Thursday, November 30, 2006



I know what I have written earlier about Ed Kashi's piece, but Contact Press Images photographer Kristen Ashburn's new project on MediaStorm is impressive, not only visually, but as a cohesive piece that utilizes video seamlessly and very well. Great audio, nice use of background music...a TV quality/PBS documentary quality ready piece if ever I have seen one. This is what multimedia is all about.

what tomorrow may bring

A recent article on, 'Bad News for Old News' highlights many of the arguments I have been making and I know others have been advancing as well. For too many years newspapers have utilized the 'here are your vegetables, they are good for you' approach to news. I advocate for more of a 'balanced diet,' that adds some protein, carbs and dessert to go with the brussels sprouts.

The article has eight predications for next year, I will mention one today. 'Traditional media companies will struggle to maintain their audiences.' This is already happening, obviously, but a central part of this is that traditional media companies are not investing enough time into understanding what their audience and customers want, what shape they want it in, and how to deliver it (whatever it is) to them.

Last month, the TV show 'Lost' had a fake ad that directed viewers to a web site that allowed them to explore the story line in a series of different formats, ie. sound files, web sites, clips. The producers of 'Lost' broadened the way that their viewers could experience and enjoy the show. I haven’t seen that determination and understanding of the new media market at newspapers yet.

I believe the main focus is on providing interesting, entertaining content, to consumers that gives them interactivity, ownership, participation and yes, fun, to go with their vegetables.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

new watchdog?

Journalism now has another watchdog. This ‘guardian at the gate,’ NewsTrust, is presenting itself as a neutral ratings and evaluator of journalism on the net.

The idea is a twofold intriguing concept. As corporate media ‘under’covers or ignores stories that might annoy advertisers and an increasing number of ‘journalists’ are writing pieces on line, there is a level of difficulty of evaluating who is legitimate and who is not.
(I won’t even begin to explore the concept if anything from the Heritage Institute should be published in a newspaper to begin with.)

That being said, I think the idea is a sound one. Although in practice, and I am sure it will take time, the initial results are somewhat predictable, with a few surprises. The top rated sources are in descending order: the union of concerned scientists, FactCheck, Frontline, Women’s eNews, Atlantic Monthly, PBS, Daily Show, Greg Palast, Rolling Stone and All Things Considered.

Overall, it will be interesting to see how things develop and what emerges in this ever changing transition of journalism to the net.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

redux two

Beyond all the commentary I have read about Ed Kashi and Brian Storm’s "Iraqi Kurdistan" package that appeared on MSNBC I really only have one additional thought.

One of the things I have long admired about Ed Kashi’s work is the intimacy that his pictures convey. That seemed to be missing for me in ‘Iraqi Kurdistan’ and for that reason I think we are all poorer.

Don’t get me wrong, I think some interesting things were done in that piece, and as I have noted, other folks have done similar things that this project builds on. Please remember, despite all technological advances, one of the most powerful tools we always have in our bag is the edit.

Friday, November 24, 2006

food for thought redux

I was just looking at Ed Kashi and Brian Storm’s "Iraqi Kurdistan" package that appeared on MSNBC, has been mentioned on web logs and Photo District News (PDN).

Earlier in this blog I wrote about the movie ‘Take the Lead’ and about one of the trailer Remixes they produced. It appears that both New Line Cinema and Brian Storm were thinking along the same lines.

I think Ed Kashi is a great photographer and I think that Brian Storm is a wonderful innovator. That being said, their piece causes me to pause.

My first impression is that it reminds me of KOYAANISQATSI, Godfrey Reggio's debut as a film director and producer. The title comes from a Hopi Indian word meaning 'life out of balance.' If you have never seen it, it is worth the time and helps put Ed’s piece into perspective.

I will need more time to think about this; but I go back to the concept of 'Koyaanisqatsi' and wonder again if we are losing something along our rush to embrace technology.

90 degrees

Right before ‘Turkey Day’ NPR interviewed Tom Waits about working on movie sound tracks and his new three CD set.

What intrigued me was when he talked about doing sound tracks for movies and his approach. Waits talked about how if the song tracked too closely to what the film was trying to say than the overall effect was muted. He argued that coming in at a 90 degree angle to the film more often than not highlighted what the film was trying to say and supported it in a different way. The added benefit was that this is not an 'obvious' approach.

The longer I work on multimedia projects, the more I wonder if Waits is not onto something important. I think there are things people need to know, who is talking, what their story is. But I think we lose something as journalists if we 'spell everything out' for our audience and beat them over the head with it on the audio track. Sometimes, giving them room to think, feel and imagine is also important.

