Sunday, February 11, 2007

Video Journalism Book - first draft


Mark Jones, a veteran 20 year news man now working for KRON4 Bay Area News Station, San Francisco summed it up: traditional news making is anachronistic.

Most new outfits trawl the newspapers looking for news, then depending on how detailed the newspaper has covered the subject, they'll send a news crew out.

Funny, newspaper have never really taken credit for that. In the 50's with TV News becoming a main stay of the media landscape - many publishers originally laughed it off as a fad - newspapers had to adopt a different approach.

Many became more feature-led or weighted with commentary. They could no longer break stories in the way electronic news could. But what they still had was the nose for developing news features and putting specialist personnel into the field to nuture contacts.

TV borrowed the format of using specialists and also poaching talent from the publishing world. Video journalism gives newspapers the edge again. Out researching their story, they can film the construct. Meanwhile, the fight for news is taking a secondary turn.

Newspapers have always dabbled in video scoops. Now they can strategically combine it with their own online output. Note the Sun Newspaper's exclusive video scoop featuring the cockpit exchange between US A-10 tankbuster planes attacking a Britsih convoy on March 28 2003. They could then follow it up with exclusive articles, effectively keeping the spot light on them.

I find this all very fascinating and have done since sitting in my bunk bed days at boarding school where I wrote my first article for our college magazine on the Neutron Bomb. Does anyone remember the Neutron Bomb?

So finally, this weekend I completed my first draft of a chapter in a book I have been wanting to publish, but perhaps now believe I have some substantive material to commit to old traditional paper. " Oh yes you smell that? Do you smell that? books son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of books in the morning."

I will be posting samples online for you to comment and include your views hopefully in the finished product.

The book is part biographical within the context of media work, part "how to" and part about self-help, the unwritten word of working in the media - short cuts etc. I hope it in some way also helps invigorate those who might see themselves in my shoes. Aristotle said it in so many words: there's no such thing as special, other than aplying those hard grafting days. For me it's the hard graft, simplified for you.

Some of my former colleagues and students have been extremely gracious in acknowledging some of these and I will leaning on your wise words and counsel again. So please comment.

Here however are the chapters in the first draft annotated with what I believe they try to achieve.



The beginning, middle and the end
Notes: This chapter is the thread - telling how VJ came to the UK, via Channel One, which I worked for. It looks at early working practises, going as far back as the 1900s and examples from the 1960s which I refer to as the victorian vjs. Then I chart how the BBC adopted Vjism. I interviewed Channel 4s executive in 2000 who lost out to being the first major company to adopt the format. I would in 2001 be invited to speak at the BBC managers conference in Birmingham. The chapers unveils all the techical and creative know how at shooting like a VJ, many from my own experience, with examples drawn from noticeable VJs and also my work with the Press Association, newspaper groups and lecturing Masters and MBA students.

BBC reportage to South Africa’s Through the Eyes of a Child.
Notes: BBC Reportage and Def II's Network were without question turning points in British current affairs creative film making in the late 80s, early 90s. Firstly, more importantly it was driven by youth telling stories about youth. Many of the styles and sleek ad-world creative look on British TV stems from what Reportage and Network 7 acheived. Not suprisingly, many of those who went through its revolving door are now big figures in the TV industry. I worked for Reportage in 1993 and that series run taught me more in TV making than a silver-haired man with brogues could. We made some mistakes but there was a strong formula. After Reportage I moved to South Africa and within two months was given a huge project: Through The Eyes of Child. I posted the pilot of the series on view magazine last week. BBC Reportage I believe was the perfect template for understanding the radical nature of video journalism. Simply, because Reportage under Janet Street Porter was radical. At WTN, which would become APTV, news driven primarily by pictures becomes the focal point - with an emphasis on how to quickly turn around copy and video. I hated and relished the job. Channel 4 News - where I spent 4 years freelancing offers an alternative insight to programme making to the BBC. Centralism Vs indeference. And then political programme making which is very structured. I had various stints working under Andrew Brown - the chancellor's brother. One of the progs I'll dissect was an audit I produced during the election weighing up what all parties had to offer.

