Pages on this site include support material for Video Journalism for the Web: A Practical Introduction to Documentary Storytelling, published by Routledge (2013).
Below is a list of videos referenced in the book.
Chapter 1 Differences in Style: Documentary Journalism versus Broadcast News — A Comparative Analysis of a Similar Story at CNN versus the New York Times
Case Study 1 — “Girl Poet Takes on the Taliban with Her Pen” by Stanley Grant, CNN, Feb. 18, 2009:
The story is inspiring and it captures the heart of the audience in just over two and half minutes. We feel for Tuba and her plight. The cinematography is strong, especially shots 8-14, visual elements that capture Tuba’s desire and personality. The zoom in with Grant sitting next to her, as we go to the final shot of her face, touches the heart. Yet, with all due respect to Grant’s hard work on this inspiring piece, it places his reporter paternal-like personality at the center, and not Tuba Sahaab—he’s the figure that draws the United States audience in, he’s the character we can relate to, as he talks about her and her accomplishments, his narration providing the story, the story needing little, if any visuals, to inform the audience of its content. If we read the transcript, we can see that the visual shots only supplement the story and offer little in helping to reveal deeper story elements. (p. 08)
Case Study 2 — “Class Dismissed in Swat Valley” by Adam B. Ellick and Irfan Ashraf, The New York Times, Feb. 21, 2009:
Despite the length of the piece, Ellick engages a documentary style, a style far different than the one produced by Stanley Grant for CNN. The main difference involves the amount of time Ellick and Ashraf spent with this family — 48 hours documenting them right before the Taliban ordered the closure of the schools for girls in the Swat valley region. The narration provides historical and political context and includes file footage of battles, Taliban whipping people in to submission, and beheaded bodies. The fear the family experiences is real. Their story may not be exhaustive, but it has depth and contains the information needed to understand the family’s predicament. In the CNN piece, I feel pushed into it through a rapid style that tells me what to think, taking the story at face-value, while the New York Times piece — although guiding us with narration — feels more like an invitation into the story, taking us deeper into the emotions that circulate among the characters. (p. 9)
Interlude: On Backpack Journalism, Bill Gentile
Afghanistan: The Forgotten War by Bill Gentile, PBS NOW, July 17, 2008:
My greatest concern is that the fundamentals and the methodology will be used more often to save money than they will be to do effective visual storytelling. (p. 15)
Chapter 2 Finding a Story and Shaping the Structure: Starting with Character in Jigar Mehta’s “The Recession-Proof Artist.” The New York Times, May 19, 2009:
By focusing on character, Mehta takes us into the personal life-space of Conner. Many documentary filmmakers build trust and take us into a slice of life of their characters. We see Conner create art on his living room floor, make bread in his kitchen, and smoke as he talks about how he gets by on $12,000 per year. Because the documentary journalist respects Conner, we sense that he respects Mehta by opening up to Mehta’s lens, and for this, we the audience, get to share those personal moments by putting us in Conner’s living room. And this is one of the core differences between broadcast news and documentary filmmaking — the building of that trust in order to get the subject to open up and share their personal lives. (p. 20)
Interlude: Becoming a Documentary Journalist, the Renaud Brothers
“Saving Lives on the USNS Comfort” by the Renaud Brothers, The New York Times, Jan. 25, 2010:
We love to tell stories that won’t get told otherwise or at least not in the same way. . . . Through the experience of these translators the viewer is given a totally different and interesting look at this crisis. These Corpsmen are national heroes, and had we not profiled them, very few people would have know it. Showing things like this to the world is something that makes us proud. (p. 38)
Chapter 3 Shooting the Image: Composition and Lighting in Travis Fox’s “Narcocorridos and Nightlife in Mexicali” and “Crisis in Darfur Expands”
“Narcocorridos and Nightlife in Mexicali” by Travis Fox, The Washington Post, June 25, 2009:
“You want to start kind of strong visually, and with a strong hook that you’re going to hook your audience with early on. You know, there’s a rule: start with your best stuff. It’s literally that simple. It’s a similar kind of narrative structure where you have the rising and the climax and all of that. I don’t think all news pieces have those elements, of course, but ideally you have those elements, and then you have a nice kind of kicker at the end, a nice little bow that you tie it up with, a little present at the end, and then you’re out.” (p. 55)
“Crisis in Darfur Expands” by Travis Fox, The Washington Post, March 7, 2007.
