Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Why video journalism is ALL about the story

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 12, 2010

Last year I blogged about the winner of the Concentra Video Journalism Award, an international prize for excellent self-shot films.

The winner in 2009 was the superb Alexandra Garcia (currently producing a gorgeous fashion series for the Washington Post) with her film the Healing Fields.

I’ve used it lots of times to teach storytelling and sequences to my students.

Well, last week the 2010 awards were held and there’s a new winner: Adam Ellick from the New York Times.

So what makes this an award winning piece of journalism?

For me, it shows one thing and one thing alone: video journalism is about the story. The buck stops there. Here’s why.

Technically, this film is far from perfect. Some of the shots are badly framed, the voice over is stodgy, and the sound on some of the interviews is below par. Other contenders for the award were technically much stronger – for example, Vaughan Smith’s film made during a firefight in Afghanistan.

The pictures aren’t all that, either. There are some nice show-don’t-tell moments in the piece, but a little bit too much b-roll of traffic and rooftops for my liking .

And there is a narrative, but other contenders showed how it could be done better.

But Adam has one thing: the story. An amazing story: two entrepreneurial brothers, in the middle of Pakistan, supplying a large part of the world’s gimp masks and fetish wear. And he has access to it all: he has the brothers opening up, being frank and revealing on camera. He has the company’s designer, saying she’s partial to a bit of leather in the bedroom.

And he has the surprise. Watch the film and you get a rare “no way!” moment when you find out what’s going on.

Lesson: it’s the story and the story alone.

Some great video journalism from Afghanistan

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2010

Quite a few of you have been asking for more examples of top quality video journalism to be showcased on this blog.

I’m happy to oblige with this excellent study in calm, authoritative video journalism from one of the most experienced professionals in the game, Vaughan Smith.

After a month with soldiers from the Royal Anglicans in Afghanistan, Smith self shot and edited this 11 minute report, which was broadcast on the UK’s Channel 4 News last weekend.

Click here to watch it on Vaughan’s blog.

Why is it good video journalism? Well it does what good video journalism should: it gets close and intimate to the action. Vaughan’s small camera means he can go on patrol with the soldiers. His shooting skills enable him to capture sequences even though he’s filming on his own.

There is some voice over in this report, but it is infrequent and Vaughan’s calm voice only appears to explain the technicalities of what we are seeing on screen. The rest of it is just pure reality unfolding on screen often in extended sequences. For similar excellent Solo Video Journalism, check out the work of John D McHugh, who is also currently back in Afghanistan.

After more than a decade going where mainstream TV crews wouldn’t go, Vaughan now runs the popular Frontline Club in central London, a watering hole for journalists and debate about the industry.

Meanwhile, Ciara Leeming, writing on the Duckrabbit Blog has highlighted a good audio slideshow from the BBC, again reflecting on time in Afghanistan.

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