For some time now forward-thinking newspapers have sought to include video in the ever important on-line presentations. Some of those encapsulated efforts have been downright groundbreaking, but much of it remains abysmal. Why shouldn't it? Advanced video skills aren't as easy to score as that discount handycam down at Best Buy. Just ask your local TV news photog - the one who's worked for years to master a craft most folk wisely take for granted. They'll tell you it takes time to hone the many disciplines required; from shot selection to microphone placement to the art of harboring found light. Grasp those fundamentals and the palette is yours. Eschew these principals and you'll find yourself scribbling on-screen.
All of which explains the mind-set of a group of television news shooters who recently sat down to judge a new category of NPPA Photojournalism contest: Web Video. Despite the many entries from newspapers far and wide, the judges decided not to name a first prize winner - blaming subpar work that failed to meet their criteria. Yes, they called the newspaper's video baby 'Ug-LEE'. One of the judges, KING-TV's Mark Morache, details why:
We saw some good journalism -- journalism with a big 'J.'But what caught me was that so many of these stories had an emotional disconnect. When you are watching a great story, you see it, you know it, you feel it in your gut. It sticks with you, and when it is over, you say, 'Re-rack it and play it again.'The reasons they cited seem simple enough: jittery camerawork, poor lighting, endings that were way too oblique. It was all too much for an organization that's not above taking itself too seriously. (Full disclosure: I've been an intinerant critic of NPPA contests for years. Something about posturing for trinkets always left me feeling a little cheap.) Still, I applaud their latest stance - and not just because it hacks off the smuggest of the ink-stained set. No, I support their decision because it seeks to establish a standard of visual storytelling that transcends outlet, medium or format. Today's consumers want their news now, and their getting it on a staggering arrays of new gadgets. But whether they're nodding in front of their living room plasma or leaning over their laptop out by the pool, they don't want to struggle to understand anything - not in a 500 channel, infinite website world.
None of this of course, is what newspaper folk wanted to hear. Leery of merely reproducing what they see as a deeply flawed TV product, the Print Contingent know they're on the precipice of a new video age. By continuing to feed the ambitions of their more than able photography staffs, they'll no doubt forge new methods in visual storytelling. But before they can conquer new frontiers, they must come to grips with the basics. And a little humility wouldn't hurt. Having long held broadcasters in low regard, many inkslingers are now telling us they can do our medium better. To that I issue a hearty 'Up Yours'. Were I to saunter into your Editor's office, slam my midnight prose down on his desk and pronounce it far superior to anything in-house, you'd rightfully laugh me out of the room. Just ask Howard Owens, who simply cannot fathom how the current crop of newspaper video failed to measure up:
It’s hard to believe that all the entries in a national contest were so fatally flawed by basic shooting and editing mistakes that they weren’t worthy of honor. I suspect, more to the point, is that the judges were unwilling or unable to come to terms with the changing face of video news. The flaws were not necessarily in frames of the video, but in the eyes of the judges.Not so, Howie. Most TV news photogs are rabid fans of all storytelling and are more than ready to be bowled over by something new and different. But like the audience we now share, our standards are too well-placed to endure shoddy work for very long. With fewer time restrictions and a ubiquitous delivery method, the newspaper industry can indeed rewrite the book on video news. No one's demanding your fare be as slick (and vapid) as what we churn out on the evening news, but it must be clear, clean and easy to follow. Otherwise, no number of grand proclamations about new frontiers will make up for garbled audio, distracting backlight and meandering narration. Just ask your news consumer, the one nodding off at the family computer.