Saturday, September 22, 2012

What If Your Subject Doesn't Want to Talk to You?

Ken Kobré is the author of the widest-selling text on photojournalism "Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach," (Focal Press-Elsevier 1980) and is also the head of photojournalism at San Francisco State University.

He is also the inventor of the Lightscoop, a universally acclaimed camera accessory that improves pop-up flash photographs. Ken also has an active freelance career that has included Newsweek,Time, and The New York Times.
Here's an except from Chapter 11 of his newest book, "Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling," including advice on what to do if your subject refuses the interview. The goal of the book is to offer videojournalists lessons in shooting, editing, producing, and distributing their own videos.
The book can be purchased at Amazon and other retailers.
The following excerpt has been provided by Focal Press.


Thoughtful interviews are well planned. Planning means contacting your subjects, explaining your story and why you need their input. It also requires detailing who your story is for and how and where it will be used. Good preparation also demands you arrange a mutually suitable time and place for the interview. And it means preparing questions that will elicit the most informative and engaging responses. Never just show up on someone’s doorstep unannounced, expecting a thoughtful and cooperative subject to be waiting for you.
There’s no need to go into exhaustive detail in your initial contact. You want to offer just enough information so your subject will be prepared for the interview, but won’t give them the opportunity to rehearse responses. Offer general areas of conversation you’ll be exploring, but don’t provide a list of specific questions, as that will ruin any chance for spontaneity.
Choose a time and location that will provide minimal distraction and noise. Ideally, you can shoot your subject in his or her “natural habitat”—at work or at home, or in a location that’s appropriate for the story itself. Make sure to schedule enough time—and remember to include time for setting up your location for recording optimal audio and video.
You don’t want to be rushed. Depending on the nature and complexity of your story, you may need to make multiple visits, at a variety of locations—especially if you’re following a process over a period of time. Or things can
become more complicated as you unearth new information that requires an on-camera response or rebuttal from other sources. Let the subject know that.

How much time should you request for your interview? That really depends on too many factors for us to generalize. TV news reporters are accustomed to getting in and out fast. They have frequent and rigid deadlines to meet and they know that only a short sound bite—a telling comment or observation extracted from a longer interview—will be used for their minute-long story. They realize there is no point in burdening the editor (most likely themselves) with wading through a half-hour conversation for the “money” quote. Instead, they fire off three quick questions, and they’re good to go.

Videojournalists face fewer such constraints. But at the same time, busy audiences do expect and appreciate economy. Even though stories can be told more expansively, nobody has the patience to sit through rambling monologues, especially when so many other online distractions beckon.

If someone does not want to be interviewed, that’s certainly his or her right. Plenty of people are wary of strangers in general and journalists in particular. Even a public official is not obligated to grant an interview. But if a source is important to your story, here are some tips for enticing him or her to cooperate:

• Don’t use the word “interview”—it can be off-putting. Say you’d like to talk or chat. It sounds less intimidating. (But be clear that your conversation will be on camera.)
• Like a good salesperson, try to intuit what’s causing the resistance and overcome specific objections by anticipating and accommodating the person’s concerns.
• If it’s a question of the person not having enough time right then, offer a more convenient time or place—perhaps in the person’s car on the way to work.
• If someone is afraid of looking bad or sounding stupid, explain why his or her perspective is so vital and necessary for your story.
• If the person claims to have nothing to say, reiterate the information you are seeking. If he or she still feels uncomfortable, at least ask for suggestions of other possible sources.
• If you’re having trouble getting access to a source, particularly one in an official capacity who may be surrounded by protective underlings, be persistent. Call, write, email, or just show up. Find a mutual acquaintance (or another source) to serve as intermediary.
• Be clear that the story will be told with or without the person’s cooperation—and so to be fair, you want to provide an opportunity to tell his or her side of the story.
• Appeal to the person’s vanity. Each person has something special and important to contribute to your story. Emphasize the person’s unique contribution.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ASMP NorCal Presents 'Photojournalism Today'

Please join me and four accomplished photojournalists on Tuesday, March 13 in San Francisco for a panel discussion about the challenges of working in the news media today.

Hosted by the Northern California chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers, the "Photojournalism Today" panel includes:

Noah Berger, a freelancer who has spent the past 17 years covering Bay Area news for editorial, corporate, and government clients. On the news side, Berger works principally for the Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle, Bloomberg News and the New York Times. He also covers transportation/development issues for state agencies and health care for the Blue Shield Foundation and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Mike Kepka (pictured), a San Francisco Chronicle staff photographer since 1999. Five years ago, he started producing his own photo/multimedia column for the Chronicle called The City Exposed, which celebrates San Francisco’s quirky collection of characters. In the past year he has transformed his column into a venue for new forms of multimedia techniques that continue to follow a true “one-man-band” style of reporting and production. You can follow Kepka’s work at and and on Twitter at @thecityexposed.

