Monday, October 13, 2008

Video Journalism -How to be dismissive

You're probably setting up a Video Journalism outfit or you're in the mix at the moment enjoying the wealth of talented video journalists showing their ware.

And some fine products they are as well.

You're asking questions. Many. Some are obvious, others sound cuckoo.

Any attempt to resolve them appears an act of absurdity. Like many you've got this thing sown up. What's black is black, the others white. No room for greys.

So you'll gather plenty of info, then refine, then come to your own conclusions.

With video what it is at the moment, the battle lines are drawn up for ownership of this form and its knowledge economy.

This expert this, and that expert that. Frankly it's tiring, and who can you trust?

If the answer you seek is outside your scope and you can't find the appropriate tech head, the simplest thing is to be dismissive.

We all do it; the more obvious for me in the next few weeks will be The Turner prize. I still might not get it, but I'd love to speak to the artist to understand how an unkempt bed constitutes art.

Answer, because the artist says so. Et Voila!

It's a highly personal medium. Video journalism is highly personal.

Video Journalism
14 years ago a newspaper outfit, Associated Newspapers who publish The Mail and Standard among its portfolio, wanted its own TV station.

It was the silliest idea you ever heard. They also wanted to advertise during the Super Bowl, but that never happened.

Some of the UK's most respected newspaper men e.g. Sir David English , and you won't find a bad word about him anywhere, hatched a plan.

They hired video journalists, many from newspapers. In 1994 and if you can remember what you were doing back then and what the industry was like, you'll understand the context of this:

They hired newspaper journos to become VJs. What the ^%$£* is a VJ?

And the pieces they turned in were pilloried by the industry.


That's what they said back then. Question is as you go about your video journalism today, does that statement bare any truth for you.

After a while the comments stopped, and the VJs moved on, many now to television, the BBC for instance, making award winning TV films.

Fancy that, newspaper journalists and photojournalists turned Vjs now making TV programmes and winning industry awards.

How sweet was that for those involved. But then really, TV's had a habit of taken print journos into TV. Read Andrew Marrs a short history of British Journalism.

And if you're reading this from outside the UK, Andrew Marr is Scotsman journalist turned BBC Political Editor, now an-all-about-town radio and TV host.

Ponder still , the idea of newspaper men and women winning TV awards; sounds very much like the Guardian Newspaper which recently won an RTS ( UK's Emmy) last year.

Incidentally though the award winner looks to function like a video journalist he won it as a film maker. More of that in a minute.

How the Net grew up
In 1994 when we first went on the Net on 28k modems, 240X120 pixels was the viewing size, then broadband in the shape of ADSL and T1 lines got busy.

We could go 320x240, even 480x360 if we were lucky, but the codec, Sorensons, still tested us.

Later at 2mb upwards the experience started to get even richer, the h264 codec kicked in and sites like Vimeo and Blip now encode at wider, less, compressed sizes.

And if we trend extrapolate that idea, in the wings soon we'll be a hosting player, or you might even be trying it yourself at the moment at 800 by 400 pixels.

Actually you already do it when you expand a video full screen except that the video's native size is often much smaller so you lose detail on the blow up.

If anything Apple Trailers encoded in different size formats offers that true experience.

Newspapers will continue to eschew television, solely because of the TV's own policies and licensing, plus the cost factor, but if any newspaper were offered a TV broadcast opportunity for free, what's the bet they won't take it.

Anything that leverages your product is a gift.

TV never the altruistic sort is in it for the money, so if it rings your newspaper asking for your video, even agreeing to pay for it ( you know what I mean) then it's a tipped hat to your work.

To that end Travis Fox and his films like: Rebuilding a Fortress, Rebuilding a life - the story of sheet metal worker Michael Flocco who lost his only son at the Pentagon on September 11th, is what most media orgs e.g. newspapers, websites would like.

Travis site says the ff:

Portions of the video aired on MSNBC and NewsChannel 8, a local Washington, D.C., cable station. CNN, NBC, and Maryland Public Television have also expressed interest in airing parts of the show. Finally, ABC will end their daylong Sept. 11 coverage with a re-broadcast of the story on Nightline UpClose.

The new film makers
Mighty impressive!

Something else happens when you're watching Travis' film and a host of others I could mention. You're watching a film; there's nothing to say this is a piece of video journalism.

This is the grey area I mentioned earlier.

At this stage there's very little to distinguish the way Travis works to someone like Molly Dineen - a highly respected British documentary maker who works her own camera.

With deference to Dineen and Travis, her starting base of docs might be different to Travis, but they're touching each other in their work covering long formats.

Video journalists making long format documentaries might just be panned as another silly idea.

But it's an obvious transition for anyone interested in pushing their art.

Many one person camera-sound crews renowned for their work resist the word video journalist and you can see why.

One of the strongest voices is the incredible Scott Rensberger (US)- one of the most awarded journalists in the business.

Scott knows stories, just like Bo knows football. And when we spoke in Spain last year we shared a lot of things in common. A good story is a good story and the label, well?

Why would you want to limit yourself?

By the way Scott fans, I wouldn't countenance for a moment comparing what I do to Scott. I said we shared similar thoughts. [Phew! You know some people....]

So there you go.

There are other questions, whether you a Video Journalist should film "smash and grabs" or work only constructs.

BBC VJs are strongly advised from ambulance chasing and filming incidents such as accidents etc, so said one of its Vjs to me.

Should your Vjs be allowed to work the beat, or work to a daily news belt?

Should you need a VJ sub editor to act as a second set of eyes or do the VJs publish straight to sites.

In 1994 we went through very much the same cycle of questions; some were resolved better than others.

18 years on the passionate debate and swiftly dismissed points of view continue.

If anything for some of us history is repeating itself and that is sad as some of the clues to the future lie in the past and by that I'm not even talking 1994, but 1966 when the first Cine (video) journalists were employed at the BBC.

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