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Comment: Social Media And The Future of TV News

An opinion by Matt Allard:

Shooting on an ENG camera in Sri Lanka

Shooting on an ENG camera in Sri Lanka

It’s a difficult time to be employed in the news industry. Whether you’re a cameraman, photographer, editor, producer, reporter or do any of the other countless jobs in our industry you will have been personally affected by cuts or know someone who has. Many of the people I greatly admire and respect have also left staff positions by choice and countless people I used to work with in Australia are now out of jobs. Ironically, at the ACS (Australian Cinematography Society) Awards held last week, all the winners in the News and current affairs categories were freelancers and not staff. This is the first time this has ever happened. It tells me a lot about the poor state of our industry.

Logically, you would expect there to be more work available now than there has ever been. Surely, with more content being required, more people are needed to create it. So why is the news industry making massive cuts and laying off staff in record numbers?

People’s lives have become increasingly busy and they don’t have time to sit down and watch whole news bulletins or read a newspaper. Unfortunately, it is society that dictates in a lot of ways what we do and how we do it. In the old days your job probably finished at 5pm and you were home by 5.30. You lived closer to where you worked and your wife probably didn’t have to go to work.

Now, while this is a bit of a stereotypical example, it is an insight into why the media landscape has changed and traditional models no longer work. If you don’t have an viewer at home to watch your 6pm bulletin or you a reader sitting down at a breakfast table with a newspaper, how is your business model going to succeed?

The majority of potential viewers are now getting their content online and this is especially true of news content. Whether this be on an iPad, smart phone or their home computer, viewers no longer need to sit down and watch broadcast television on their TV or read a physical newspaper. There still are those people who watch free-to-air television but they don’t tend to be in the core 15-35 demographic, where most of the advertising dollars are aimed. Traditional media organizations such as commercial television networks are clinging on to the old business models and squeezing out every last penny they can.  

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TV news and current affairs used to be edgy and in-depth, and I think the fact that programmes have moved away from these values is part and parcel of the continuing demise. A tongue-in-cheek tweet I saw the other day said: “I watch TV news to see what happened on Twitter yesterday.”

Traditional 6pm TV broadcasts used to work because they were the only way, apart from radio, to find out what had happened during the day. For newspapers, you had to wait until the next day to find out. The internet and particularly social media have taken away the edge that TV and newspapers used to have. Sure, 140 characters in a tweet and a small video clip on Facebook can’t give you in-depth coverage like a TV report or newspaper article could but they don’t need to. Social media has dramatically affected not only traditional local news bulletins but 24 hour news as well. A 24 hour news channel used to have a great advantage in breaking news situations as it could deliver you the information first but that is not the case anymore. Why tune in to see some reporter telling you about what is going on from a live position when you can find out on Twitter earlier? Why wait to see pictures or a news report when I can already see video of something on Facebook? These are the questions our industry is facing and we need to come up with answers.

The problem with social media is that most of it is citizen journalism and the facts can’t be verified; nor can you be completely sure it is not being used to promote an agenda. This is where proper news organisations should have the advantage, but they don’t seem to have moved with the times. If you look at a lot of international 24 hour news networks’ websites they are clunky, hard to use and seem to be there for the sake of having a website because people are going online for news more and more. To be fair, they have improved in recent years, but are they really focusing their attention enough on developing this platform? If you look at the staffing and budgets for online compared to normal 24 hour news coverage, there is a staggering difference.

If you want to compete in today’s online age you need to offer the customer something different. 24 hour news will never be able to compete with social media for speed. What they can provide, which social media can’t, is in-depth analysis of what is going on. Certainly, it is important to be first, but if your competition – social media – is beating you to the punch, you need to do something differently. For example, making sure somebody can find out quickly what is going on from your website and get access to in-depth analysis via a story. It’s the equivalent of reading a newspaper headline and then working out if you want to know more.

Despite the rapid advances in technology, the overall standard of TV news camerawork, editing and reporting doesn’t seem to have gone along for the ride. Does the audience really care about quality? I think it does. You don’t have to be in the industry to work out if something is good or not. You don’t keep watching a TV show or a movie if it’s bad – so why should TV news be any different? Unfortunately, in 24 hour news the live cross has come to dominate content. While in theory there is nothing wrong with this, it is often done in a location where you can’t see what is happening because of the technology needed to transmit, or ends up with the reporter simply standing in the same spot for hours on end waiting to tell you that nothing has happened since the last time they spoke. Instead of covering the story, reporters and cameramen are getting tied to live positions.Twenty-four hour news is a hungry beast that needs to be fed at all times and unfortunately live crosses are like a Big Mac, with stories reduced to being the side order of fries.

