Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

A snapshot of how video journalism should be

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 30, 2009

A big hats off to US journalist Paul Balcerak, who has found and posted two examples of what he calls artistic video journalism.

What they are, are two examples of how video journalism ought to be, if we can persuade VJs and newsrooms the world over to drop their book of TV conventions, put down the voice-over microphone and engage some creative juices.

The first, tells the story of a man trapped in a lift in a New York skyscraper. Before you watch it, imagine how it might look as a human interest piece on your local news programme.


REPORTER VO: “Nicholas White got more than he bargained for when he went for a smoke break last Friday evening”

WHITE, ON SCREEN: “I told my colleagues I was going for a cigarette break and I’d be back in five minutes.”

REPORTER VO: “But it became the longest cigarette break in history when the express elevator Nick was in broke down somewhere between the 30th and 43rd floor.”

REPORTER PIECE TO CAMERA, OUTSIDE BUILDING: “It began a 40 hour ordeal for Nicholas…” etc. etc.

We might also expect to hear from the manager of the building, defending lift safety, and if the reporter’s got more space to fill, some kind of medical expert about what happens to the body after 40 hours with no food or water.

All very….meh.

Now watch this:

That’s how the New Yorker ran it on their website. No reporter. No voice over narration. No interviews.

But which one tells the story? Which one gives you even the slightest inkling of the fear, boredom, desperation, despair you must feel being stuck in a lift for 40 hours?

The second piece was produced at

But there’s lots to be said about it, the first being I watched the whole thing through, even though it was about transportation policy in a US state thousands of miles away.

  • It uses vox pops, not to tell us how ‘disgusting’ something else or how ‘the government need to sort it out’; instead they’re used to share how people commute
  • It favours captions with artistic b-roll over droning voice over
  • Some footage is not full frame
  • It is beautifully shot with excellent use of depth-of-field/focus, which gives the story an extra quality

On the other side I’m sure you noticed the poor quality of the sound in the interviews, and I felt it was a bit slow in places, but otherwise this is storytelling on another level.

So what can we learn from this?

The way news is gathered is changing. So is the way it is funded. And the way it is delivered. But it is also vital the way news looks changes too. It would be a crying shame if, after the dust of the digital revolution settles, we are still watching formulaic 90 second packages fronted by a reporter.

Now is the time to make sure that doesn’t happen: video journalists need to let go of the rule book and think freely – and let storytelling take the lead.

The last word is best left to Paul:

The industry is going through a complete and utter reformation—and a lot of us aren’t going to make it. Most of us who do will be the ones who innovate, who experiment—who go against everything we’ve been ever been told about journalism.


9 Responses

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  1. […] fantásticos! Os vídeos, a edição. Por intermédio do Alexandre Gamela, cheguei até este, e depois este, posts, que abordam uma nova(?) forma de jornalismo. Um mix daquilo que já existe, […]

  2. Seth Long said, on September 30, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    Adam – Thanks for the kind words about our transportation video. All of the footage in that piece was shot with $150 Kodak Zi6 cameras with no external mics. We run 32 newsrooms and buying higher-end kit for that many people just isn’t possible in the current economic climate, so we opted for quantity over technical quality. Our hope with this particular piece was to make up for it with artistry and creativity – and I’m glad to read that you think we achieved that.

  3. paulbalcerak said, on September 30, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the shout, Adam, and glad you liked Andrew’s work especially. He’s done some dynamite work for us (in an odd coincidence, one of his other all-time greats (in my eyes) also has to do with transportation).

    You should be able to pull a WordPress embed code off the video’s “home page” on

  4. […] Alexandre Gamela shared A snapshot of how video journalism should be. […]

  5. […] you just have to watch this film by PNW Local (previously featured on this blog) to see the potential. It was shot entirely on the Zi8’s predecessor the Zi6. Elsewhere Cisco […]

  6. Chiara Bolognini said, on February 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    I completely agree with you. There’s no time to wait till the journalism industry shifts to an open system. Innovators will be the journalists. The others will be the past, writing in an abandoned one way communication system.

  7. […] all learn from. You can see previous write ups on really good video storytelling here and here and here! Here’s three more well executed examples; I’ve tried to put  as much practical […]

  8. […] Adam Westbrook and US journalist Paul Balcerak have suggested, there is greater artistic potential in online video […]

  9. […] Adam Westbrook and US journalist Paul Balcerak have suggested, there is greater artistic potential in online video […]

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