Wednesday, December 28, 2011


At the end of October, I was caught in storm. Thick flakes sped diagonally towards the concrete. It was the first snow of the winter and the first time I'd experienced temperatures this low in two years.

I had spent those two years in the tropical climates of Hong Kong and so I had lost all the good habits of a New York City dweller: I hadn't taken an umbrella with me, I hadn't dressed in layers and so I was completely caught off-guard by this very simple phenomenon -- the change of seasons. 

It was a visceral reminder of the fact that I had changed habitats. I was somewhere else now. That was very clear. When you move 8000 miles you lose so much more than just a physical home. You lose a social circle, a professional network and routines. You have to figure out where to buy your groceries, find a new job. You walk at a different pace. You find a new gym with new regulars -- or you don't. 

But during this short interim, you also become frighteningly aware of things. Of your priorities. Of your position in that lifelong, seemingly futile struggle to build a career. Of the extraordinary cost of cheese (Friggin' hell, smoked gouda used to make me happy at a much lower price).

I took a big leap coming back to New York to be with someone I love. I gave up a job, I gave up a place, as he did for me once before. Now I am anxious about the future. Sometimes, on sunny days, I can find excitement. But mostly, I feel restless. I work on projects, I volunteer, I read, write, edit, photograph, film; I find myself walking at a faster pace than those around me. I feel like a loser trying to be less of a loser by walking really, really fast.

That is how I found myself in that storm. I was dreading an empty apartment, wanted to feel productive, nay, cultured, and ran from my apartment to the subway, from the subway to another subway, and from that subway to a bookstore to sit down and listen to Junot Diaz talk.

This man had received a Pulitzer for a novel about a pudgy Dominican nerd. He is a professor in Creative Writing. He writes for the New Yorker. What's more is that he inspired countless people, among them myself, to embrace their ethnic identity in a literary world that largely centers around the lives of Caucasians.

He also spent 11 years writing the novel, he said. He almost gave up on it a couple of times. He felt like a loser for a solid decade because of it. But during this time of disorientation, of utter terror about the future, of -- dare I say it -- artistic struggle (!), he became the person he needed to be to finish the novel, he said.

We become that someone who is capable of doing things our former self wasn't able to do. Until then, he said, we need to be compassionate with ourselves.

You see, we read about heros who take years to get to an epiphany. We watch films depicting a man's or a woman's decades-long journey to become the best he or she can be. But then we forget that it takes practice to be the person you want to be, that it takes muscle memory to perfect the tasks we need to perform for our art, and that it takes mistakes for us to get to amazingness. We youngens like to scurry away and try and rush and make money and hand out business cards. We walk at a faster pace than some around us, thinking that it gets us there faster. But it's ok to be young and fledging.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recent Work: Dominique Ansel's Kouign Amann

A short video I made for the very talented pastry chef Dominique Ansel, who just opened his first bakery in Soho. Seems that people REALLY love his buttery baked goods.

Dominique Ansel from Lam Thuy Vo on Vimeo.

Recent Work: Walking Through Singapore's Green Corridor

A Malaysian train line used to connect Singapore's Southern tip to its North but was discontinued earlier this year. The tracks are now being dismantled, leaving behind a footpath that runs through the heart of the city. Here's a video I shot in September.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How we made our maps | Hacks/Hackers NYC

From a blogpost I wrote for Hacks/Hackers:

When a story is best told through a visual representation of geography, maps are often the best way of telling it. Three journalists joined Hacks/Hackers NYC to explain how they approached mapmaking for their recent projects. Slides and code from their presentations are available in this link bundle.

Hacks/Hackers NYC -- Maps

Read the whole post here:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ONA Conference Recap

A view from the Hotel where the ONA conference took place

In late September, I was one of three very lucky fellows to be sent to the Online News Association and having been in a small bureau for the past two years with

So here are some takeaways:

Computers Are Taking Over
Well, we're screwed. Computers are now starting to recognize our faces. And this is not just some technology that the CIA or the FBI use to crack down on con-artists and master thieves. It's now a highly commoditized feature: Facebook uses this technology to tag photos of your friends and an app called viewable employs it to sort your photo libraries.

This site uses it to gauge moods of people pictured on photographs on the Guardian (you can break down any other web site):

That's just one of the many technologies presented as a 'tech trend' by Amy Webb, CEO of the Webbmedia Group, in her lecture '10 Techier, Trendier Tech Trends' (you can watch her lecture here: There seem to be quite a few technologies that have now become an everyday commodity.

There are also electronic pens that transcribe and transfer your handwritten notes to paper and tools to visualize the 'future.' Social media network now allow you to find out who's currently in the
neighborhood, perhaps even in the same coffee shop as you are and it can help you meet folks as you detect their electronic trail.