But in 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a study that showed for the first time more money was being spent on internet advertising than on free-to-air TV ads. This is a huge statistic and one that the free-to-air TV networks in particular don’t seem to have to cottoned onto. If your main source of revenue is from advertising and the advertisers are shifting those dollars away from TV and into online media, you should know something needs to change. If you run an ice-cream parlour and suddenly most customers stop eating strawberry ice-cream and start eating chocolate, why would you continue to buy large amounts of strawberry? Nightly news bulletins with a good reputation can bring in a much larger audience by drawing viewers in and keeping them through primetime. In a lot of ways, news is like the warm-up act for the main performance.  If the viewers tune in and then stay on the same channel you are keeping that audience in the prime advertising time slots. That said, the TV business is expensive. By the time you figure in equipment costs, satellite feeds, salaries and the myriad of other associated costs, it’s hard to imagine turning a profit unless you have a strong viewership.

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: “The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”  This is the problem. Because TV news is expensive to produce, if people aren’t watching or the station is doing badly in other areas, the first to go are normally the news people. Just this week, Network Ten Australia announced that 150 jobs in news would be cut. Less than four years ago the network was running a combination of news and current affairs programs for two hours a night and had employed large numbers of new staff. In 2012, 100 staff members were let go and now another 150 have lost their jobs. I don’t think this is all to do with viewers moving to online content, but that is certainly a part of it. Ten has had a rather chequered history over the last 20 years of program successes and failures in the news arena. Across the globe, networks like CNN, BBC and newspapers like the Chicago Sun-Times have seen lay
offs and staff reductions.

So what is the future for people in our industry? It doesn’t look good. I don’t see the trend of staff job losses changing any time soon. As content creators, it’s important for us to keep the standards high and to find new and interesting ways to tell our stories before it becomes too late.

This week I spoke to award-winning journalist Aela Callan, who is currently undertaking the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University about the current state of broadcast media, what the media is doing wrong and why social media is something we should use to our advantage instead of worrying about it taking our jobs. Watch below:

Journalism And Social Media from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

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Posted on May 28th, 2014 by Matthew Allard | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Telling A Story With No Words – Matt Allard on filming Maestro Wu

By technical editor Matt Allard:

MAESTRO WU from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

As the world continues to shrink and technology allows our work to be seen by far more people there can still be one barrier: language. Anything involving the spoken word that isn’t in your native language is usually accompanied by subtitles or a voiceover. The mix of two different voices at once or distracting words on the screen can often take the viewer away from the story. Imagine for a second that you were deaf. If you turned off the sound, would you still be able to follow what was going on? Just try it for a minute and see. This is an extreme example, as I think a good piece should be accompanied by sound, but not always words or dialogue. It should be able to tell you the story without you hearing a single word.

Think about how you would shoot a story if it was not going to be accompanied by any words or dialogue.  This will force you into thinking about how visuals alone can tell a story – and at the end of the day, that is our job as visual story tellers. If you look at the film All Is Lost with Robert Redford, it is the perfect example of how visuals, music and natural sound tell a story without dialogue. There are only a couple of words spoken in the entire movie, Robert Redford is the only character and the story takes place on a small yacht. To keep an audience’s attention for more than 1.5hrs is very difficult.

When shooting Maestro Wu, I wanted to show his concentration and craft without words getting in the way. The Taiwanese craftsman has been designing and making knives for over 60 years on Kinmen Island. In World War II, the serious lack of materials – especially steel – prompted him to collect the artillery shells dropped by Allied troops and use the metal in those. Later, artillery bombardment from the mainland left hundreds of thousands more shells. The Kinmen Steel Knife now enjoys an international reputation.

I wanted the viewer to be immersed by what was going on and to be focused on the attention to detail and the beauty of what he was doing. For something like this to work you have to think about the style in which you want to shoot and also the best way to convey what you want the audience to see. I utilized almost entirely high speed frame rates for this piece. I didn’t do this just because I thought it would be cool to shoot high speed, but to help tell the story.

