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July 27 2012

15:35

Phone-ography…

A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.

One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.

Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.

And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.

Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.

And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.

But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a treat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.

Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.

But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.

Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.

No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.

And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.

I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.

Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?

Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.


July 25 2011

15:59

Professional vs. pond scum…

There’ve been a few discussions (this is one) going on over at b-roll, as well as some stuff happening in my own life that gave rise to this topic.

What IS a professional (videographer). And what is pond scum (well, pond scum floats…I really mean bottomfeeders)? And can one morph into the other?

Too often those at the top of the food chain look down with distain at those trying to climb out of the bottom. And those at the bottom often desperately love what they do and would (and can) do it for free.

Free – there’s the first difference.

A professional knows their worth – that their time is measured on dollars, based on experience, talent, technical knowledge, and gear, taking into account their market and a few other variables. And they charge accordingly.

Those who are not pros work for free…for the experience…for something for their demo reel…or just for the heck of it.

Pause for a bit of explanation – pros work for free from time to time for worthy causes or marketing purposes (win a free wedding video!).

Now I’m going to split the non-pros off from the pros and get into the nitty-gritty.

You can probably categorize the non-professional videographers into several strands.
1. Hobbyist
2. Student/Beginner
3. Clueless/Wanna-Be
4. True bottomfeeder

The Hobbyist is someone who does video for the love of it…and can and does achieve professional standards often. They’re not in it for the money, but for the love of the craft. (Again, pros are in it for the money…but in most cases there is also love of the craft. They want both though…to work and get paid for something they enjoy doing.)

Student/Wanna-Be are future pros if they play it right. They have learned the basics and are working to gain experience and listen and learn. They have a goal…to become a professional.

Um…Clueless/Wanna-Be. They may look like Students but don’t have the common sense or brain matter to rise above point and shoot. They’re either so into technical standards they don’t bother with aesthetics and the craft of video or they just like to walk around with a camera to impress, but never ever ever seem to move forward. They don’t have a plan or a goal beyond today.

And now for the Bottomfeeders. They’re the ones you have to look out for. They may look like pros or something between a beginner and pro, but they are not into learning or quality or ethics – they are in it for the money (and possibly the flash). They undercut pros in their market, do a shoddy job, and give the entire industry a bad name.

Why all this ranting?

First let me admit to an addition. I love to cruise craigslist. Primarily for the antiques and farm and garden section, but I also from time to time check out the gigs. Not the jobs (TV) section – after looking in there once or twice I had to sterilize my computer. It was NASTY.

And that’s where I (and many of the folks over on b-roll) find our laughs. So many many ads for video-related jobs, all offering no pay and an “opportunity” to work for “experience.”

But I found my first example that concerned me in the photography (for sale) section. A young woman placed an ad for her services as a photographer. She admitted to being a student, but wanted to charge $100 to take a portrait. She wanted to charge clients so she could learn and get experience. No online portfolio…nothing to indicate her abilities.

After an email correspondence I got her name. Yep – a real raw naive teen (ish) girl. She put herself out online and made several huge mistakes.

First – with one email I got her name and could easily, if I wished, have tracked her down or set up an appointment. Jail bait.

Second – she wanted to charge too much for her experience and without any proof of her work or mention of equipment other than having taken an ROP photo class and knowing PhotoShop.

Third – as mentioned above, what can she do for the price she is charging? Does she have a rate sheet…what does she provide for that price? How far will she travel? Where are some examples of her work?

I’m hoping she takes the advice given and sets up a webpage with examples, looks into contracts, rate sheets and more. She is a Student/Beginner…willing to learn.

The next one is similar, involving a teenager with aspirations and no clue about professional conduct. He offered to shoot senior portraits of a friend for free…and they went out over several days to a number of locations and different times (daylight, twilight, night). He shot quite a few photos – and then told his friend she had to pay $350 for the photos because he was a professional.

Ummmm – PROFESSIONAL?

I got involved because his “friend” was also one of my photo students who listened in class, earned an A and had her own concerns about his professionalism. Plus, she was extremely upset at the bait and switch.

A moment to pause for vainglorious shameless self-promotion.

MY student, while working with the above-mentioned “pro” kept questioning him about depth of field, light, aperture – and was able to asses his total lack of knowledge in those areas. Love it when a student actually LEARNS!

In the end she was able to beat him back, give him a token payment and NOT use any of his photos (98% of them were technically poor).

This guy may or may not learn from this. The friendship was broken, but may mend. But he seems to be meandering along his own self-centered path…not willing to move forward and take the necessary steps to become a professional. A current and future Bottomfeeder.

But his problems were similar to example number one, the craigslist babe.

No proof of prior work (no examples, just his word). No professional standards, rates, or contract. Bait and switch of the worst kind.

Now I do have a couple of students involved in video in their communities who are students. One is Cambodian, the other Hispanic. They took my high school broadcasting class and eventually set up their own production companies, shooting events/weddings within their tight-knit neighborhoods. (I’ve now seen Asian and Hispanic weddings from the inside! And pretty darn good productions at that.)

These two very different young men are moving thru the early stages of professionalism. They did some work for free for family/friends…then moved on to either working with a local pro or working on small events for token pay…then bigger projects on their own…to hiring assistants. They drove themselves to learn as much as they could, and still call or email with questions. Their raw talent and drive amaze me.

So – so do as I do – enjoy a good laugh from time to time online reading those trolling for free labor. But don’t get mad. This is a free market and those who don’t check out credentials before shelling over money have only themselves to blame. And don’t judge those who take the gigs too much. They may be clueless, they may be hobbyists, or bottomfeeders. Or they may be you – years ago in the same situation, but different time. Someone with a love, a passion for all things visual who just wants to (eventually) get paid to do what they love.


