A desperate plea

First, let me start by stating the obvious. I do not consider myself a blogger.

BLOG
From Wikipedia
Blogs often provide commentary… function as more personal online diaries.

OK, with that out of the way, let me start blogging.

I didn't create this site with the intention of pontificating from on high. Who am I to do that? I'm no Joe Weiss, Brian Storm or Seth Gitner. They have every right to express their views and we would have every reason take their words to heart. Why?  They KNOW this multimedia stuff. I, on the other hand, haven't been doing it very long and am learning new stuff every day. BUT, I feel the need to express myself and warn you that I have nothing but the future of our industry in mind.
post continues, click the More/Comment button below to finish reading.
Required reading before I go on:

(Originally printed at
SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-11-16
reprinted with permission)

Preserving our Vision
By David Leeson, Dallas Morning News

Six years ago I began work on a philosophy designed to meet something I perceived as a threat to our profession – the demand for rich content, primarily through video.

I knew that still photos would remain forever – the undisputed champion for visual reporting. Actually, it could be the victor of ALL forms of journalistic reports. But, of course, I am prejudiced to the eloquence of the unmoving image that seems to move hearts and minds better than any.

But I also knew that we were about to be overrun by hordes of reality: circulation drops, declining reader demographics, bloggers kicking the ass of traditional media, iPods and podcasting, YouTube, MySpace – the list seems endless. Our best answer at that time seemed to be no answer at all.

As we buried our heads in the sand, our industry continued naively down a road marked with signs that said, "Bridge Out." Warnings of future peril didn't stop our presses, still cranking out newspapers from a gazillion sacrificial trees so we could print news everyone else was reading on the web before it even reached a TV newscast. Undeterred, we sent out our aged missives each day to be tossed over the roof of someone's burdened car onto the curb where another member of a fading demographic waited to smell the newsprint. In other words, surely you've considered that the cultural shifts have pitted us in a battle we can't win using traditional means of journalistic "warfare."

Somewhere along the way we became outdated. The word archaic seems fitting. Most of us still are and consider still images combined with audio as something highly innovative even though folks like Shelley Katz, a former Time magazine photographer, was doing that in 1970 for TV broadcast on WFAA in Dallas. Audio and stills can sometimes be an effective storytelling mechanism. All too often it is not.

Some of the older newspaper photographers remember the battles fought against authoritative newspaper designers. Our mantra was that design should follow the efficacy of the image and not the other way around. We fought type on top of our photos. We fought the cropping of horizontal images into verticals at the whim of "outsiders" who always screamed about page layouts and better design. Our response was to use our cameras to best their argument day in and day out with images that demanded respect.

Today, legions of us scrape together an extra 20 or 30 images that would have never been selected for publication a decade ago. Then, we string them together to create a (shudder) multimedia package. Here's some news for you – audio won't make bad editing any better. But what really disturbs me is a nagging question – has design finally won? It would be just like those slick designers to sneak up on us like that. Sigh.

Some of you have heard rumors and whispers of the work I have been doing in video since 2000. I'm grateful that a fair number of my colleagues apparently respect me enough to not tell me exactly how they feel about my "new" role in photojournalism. So, let me clarify what I've been doing. I've been fighting to preserve your vision. I've been waging war against a myriad of personal agendas while at the same time questioning my own.

I've agonized over my purpose and feel positive that I can declare myself purely motivated by preservation of photojournalism. Still images will remain but video has grown. Sometimes my beloved industry reminds me of a distant aunt visiting a reunion for the first time in 25 years. Last time you saw her you were sitting in a booster seat. Today she appears a tad smaller than before and marvels at how big you've become. Video was a child when most of us first picked up a 35mm. Now, video is all grown up and on its way to becoming a powerful storytelling tool.

The 35mm SLR is slowly being replaced by HDV cameras at places like the Dallas Morning News but the tradition of powerful photojournalism remains through our frame grabs. Why? Because we approach video reporting in the same way we photographed essays. Video isn't just video anymore, just like your photos stopped being "snaps."

If you had the skills in video today – there would be a very long list of opportunities before you. To move forward in life requires a measure of risk. There is no greatness outside of risk. The future of the traditional newspaper is looking pretty risky these days but the health of solid visual reporting is getting stronger every day by those of us who value visual journalism and ethical storytelling above and beyond a 35mm.

If you're still struggling with this then take a look at your average construction worker paid to build a house. Imagine showing up at the job site with only a circular saw. You walk around discussing RPM and torque. You talk about a recent seminar you attended about proper saw techniques. But, then, the boss approaches and asks you to hammer a nail. Unfortunately, you don't have a hammer and your beloved circular saw won't do the job. The moral of the story is that the purpose of the job was to get a house built and not to cut some wood.

