what the camera captures. I can allow the subject to tell their own story from beginning to end in video. Sure, I edit out a lot of material, inevitably inserting my voice with each cut I make. But I’m never adding anything that wasn’t there. Video feels more true to me, more objective...

Unless the video has a narrator, old photographs or reenactments, history can’t really be shown on the screen. I had to do a lot more research than I do for video to uncover that history. At the same time, subjects open up more when a camera isn’t present. There are nuggets in written stories that no photographer or video journalist has access to. And while writing, I was also able to focus in a new way.
Both Shapira and Shefte's observations are noteworthy, and offer insight into the bigger picture, as publications plunge headlong into multimedia journalism.

Does it even make sense for writers to learn how to shoot and edit video? For video journalists to become writers? Shouldn't news organizations such as The Post invest in more specialists? Or, given our industry's financial upheaval, is a more versatile staff better?
Check out Shapira's video, and Shefte's text story, and see what you think.

Video Storytelling Workshop, 9/25

Poynter Institute's News University and the National Press Photographers Foundation are again teaming up to present their second annual Video Storytelling Workshop on Saturday, September 25.

It's a day-long live tutorial, and if you can't attend the session or the broadcast, it will be archived online soon after the session for all those who register.

Learn how to be today's savvy video journalist. Produce creative stories while making immediate deadlines, multitasking as a solo reporter, covering the same-old-story assignments, and managing nonconventional devices to get the story done.

This is your opportunity to learn from veteran journalists who are successful at handling new technology and adapting to new reporting practices, all while staying creative.
The program consists of four hour-long presentations, each with a Q-and-A session. You can participate in person at Poynter's Florida campus, or via your computer.

Tuition is $65, with discounts for members of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA).


Darren Durlach won the Ernie Crisp National Photographer of the year title this year, for the second year in the row. In the contest’s 66-year history, the award has only been won back-to-back 2 other times. He has won over 80 other national and regional awards, including 11 Emmys.

Lynn French is the Assistant Chief Photographer, the producer of JOBS 911 and a multimedia journalist at KPNX-TV in Phoenix, AZ. She is a native New Mexican and has worked in TV news for 19 years throughout her homeland, plus Texas and North Carolina.

Jason Witmer has won NPPA and Texas AP awards for videos he has produced while working as solo video journalist for in Houston, Tex. Previous to this, Witmer produced radio pieces for programs such as NPR's All Things Considered, freelanced as a magazine writer and completed a master's degree in journalism from UC-Berkeley.

Joe Fryer, from KARE TV in Minneapolis, MN. He has received four national Edward R. Murrow awards, including the prestigious Writing Murrow in 2006. He also won the regional Emmy for best reporter in 2009. For the past year, Joe has been runner up NPPA Photojournalism Award for Reporting.

Go here for more info, and to register.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Blogging Tips for Journalists

Videojournalist Adam Westbrook devoted a five-part series this week to Blogging for Journalists, in which he strived to "look at why you really can’t ignore blogging if you’re a journalist, guide you through the basics of getting started, and reveal some top tricks for making blogging work for you."

Westbrook has been blogging since 1994!

For me, blogging has transformed from a revision-avoiding-hobby into a career changer. It has got me work, training and speaking gigs, and a bit of money. I’ve seen my readers start small, before growing by more than 10,000 visits a month in just twelve months...

Although it has never made me a penny directly, blogging is a huge part of the work I do, which is why I think almost all journalists need to blog.
Here's how you can get started... or improve the quality and increase the readership of your current blog.

#1: Six reasons why journalists must blog and how

#2 How to create your own blog

#3 How to build an audience
(Five things you can do to add value to your blog)

#4 Give your blog a visual edge
(Visual themes and plugins)

#5 Five big mistakes I wish I hadn’t made
(Things I wish I knew when I started blogging)

And once you're up and running, please don't forget to point us to your blog. Who knows -- we might help promote it and send some traffic your way!

How to Fail at Online Video

On his blog, videojournalist Glen Canning provides a humorous guide to screwing up. It will ring a bell for all of us who, at one time or another, have been careless about battery charging, audio levels, white balancing, autofocusing, lighting, and worse.