July 23 2010

13:19

#cnnfrontline Mobile and journalism: Part two – some answers to questions

This is part 2 of a couple of posts that develop some of the areas covered and not covered by the CNN mobile journalism panel I sat on at the Frontline.

In a previous post I clarified some of the points I made. I didn’t want to sideline them it was just going to be a long post. So I my touch back on some of that in this post.

To try and keep some shape to the post I thought I would go back and look at the suggested areas given to me for the panel. They are broadly the same as the topic areas on the eventbrite page.

How important are eyewitness reports in news today? In the future.

Of course it’s really important. We can’t be everywhere as journalists so being able to get input from the scene is invaluable, however we get it. Given the subject area of the panel I suppose the context for this is the use of mobile as the tool that gets eyewitness accounts to ‘us’, the mainstram media. The fact that the CNNi app comes with ireport built in illustrates the importance of mobile as a possible platform.

Of course this is where the vexed question of CitJ rears its’ head. I was amused to read in the pre-amble to the event “Citizen journalists and ordinary people are, increasingly, beating TV crews to the scene of breaking news stories.”. Yes people are racing to events but they are also there already. We used to call them victims or bystanders.

What motivates people to submit content to news orgnaisations? What type of people do it?

All kinds of people. All kinds of motives. Some people will do it out of a passion for the story and at the other end of the spectrum, some will do it out of spite. What’s clear is that that they send in to an organization because they have some affinity to it. They send to the BBC because they respect it and want to be part of it. They will take time to post a video to CNN because they may get a chance to be associated with it. That’s where we let them down sometimes. We don’t recognize that and engage. Sometimes we don’t even say thank you. How hurt would you be when someone something you respect let’s you down or treats you badly.

Is it important for practicing journalists to understand and use mobile technology in their work? What does it bring to their craft that’s new, or better.

In a nutshell, yes. If you don’t use mobile in what you do how can you possibly know how to serve and interact with your audience who do.

CNNi’s Louis Gump made a great point when he said that mobile is not just one thing. It’s mobile phone apps, its tablets and ipad stuff and its the mobile web (browsing the web on a phone). I think thats really important in this context. But we also need to add that in a journalistic context it’s also a tool to gather content. Alex Woods had it so right when he said we have to think of a mobile in its individual parts. It’s a camera, a video camera, a web browser and a phone.

That brings loads of opportunities but it also challenges.

It challenges the working practice and professional definitions. Take the mobile web. Louis rightly pointed out the stylistic differences for content online (images and bullet point text). But many journalists balk at that as a change from their ‘normal style’. The mobile phone as a tool is great but what about the feeling of inadequacy when using a mobile phone to shoot video rather than a big broadcast camera (subjugating your ego to small devices as @benhammersly summarized it!)? What about the problem that most journalists pay their own phone bills and don’t want to subsidize their org by paying the data tariff so they can stream their own video?

All of those questions, and the related by-ways of debate they create are, I think, one of the reasons the debate was a bit stale for some. You see, we haven’t really answered those questions. As journalists we haven’t come to terms with those changes. When people in the room are asking if it’s a good idea to specialise or learn a range of these ‘new skills’ then you realise that perhaps the debate isn’t so stale.

Tips on creating great stories using a mobile device?

I’d say consume some content on your own phone. Think about the limitations and your experience. It’s no different from the consumer so put yourself in their shoes then act on your own experience. I would also go back to Alex’s point about thinking about the individual functions- the camera, video, apps etc. The rest is then a case of what you are doing. If you are taking a picture then think about what makes a good editorial picture. That doesn’t change because you are using a mobile. Likewise with video. Yes, some of the tropes of TV can be subverted but the basics work.

What’s the impact of new technology on the business of news?
Obviously there is a huge impact. As I was drafting this post the BBC have just announced that they have  had the go ahead for BBC apps. That’ll put the cat amongst the pigeons. But that aside I think it’s important to look at the different sectors of ‘mobile’ to gauge the impact but in general I think the impact is in capacity. You have to spend money to get the capacity to do mobile – the technology part of it. But there is also your the capacity of the people within your organsiation – the understanding and skills.

Of course you could throw a lot of money at the problem but skills and understanding are often resilient to that. Hearts and minds don’t often change with cash. But time and money are well spent when building capacity and the smart people are seeing it as a medium term thing.

Take the ipad for example. In a quick straw poll of the audience only 3 out of 40’ish people admitted to having an ipad. So why the big fuss about it? Well, one part is the apps which are a big area of development. But for the smart set the ipad is a transitional platform. It’s a place to experiment with HTML 5 for example. Get you offering right on the ipad and chances are you will be a step further down the line when browsers catch up.

The danger is that some orgs will try and bypass the necessary investment by seeing mobile as just another platform to aggregate and dump content on to. Thats a mistake. Shovelware on any platform doesn’t work. Aggregation is something that is better left to your audience to do and not your organization.

How is technology changing the way people consume news?
Whenever new technology comes along it will change peoples habits. Mobile is no exception. But the killer combination is mobile and the rise of social media online. Any stats on mobile app use for example shows the importance of Facebook and social sites Facebook. Look at the fluster around Flipboard and you get an idea of the issues as the relate to journalism.

So if you are a large media organisation looking to develop for a mobile platform then ask yourself what social media elements you are adding? What social media habits are you tapping in to? Do your journalists have the capacity to work in a social media environment.

Perhaps the answer to a business model lies in the fact that if you are not up to capacity on understanding and working with communities then decide what content you can give for free in an app wrapper to get you on the platform. But don’t give it much thought beyond that. You just aren’t ready to make the best of it.

A quick bluster through I know. But it’s a start. I’d love more questions.

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