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.
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.
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.
I spent an afternoon at the Canon expo in London yesterday, a showcase for the latest photography kit, including some very sexy looking XL H1s and of course the 5D Mark II.
Hidden among the photo-geekery was photojournalist turned multimedia war reporter John D McHugh.
He also experienced several fire fights, which he described as “fucking insane” and was even shot by insurgents for his trouble.
“The power of the still image is still unsurpassed” he says, although he admits he loves the fact he now has lots of different ways to tell a story.
His aim is not to copy television though, rather to “emulate the newspaper tradition”, using multimedia to show more and give more understanding to a story.
But it is not without its challenges. He admitted it is difficult to juggle his SLR with a video camera and dictaphone – something I can totally relate to from my short time filming in Iraq earlier this year. For me the fear was always missing a good shot because I’m busy with something else, something John has just got used to.
“I’ve missed photos, sure” he says, “but then I’ve always missed photographs in my whole career. If I was going to write a book, I always said it was going to be called ‘Photos I Didn’t Take.””
He says each missed photograph is seared in his memory.
“This is never going to be ideal, but it’s the world we’re in.”
A talented, brave and determined photojournalist, John is very much on the frontline, both militarily, and inside the industry.
Here’s a snippet of war reporting…as you’ve probably never seen it before:
First of all, his access is quite extraordinary: the trailer suggests he’s been given some quite rare access to frontline troops, and allowed to film and publish what he wants, without censorship. Presuming he had an attached media-ops officer with him, they seemed not to mind him running ahead of advancing troops with a glidecam.
Secondly, visually it is extremely impressive. It’s a great example of the elegance the Canon 5D Mk II allows. The DSLR Newshooter blog has published an interview with Dennis in which he explains his rig in more detail:
I used a Sennheiser ME- 66 shotgun mic and G2 wireless system running into a Beachtek DXA-2s (I’ve since upgraded to a Juicedlink CX-231 with the Magic Lantern hack) which converts professional XLR mics into a minijack suitable for the 5D. I built custom aluminum ‘wings’ in a workshop to hold this audio setup…
I mounted my whole system onto a Glidecam 2000 HD with custom rubber pads on the mount and a foam ear plug to suppress the vibration of the the lens.
The combination of the 5D Mk II with the Glidecam is quite effective – and quite affordable too.
Third, no doubt the storytelling will pack a punch too…but what kind of story will this tell of the war in Afghanistan? Although we can only go on the trailer at this point, does it glorify war? Is that something journalists should do?
The use of the music in this trailer, if anything else, seems to serve that purpose.
A brief, simple blog from multimedia producers Duckrabbit has stuck with me this week.
As well as highlighting amazing inspirational pieces of work (not to mention producing a fair few themselves), they’re also not afraid to highlight the less than good.
A frank post: “CNN should fire the producer of this audio slideshow” shows us a piece about a rehabilitation centre for children in Aghanistan, and shows us whats wrong with it.
The point about a still photo is that your eye explores it. When you put too much motion into a slideshow you’re removing the viewers ability to pause and reflect, to explore.
Slow pans on a big screen look great … but at the small size the images are reduced to on our computer screens the panning looks as rough as a dogs dinner that even the dog refuses to eat.
This is an incredibly important point about the still photograph and its place in the audio slideshow, and one I’ve never thought about before. (You only have to watch an audio slideshow I did from Basra to see similar seasick movements).
So these guys know what they’re talking about.
And now there’s a chance to learn from the best: with a weekend training event in Bristol, UK in July. Click here for all the details.
I had high hopes of going myself (gawd knows my photography needs some help) but sadly a prior arrangement (and a shortage of cash) keeps me out of the race.
So BBC Middle East correspondent Alan Johnston’s now been ‘in capitivity’ in Gaza for a month. The in capitivity part’s in quote marks because no-one knows for sure he’s actually being held hostage. We’ve heard nothing from any kidnappers or terrorist groups. No-one’s demanding money or the release of prisoners.
This is of course horribly concerning for Alan’s family and his employer the BBC, not to mention every other journalist working in the middle east or elsewhere.
Morbid statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists show that already this year eight journalists have been killed in the line of their work.
The lastest was the terrible case of Ajmal Nakshbandi, an Afghan translator working with an Italian journalist. They were both captured along with a driver by the Taliban. The Italian was freed three weeks ago; on Sunday Amjal was beheaded. Footage on the wires today shows the driver was literally held to the ground and killed with a small machete.