Radio, Podcasts and critically acclaimed BBC Radio 4’s First Time Voters.
My first love and my first point of contact with the media was when as a first year Applied Chemistry undergraduate I approached my local BBC station to become a freelance radio journalist. BBC Leicester is where I made all my mistakes. It's where also a roll call of British talent has emerged, which meant I was really learning from the best. Those included Julian Worricker and VJ Sharma who would set up Britain's Asian Network. Radio is pivotal. Sound is paramount. In video journalism, you're also the sound recorder. Radio's package - the term given to a feature - is the height of the podcast. Understanding the iambic penatameter nature of speech will make you a better radio features maker. My trajectory in the 90s was working for the BBC's london station co-presenting and produding a thursday one hour show, which was sandwhiched between an unknown Vannessa Feltz and Chris Evans. My peak though was a BBC Radio 4, 40 minute feature, called First Time Voters in which I would solicit the views of four South Africans voting in their first election. That feature played on BBC 4, The BBC World Service, then the chiefs of South Africa Radio heard it and bought it. It was played on the eve of their historic election - the only foreign feature played on SA Radio during their election run. Podcasting is the package with a few things to heighten the sense, which I talk about.

Video Journalism on the Continent.
At last year's WeMedia conference that old chestnut arose. How will we help Africa's media? It's madness. A problem that exists could easily be handled with nothing more than training and the small video cameras. That's notwithstanding the ethics and system of rule in countries that may thwart reputable reportage. But in practical terms what networks like Ghana need is equipment. What they can't afford is the discriminatory high investments that comes with setting up a broadcast station. I was asked to be a consultant for Ghana TV on and off for three years. In a station that serviced the whole of the country, they had three beta cameras - only one was working and it was seconded by the president - and two editing mobile panels. One of the most ambitious projects on the continent was undertaken by a friend and ex-head of CNN. He wanted to know how easy it would be to produce the first international co-production between Ghana and South Africa. My idea was to use video journalism. The net result was Africa ( Ghanaian and South Africa journalists) producing their stories of interest. The chief executive wanted one good one hour programme. We came back with seven programmes. I was introduced to Nelson Mandela and was relayed a request from the president of Ghana. The programme had a huge impact bridging further ideas and collaboration between the two countries. After featuring Mccan Erikson's Herd Buoys - one of the most successful advertisers in South Africa - currently handling campaigns for the World Cup, they were invited to Ghana to adress government and industry. In this chapter I explain how we achieved what we did and why I believe Apple's broadcast solution is ideal for African broadcasters.

IDOCS - Interactive Documentary Evolution
In 2001 working at a Soho advertising company, a colleague and I hit on an idea of reproducing a documentary which was initially made for Channel 4. The Family took on a new life when it went online. It was an interactive documentary, which ( my first awards submission) netted us runner up in the Channel digital awards. Idocs comes with a formula that's replicable across any docs. Lennox Lewis' team saw it and asked us to pitch for their account. We lost in the final selection, but Lennox's team understood the combination of the web and video journalism, so asked me to join their outfit for the fight with Tyson. Videojournalism meant I could be discreet. And my web skillls meant at 3 in the morning after the fight I was writting copy for their news on
The idocs formula was used to produce a series of online promos. Remember this is 2002 - and Flash was not well known
outside of the design community. Hillman Curtis who I stumbled upon in 1999 was my inspiration.
Idocs will deconstruct some of the promos made but also give a behind the scene look at being the only journalist in the world allowed into the Lennox camp. Sorry that's not meant as boastful, but Lennox's team turned down every media organisation imaginable and their PR team would ocassionally remind me. Maybe they revelled in the thought.
I still have with me original footage I haven't posted of filming on my super 8 mm inside the Tyson camp.

