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!
A chance to see the world from the perspective of a 6-foot-2, aspiring human rights journalist. Will include lessons learned and reflections.