Not only does Fox have a sense of timing to his cuts, but he knows how to use natural sound to shape the emotional experience of the viewer—a key element in strong filmmaking, in which both visual and sounds are used in conjunction to shape the story. In much of broadcast news, the narration trumps both images and sound. The documentary journalism style practiced by Fox in this piece, reveals somebody who uses most of the tools of filmmaking in order to shape his story in an emotional experience for the audience—tools of cinematography, editing, dialogue, and sound design. In Fox’s work I don’t feel he privileges one tool of filmmaking over another. Rather, he uses the tools available to him and makes his editing decisions based on the content of the story. Stark desert shots and the orange glow of lighting in the tent provide us with two contrasting visuals shaping the two themes of the work: despair and hope. I’m allowed to draw that conclusion, due to the fact that Fox didn’t tell me to think this way. (p. 61)
Chapter 4 Conducting Interviews and Writing a Script: A Workshop with “Icarus Refried: A Pro-Creative Process”, April 2011:
In the end, it’s about engaging in a conversation, discovering who the other person is, what their passions are, and helping them open up and share personal stories. This takes a certain amount of trust, because as the journalist you will be sharing their story with an audience and you need to be fair and accurate. They’re opening up their heart, trusting you in translating their story to the world. (p. 75)
Chapter 5 Editing for Rhythm: Travis Fox’s “Redefining China’s Family: Women”, The Washington Post, May 10, 2007:
Fox took a story that could have been just about an overview of the changing role of women in China, and approached it as a documentary filmmaker — discovering the central issue, but placing the viewer into the world of one character, Wu, who becomes the personification of that issue, a character whose dramatic needs structure the overall story. Fox reveals the story through contextual narration, through the voice of those he interviewed, and shown through cinematography –the shots revealing the significant emotional moments that propel the story forward along classical lines of dramatic structure. (p. 107)
Chapter 6 Getting Clean Audio and Crafting a Sound Design: An Audio Workshop with Philip Bloom, Travis Fox, and Wes Pope
Crisis in Darfur Expands: Testimonials (see Ch. 3, above): https://vimeo.com/1293941.
Fox also takes weaknesses or problems and turns them into a solution. “There are things you have to deal with when you’re shooting,” Fox muses. “Like wind is always a problem, so you have to have the proper windscreens, but you can also use it to your advantage.” In his “Crisis in Darfur” story, Fox faced a lot of wind, even when he was interviewing a subject in a tent. “I have a windscreen and I try to deal with it, but you still might get wind noise, depending on the flaps of the tent, so I actually tried to change it up and use it to my advantage, so I focused on the wind noise and I made that an element in the story” — using shots and sounds of the tent flap and a low angle wind-swept desert as moments of emotional beats and transitions that enhanced the emotional core of the story. “So if I’m in the room with someone and there’s a fan blowing, typically that would be a distraction, but I’ll use it and I’ll shoot it and I’ll record the audio, and then I’ll add that as an element. Then, if you hear it during the interview it kind of makes sense to the viewer and it’s not a distraction and it adds to the ambience of the scene.” (p. 115)
“Salton Sea Beach” by Philip Bloom, March 20, 2010:
Philip Bloom, a cinematographer based in England, shot a poetic documentary work capturing the abandoned environment at Salton Sea Beach, California. He shot it on a consumer DSLR, the Canon Rebel T2i. Rather than record the existing ambient sounds, he used Apple’s Soundtrack Pro and the site, The Free Sound Project (http://freesound.org) and crafted his own audio design for the piece. The work includes haunting sand blowing wind, creaking benches, wind howling through walls — all of which provides the aural essence of the environment. Bloom not only captures the visual essence of an abandoned beach town, but the audio environment places us into the space just as viscerally. (p. 117)
“AIDS Anniversary” by Wes Pope, The San Francisco Chronicle, 2011:
But Pope also loves to craft sound designs for his work. “I am big fan of non-synced sound,” he says. This is not to neglect getting good synced audio in the field.
“As shooters in the field we should be working on collecting as much good synced audio as possible (by using wireless microphones, boom poles, and so forth). But when it comes time to edit, I think the magic starts to happen when your audio mix and your visuals start to go in different directions.”
Pope says to look at “the opening scene of Apocalypse Now or almost any Hollywood film with great sound design.”
His approach to this contrapuntal sound design can be as simple as engaging an L-cut, where “sound leads picture or picture leads sound” (we hear someone speak beneath an image, before seeing that person onscreen). Or, Pope says, it can get more complex where you use “any sound-picture-juxtaposition that does not directly match each other. Music, interviews, and ambient audio can all take on interesting roles when they are used in ways to compliment or contrast with the images on the screen.” (p. 120)
Chapter 7 The Blogging Journalist: Travis Fox and the Mexican Border Stories, The Washington Post, June 15, 2009:
Fox’s edits shape the narrative around Guadalupe’s desire — which in this case is the need to beg for more money so he can feed his heroin addiction. Again, the classic story structure, even in such a short piece, provides the emotional arc so common in cinematic storytelling. Notice how, in context with the blog text, the video becomes more rounded. The information about five people murdered at a shelter, as we’re told in the blog, with written evidence of a man pointing to where his uncle was killed, deepens Guadalupe’s story as he explains how the drug treatment center he was attending was shut down due to threats from the drug cartels. The fourth paragraph of the blog does tell us about this, but with both pieces of evidence — the shooting written down as text, the other spoken on camera by the subject as documentary witness — makes us believe his story that much more. (p. 133)