Anyone involved with producing online video probably is aware of the too numerous to mention web sites they can go to for helpful information and tips on how to do it right. From holding the camera right to getting the color right, it’s all there readily available for the eager to learn and grow. Yet through it all there isn’t much mention on how to do it wrong. So, here I am filling that niche. This is Glen Canning’s guide to failing at online video.
Ever forget to pack your tripod or otherwise plan ahead for a shoot? This guide's for you.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

5 Things We Can't Believe Are Still Missing from Most Online News Videos

Is it really too much to ask?

When's the last time you saw a text story on a news Website that didn't have a headline?

And aren't you accustomed to also expecting a byline and dateline?

Don't photos usually have a caption and photo credit?

And aren't those photos right there next to the story they're illustrating?

It's common sense, right?

OK, then we have to ask. Why is it so %*#&@$! difficult for news Websites to appropriately label and organize their video stories?

Our KobreGuide scouts -- who search daily to locate for you the Web's best videojournalism stories -- have been looking high and low for great material on a daily basis for more than two years. Nobody has seen more videojournalism, good and bad, than they have. And you know what astonishes them most? No, it's not just the overwhelming overuse of zooms and underuse of tripods. No, it's not just the overabundance of actionless talking-head footage. It's not even all those "single-source" one-perspective stories that would never be allowed to fly on the print side of the operation.

No, what truly amazes us is that, even after all this time, most news Websites are still doing a stinky job of labeling and organizing their videos. Even as they're complaining that nobody watches their videos, they insist on making them impossible to find. And even once you find them, there's nothing compelling about the way they're packaged or presented that would make anybody want to click the PLAY button. We're tempted to link you to some of the more egregious examples, but we think you know who we're talking about.... Just about all of them!

So listen up, folks. Here's the bare minimum of what you need to provide potential viewers if you want them to become regular consumers of your video offerings.

1. TITLE. What's the video called? Make sure the title is in the video and in text adjacent to the video. Make sure those two titles match each other! Make sure they're spelled and punctuated correctly! (Bonus: Text next to a video makes it easier for search engines to find it.)

And don't get us started on this one: Make sure the title is interesting! We can tell that most titles are composed on the fly by the videojournalists themselves, and it shouldn't be expected that titling is their strong suit. Most of the titles we encounter are either too short and dry ("The Yellow Car") or impossibly unwieldy ("A Walk Down Memory Lane with a Grandmother Visting from Russia"). Instead, engage the writers and editors who are responsible for those catchy and memorable homepage headlines.

2. DATE. Put the date the video is posted in at least two places -- on the video (title sequence or credit roll) and adjacent to the video. People want to know WHEN this story happened -- and, remember, not everyone is going to see the video the same day it's posted. They may stumble upon it a week, a year, or a decade later.

3. CREDITS. Put the credits on and next to the video. You wouldn't leave a byline off a staff-produced story; why would you deprive videojournalists of their rightful due? And make sure to include all contributors -- including but not limited to reporters, writers, videographers, still photographers, editors, producers, music composers, and narrator.

4. LINKS. Given that most online videos aren't self-contained to begin with -- and rely on text stories for context and important details -- it's especially important that someone watching the video can quickly find the accompanying text, photo gallery, and all other relevant material. That includes previous coverage of related topics. Furthermore, you must provide links to the video from all those other places, so that anybody reading that text story or viewing that photo gallery can easily find the video (which, ideally, should be embedded right there on the Web page alongside the other story components). Amazingly, most news Websites hide their videojournalism so well that readers would never even know that there was a video that goes with a story.

5. NAVIGATION / ORGANIZATION. This is the one that really gets our goat. Even the top news outlets have made a complete muddle of their Video sections. They are unattractive, unappealing, and an organizational nightmare that prevents viewers from finding anything, whether they're looking for it or not. The worst are the ones that just stockpile videos one atop another, with no eye toward organization whatsoever -- today's burying yesterday's until you can't even find anything more than a few days old. While that scheme works for daily blogs, it's no way to run a video section. Lots have made attempts to sort them thematically, like newspaper sections (e.g. Sports, Lifestyle, Business), but even then it's usually in reverse chronological order, and so a video's shelf life ends up being somewhere between that of milk and yogurt.