Jane Tyska, a photo and videojournalist at the Oakland Tribune/Bay Area News Group. Tyska spent a month in Nepal and Bhutan in 2010, following a Bhutanese refugee family from a camp in eastern Nepal to their new home in Oakland, and continued to document them until the birth of their first baby. Tyska also documented the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti and a local contractor’s efforts to help rebuild. She has won a national award for the Bhutan project from the South Asian Journalists Association and a YIPPA international press photo award for her Haiti work. Tyska has also received recent awards from the California Newspapers Publishers Association and the East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs.

Judy Walgren, the Director of Photography at the San Francisco Chronicle for just over one year. She faces daily challenges involving a depleted budget and fewer photojournalists to shoot the increasing number of Chronicle iPad app assignments, which require panoramas, galleries, and multimedia. Before coming to the Chronicle, Walgren was staff photographer at the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News and the Dallas Morning News, where she was part of a team that received the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting on violent human rights abuses against women worldwide. She has been awarded the Barbara Jordan Award for reporting on people with disabilities, the Sidney Hillman Award, and multiple Harry Chapin World Hunger Awards, in addition to other honors.

I'll be debuting segments of my new documentary feature, "Deadline Every Second: On Assignment with 12 AP Photojournalists."

ASMP NorCal members:     5.00
Affiliates, students            10.00
Non-members                  15.00
Pizza and drinks will be available with the purchase of a $5 food ticket.

6-7 pm Social hour with pizza and drink
7-9:30 pm Panel discussion

Left Space Studios
2055 Bryant Street
San Francisco, CA 94110


Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling" Textbook Is Now Available

Great news! My new textbook, "Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling," has arrived! According to its editor, it has already received more requests for possible college adoptions than any previous book published in the film/broadcast division of Focal Press.

There are sixteen richly illustrated chapters that provide detailed practical lessons in shooting, editing, producing and distributing the kind of high-quality videojournalism that is showcased in :

1 Telling Stories 
2 Finding  and Evaluating  a Story 
3 Successful Story Topics 
4 Producing  a Story 
5 Camera Basics 
6 Camera Exposure  and Handling 
7 Light  and Color 
8 Recording Sound 
9 Combining Audio  and Stills 
10 Shooting  a Sequence 
11 Conducting an Interview 
12 Writing a Script 
13 Editing the Story 
14 Ethics 
15 The Law 
16 Marketing a Story

Students and professionals alike will learn how to find a riveting story; gain access to charismatic characters who can tell their own tales; shoot candid clips; expertly interview the players; record clear, clean sound; write a script with pizzazz; and, finally, edit the material into a piece worthy of five minutes of a viewer's attention... while never losing sight of the main point: telling a great story.

The book is based on extensive interviews with (and contributions from) top professionals in the field. It  is for anyone learning how to master the art and craft of telling real short-form stories with words, sound and pictures for the Web or television. The opening chapters cover the foundations of multimedia storytelling, and the book progresses to the techniques required to shoot professional video, and record high quality sound and market the resulting product.

Most importantly, the book does not lose sight of the fundamental and enduring principals of JOURNALISM -- reporting, interviewing, writing, editing, and storytelling -- that will serve students well not only in producing quality videojournalism, but also throughout their careers, despite the rapidly changing technology scene.


Every multimedia story mentioned in the book can be easily found online by going to one special Web page, where you will also find various "how-to" video tutorials and interviews with leading practitioners. 

Additionally, you can keep up with the latest changes in the rapidly evolving field (new cameras, books, editing software, etc.) by checking the KobreGuide to the Web's Best Videojournalism Website, and also "Liking" the KobreGuide Facebook Page

This book owes much of its depth and breadth to the eight contributors who each wrote chapters: 

* Stan Heist , executive producer, Maryland Newsline, and adjunct professor, University of Maryland
* Kathy Kieliszewski, Deputy Director of Photo and Video, Detroit Free Press
* Jerry Lazar , executive editor,
* Regina McCombs, faculty for Multimedia and Mobile, The Poynter Institute
* Josh Meltzer, photojournalist-in-residence at Western Kentucky University, formerly with the Roanoke Times
* Mary Thorsby, independent business writer, Thorsby and Associates
* David Weintraub, instructor, Visual Communications Sequence, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of South Carolina

I am confident their research and writing will stand the test of time.

"Videojournalism" is available online at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and is also available in Nook and  Kindle editions. 

I look forward to your feedback and comments!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bringing Photojournalism to Bhutan

You'll enjoy this missive from our former student Mary Calvert, an award-winning photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. , describing her recent teaching adventure in Bhutan. Proud to see that she used her old professor's textbook! (Click photo to enlarge.)

"Greetings from the Kingdom of Bhutan," the email read. It came from out of the blue and continued, "I'm very much impressed with your work and congratulations for all the awards you have won so far. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to design and teach photojournalism for a period of week or two in Bhutan for journalists in Bhutan. The details can be discussed if you are interested.
Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.
Dawa Penjor

I had no idea who Dawa Penjor was or even whether Dawa was a man or woman. But I was intrigued and quickly wrote back for more information. I did not even know exactly where Bhutan was. A little bit of mining the almighty Interwebs revealed that Bhutan is a tiny country between India and Tibet in the thick of the Himalayan Mountains. There are only 683,407 people in the whole country and 72% of the land is covered in forest. Bhutan is one of the nine constitutional monarchies in the world where the king is the sole final authority.