The future, as it was painted in movies in the 1980s and 1990s, is here and it's available in your app store or on Amazon: you can now track your friends through their GPS devices and computers can tell whether you look angry or sad in photos. I guess the biggest takeaway from this lecture is that we'll have to learn ever-more ways to interact with technology. It's got huge potential for storytelling: you can personalize news outputs to the point that it's geo-specific. You can read emotions on the faces of a number of facebook users and gauge the mood of facebook fiends in who like your news site. You can map out the future with pre-cognition reporting. Above all though, you probably should also create a new code of ethics when using this technology.

Visualization Is For Everyone!
Recently, more and more tools seemed to have cropped up to help even the technologically challenged to create visualizations.

I went to an intro session to fusion tables, Google's new API-based chart builder. It's accessibly everyone, can link up to maps and is changeable in style. The site helps you host your data tables, visualizes data in multiple formats (maps, pie charts, bar charts) and it certainly helps those without the money or skills to use the Adobe family's Illustrator, Flash and other software to build graphics.

Here's how WNYC used the tool:

Just recently I saw the sneak preview for a similar widget by, that enables you to make similarly shareable charts.

It's neat to see this democratization of visualization tools.

Crowdsourcing and Viewer Engagement

I have to admit that until recently I wasn't the biggest fan of twitter. I saw it as a purely promotional vehicle and as an oddly public forum for personal conversations. I also felt like it made me into a hyperactive wreck unable to focus.

But I've come around to it as a tool. And it'd be silly to deny its usefulness to gauge online opinions, for instance, or to understand the dynamics of grassroots movements in the digital age. At the conference and during talks with a bunch of media folks (speak potential employers), the same question has cropped up over and over again: how do you maximize user involvement?

Well, Al Jazeera's The Stream uses live twitter feeds to interact with their audience and have them actively mold their conversation. They have a dedicated producer sieving through tweets during the live show.

The Guardian's answer to user engagement was threefold: live blogs, user-submitted content and what I'll call 'participatory' data evaluation for now. They perfected the art of live blogging while experimenting with football/soccer coverage and used it really effectively during the Arab Spring, actively conversing with their commentators and figuring out ways to work with their content. They visualized user-submitted stories about personal experiences during September 11. And they used their audience to annotate and evaluate the thousands of Sarah Palin emails that were released a while back.

Overall, user-submitted content and crowdsourcing is definitely a bit scary to fact-conscious journalists, but there are ways to tell stories in such interesting ways with the deluge of information that social media provide us. There's also a huge potential in using the manpower of thousands. Exciting times.

Anyhooser. If you're interested there are more notes here and all panels available on video here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hacks/Hackers Demo Day 3 Recap


At the third Hacks/Hackers NYC Demo Day, six speakers whizzed through their presentations covering several topics, from real-time data collection to content management systems.

Read the rest of my blog entry here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Photography: Occupy Wall Street

I went down to Zuccotti Park to photograph some of the protesters who are part of the 'Occupy Wall Street' demonstrations. The whole place is more or less like a self-sufficient ecosystem: there sleeping areas covered with blankets and inflatable mattresses; there's a food station with boxes for packaged foods, fresh goods and even compost. One strip of the side-walk is reserved for protest posters which are strewn across the floor for passers-by to ogle over.

As for the protesters themselves, they are a diverse bunch. And there seems to be little to unite them except for the common need for a platform. Even organizers aren't entirely sure what the movement stands for.

But demonstrating for the right to be heard just for the sake of being heard is not necessarily a 'non-thing.' NPR reporters at Planet Money argue that it's an interesting concept to fight for: the right for a platform for your voice. In the podcast, the reporters explore the idea of a participatory economy and how the movement itself functions like hyper-democratic little village. Listen to the here:

As for the rest of the photos snapped on that day, please go here:





Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ira Glass on Why Radiolab is Amazing

Ira Glass put together a great analysis of why Radiolab has excited not just him but also hoard of youngens who've became to radio fiends thanks to the genius of Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Genius... get it?

Anyhow, here's a really interesting point Mr. Glass made in his piece.

"Real journalism – and by that I mean fact-based reporting – is getting trounced by commentary and opinion in all its forms, from Fox News to the political blogs to Jon Stewart. Everyone knows newspapers are in horrible trouble. TV news continually loses ratings. And one way we broadcast journalists can fight back and hold our audience is to sound like human beings on the air. Not know-it-all stiffs. One way the opinion guys kick our ass and appeal to an audience is that they talk like normal people, not like news robots speaking their stentorian news-speak. So I wish more broadcast journalism had such human narrators at its center. I think that would help fact-based journalism survive."