Ideally a video should be accessible from multiple locations -- adjacent to its accompanying text story or package, in logical and easy-to-find locations within the video section. Additionally there should be a video box on the Website's homepage that features at least thumbnail versions of several videos, and a link to a video index page. Anybody visiting that video index page should be instantly enticed -- by the layout, design and alluring text descriptions -- to stick around and click on a variety of video options.

You want an example of who knows precisely how to sort and arrange tons of video options so that viewers can find something to watch instantly (whether they're looking for it or not)-- and are seduced into searching for, and clicking on, plenty more? Netflix, that's who! Go take a look at how much thought that company has put into creating an attractive organizational scheme, easy-to-use navigational tools, and appealing design. And all that descriptive text is a copy-editor's dream -- light, tight, bright. Isn't it time that news organizations took a cue from Netflix, which packages and presents its videos like its financial lifeblood depended on it?


OK, now that we've got that off our chest, we've got a bone to pick about most of the primitive and dysfunctional videoplayers that news outlets are still using. But that's another topic for another day. And while we're assembling our checklist of which features videoplayers should have, why not share your ideas on the subject. What are some of the best (and worst) videoplayers you have encountered in your Web travels?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The First 10 Seconds

In this video, videojournalist Richard Koci Hernandez underscores the importance of the first 10-15 seconds of your video, and the need to grab your audience immediately. He offers tips, tricks and observations for creating openings that work -- with examples.

However! This video tutorial itself opens with an interminable static shot of a visually boring bar graph, which, by his own admission, does not provide a good example of how videos should start. A classic case of "Do as I say, not as I do." And because the video supports an unscripted lecture, it tends to meander.

But there's plenty of good advice within it to warrant your attention.

Tell us -- what are some of the techniques you have used, or have seen used, to create compelling openings for video stories?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

L.A. Times Launches Visual Journalism Blog

Kudos to the Los Angeles Times for its launch of the new Framework blog devoted to visual journalism.

At first glance, its style and format is clearly inspired by the New York Times' excellent Lens blog -- but we're not saying that's a bad thing (except for maybe the reverse white-on-black type, which ironically is hard on the eyes).

Its initial content is a mixed bag. They sent two staff videographers to tag along on a staff photographer's assignment -- a simple portrait of a DJ in his home studio. We were expecting that the video would provide an inside glimpse of the task of capturing a still image of this musician. We thought we'd see and hear about the aesthetic and journalistic choices involved in setting, lighting, posing, props and wardrobe. (The subject is seen with his turntable and pet cat.) But strangely the video is all about the DJ -- who we listen to as he's being photographed -- and very little about the act of photographing him.

The blog's self-described mission is to "celebrate the power and explore the craft of visual storytelling. The blog highlights the work of Times photojournalists who, frame by frame, document the drama, the emotion and sometimes the humor of life. Framework also aims to serve as a resource hub for photography, multimedia and video enthusiasts who share our passion. We will trade insights and discuss the tools and techniques of telling stories through images."

Curiously one of the meatier offerings about tools and techniques, however, is told not through images but with a humorous text article. In his essay, "Need Some Instructions on Those Instructions?", Robert Lachman bemoans the increasing intricacy of whiz-bang cameras, something all photojournalists and videojournalists can relate to.

It’s hard to believe how complicated cameras have become. My new Canon EOS 7D has so many bells and whistles that even I, a so-called pro, sometimes find myself befuddled. It’s part camera, part computer, not to mention that most of the functions can be controlled from various parts of the camera. Push this button down, hold that, turn this…

This got me wondering if there wasn’t a better way to understand my camera.
He started with the manual, but we all know where that leads... Eventually he corralled a shelf full of books and DVDs (pictured) to help him sort through all the confusion, and he offers his helpful recommendations.

Subsequent postings take us behind the scenes in first-person accounts by Jay L. Clendenin, who shot a celebrity portrait of Bono without his trademark sunglasses... and Boris Yaro, who captured the iconic image of Robert Kennedy on the floor of L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel just after he was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan.

We look forward to watching Framework expand and improve as a valuable resource, and hope you'll join us in checking it out daily for fresh and inspiring material.