There are times when interesting images that go beyond the obvious can help tell stories, when sound or moments of silence can tell just as much as a narrative. As photojournalists move into doing more multimedia work, I think it is important to listen and learn from other mediums that have been doing similar things.

Here is hoping your holiday was a good one.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

amusing ourselves

As I noted earlier on this blog, the name of the site has to deal with Neil Postman, not the really bad Kevin Costner movie adapted from a really good book by David Brin. None-the-less, Postman had some very interesting things to say about the media and the emergence of television, as well as very cutting cultural observations.

In an earlier posting I referred to our 24-hour news cycle and the possible dangers it poses. Back in 1979 Postman wrote that:
'[We have had a] rapid emergency of an all-instant society: instant therapy, instant religion, instant food, instant friends, even instant reading. Instancy is one of the main teachings of our present information environment. Constancy is one of the main teachings of civilization.'
–Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity (1979), p. 76

Everything is instant these days, including success, fame and noterity. Taco Bell has even invented a Hobbit friendly 'fourth meal' concept to persuade teens and college students that there is always food available.

Perhaps Postman’s best known book is 'Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business' The new book cover has a clown nose on ronald Reagan that is actually scarier than the initial cover with headless people in the glow of TV.

The quote that I have been thinking about and struggling with of late is his statement that 'in every tool we create, an idea is embedded that goes beyond the function of the things itself.' He continues on the next page 'our languages are our media. Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture.'

We as photojournalists and journalists need to think about and understand the power of multimedia. We need to recognize why it works, how it works and what ideas are embedded in flash, sound and the internet that may influence and change how we think about and tell stories.

The first and most obvious point is that we often create these projects because we can. Sometimes we do really 'flashy' things with flash because we can, not because that is the best way to tell a story. I realize and understand that we are entering into the age of multimedia, and storytelling online and that there are many things to learn and figure out how to do. But we should also be thinking about what we are doing and how the tool is influencing how we think and tell stories.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

a second look

Initially today was going to be about Neil Postman, the Postman referenced by this blog’s name. However, life as usual, pulled me a different way.

Deadlines are interesting creatures online. In print, once it goes to film and press, it is usually over. What is done is done.

As with web sites, it is easier and sometimes welcome to revisit a multimedia piece a day or two after launching to see if there is anything to polish, correct or tighten. Sometimes that second look can be the difference between OK and great.

More often than not, for work on deadline, the second look is not a bad idea. For longer projects and single creator pieces, I am not sure the second look is always needed, but another set of ideas in production always helps.

Recently we put together a piece on deadline that was OK, shift differences, deadlines and other issues saw us publish a piece that was not up to our own standards. With some post publishing conversation, revisiting the initial edited material and some ‘spit balling’ of ideas, a better narrative was created that flowed and was tighter, despite being a bit longer.

A second look was all it took.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Just in case you missed it last week, photographers were the 'bad guys' on both CSI and CSI:Miami. The one shoreline that really caught my attention was a 'war photographer' for the Las Vegas newspaper who’s editor had photographic proof that he had montaged his award winning photo from Iraq. Aside from the bad Photoshop job, the story arc should give pause to the people who question the necessity of ethics and the seriousness of the past several cases of photojournalism fraud.

Our profession is now the fodder for stories on TV, that alone should make us think. For better or worse, we are now on the 'radar' of creative types. It used to just be paparazzi type photographers, but now photojournalists are under the microscope too.

So, did the episode raise a good question: in short, yes. The quasi, made for TV photojournalist with a British accent and goatee, argued that he 'created a lie to tell the truth.' In the larger context of journalism and our culture I think this raises and interesting question; is it ever appropriate to deceive in the interests of a greater truth?

In the finite world of photojournalism, it raises a tougher question. Last weekend, my wife and I watched the movie 'Gitmo.' In it, the Swedish documentary directors ran into the challenge of how do you illustrate a story that you don’t have access too, ie. the actual detention area of Guantanamo Bay Camp Delta. As journalists we constantly run into roadblock like this, where the story has already happened, the subject is dead, the event is over... So what do we do? I am not sure that their solution completely worked for me, but I will let you be the judge of that.

In general, I think that the faux 'photojournalist' in the TV show was lazy. He constructed an image of what he though the story in Iraq was about for the soldiers. The 'faux photog' didn’t document what was there in front of him, or the people he interacted with; he wandered into the realm of commercial/editorial photography and got lost. How easy is it to lose our way into today’s media culture? If we are not careful, we might wander far enough afield to make it into the next CSI production.