The same is true for us. The purpose of the photojournalist is to visually report with honest and ethical stories – and, hopefully, change lives. It's the people that matter – not your photos. Your 35mm has always been nothing more than a tool for getting a job done. You may love it (and I assure you that none of you love it more than I do) but it isn't your purpose in life as a journalist.

______________________________________

This is from me: 

Let the stream of consciousness begin:

Okay, can we stop with the talking heads. And it's not so much the talking head, because, I know we sometimes have to do them, but after looking at the recent crop of NPPA multimedia contest entries for last month, I was shocked at how we, yes, me too, have become so lazy with our storytelling. All we seem to be doing is TELLING, not showing!
Great photojournalism is about SHOWING, revealing and not treating your audience like they are stupid, where you have to tell them what's going on.

We are at an exciting crossroads in photojournalism, so why are we just creating bad TV for the web? I have the utmost respect for our TV brethren, but I think the broadcast model is broken FOR THE WEB. So why are we following it? I believe this is our only chance to shake things up. This has nothing to do with talking heads or even video for that matter. Even our ass (audio slide shows) are boring, filled with voice of God narrators or the subjects themselves telling us about the story, instead of us showing the story.

This is the time to take risks, to start the revolution in storytelling. What's the answer? I don't know. But I hope that we as a community can figure it out, without feeling we need to follow a broken path.

But I do know where we should start, with SHOWING not TELLING. Let me point out some of the NPPA contest entries that do just that.

Roger' Care by Will Yurman–overall well done IMO nice balance of showing and telling, but mostly showing.

Washington Post's Ford Funeral–needed talking heads but look how the talking head wasn't on the screen for more than 5 seconds.

Waging Peace–Best example of what I'm talking about can be found in this piece. This could be called a textbook example. After the intro, click on the Working the Horn, there are two videos there, first watch Unofficial goals (this piece is pure SHOWING and doesn't assume a stupid audience. We get it, we can see how happy the kids are to receive the balls and how happy the soldiers are to give them. NOT ONE WORD OF TELLING in this piece.) On the other hand, the second video Cementing relations in Balbala is all TELLING.

My point? Let's grab this opportunity to be risky and take chances. My desperate plea to all of us is to experiment. So what if we fail. Now is the time to fail. We have the power right now to show the industry how we want to tell stories. And we better hurry. So what if we fail, then we can go back to the well traveled path. Don't wait for the "glass office" folks to give you a mandate on how things should be done. Do things the way you think they should be done and SHOW them that people are watching and appreciating the work, because believe me, if you can SHOW people great stories, they keep coming back for more.

Finally, my only direction or advice for the way I'd like to see our industry grow and flourish is to follow the cinematic approach over the broadcast model. When I say  cinematic, I don't just mean just video. Well told stories have no boundaries. Who cares if it's video, stills or an HD frame grab? If it touches my heart, mind and soul, like the work of many who came before me– photojournalists, photographers, artists, film-makers, whatever you want to call them–
then who cares what "brush" we use to paint the picture?

Let's shake things up, please.

-r

20 comments

  1. britannica.com

    in full: Web log or Weblog online journal where an individual, group, or corporation presents a record of activities, thoughts, or beliefs. Some blogs operate mainly as news filters, collecting various online sources and adding short comments and Internet links. Other blogs concentrate on presenting original material. In addition, many blogs provide a forum to allow visitors to leave comments…

    Sounds like you fit in just fine…

  2. Well said.
    A lot of us here in VisCom at Ohio University have been talking more and more about the convergence of photo and video needing a more “cinematic” approach. In fact our knight fellow, Bob Sacha (National Geographic Photographer), has been taking film classes every quarter so far. The craft of visual storytelling is the focus.

  3. We’re all in the same boat. Change has to occur, as the audience starts to desire a different way to get their content via the web rather than print.

    As change occurs a new type of storytelling will emerge. One that will take photojournalism to that next level. Photojournalists need to recognize that this is happening and jump on board.

    Don’t be afraid to experiment.

    Don’t be afraid to innovate.

    -Seth

    please send me some links to some cool work!

  4. Seth, you are so right. I am scared of video, but forcing myself to try it. I know that change is coming and it is eminent. It is nice to have someone to bounce off of, but in fredvegas, I seem to be th only one interesed. Thank goodness for the net!

  5. This is a great thread, Richard. This all needs to be talked about. We are in danger of stepping off on the wrong foot in this new media if we are not careful.