A lot of skill and precision goes into making the knives, but it it is really hard to see unless you see it up close. By shooting a lot of tight shots and at high speed I could take the viewer into the world of Maestro Wu. When you’re shooting, every shot should tell its own story. They should be unique and well thought out.  A great piece can be ruined by one or two poor shots.  

This one was shot in just a few hours and I had no real plan when I started to shoot it. I asked Maestro Wu after he finished making the knife whether he has an idea in his head before he starts and he told me that it usually just comes to him while he’s doing it. I thought about this for a while and realised that in a lot of instances that is how I shoot. For me, the story or the ideas evolve during the shoot. I find in news and documentary shooting that trying to do too much planning in advance often does not produce a good result. Actors are good at being able to do something exactly as you want it done; that is why they are actors. Everyday people are not. They always seem awkward or the situation seems forced. I prefer to let things happen in front of me with as little intervention as possible. In saying this, of course I have a plan of how I want to shoot or the style I want to shoot it in, but the specifics always change and evolve as I go.  

As far as the technical and equipment side of things go it was shot mostly on a Sony FS700 and a little bit was done with the Sony F3. The FS700 material was all shot at 200fps and all captured internally to AVCHD. The F3 was recorded internally to SxS cards at 35Mb/s.  There are a few F3 shots that were done at 50p at 720p.   I only used one light – a Nila Varsa. This was mainly used as a strong backlight when shooting the high speed frame rates on the FS700. I have found that from previous experience that a strong backlight works really well when shooting fine details in high speed. It meant all the little bits of metal and dust that were coming up got illuminated instead of being masked by a strong key source. Using just the one light also gave me a dark background to highlight what he was doing. When he is hammering the steel, all I want the viewer to focus on is that. If the background was illuminated then it would have been distracting.

There were no log profiles used on any of this shoot. The look was created in camera. I edited it in FCPX and did only a few small colour tweaks inside the same NLE. Zeiss ZF2 lenses were used. 

While I have focused on the importance of visuals, there was one other big component to making this whole shoot work: SOUND. Without the sound it’s still interesting, but it is the sound that takes you into Maestro Wu’s workshop. A lot of people make the mistake of just shooting some pretty pictures and adding some music. While there is nothing wrong with this in some cases, it leaves the viewers in their lounges and doesn’t take them to the place of the story. I used music to give it a mood and feel, but I used natural sound to make viewers feel they were standing in that workshop. When shooting high speed, you have to be very aware that there is no sound being recorded.  You need to record your sound externally, pay attention to it and not just get caught up with visuals. I used the Zoom H4n to record all my audio. It really is important to capture sound as close to the source as possible; a microphone placed 20ft away from your subject isn’t going to sound as good as one 2ft away. That said, I did at one stage put the H4N too close to the heat and ended up melting some of the plastic casing.  

My H4n recorder got melted during the shoot

My H4n recorder got melted during the shoot

I’ve also placed two other projects below. I did them many years ago and they were shot in the same style, using no dialogue to tell the story.  

The Sword Maker & The Swordsman from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

The Geisha from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

Just remember that your working in a visual medium.  It’s the visuals that carry a story and not necessarily the dialogue.  There are of course exceptions to every rule and cases where the visuals can’t tell the story by themselves.   Next time you shoot just try thinking about how you would tell the story If no words were used.  Even if there is ultimately going to be dialogue or subtitles in the piece it will help you as a cameraman tell the story if you think on a purely visual level.  

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Posted on May 16th, 2014 by Matthew Allard | Category: Journalism, Sony F3, Sony FS700, Zeiss | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Making of Thames Town: D J Clark shows how he shoots a typical multimedia assignment for the Economist

Guest post by D J Clark:

Over the past five years I have seen my freelance photography work transition slowly into a specialism in multimedia – predominantly photography plus video. For many editorial publications, offering video as well as pictures is an attractive proposition and can stretch a single day assignment into two or three. Yes it is true it is not possible to shoot stills and video at the same time and get great results, but for feature stories, particularly those that involve a lot of travel, spending extra time to produce a video for online often makes sense for both me and the publication. 