P.S. ... and of course, don't forget to check out KobreGuide's Los Angeles Times channel, for their best videojournalism. It was the Times' powerful Marlboro Marine video, by Luis Sinco, that launched KobreGuide two years ago!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Canon 7D vs. Barbie Video Girl

Brandon Block humorously compares his two new cameras: the $1,800 Canon 7D versus the new $50 Barbie Video Girl. ("It's the sassiest camera money can buy!")

The amazing thing, of course, is that nowadays you can stick a pretty good vidcam into a doll so cheaply. It also gives new meaning to phrases like "footage" and "hot shoe."

How About Investing in Videojournalism?

"After a protracted drought," the New York Times reports, "money is trickling back into the professional Web video industry."


The promise of Web video has risen and fallen over the last few years. What makes the current round of interest more compelling is the realization in the industry that Web video will not supplant television viewing anytime soon, just complement it. That partly explains why the companies have stopped labeling themselves “TV on the Internet.” ...

"We realized we were putting a burden on Web-original programming by trying to make it like TV,” said Lance Podell, the Next New Networks chief executive, who now calls his company a provider of “Web original programming.”

The Web video industry flies under the radar, but together, the major players rack up hundreds of millions of video views each month. As people spend more time online, producers are betting that video viewing times will keep growing in tandem...

Reaffirming its belief in made-for-the-Web programming, YouTube last month announced $5 million in grants for online producers...

Despite the evidence that viewers are eager to watch more on the Web, the recession was an ugly reality check for purveyors of such programming, and many start-ups were closed...

Web video companies say that advertisers are starting to make million-dollar commitments — hardly a threat to established television networks, but a big improvement for sites that started out making $5,000 at a time.

OK, here's the fly in the ointment. All this refers to entertainment video. All those online ersatz TV-but-not-quite-TV shows. Mini-soap operas. Goofy comedies. Game shows. Music videos.

Now, how about videojournalism?

Isn't it about time that major news organizations took a cue from their entertainment counterparts and started recognizing the power and potential profits in online video stories?

Read that New York Times story again, and be aware that all the facts and figures apply to the time and energy that audiences can and will spend watching non-fiction featurettes. True-life reality mini-documentaries. Not the home-movie video slop that's currently polluting most newspaper websites, but high-quality visual stories that are professionally told.

Imagine if time, talent and appropriate resources were wisely invested in creating online versions of TV newsmagazine segments -- minus the unnecessary slickness.

Remember -- "60 Minutes" has run longer, drawn a bigger audience, and made more profit for CBS than any of its sitcoms.

So where are the networks and investors for videojournalism?


Need a Room for Visa Pour L'image?

At Visa Pour L'image in Perpignan, France there is usually no space available if you search this late in the year for accommodations. We have a friend who rents out rooms of his house, and has openings during Visa which runs from August 29 through Sept 5:

Super quiet, cosy, garden and balcony, 10mn walk to the Castillet.
I have 3 bedrooms available as my “Russian journalists” won’t come this year.
1 single with a balcony facing the garden (this one is for you)
1 single with a larger bed1 twin direct access to the garden
To share: equipped kitchen, bathroom, toilets, 70m2 garden where you can have breakfast, WIFI , TV.
There are 2 other roommates in the house : a Spanish man and a Mexican woman.
Cleaning is done weekly
All charges are included : linen and towels provided, pick up at the trainstation (shuttle form the airport), (mini) breakfast kit
Price: 18 eur/night, minimum 5 nights.
More info here and here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Disturbing Images

Photojournalist Jodi Bieber traveled to Afghanistan for Time magazine to shoot portraits of women there, from an Olympic athlete to politicians to a woman severely burned in a suicide attempt.

In the first video below, Bieber discusses how and why she photographed Aisha, the Afghan teen whose ears and nose were cut off by the Taliban, for the cover.

Her images accompany the text story, Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban, by Aryn Baker

Here's what Time managing editor Richard Stengel has to say about the controversial cover picture:

Our cover image this week is powerful, shocking and disturbing. It is a portrait of Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. Aisha posed for the picture and says she wants the world to see the effect a Taliban resurgence would have on the women of Afghanistan, many of whom have flourished in the past few years. Her picture is accompanied by a powerful story by our own Aryn Baker on how Afghan women have embraced the freedoms that have come from the defeat of the Taliban — and how they fear a Taliban revival.

I thought long and hard about whether to put this image on the cover of TIME...

(Read more here.)