    I remember how things were ten years ago. Those of us moving into DV, as the first cameras like the Sony VX1000 and Canon XL-1 were coming out, were considered to be heretics by most people in the photojournalism community. People like Dirck Halstead were looked at as loons. When we covered the White House it was quite interesting to see that the people who were most intrigued by what Dirck and I were doing were the older photographers, always looking for a challenge, and not the younger ones looking to the glory days of photojournalism now long gone.

    At the first Platypus workshop in 1999, which was held at the same time as the NPPA TV workshop in Norman, Oklahoma, the broadcast TV folks thought the photographers walking around with XL-1 cameras looked ridiculous. I will never forget on graduation day when legendary videojournalist Darrell Barton, the guy who invented the style of TV shooting seen on CBS’ ’48 Hours’, came into the classroom of graduating ‘Platypi’ and expressed how wowed he had was by what he had seen. Darrell knew that things were not going to be the same (in that first Platypus class were the Turnley brothers, Don Doll, Eddie Keating and others. Two weeks later David Turnley was off on assignment for ABC news Nightline to shoot a video essay on the refugees in Kosovo, combining stills with video).

    The mistake some people are now making is adopting the failed TV model of telling stories. Ask the best shooters in the broadcast world if they are satisfied with the way their work is shown and you will see. So why repeat the same thing on the Web?

    Last fall Dirck met with the publisher of the DMN, who told him that David Leeson is the most important person there, as he is helping to revamp the way things are done and that could ultimately help save the paper.

    We are happy that David will be our keynote speaker at the spring Platypus workshop in two weeks.

    On another note, I really appreciate Richard’s mention of ‘Waging Peace’ . We worked hard on that one at The Pilot. Photographer Chris Tyree’s mission in Djibouti was to shoot primarily stills but also to do some video (we trained Chris at the Platypus workshop last year). He also carried an Edirol audio recorder. When he returned we decided to do a combination package of stories: stills with video;video; stills and natsound audio with a narration track that was written to the stills; and a slideshow with audio. I edited the entire package in Final Cut Pro over several weeks. The audio narration was done by reporter Kate Wiltrout after the visual narrative had been established. The natsound collected with the Edirol was layered with it. We attempted to edit the entire package in a cinematic form.

    We must be bold and try to do new things with the new tools and opportunities.

  6. The failed TV model of storytelling is not driven by photographers, but by producers and reporters. If the 70’s was the decade of the reporter, then the 80’s was the decade of the photography. Unfortunately that was followed by the decade of the producers (90’s) and it’s been down hill ever since.
    I’ve been around a while and have lived through all of the above. The one short period where I felt as if i were really a photojournalist/videojournalist was in the late 70’s in San Francisco at KQED where the filmcraftspeople were considered the equals of the reporters. Too often TV photogs are considered technicians.
    Keep in mind that the broadcasting field is just as worried as the print side about audience share. And news photogs in broadcast are just as worried about their jobs and their craft – but they don’t have the strength (or will to fight the fight) that the still photogs have.
    I find myself a traitor to some extent because I agree with most of what has been said above. I wish the print side would recognize the resource they have in their broadcast bretheren and work with them. We have a common goal of storytelling and much to share. I love video…I love the flow of time through my lens…
    I feel the passion of new discovery that still photographers have in video…but I don’t want to be shut out. I want to learn your new vision and share my experiences. We can both benefit.

  7. One thing I forgot to mention in my previous post is that I totally agree with what Richard said about showing and telling. The two pieces he mentions in in ‘Waging Peace’ work together; but the one described as showing, ‘Cementing Relations in Balbala’, could never work as a standalone piece, but viewed in context it is a part of what makes the whole package intelligible.

    Cyndy, the best TV photographers have amazing storytelling skills and produce work that rarely gets seen, unfortunately. I always encourage still photographers to pick the brains of TV photographers who they recognize as being excellent.

  8. What about the “interactive” part of multimedia. It seems like this is seriously overlooked. Visual storytelling does not have to be strictly linear. It doesn’t have to be a slideshow or a video that stand alone. It seems like this is overlooked a majority of the time. I think it’s time to bring something new to the table. How do we get viewers interested in a story. It seems like the best stories get praise from the industry but usually goes unnoticed to the general public. We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.

  9. multimedia? what is it?

    is video — multimedia? or is it one part of the whole — the whole being — multimedia storytelling — I almost wish Richard did not have “shooter” in the name of this site —

    he is limiting the type of multimedia storyteller out there to those who “shoot”

    i guess http://www.multimediastorytelling.com is already taken.