At work shooting Thames Town with the Canon 5D mmiii

At work shooting Thames Town with the Canon 5D mmiii

I have worked with a single camera body hanging from each shoulder for 25 years, one with a long lens and one with a wide, and this I believe is still the best solution for shooting stills and video for online. For me, the DSLR is far from dead. For editorial assignments it provides an affordable and easy to use video solution that delivers a quality that replicates the look and feel of the still images. 

In this 23 minute video I talk through an assignment for The Economist, from the choice of kit, through the shoot to the edit. It’s a simple practical workflow, designed to fit within the budget and time constraints of most editorial multimedia assignments.

Below is the completed video:

With thanks to Zixi Wu who shot the video and stills of me.

D J Clark freelances for The Economist multimedia, he also teaches on the Bolton University MA in International Multimedia Journalism based in Beijing and is currently DP at Assignment Asia, a new current affairs program due to launch on CCTV News very soon.

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Posted on May 5th, 2014 by D J Clark | Category: Canon EOS 5D MkIII, Journalism | Permalink | Comments (4)

Video interview: Vincent Laforet on his upcoming Directing Motion tour – will it be useful for factual shooters?

By site editor Dan Chung:

Newsshooter interview: Vincent Laforet on his upcoming Directing Motion tour from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Vincent Laforet is the best known pioneer of the video DSLR revolution with his early work on the 5D mkII. Once a news photographer for the New York Times, he turned his attention to creating video and is now a director working in LA. The move from stills to shooting video, and now to directing, has taught Laforet many things. One key difference is that great film and video require the mastery of motion – how to move the camera in a dynamic way that helps tell your story and makes it more engaging for the audience.

Laforet believes that these principles apply just as readily to real world shooting as they do to narrative filmmaking and commercials. The way you move the camera around your subjects in a documentary or a news package can add impact and take it to another level.

To help filmmakers and video shooters learn these creative skills, Laforet is embarking on an educational tour through North America. From May 6 to July 13 he will visit 32 venues across the continent, showing how he works as well as analysing the use of motion by other famous cinematographers and directors.

You can get a flavour of what to expect in the workshops from this video:

Directing Motion Sneak Peak – Tour starts May 6 thru July 13, 2014 from Directing Motion on Vimeo.

Knowing Vincent and his commitment and enthusiasm for craft of filmmaking I would recommend this tour to anyone interest in improving their skills. I firmly believe that news and documentary shooters have a lot to learn from our Hollywood brethren and mastering the use of motion is probably the single most useful skill for shooters like myself.

To find out more about the tour and to book a place visit the Directing Motion website.

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Posted on May 1st, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: documentary, Journalism, technique, Training | Permalink | Comments (0)

Three Tips for Getting a Video Production Job – excellent advice from Columbia J-school’s Duy Linh Tu

Guest post by Duy Linh Tu:

Fifteen years ago, I went to journalism school to become a Cameron Crowe-style music reporter: Lots of think pieces about mid-level bands. But somewhere in the months before graduation, I abandoned the written word and fell in love with video storytelling. I had neither the looks nor the desire to be on camera, but I instantly fell for shooting and editing. Since graduation, I’ve been lucky enough to earn a decent buck producing videos.

As the end of this school year approaches, many of my J-School students are worried about getting jobs. They are laying out beautiful resumes and putting together WordPress portfolios with slick Snow Fall-esque themes. Over the years, I’ve been in the fortunate position of hiring crews to work with me on various projects. The resumes and sites my students are obsessing over are gorgeous, but I can’t remember an instance when either of these things compelled me to give someone a job.  

What makes me want to hire a shooter, a producer, or an editor?  I’ll admit a lot of it is pure nepotism: I hire my friends.Lucky for me, my friends are some of the best in the business. But, there are many times when I have to test the waters and use some new folks.

So, what do I (and presumably others looking for talent) want in a hire? Really, only three things:

1.  You Have Real Skills. I don’t care if your work has appeared on the New York Times site or only on your personal Vimeo page. I don’t care if your videos have been seen by millions or dozens. I just care that your videos are good. I care that you know how to:  compose beautiful images, properly expose footage, manage color, shoot complete sequences, get good sound in the field, manage media, and edit compelling stories. Your producer title at CNN and internship at The New Yorker mean absolutely nothing to me if you don’t have any real skills.