Go look at Bieber's online photo gallery, Women of Afghanistan Under Taliban Threat.

Which image would you have selected for the cover of Time magazine? Why?

And now watch Bieber's behind-the-scenes video about her entire photojournalism assignment, Portraits of Afghan Women:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Job Prospects for Videojournalists?

UPDATE (8/5): As though on cue, the Business Insider backs up our observations -- with charts and real data! The Evolution Of The Journalism Job Market: We May Be Headed Into A Golden Age, by Michael Mandel. (Original post here.)

Is it our imagination or does there seem to be an increasing number of "help wanted" ads for videojournalists?

We haven't done any scientific research, but just poking around at online jobhunting Websites we are turning up a heck of a lot more opportunities than there were a year ago.

The mega-search engine for jobseekers,, turns up a slew of possibilities for "videojournalist," "video journalist" and "multimedia journalist."

Job descriptions indicate that newsrooms are still looking for jacks-of-all-trades, who can report, write, shoot, edit, produce, conquer social media, walk on water, etc.

Salaries seem to be mostly in the $30,000 to $50,000 range, indicating that these aren't necessarily entry level positions, but you better hope your kids qualify for college scholarships. Some salaries go as high as twice that, but those are mostly management slots in major markets.

Tellingly, doesn't have any current openings for videojournalists -- but it does have a slew of reporting/editing gigs that require applicants to be able to shoot, edit and produce audio slideshows and video.

What has been your experience in seeking a job that enables or requires you to pursue videojournalism? What kinds of qualifications and background are employers seeking? How technically proficient are you expected to be? How much emphasis is put on your journalism pedigree and your storytelling chops? We're eager to hear about your jobhunting adventures.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Free E-Book: Kevin Kelly's Favorite True Films

Looking for a good documentary to watch? Kevin Kelly has already done the legwork for you.

He's put together an entire free e-book of what he considers "the best general-interest true films I've found" -- along with a companion Website,, that keeps the list updated (and solicits suggestions from fellow non-fiction film enthusiasts).

I define true films as documentaries, educational programs, non-fiction cinema, instructional how-to's, and what the British call factuals - a non-fiction visual account.

As dogged as I have been in tracking down great true films, I have seen only a fraction of the estimated 40,000 that have been made. So I am ready for more. However I will only list true films and documentaries that are available as VHS tape or DVDs at consumer prices. In other words, films that are easy for most people to see upon request. I won't include films that are only shown in theaters, or available via high-priced rentals, or simply out of print.
Kelly has organized them into quirky yet useful categories, including: Artists at work; Competition stories; Culture Design; Disenfranchised / downtrodden; Explaining Science; Extremists; Hard to believe / extraordinary; History; How to do it; Investigative; Lengendary characters; Living history / reality survivors; Monologues/interviews; Music Performances; People at work / inside view; Play; Sports; True adventures; Visual anthropology; Visual wit / cinematic poetry; Wackos / crazies / eccentrics; Wonders of the living world.

This little book will steer you to the best true films in English. Each film gets a short review of why it is worth your time, and then I feature 4 or 5 screen grabs from the film to show you what the texture and style of the film is. I also include a picture of the cover and indicate where you can rent it (say on Netflix) or purchase it (from Amazon). All the films reviewed are available on DVD or tape at consumer prices.

This is the golden age of documentaries. Inexpensive equipment, new methods of distribution, and a very eager audience have all launched a renaissance in non-fiction film making and viewing. The very best of these true films are as entertaining as the best Hollywood blockbusters. Because they are true, their storylines seem fresh with authentic plot twists, real characters, and truth stranger than fiction. Most true films are solidly informative, and a few are genuinely useful like a tool.

What am I looking for in a great true film? It must be factual. It must surprise me, but not preach to me. If it introduces me to a world or subculture that I never thought about before, even better. There's a plot - a transformation from beginning to the end.
Kevin Kelly himself is a true renaissance man, judging from the fact that his status as co-founding editor of Wired magazine is probably his least impressive credential!

You can download the free 201-page PDF file of True Films 3.0 (2007) here.

True Films 2.0 (2006) is available as a paperback from in black-and-white ($9.50) or color ($37.58).

Kelly's next book, What Technology Wants, will be published by Viking/Penguin in October.