In Bhutan, there is no gross domestic product, there is however a "Gross National Happiness" index based on the Buddhist values of the country and there are more monks supported by the Bhutanese government than the total of army troops, police and palace guards.

After a dozen or so emails I found myself on a plane to the Kingdom of Bhutan, "Land of the Thunder Dragon". My students included 15 local Bhutanese photographers and one Englishman at the Department of Information and Media in Thimphu, the capitol and Bhutan's largest city. I brought a case of Ken Kobre's book, "Photojournalism, the Professional's Approach" to share with the class.

My class was filled with bright students who soaked up every bit of advice and the lessons I had to share on photojournalism. One day we drove two hours to the town of Punakha, former capitol of Bhutan, to visit the Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong, that was built in 1637 and means "The Palace of Great Bliss". A "Dzong" is a large building that is a combination fort and monastery that house both monk's quarters and government offices. Our assignment for the day was to illustrate the theme "Devotion". All of us just wandered around and made pictures.

Bhutan is an amazing country and I loved my visit. Every single person that I met showed me kindness and I made many friends. I look forward to my next visit to the "Land of the Thunder Dragon".

Mary's blog:

Mary's website:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Audio Slideshows: Soundslides or Final Cut?

Since 2005, Joe Weiss' revolutionary Soundslides software has enabled newspaper Websites to produce audio slideshows -- and paved the way toward multimedia and videojournalism. For the first time, picture stories could be narrated -- by the reporter, the photographer, the subject -- and even augmented with natural sounds.

Its low cost and ease of use have made Soundslides enormously popular. But now that more photographers are shooting and editing video -- which itself has become more accessible and affordable -- they've been producing audio slideshows using Apple's Final Cut Pro or Adobe's Premiere Pro.

The Spokesman-Review's Colin Mulvany, a multimedia trailblazer, writes on his Mastering Multimedia blog: "I cannot say building an audio slide show is easier with a video editing program, but it does afford you some added features that are hard, if not impossible, to replicate in Soundslides."

He then goes on to share invaluable lessons and shortcuts he's learned while producing audio slideshows in Final Cut Pro, and takes you through a step-by-step process for making your pictures look and flow better. He also intelligently addresses such issues as cross-fading:

In Soundslides the default is to add a cross-fade to every image. I see a trend away from this as more people edit in video programs. Most of the time I just use quick cut between photos. It took me a while to break the cross fade habit, but now I see how much better a show flows without all that cross fading. It also makes it easier to edit to a beat in the audio.
Mulvany also cautions against going overboard with the Ken Burns style of zooming in and out of photos. There are occasions when you'll want to take advantage of the ability to create motion with a static image, but as he notes, "you don't want to make the viewer seasick."

Mulvany shot, edited, and narrated a terrific video story about the quirky "One of a Kind in the World Museum." As you can see below, it's essentially an audio slideshow in a video player. Given the static nature of museum objects, which are at the heart of this piece, he made excellent use of Final Cut split-screen features to enhance the use of motion on still images -- something that would not be possible with Soundslides.

Also, video players make it easier to embed and share multimedia stories, as we've done here:

Read Colin Mulvany's blog here. What are your thoughts and experiences regarding audio slideshows? Do you prefer the ease of using Soundslides? Or is it worth the extra effort and expense to produce them as videos in Final Cut?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Canon Hybrid is 'Game Changer' for AP Visuals

Kevin Roach,the Associated Press's VP for Broadcast News, tells Beet.TV that the hybrid Canon 5D Mark II (the first DSLR to enable 1080p video) is a "game changer" for visual journalism. .

The AP wisely committed resources to supplying both its print reporters and still photographers with these pricey tools (which run about $2500 each just for the body) -- and, here's the important part, the necessary training to ensure worthwhile results.

The video interview below includes samples of AP footage -- both raw and "produced." Note that stories often combine stills and video in the same piece, a testament to the enduring power of a single memorable frame.

Everyone loves the image quality, but pros concur that there are still enormous audio drawbacks for newsgatherers. Because there is no audio out (i.e. for headphones), you can't hear the interviews you are recording, to ensure their sound quality. Also, large video files require frequent changes of memory cards. And we've been hearing complaints about the challenge of focusing while in video mode.

We suspect all this will improve soon, and advise media outlets to follow AP's lead in acquainting qualified staffers with the tools and knowledge that will empower them to augment their visual storytelling prowess. It's a prudent investment.

Lots of Inspiration for Visual Journalists

Richard Koci Hernandez has posted his list of 25 books every visual journalist should have on their shelf, on his blog.

(To which we'd humbly add Photojournalism: The Professionals' Approach, 6th edition.)

He's also posted a glorious roundup of treats, Featured Work: Curated, Must See, Visual Stories. Many of these videos and multimedia stories have similarly been showcased here on -- a combination of great minds thinking alike, and the cream always rising to the top.

The selections are worthy of your attention, and will give you plenty to look at and enjoy this holiday weekend!