Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Video Coverage from Super Duper Tuesday Part Deux

Hello. My name is Michael Theis, and I am addicted to politics. No doubt, this election season has been like heroin for me. Really good heroin. The collapse of Guilliani, the comic relief of Ron Paul, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kuicinich, the death and resurrection of John McCain, the rise of Obama, the struggles of Clinton, and the inability for the press to handicap this race beyond the next few days have made this campaign the most entertaining of my young life.

So, coming home tonight, I didn't have to think too hard before deciding my daily post would combine my two loves: Video & Politics.

Tonight we'll take a spin through the journo-sphere of the 4 states participating in todays primary's to see what the various newspapers are doing in terms of video coverage of the elections.

Our first stop is the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the largest newspaper in Ohio. It was a bit hard to find their multimedia section as it was hidden on their homepage. Maybe that's not such a bad thing because their election offering was decidedly underwhelming:A talking head? A talking head?! Inexcusable. Ohio is playing a key role in setting the stage for the general election and all we get is a floating head against a black void!? Was it too hard to take a camera down to a few polling places for some man on the street? What about voters facing inclement weather? Am I missing something? At least they let me embed their video.

Moving onto Texas we take a look at the Dallas Morning News, a pioneer in online video. I was pleased with their selections. 3 videos relating to the election were up on their multimedia page. I particularly liked their coverage of a Hillary campaign stop at a local restaurant. It's a video that highlights the strengths of newspaper videography in capturing the spontaneity of an event like this.

I also surfed over to the Austin Statesman, which had two videos from today. Their videos were prefaced by a 30 second commercial for Obama, which was interesting to watch from a business sense: apparently some one in the Obama camp thinks online video has enough of an audience to merit spending precious ad dollars on it. After the commercials came the videos. They were both disappointing. The video at the top of their list, titled Voters at Sanchez Elementary School could have been left on the cutting room floor. It lasted barely a minute, started off with a puzzling freeze frame of a lady as a man spoke, then cut to a guy who didn't make much sense. The video itself didn't tell a story. It was one guys puzzling opinion. Their other video, Sun City Voting, also didn't tell much of a story, and also featured a rambling subject of questionable importance, awkward editing, and the dreaded windy microphone audio problems. At times the wind would drown out the speaker entirely. Remember folks: the most important part of video is the audio.

Lets not forget that there were two other primary's today in Vermont and Rhode Island. The Burlington Free Press, in Burlington VT, didn't have an election video per-se, but they did post a video about a town meeting in the city of Orwell, VT. Yeah, it wasn't about the primary, but it was about politics and provided a fascinating look at the style of democracy practiced in Vermont.

The Providence Rhode Island Journal appears to not have an in house video operation, but they did have links to streaming video from their local Fox affiliate which was just repackaged TV clips in standard TV style: SOT, VO, SOT, STANDUP. Boring.

As a brief look around the states in play tonight this served as an accurate barometer of the state of newspaper video: we have a lot to learn if the public is to begin to turn to us as a source of quality perspectives if this is all that can be mustered during an event like an election.

Monday, March 3, 2008

In Point

Hello and welcome to my first blog post.

An interesting discussion popped up over at Multimediashooter.com the other day in a column penned by Richard Koci Hernandez. In his article, entitled "Say NO to video: Conversations with the Video God" he asks that we as audio-visual journalists take a step back and look at video for what it is and is not. It is not one true savior of newspapers, and it is not the only tool which can tell a compelling web based story.

What caught my eye was in the comments section where Brock Meeks, former Wired Magazine and MSNBC journalist, wrote:

"Ever wonder why the folks at NBC, CBS, ABC produce videos every single day that just kick ass on 98 percent of the video produced by newspaper? It’s because they work in teams; a cameraman (or woman) does just that; the sound person is bulked up with his or her own gear. The cameraman never, natch, rarely, does the audio, and vice-versa and then there is the “talent” (yes, that’s what they call the on-air correspondents)."

I couldn't agree with him more.

One looks around the landscape of multi-media journalism today and finds that most papers have saddled their photographers with video gear, kick them out the door, and expect them to produce compelling video in between their efforts to shoot and process stills from the interstate pile up, city hall, and the new pizza place that opened on main street.

It simply cannot be done. There is not enough time in the day to be both a still photographer and a videographer and expect them to produce in both mediums with equal results. The time it takes to produce a good still photograph is dwarfed by the time required to produce a video of equal quality.

Newspapers instead need to treat their videographers more like regular reporters. Split the video from the photo departments and implement therein a traditional film/video workflow and hierarchy, with producers, production assistants, and editors. Treat your video less like a still photo and more like a documentary and you will end up with better video.

Case in point: In my senior year of college I took a Documentary Journalism course. The semester project was to produce a 15 minute documentary on any subject. Our professor acted as the producer and our teams were sort of like the production assistants/cameramen. I went out and produced House of Pain, a short documentary about a professional wrestling school in Hagerstown, MD. During the course of production I shot 15 hours of tape over the course of a month and when it came time to edit I still struggled to fill 15 minutes. The video was a small success, gaining acceptance to two film festivals and winning 2nd place in one. But I'll never forget the lesson I learned: producing compelling video requires time, a lot of time, and it's a luxury that still photographers don't have today.