Friday, November 17, 2006

verbals and visuals

A few years ago, OK, more than I would care to admit, I was a College Fellow at the Poynter Institute. They divided us up into two groups: the visuals and verbals (I think those were our self-described titles). Very infrequently did we meet, more often than not at a party, and even more infrequently did we work together.

Not unlike the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story, writers and visual journalists don’t seem to mix well in many newsrooms. In 2002, Poynter’s Monica Moses and Roy Peter Clark attempted to utilize Mario Garcia’s concept of WED: marrying writing, editing and design. I think Mario’s concept back then was a good idea and catchy acronym, but I am not sure it encompasses all of the storytelling options of today. Unfortunately, the ‘happy couple’ had issues and ultimately Roy confessed to reading Maxim magazine (there were also some attempts at reconciliation via marriage counselor.)

Ultimately, WED seems to have fallen by the wayside, but the headaches still remain in the newsroom. There are two main problems as I see them.

First, the internet is not going away, despite what writers and editors might think or hope. Many newsrooms are still administered by people who came up through the word ranks and think in headline and text. Poynter’s first eye track study illustrated how most people entered pages through the photos and graphics and then deadline and finally stories. The Eye Track III study focused on web based pages and found some interesting things. My point is, despite the rapid changes in how news is provided and consumed, the people making decisions are more often than not verbal.

Secondly, the visual side of the newsroom can get carried away by technology and software and cool internet things and completely lose the verbal side. We also lose them when we talk about where our eye starts on a page, how it moves through a picture and entryways; they only see the words. Rob Galbraith outlines the rise of soundslides on his site and highlights the increased storytelling power that audio and slide shows of images can provide, far stronger than video on the internet in my opinion.

So where does this leave us? I am not sure, but both sides of the newsroom had better start working together, utilizing new storytelling methods or else newspapers and journalism as we know it will fade in to obscurity.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

24 hour news (sort of)

Two recent stories, one local and one national, highlight a growing concern of mine. Last month, Yankee’s pitcher Cory Lidle flew his plane into a high-rise building in NYC. From the initial coverage of the incident/accident, a viewer might have easily formed the impression that terrorists had struck again.

Closer to home, a local teen was transported to the hospital after an explosion in his family’s garage. The initial press release from authorities referred to a pipe bomb and subsequent communications mentioned four other bombs under construction. TV, web and radio news raised concerns about another Columbine or a local homegrown terrorists. When the figurative smoke disbursed, a story about a young, mechanically inclined teenager, most likely ‘souping up’ his potato gun or building an explosive device to try out on his paint ball range emerged from the confusion.

In both situations, the press rushed to cover the story and made a number of assumptions or outlined possible cases that had nothing to do with reality. In the rush to be first, the actual story was lost in the drive to air information, any information. There are many proponents of the 24 hour news cycle and the wide availability of news. The problem is that more often than not, the initial coverage does not shed much light on a story, in fact it can spread confusion. One of the advantages of a newspaper is that time must pass between collecting information, writing a story and taking photographs, printing the newspaper. There is time for thought, reflection and analysis as well as time for the full story to take shape.

I am not opposed to web, TV or internet news that goes out into the field and starts reporting. I am merely advocating for a realization of the dangers of speed, what can lost in the rush and some of the advantages of not over hyping a story until the full extent of the situation can be analyzed. I have rushed off to many fires that turned out to be stove fires, accidents that are nothing more than fender benders and I am not saying don’t go; but don’t be afraid to say ‘This is not really a story,’ after you get there and do some actual reporting.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

food for thought

I am a big fan of movie DVD’s special sections. I have been known to watch a movie and then go back and watch the movie again with the director’s or writer’s commentary turned on. It drives my wife nuts.

That being said, there are gems to be found in the special sections, particularly about different approaches to storytelling.

I recently watched New Line Cinema’s Take the Lead directed by Liz Friedlander and starring Antonio Banderas. The DVD had a series of trailers that they reedited and had some fun with music, rhythm and beat. While I am not arguing or advocating that this approach works for journalism, the idea is an interesting one and reminds me of a 2-D class assignment. It is also a way to disassemble and retell a story in a different way. So here is some food for thought.
Smaller Version

There is also some good and bad uses of flash on the main site. The main directory page takes a scene from the movie and reproduces it as a flash animation.
Main Movie Site

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

multimedia on deadline

Last week Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton came to town and we covered the event with two photographers and one digital audio recorder. Back at the office I assembled flash templates for the different ways we could tell the story depending what the photojournalists brought back to the office. The photo editor did his thing with the images, I edited the sound, and the four of us did the final edit on the sound slide show... published online I might add, before the staff writer turned in his copy.
Hillary slide show