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: