Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fish Wrap Video

As a TV news photographer who fancies himself something of a writer, I’m naturally infatuated with the newspaper industry. Too bad the feeling isn’t returned. Ever since the first local broadcaster rose up from the primordial ooze, newspaper folk have heaped endless derision on what they clearly view as a lesser journalistic species. ‘Shallow‘, ‘superficial’ and a few other ’S’ words are the usual slurs. Many times of course, we’ve more than earned those taunts. What with our penchant for hyperbole, our infatuation with talking hair-do‘s and our garish, swooping graphics - it’s no mystery why those in the print realm consider us so inferior. Of course, we in TV have our own opinions of our cross-town rivals, but I can honestly report the distaste isn’t nearly as fervid. Still, we rarely mix. Instead we resign ourselves to long-held prejudices and segregate ourselves into vastly different disciplines. Until now.

You see, newspapers are dying. With readership diminishing and new consumers flocking to on-line information sources, many in print are having to reconsider age old tactics. (To be fair, we TV geeks are also embroiled in upheaval. Participatory media and the twin tubes of the internets are rewriting the rules for everyone in the game - not just those goobs at the local paper.) At the recent ConvergeSouth conference, I sat in on a gathering of very educated print folk as they almost gnashed each other to pieces over the dire state of their medium. It was like watching a flock of piranha turn on each other for lack of suitable prey. At least that’s how it appeared to this TV simpleton and being such, I kept my own mouth shut. When I was called on, I suggested the crowd forgo the infighting and embrace - gasp! - video. Cue the crickets.

Of course, many newspaper websites have done just that, long before I feebly suggested my own brand of heresy. These days, a simple Google search will uncover countless newspaper sites doing new and exciting things with the moving image. But what exactly this new version of video news will look like is a subject of great debate. Long form analysis, hometown quirk, nat sound operas - you can do as many different things with a video camera as you can a ball point pen. Wisely, many in print are urging their fellow scribes to forge a new medium onto itself: a brand of video storytelling vastly different from the shrill thundering of the nightly newscast. But in rallying their masses, some newspaper people prove once and for all that we in TV hold no patent on myopic arrogance:
"It’s my personal bias of course, but I think newspaper journalists naturally produce better video stories than TV. Newspaper reporters begin with two advantages — no preconceived notions about time limits, and no preconceived notions about hyping up the story — they are more likely to let the story tell itself and edit it for interest, not time."
Bold words from an industry hemorrhaging market share. Honestly, I wish them all the luck in the world, for the amalgamation of our two mediums would greatly improve the information stream - and where better to showcase it than on-line? Trouble is, too many in the print realm dismiss local TV efforts as entirely without merit. They gleefully point to the lowest common denominators, the “Killer Dust-Bunnies Hiding Under Your Child’s Bed” series-piece syndrome. Granted, the worst of my lot is guilty of such tripe, but I for one don’t deal in this bottom-feeding and neither do those who share my logo. Print folk would do themselves a huge favor by putting aside their contempt and taking a long hard look at the very best of broadcast news, starting with the NPPA reels readily available on-line. Perhaps TV news isn’t the pristine verbiage currently rotting in my driveway, but neither is it graffiti. Come to grips with that and you just may have a future in moving pictures. Otherwise, I’ll see you at the revolution.

I’ll be the one eating your lunch.


Anonymous said...

i would say that is calling a spade
a damn shovel.

Anonymous said...

I welcome my new competition to the ring. But who will shoot their video? Still photography and videography require 2 completely different skill sets. So does writing for pictures.

It has been my experience that print reporters have trouble making the transition to video. They have trouble realizing they can't just pick up the phone for a sound bite. They generally over-write the story, including all sorts of unnecessary details, as evident in the "preconcieved notions about time limits" remark. And they don't realize how much video is needed to cover their words.

As for the "hype" comment maybe you've got us there, but whose going to watch an introspective monologue on the intricacies of the last Board of Aldermen's meeting? And letting a story tell itself, I haven't seen much of that in the daily fish wrap.

As I said, I welcome your innovations and ideas, but when you need help, step down from your ivory towers and ask a pro.

Roch101 said...

I get your point, Stew -- well made. I must observe a little irony here, though. You convey these thoughts about video in text.

Another: turdpolisher, in his comment, wonders if print reporters have the skill set for video, ignoring the supurb two-medium skills of this blog's author -- a lenslinger who can write like the Dickens (well, not exactly Dickens, but damn good). If you are good, you're good. It doesn't matter what your "official" skill set is.

Anonymous said...

I first became aware of lenslinger's response on another forum and linked to and responded to that in my original post.

Turdpolisher, I love your attitude. Please keep it. All the better for my business.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I ruffled a few feathers. It's what I do. I did not mean to imply that one cannot be talented at both the written word and visual story telling. It's not automatic.

I go out every day to learn something new from my subjects, my reporter, or my competition. I'm merely suggesting, in my own offensive style, that before pen pushers dismiss us altogether, they take a look at what we have to offer.

read more here:

Roch101 said...

Mr. Polisher, no ruffled feathers here. I'm neither a print or video guy myself, strictly one with an interest in altmedia in whatever form. I was simply trying to observe that the lines are being blurred when it comes to the type of journalism one can consider his professional purview, Stewart being an example of someone who handles two media with great expertise. So no disagreement with you, "print" folks should spread their wings, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, Stewart, I told you I was sorry that I got you into that messy Converge session. What more of an apology can I give you? :)

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, the multimedia seminar for print folks I attended at Berkeley 18 months ago stressed most of these same points (and threw in hands-on training at no extra charge). I'm reasonably confident that, given the equipment and training, most print folks will be able to adapt. They might not win Peabodies and embark on careers as documentary filmmakers or anything, but they'll be able to tell a story and inform people, yeah.

If they choose to learn. And if their companies give them the equipment and training.