Journalists have been the victim of kidnappings and intimidation for a long time. Usually though it seems to be domestic journalists that are most at risk, such as Russian journalist Anna Politokskaya killed in Moscow last autumn.
The worrying new post 9/11 trend is the foreign reporter being seen as a viable target.
On Thursday the BBC are holding a press conference to highlight Alan’s month still missing. In an unusual sign of solidarity, they’re producing a programme in conjunction with Sky News and Al-Jazeera on the dangers facing journalists today. We also filmed an insert for it at CNN this afternoon.
Johnston’s low appearance rate on domestic programmes has stopped his disappearance raising the eyebrows it should here in the UK. Hopefully tomorrow will help boost the profile.
People need to realise the risks others take to bring them news that chances are they don’t even take notice of anyway.
News this week that the pope of poverty, Bob “da poyple are fookin’ doyin'” Geldof is planning on launching a TV channel devoted to promoting peace.
Funded by Point of Peace, Geldof’s developing the idea with his production company Ten Alps and will announce whether the channel will launch later this year. Let’s just hope it’s not 24 hours of black-and-white charity commercials set to Coldplay.
Among journalists there’s a parellel debate running: whether or not war correspondents should report conflicts with a bias towards peace.
Peace Journalism, as it’s known, has been enshrined in a book by Jake Lynch and Anna McGoldrick; I’m yet to read it, I’m afraid to say, but us City journos were given a taster this week courtesy of Roy Greenslade.
Essentially it argues journalists can and should promote a peaceful resolution to conflicts. It’s a noble aim, and you can’t argue its intentions, but pragmatically, it’s not to clear cut.
Asking too much?
War reporting is ahistorical peace journos say. Each day we’re told the bare facts: the what, where, when and who. But not the why and the accusation is that reporters don’t give us the origins and consequences of the violence we see on our screen.
Fair enough. I think we can see this in the day-to-day reporting in Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan. We’re told the “latest”, and (in Iraq) reminded yet again “the country is sliding ever closer to civil war.”
So here-here for more indepth analysis on our screens. But it’s not so simple: reporters and producers suffer one major limitation – time.
Can you report the latest and give indepth analysis in 90 seconds?
And this is where the problem with peace journalism lies. If you look at some of its recommendations they jar with reality:
- Avoid portraying conflict as a battle between two forces over the same goals.
- Don’t just report a suicide bomber from one group killed scores from another – explain what the motivations are.
- And show the invisible effects of conflict – mental illness, depression etc, not just the visible effects.
Great goals – but where’s the time to do it?
This isn’t to say I disagree with the concept at all. There are some really good recommendations from Lynch and McGoldrich that would really benefit journalism. Things like avoiding showing the human rights abuses and/or suffering of just one side; avoid showing opinion as fact and avoid blaming someone for the conflict.
Just try telling that to the hardened hacks in the field.
This week Channel 4 News has launched an invasion of Afghanistan, presenting an in-depth series of reports live from the country every night for a week. But the BBC are defending their terrority and pulling out their big guns to win the hearts and minds of the British viewing public. But who will win?
“Channel 4 News from Afghanistan” is the lastest in a strand of excellent ‘news events’ produced by the C4N team, as part of their nightly bulletins. Earlier in the year Jon Snow reported from Iran, a series which was nothing short of groundbreaking. This time, Alex Thompson’s donned the desert fatigues and is presenting the programme live via satellite all week.
Monday’s programme introduced us to the head of Kabul’s CID, in charge of stopping drug dealers and the Taliban, plus an interview with Pakistan’s President Musharref. Tonight the team are getting dirty with the blooming opium industry.
At least half of the 50 minute programme was dedicated to Afghanistan last night so there’s no messing around and each report is a real in-depth analysis of events.
Not to be outdone, the BBC have brought out their heavy artillery in the form of Alistair Leithead, their correspondent embedded with British troops, who did a special report for the 10 O’clock news.
Now I’m no fan of embedding and I think it tarnished the Iraq War coverage but it served the Beeb well yesterday. At times, I thought the package was an astonishing piece of solo-journalism and was ready to praise Leithead’s VJ skills. But it’s since transpired that producer Peter Emerson and cameraman Fred Scott did admirable jobs on the piece. The troops were open and the footage dramatic.
The winner? I think the Beeb took it this time, but with four days left of live coverage from Kabul, Channel 4 News may well prove me wrong.