Pop Promos and Advertising
XTP, Kuyah, and Wars - 3 different projects but all of which pull on the techniques of video journalism. This is probably the starkest illustration of how versatile Vjism technique is. XTP is Cross Track Projection and the use of ads on London underground being trialled at Tottenham Court Road statoin.
Viacom UK contacted us at and we devised 5 degress of motion showing how different movement could equate to a structured cost. Pop promos is an area I have dabbled in - again using structural form - to make an arduous process simple. Couple of weeks ago my nephew wanted a video, so in the space of 5 hours I taught him and he shot his first promo - not fully completed - but not bad. Advertising looks at one of the most high pressured campaigns I have been asked to front. CNN International reccommended me to a client who wanted an ad on air within 24 hours and was willing to pay for the premium. The bidding war that was sparked made me think whether journalism was really where I should stay working.
With no assets, no brief, no pictures, I had 18 hours to make it work. Here I deconstruct the production process. The ad made it on CNN International the next day.

The reporting of war
A growth area for vjism - war corresponding. There have been many instances of personnel in the field as VJs, with modern figures as the BBC's Leithhead and the award winning Ruud Elmendorp. There have been casualties. Wars attract the media and many freelancers and I have been no exception. Photographers are at most risk and the transition to video journalism comes with risks as well, but photo journalists and video journalists share a lot in common. The skillset's are more or less the same. No coincidence then that Digital Photographer - by Dirk Halstead marries the two. Here I deconstruct work in Ghana with the US Special Forces training ECOWAS soldiers preparing for assignments in war-torn Liberia. I also look at an incredible excercise working with Nato as an editor-in-the-field. Video journalism and back pack journalism offer an immediacy to war and conflict reportage that is still unmatched in traditional broadcasting, barring the use of video-sat phones.

8 DAYS -
The making of the first VJs from Newspapers
*International VideoJournalism Awards, Berlin
This is the chapter more complete than the others and charts how to make long format features. 8 Days is the story of the UK's first newspaper journalists learning to become VJs. It won the international VJ awards in Berlin.

The Net and Digital Diversity
A critique in academia. What should be a lab for ideas has become a quality assurance excercise. No bad thing, but while we give students the basics shouldn't we also be seeking to to let them experiment and come up with models for the future? In the US when you look at the web, it's an eye raiser that a lot of innovation has come from students.

Our lack of innovation in the UK comes down to structure and a hierachy, where the system has little notion what huge potential lay ahead if they took the reigns off.

Podcasts, MUDs, Atavars, Second life in academia are to be welcomed. Innovation overall is unfolding, but there's too much inertia. Here I'm looking at a comparative approach to different countries including Ghana - with its high standards in university.

I'll also round up views emerging from Digital Hollywood's conference where I shared a podium on education in the 21st century. As a quality regulator within the Broadcast Journalism Training Council, I'll give my views on observations from universities around the country. Here Chatham House rules may apply.

Mi2 Videojournalism - Shoot, Cut, Mix, Code, Publish 5 ways.
*Batten Awards for Innovation in Journalism, US
There are many things the media industry willl say can't be done. But we fail to remember that the media is still young and growing, particularly electronic media and the web. Execs will tell you what not to do. There will be hundreds of conferences this year extolling virtues of broadcasting, pubishing and the web.

Our role is to listen, deconstruct and see if we can build anew. An excercise I run in lectures is to randomly pick a site, a tv news show and show flaws. Often ideas are cross national. So being aware of different cultures helps. A masters student asked about the garish nature of Chinese web sites. I disagreed, the Chinese culture revells in bright primary colours ( reds).

Viewmagazine was another pet project asking what if. Its 1t took 1st place honours at the US Batten Award. I speak about website's becoming more televisual. That video would be key. That the language of reportage would change to incorporate aspects of zoo media. Here I walk readers through through viewmagazine's initial incarnation. How senior personnel believed it didn't have a chance . I also look at a number of new websites and what they're achieving. I'm fortunate here because the nature of viewmagazine attracts others who are breaking traditional practices that I can share them with you.

Next Generation Web and TV, the OuterNet and Video Hyperlinking
*WeMedia Felllowship, American Press Institute.
The future of the medium. Marshal Mculhan's future as I visualise it, Blade Runner, Minority Report et al. The clearest ideas thus far include video hyperlinking, the outernet and green screen second life.
I could write a whole novel here from my fantasising mind.

Your comments are duely welcomed.

Labels: BBC, Channel 4 News, hyper linking, outernet, video journalism, video journalist, videojournalism, videojournalist

1 comment:

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