    ;P

    what about the amazing interactive storytellers out there that aren’t shooters?

    As multimedia storytelling evolves and as still shooters morph into videojournalists will the storytelling evolve? yes.

    It will get better —

    Print reporters are starting to shoot video and some are picking it up quickly — we’ll start developing audience around our video content — we’ll embed the video in with our content and the audience — the reader — the viewer will have more information to help them get through the story — much like a break out box does in print.

    maybe that short video will act like a mug does for a story — it will provide more information.

    Multimedia storytelling is evolving — we just need to be open to new ideas and others getting involved and get more and more journalists to see what the web can do for a story.

    Stories will become interactive as the skills of our storytellers heighten and video will be just one part of that final piece of multimedia.

    -seth

  10. I believe the limiting factor for most of us right now are the lack of resources and time being allocated to visual and interactive storytelling by newspaper publishers. Some are beginning to ‘get it’, but most clearly do not.

    At my newspaper we just hired a managing editor for online. This is a position we have needed to have someone to fight for expanded multimedia ‘exploration’ and innovation at the highest levels of leadership. Some interesting times are ahead, one way or another.

  11. Richard, excellent post obviously derived from a clear passion for the industry. And by looking at the comments generated, others feel the same.

    I agree, too. It’s taken a while to get here. We’ve been treading water for many years with spurts of greatness and a whole lot of potential; either resources, technology, experience or a combination of all three are holding us back.

    I hope shooters and multimedia producers take your challenge to push their creative boundaries.

    But I also agree with Zach Wise and Seth Gitner who posted comments on Richard’s post: At the same time, we need to be challenging ourselves in non-linear storytelling. THIS is where Web video can blow past TV video in both presentation and value.

    As we continue to develop audio, video, google maps and databases and then figure out how to best interweave them into a story, I truly think we’re sitting on the tipping point where soon we’ll be able to look back and see how far we’ve come in creating multimedia.

  12. As a commercial shooter and web designer, I have been on this mantra for a few years now. Commercial and editorial shooters must find new ways of doing what they do – tell a story. Whether it is video or flash or slideshows or whatever, there are new and exciting ways of doing what we do.

    I tried my hand at video a while ago, but found that at that station we were simply the geeks with a camera and were told what to shoot and when and how… sheesh… it was so boring. Now that station has very accomplished video guys who can really astound every once in a while.

    I do agree with the above sentiment that some new paths will include interesting, intuitive, or even non-sequential navigation with viewer participation. Let the visitor get the details of the story in the manner that makes sense to them. Discover. Process. Learn.

    This is a great resource for those of us looking for a source to other sources. Thanks guys, you are doing great work!

  13. One the great aspects of all this is our ability to forge communities and realize there are people out there with the same, fears, concerns and criticisms as we have.

    I was thrilled to find this, because I too am teaching myself, just like all of you, while learning to change the way we tell stories. And although I’m new to this, I have found myself with the same concerns: that too many in the hereforto “print” world were making bad television.

    Like the photographers who lament the passing of one great still picture that told a thousand words, I am a writer, a reporter, who hears the cries that my words alone will no longer suffice.

    Yet what an exciting time for all of us. Those 20 pictures that never used to be published were probably just as worthy as the one that ran across the center of the page. Now, every day is an opportunity for a photo essay in slide show form.

    As a writer, many times I had been just a little jealous of video being able to actually show the emotion of what I was trying to describe. Now, I do have the opportunity to show, rather than just tell.

    But I agree that we need to find our own place, and not follow in a particular form, just because it is comfortable. It’s a time to be adventurous, taking the best from cinema and television and print and molding them together into our own high standards of journalism. TV has its shortcomings, and cinema can tend to rely too much on reinactments and overdramatization.

    I covered a hearing in a murder case recently, where I used the written story to describe the overall picture but used one minute of edited video to convey the emotional testimony of one witness – a burly deputy sheriff from a rural community tearing up as he described helping his fallen boss. I used the testmony as the voice-over, cutting to crime scene pictures and giving a sense of the emotion and place. It was just a snippet of the entire story but it added to the overall package.

    What I love about this is letting our sources tell their own stories. Through our particular skills, whether they be rooted in photos or words, we can use our sharp eyes and our strong interviewing skills and the way we know how to tell stories to bring information to our audience in a way to help them better understand the world around them.

    It’s what we’ve always done, really, but now we have more tools to rely upon in doing it. To me, this is all just a natural progression from scrawling on the side of cave walls.

    It is an exciting time, and we will find our own unique ways to convey our stories, which may neither totally follow television or the cinema but one as individual as the people behind the lens or keyboards.

