Stay objective. Get both sides of the story. Keep your opinion out of the piece. These declarations are uttered across newsrooms and journalism classrooms around the world. Yet, there are instances when journalists get to break those tenants and express their viewpoint by telling a story. The New York Times' series of Op-Docs provides that kind of freedom. The pieces are stunning.
These short video pieces come directly from the minds of the journalists, covering topics from the return home of a Guantánamo Bay prisoner to a 24-hour bus service that has become a homeless shelter. Emulating the powerful message each video holds is my main goal in creating my own piece. After watching many of the Op-Docs, here are four major takeaways.
1. The story, not the issue, is the lead
Nadine Cloete's piece, "Miseducation," details the pervasive nature of violent crimes against children in South Africa. While this is eluded to, it is not until the closing seconds of the video that the audience gets the payoff of the statistic that more than 50,000 violent crimes are reported each year against children. Instead, the video follows 11-year-old Kelina through the streets of Cape Town, South Africa as she details the fear she feels. Before the audience knows the issue, they are hooked into Kelina's story and want to know why she is scared.
2. Show that an individual story is part of a larger issue
New York's stop-and-frisk laws were implemented to decrease crime by allowing police officers to stop individuals if the officers believed the individual could be carrying a weapon. As Tyquan Brehon's story in "The Scars of Stop-and-Frisk" shows, however, this law is mishandled. Instead, it is used to profile minorities. Brehon estimates that he was stopped "60 to 70 times" between the ages of 15 and 18. The filmmakers, Julie Dressner and Edwin Martinez, do not stop there, though. They use statistics to show that Brehon's story is part of a larger issue with the laws, citing that 88 percent of those stopped in 2011 were not arrested or ticketed and that blacks or Latinos were 87 percent of those stopped. These numbers prove that the issue is a problem affecting more than Brehon.
3. Soundbites are more important than video
Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway were unable to film the subject of their film, "Three Strikes of Injustice," because he was in a California correctional facility. Shane Taylor was imprisoned because of the three-strike law in California for nonviolent crimes. Getting around this issue forced the filmmakers to record a telephone conversation with Taylor, then use that audio alongside pictures of Taylor's family. Under the California law, Taylor says that he is serving 25 years to life in prison for possessing less than $20 of methamphetamine and the video shows the affects of Taylor's imprisonment on his wife and daughter.
4. But a powerful message does not need spoken word
The piece "Lullaby" by Victor Kossakovsky shows the growing issue of individuals who are homeless sleeping near bank A.T.M.s in Europe. What makes Kossakovsky's piece is unique is that he does not have a single spoken word in the video. Instead, he uses powerful shots of people sleeping and bank patrons ignoring them or walking out of the bank to show the blind eye that is turned to the problem. This creative style offers a different way to take a stand.
There is a lot of learn from these Op-Docs. With more than four seasons, these takeaways only scratch the surface of all the great examples. Thinking about my own piece, I am considering ______
What did you think of the Op-Docs? Which was your favorite? Have a story you think should be told in the Op-Doc style? If so, let me know!
Last week was the first experience reporting as part of a team. Maredithe Meyer and I covered Marissa Lovell's speech about her experience with an eating disorder as part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The task was to capture two stories with one camera. The video above is my angle on the event.
This video was built using Adobe Premiere. Learning the video editing software was an uphill struggle. After learning the basics, though, the piece came together. Correcting colors in the video was the most time-consuming part of the entire project because the indoor lighting made all of the shots darker. Also, the audio of the audience interviews needed editing to minimize background noise.
Completing this project showed the power of visual storytelling. It is one thing to write a summary of an event, but letting those involved tell the story directly to audience adds another layer to the experience. This raises two questions: What type of story works best for video? Or, which stories do not?
Watch Maredithe Meyer's angle on the event here.
Being a college student, I have sat through my fair share of unexciting lectures. The problem is often that the lecturer is not interesting or the audience is not engaged. This was not the case Monday afternoon in #loweclass.
Professional journalists – the kind that do not have to write "aspiring" on their Twitter bio – visited to present their passions and upcoming projects. Each journalist had a unique piece of advice, providing much to think about.
Liz Navratil was the first to speak. She works for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as a crime reporter and is interested in under-reported U.S. crimes. Navratil's website is a great example of how to present works when there is a lot to show.
Justin George, a crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun, presented next. George was involved in the investigation that created Serial, the popular podcast hosted by Sarah Koenig. He is passionate about the culture that creates crime and investigating the reasons behind high crime rates. His lesson centered on using social media to connect with other journalists and gain a readership.
Fresh off a sabbatical in Spain, Miranda Spivack spoke about the importance of the First Amendment for journalists, as well as civilians. Spivack has worked as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Working through heavy amounts of legislation and laws for her articles, Spivack emphasized the importance of telling "human stories" so that readers can understand any topic's impact.
Dave Umhoefer of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel works as a political reporter. His investigations have given him the title of "GovWatcher," seen in his Twitter handle. Umhoefer has followed Gov. Scott Walker in rise to prominence in Wisconsin politics. Covering a controversial politician such as Walker, Umhoefer noted that a journalist can take a side and write with authority, although, it should only be done when all the facts are tipped to one side.
Having these journalists impart knowledge they have gained in the field was an invaluable presentation. It is exciting to hear how passionate they are about each topic and everyone should look forward to their upcoming projects.
There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together." Despite what others may think, journalism is not all about sitting alone, typing out stories by the light of the computer monitor. In fact, it can be easier to cover large events if done in teams. However, what if the goal is to create a video piece and there is only one video camera?
That was the challenge for the upcoming piece on Marissa Lovell's speech for National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Marissa is the daughter of Marquette University's president-elect Michael Lovell. She spoke for nearly an hour about her own struggle with anorexia nervosa and resources for people suffering from eating disorders. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion with Marissa's mother and two eating disorder experts, who answered audience questions.
The event was covered with the help of Maredithe Meyer. During Marissa's speech, I filmed. Moving around helped capture a number of shots from different angles, including Marissa speaking, her presentation slides and the audience. Maredithe sat in the front row, capturing audio and taking notes. Together, we asked for audience reactions, along with interviewing Marissa and her mother.
Maredithe and I alternated filming and asking questions to get audience insights. It almost became a competition. After one of us would get someone to answer questions on camera, we joked, "Alright, your turn" to get someone to agree to be interviewed. Maredithe was much more successful at this than me. It is becoming increasingly clear with each video project that people are nervous about being on camera. However, a reassuring smile that we are not working for TMZ or doing "gotcha journalism" seems to help.
It was a challenge to work together with one camera, when there was a lot of B-roll happening all at once. Between people discussing the topic after the event to Marissa hugging her family, it was difficult not to stress out about capturing everything. In my content paralysis, Maredithe grabbed the camera and captured some great B-roll of Marissa speaking with students and talking with her family. This will help show the personal side of Marissa sharing her story.
Before the event, I sent out this tweet as a joke, but found it to be true:
It was awesome working with such a driven and insightful partner. For a project that required the camera to be everywhere at once, Maredithe was an excellent resource in finding good shots and getting people to talk on camera. We were able to capture a lot of footage, which will make editing easier since there will be no shortage in content. Look for the video in the coming days.
Click here to read Maredithe's take on the event.
A chance to see the world from the perspective of a 6-foot-2, aspiring human rights journalist. Will include lessons learned and reflections.