It's definitely worth a read, even if you're specialized in video:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Carnival of Journalism Post: Workflow and Strategizing Video for a Print Newsroom

This post was written for the Carnival of Journalism debate on the role of online video in journalism. I'm taking a very pragmatic approach, looking into the workflow within a print newsroom. Please feel free to give constructive criticism and tell me whether you've found better strategies in working with video.
When in a newsroom, editorial decisions are difficult, especially when you work for a daily newspaper and resources for video are tight. Having had to make those decisions while heading video operations for The Wall Street Journal in Asia, I’ve had to figure out ways to allocate resources. When does it make sense to really go all out on a story? What kind of video can add value in what kind of scenario? Here’s a thought.

To help one get an overview of how we could build out video operations at newspapers it might be good to look at the spectrum of videos newspapers do offer at this point in time. On some level, the Internet gave newcomers in video, such as newspapers, the opportunity to be experimental and break out of what had become a somewhat formulaic approach to video (See Charlie Brooker’s spoof news story as an example: It liberated the format somewhat, giving videographers the chance to dabble in various genres and possibly modify them. Here are a few categories I’ve found online (click to enlarge):


Decision Making
It’s difficult to determine which kind of video to do when. Ideally, we’d all be spending weeks with a character at a time to produce a nice 15-minute first-person narrative, but that’s not always possible. And not every editor wants to pay for that.

The system below is one based on deadlines. Please note that some of the most important questions here -- how important is this story? How visual is this story? How much access do I have? -- need to be weighed with each story and are a bit harder to put into a ‘template’ like the one below (I will try to do a float chart one of these days detailing these decisions, somebody please kick my butt so I'll do it).

It’s an important story but when is it due?
1.) It’s due now!
The most value added at this point is quite possibly news analysis videos.
When the Japan earthquake happened, the ABC correspondent in Tokyo was on air for hours on end. Al-Jazeera was streaming footage and photos they could find with reporters talking about what they saw. We put out breaking news videos

2.) We have about a week to go before this publishes:
This answer might prompt more questions: how much access do we have? How many resources can we allocate to this story, i.e. how much money do we have available? Depending on the answers of those questions we could then opt for either a video package or a reporter-shot package.

3.) We have AGES til this publishes:
In this case it we could finally try to a first person package or a really extended package.

Proselytizing the Idea of Multi-platform Journalism
Perhaps crucial for this to work is to engage reporters in the print newsroom in multimedia storytelling, both as shooters themselves but also as people who start thinking about stories on various platforms. None of the above are really possible unless we know about stories in advance and can evaluate whether a story has ‘video potential’ or not. Small experiences a reporter has with doing his or her own video can lead to a change of mind that later translates into him or her calling a multimedia producer earlier to produce a story.

See Andrew Lih and my explorations of how to teach reporters video journalism here:

Striking a balance between daily demands and enterprising journalism is hard, but both are needed and video can be a strong medium for both. I suppose until every newsroom has unlimited budgets for every form of journalism -- from videos to infographics to news applications and articles -- I suppose this could be a good interim strategy to determine when it's feasible and sensible to produce a video at a print organization. Print journalism is still the fastest -- and cheapest -- medium in which to produce and consume information and until we have the luxury of having the resources to train, equip and financially enable reporters to be multiplatform journalists, I think a model like this might be helpful.

Lessons Learned: I Need a Slideshow, a Video, an Infographic...

As a multimedia reporter, it's important to familiarize yourself with the different kinds of media there are and what their strengths are. There are stories that are more visual, others that lend themselves more to graphics. Sometimes picking and choosing the right medium for the right story is a better approach than to have 'everything' for every story. Here's a short breakdown of what I gathered from lectures, readings and concluded from my own observations:

The categories:
One of their main strengths is that they can deliver an instantaneous understanding of large sets of data, i.e. convey the larger context of a story. A line graph can show rise in prices over time faster and more effectively than can a paragraph that describes numbers. A color-coded heat map that shows higher percentages of a certain ethnic population can be better at explaining racial diversity in New York than a paragraph detailing the breakdown of every neighborhood. How-It-Works float charts are probably better at showing the mechanics of a process than a lengthy essay.

Interactive graphics:
Interactive graphics give another dimension to infographics. Interactivity adds the ability to hide information until a user prompts it and to create a multi-layered experience of information consumption. It also allows for heightened user engagement, too: be it through user submissions, continuous linkage (allowing for users to continue exploring). So if a data and information-driven story is particularly complicated, interactivity allows the journalist to stagger the amount of information presented. It allows to show correlations and give detail only if a viewer wants it.

Video and slideshows:
Visual storytelling is best used for personable approach to a story and at its best can show a larger story through a characters’ story. If done well, characters are often emblematic of the larger issues at hand: it's a way of humanizing the consequences of a new law; of showing a trend story through a character that exemplifies that trend; or even just to show a component human nature through the ups and downs of the story of one or a few people. Also think about what would best be SEEN rather than DESCRIBED in words (these are often action-driven or event-driven pieces).