2.  You’ve Done A Lot of Work. I don’t care if you graduated from Columbia Journalism School or never even went to college.  I don’t care if you’re a “professional” or just learning the trade. I do care deeply if you have a big body of work.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve only produced student projects, practice exercises, or spec videos. If you work constantly (a story a week as Ira Glass suggests), I will know that you are committed to the craft of video storytelling. You’ve already made a lot mistakes and you’ve learned a lot on your own. More importantly, it shows that you’re not afraid to make more mistakes and you are willing to learn even more. I meet many people who think video production is fun and exciting work. It can be. But most of the time, it is just brutally exhausting. A big body of work helps me separate the dedicated ones from the posers.

3.  You Are Not a Dick. Video production is not a 9-to-5 job. It’s long hours in uncomfortable environments crushed under tight deadlines. And things go wrong all the time. I’ve learned to deal with and manage all this. But what I can’t stand to have on any of my shoots is a sour attitude or an overblown ego. Being polite is Rule #1 (Polite = “Please” and “Thank you.”). Being on time and reliable is Rule #2. Having a great sense of humor is Rule #3. It’s really not more complicated than that.

Be careful: This is a small, small world. If you were a dick to someone, then most likely word has gotten around. I am grateful whenever someone warns me about potential personnel problems and I’ve never hesitated to put dicks on blast. Also, sexist, racist and homophobic jokes on set aren’t cute. Go there, and you’ll will never work with me again.

And that’s it. Pretty simple. So, instead of spending time deciding on Helvetica or Arial, you should grab your camera and go out and make something now. Each and every time you shoot or edit, you get better. I (and others hiring) will be able to see your improvement with each video you post. You don’t need to be an expert. But if you have shown a commitment to getting better, then there’s no doubt I want you on my team.

Happy shooting,

Duy

Duy Linh Tu is Assistant Professor and Director of Digital Media at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University.

This post original appeared on Duy’s Tumblr and is reproduced here with kind permission.

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Posted on April 29th, 2014 by Duy Linh Tu | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Newsshooter interview: The state of online news video with Duy Linh Tu of Columbia J-School

By site editor Dan Chung:

Newsshooter Skype interview: The state of online news video with Professor Duy Linh Tu of Columbia J-School from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

US Newspapers and other online publications are currently in the midst of another wave of investment in video. But does this all makes sense? are they making any money from video? how large are the teams working on these videos? how do you define news video? and why the emphasis by many on the longer form?

Professor Duy Linh Tu from the TOW Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School recently published a landmark report on the state of video journalism in the US today (which Chuck Fadely reported earlier). We caught up on Skype yesterday.

Duy is a long time friend of this blog and he talks with me at length about his findings and what they mean for those of us working in the field of online video news.

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Posted on April 17th, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: DSLR video news, Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

NAB 2014 panel discussion replay: Newsshooter team talk Video Journalism

By site editor Dan Chung:

NAB 2014: News Shooter – Video Journalism Panel from Teradek on Vimeo.

One of my favourite panels from last week at NAB was this one on the state of video journalism. I spoke to four members of our Newsshooter volunteer team – Slavik Boyechko of PBS, Guardian freelance multimedia shooter Felix Clay, Chuck Fadely of Newsday and Japan based freelancer Adrian Storey. They talk about their work and offer insights into what makes them tick.

I’d recommend watching this panel in combination with the TOW Center at Columbia J-School report by Duy Linh Tu which we posted earlier today.

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Posted on April 15th, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: DSLR video news, Journalism, NAB show | Permalink | Comments (0)

Video Now: The state of video journalism today – a report by the TOW Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School

By Chuck Fadely:

What’s the status of non-broadcast video journalism in 2014?

The TOW Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School released a report today on the state of video journalism. Professor Duy Linh Tu and his crew put together a multimedia report by visiting newspapers, digital media properties, and shows like Frontline and VICE.

From their description of the project: “From October 2013 until February 2014, Tow Fellow Duy Linh Tu and the Video Now film crew visited newsrooms across the United States to interview and observe reporters and editors producing video journalism. Video is an important editorial tool and a potentially large revenue source for newsrooms, but there seemed to be no consensus on how to produce or profit from it. With that in mind, Video Now, set out to answer three main questions: 1) How do news organizations define video 2) How do they produce video? 3) What is their return on investment?”

They introduced the report with a live panel discussion, archived on the video above.

There’s more on Chuck Fadely’s Newspapervideo blog.

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Posted on April 15th, 2014 by Chuck Fadely | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

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