    And thank you for these forums, blogs, or spaces to share and communicate as we all teach ourselves new skills and find our way in an exciting time.

  14. Couple of additions: what we are all involved in is communicating/taking a very old style of storytelling (oral communication passed down from one generation to the next and imbedded in memory current from memories past) and delivering it in a very new way. While the old style was oral and the visions were all in the mind of the individual (which I actually think requires more imagination), the new style is a combination of oral and visual. But this time the visuals art dictated by the creator. The audience sees what the creator tells them to see. In the hands of a talented visual storyteller, this can take even the most unimaginative mind into realms they never dreamed of/create clarity and understanding.

    The multimedia aspect – I think many of us are on the edge of being too old to understand. It is all about gestalt – the entirety of being. The aiblity to move from vision to words to absorbing it all at once as a single unit. The older generation is still caught up in it’s own limitations of time and space – the new generation lives electronically. While we are learning, they are “being.”

    Hope this makes sense…there are days when I am able to make the leap of faith and understand what I just said above…and other days when I feel I need the comfort of a good old fashioned tightly formated news story, told in old TV style.

    Zach makes a good point about the “interactive” part of multimedia and wanting to “bring something new to the table.”
    His comments regarding the “best”going unnoticed is interesting. We seem to want to define what is “best” – but the general public isn’t noticing. Maybe we need to find out what the public wants or just admit we are examining our navels. I remember a point in TV back in the late 80’/early 90’s where editing got so precise and down to the frame and the minutest movements within the frame that only the most experienced editors could identify “excellence.” That was navel examination at its worst.

    I guess the answer is to loosen up, listen and learn from anyone and everyone.

  15. I wonder if sometimes we get so hung up with the exciting new world of the web and multimedia and interactivity and digital coolness that we forget it’s just about storytelling.

    NOT that all that stuff isn’t cool and fun. And NOT that video isn’t important, or that we shouldn’t embrace all the new tools at our disposal. But that in the end I want someone to remember the story I told not whether it was done with Flash or used video or had lots of cool buttons and Google maps.

    This evening I read, in print, a great little story from the New York Times:
    http://select.nytimes.com/2007/02/18/us/18land.html
    It was the kind of read that kept me from putting my kids to bed until I had finished, the kind of story that I demanded my wife read, that just made me feel good about journalism and life and writers.

    Assuming that quality will win out – then it seems to me it will be the quality of the storytelling – in whatever form – not the form itself that will matter.

    best
    will

  16. Not to belabor the point, I think Richard hits the nail on the head with two things, it is about TELLING THE STORY and it is about QUALITY. I would agree with him that a more cinematic approach is where news organizations (formerly newspapers) will be doing their best storytelling online, through video, stills, multimedia and interactive Flash packages.

    Copying bad television online is just being lazy. Our audience is visually educated by TV, movies, magazines and ads; we should acknowledge this and produce quality work that captures their imaginations and hearts.

    There are great, fun ways to tell stories these days. I spend more time these days trying to expand how our print journalists think about telling stories, demonstrating how we can better tell stories online and in print.

    The key, will be quality. More often than not, quality takes time. Either thinking things through beforehand or in “production time” after leaving the office and returning. Now, more than ever, workflow becomes an issue. If a story can best be told with video, then shoot that. If it is a single, get in done and move on. If a story grows as you are covering it, communicate back to the office and adjust as needed.

    My complete diatribe and response at my blog(journal?).

  17. Thanks for this Richard.

    But, I sometimes feel as if some of the best multimedia efforts I’ve made to date have gone poof, into cyberland, and I wonder, do folks “get it?”

    But, perhaps this to be expected, as we’re in Magellan territory here, and are working in a vacuum to some degree.

    -Bob

  18. Right on Richard. When I helped launch the Copley weekly papers about 10 years ago the one key component of the photo department’s success was getting top management to believe in the ability of photo to lead along with the word folks. (granted, it helped and was essential that the publisher was a photographer). It’s often overlooked in getting things done differently. Get the folks on top to buy in, then everyone else will have to follow. Most of the time those in the middle with power are paralyzed with fear of their superiors. They’re trying to satisfy those folks instead of getting behind great ideas from the beginning. It was essential to create an equal partnership that built mutual trust in taking leaps forward into unproven ground. It wasn’t always pretty, but eventually it worked really well and some great work got done over it’s five or so years of before it was sold and it was more or less dismantled.

    I’ve always wondered why writers do so many of the voice over narration of photography online. It seems that the photographer is as much if not more so of an authority on the topic. It seems to further subjugate the photographer as not worthy of being an authority on a subject.