Interaction of those components:
These components can also interact with one another. Some have employed flash and javascript to lay out a story like an online magazine, except that the photos and graphics that punctuated the pages of a magazine now move. We are now able to use flash, javascript and other software/programming languages to curate our elements, adding another layer of information. An information graphic could be used as a navigation for a number of video components, for example.

I often use the 'template' of a print story to explain the examples above. In a written feature the formula goes like so:
1.) Anecdotal lede: starting with a person that exemplifies your story
2.) Nutgraf: What's the story about
3.) Context graf: This part often gives the numerical significance of the story, a la "she is one of thousands of people who have..."
And then it alters from going back and forth between characters, experts and analytical paragraphs.

One could look at a video as a drawn out anecdotal lede and data graphics as extensive context paragraphs. Just in a different medium.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011


Photos from a 4.30 am trip to New Delhi's Azadpur Subzi Mandi. It's tough working on a farmer's schedule but so worth it when you do kick your own butt out of bed to witness people truck in vegetables and fruit from across the country to sell here.








Snapshots from my recent reporting trip in Singapore-la!




Friday, September 9, 2011

Vietnam's Mekong Delta

A few snaps from the Mekong Delta.

shrimp farmer

dragon fly




The Syzygium Malaccense

I'm in Ho Chi Minh City on assignment for WSJ and will be traveling to Singapore and India for them. It's my last assignment in Asia, now that I've given up my position in Hong Kong, and I'm excited to be able to wrap up my tenure at this fine publication with a multimedia project on food inflation.

The switch from working full-time in an office to being a freelancer has been bizarre, but certainly pleasant. You go from being an integrated member of a corporate ecosystem to being a self-sufficient worker bee. I guess, the nicest thing is you get to be in charge of your own time. While that means you might work at odd hours, it also means you get to take random breaks to do random things, like plucking rose apples from a tree outside your auntie's house:

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Recent Work: Domestic Helpers Fight Legal Battle for Equality

A Filipina domestic worker is fighting for the right for permanent residency in Hong Kong's High Court. But the case strikes at the core of much more than just the right to abode.

Read our story here:

Monday, August 1, 2011

This Is Just To Say

This was a film shot on a cloudy Hong Kong morning and edited on the hot afternoon that followed right after. It illustrates what has become a favorite poem of mine with scenes from my neighborhood and my apartment.

Thanks to Yvonne Young and Allison Morrow for their time, their help and their company.

Music by Onra
Poetry by William Carlos Williams

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And in Chinese (translated by the lovely Isabella Steger):




Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Recent WSJ Work: Living in Hong Kong's Tiny Apartment Units

Hong Kong's home prices have skyrocketed in recent years, forcing residents like Yang Lianchun and her family to live in subdivided apartments. She talks to the WSJ about what it's like for a family of four to live in 150 square feet of space.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

4th of July (shenanigans)

July 4

July 4


Family Wedding

Oh weddings... a day so stressful and yet full of joy (and food).






Hong Kong Vigil

From early June.

Tiananmen Vigil

Tiananmen Vigil

Tiananmen Vigil

Monday, May 30, 2011

Personal Statements

Personal statements. I dread them. How should you write about yourself without gushing too much or sounding like a pompous ape?

Well, this one was required for a fellowship. "Tell us about yourself in a personal statement or multimedia presentation," they said. So I woke up last Sunday, set up my ancient studio lights, my DSLR and filmed myself. Sometimes it's good to force yourself to do something. It's a little less scary each time.


A short trip to the land of Orang Utans....



Tenten, the orang utan baby

...and of beautiful beaches.



Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Recent WSJ Work: Rikuzentakata, Japan

Some 2,300 people are dead or missing in Rikuzentakata and many small businesses were obliterated by the March tsunami. Survivors must make a heart-wrenching choice: Should they rebuild their town - or abandon it?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Recent WSJ Work: RIkuzentakata, Japan

Newly-minted Mayor Futoshi Toba was at work in City Hall when the tsunami devastated his community a month ago. Now he must find a way to balance his duty to his family and his town.

Here is the very moving story written up by two of my esteemed colleagues:

Some photos also made it into the slideshow and newspaper.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some impressions from Japan

I've been out reporting in Rikuzentakata for a few days and will be filing soon. But here a few random photos from the trip (Hong Kong > Tokyo > Kitakami > Rikuzentakata > Kitakami > Tokyo > Hong Kong).


I was shooting broll from the Tokyo tower and found this very scary looking view through a window in the floor.


Second time I'm in Tokyo for work during the cherry blossom season. They are truly beautiful, even more so thanks to their short life span.


From a shelter in Rikuzentakata during a charity soccer match between the Japanese national team and an all-star team from the J-League:

Little man



From a pre-school graduation in Rikuzentakata: