Colin Mulvany, a photographer and video journalist for The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, is carrying the flag for superior video storytelling. Mulvany said he trained fourteen people in his newsroom to shoot video but nine of them were subsequently laid off. Now he and a handful of others attempt to produce well-crafted video features as well as news, in collaboration with print reporters. And because there is rarely anyone in newsroom management with enough expertise to critique the work of video journalists, Mulvany started a site called Findingtheframe.com to fill the void. It’s a kind of self-help organization that seeks to improve the quality of online video features. Findingtheframe.com invites news-video journalists to submit their stories for critiques by a panel of experts.
“This is going to be the future of the Internet. Video is the language online,” Mulvany says. “But video journalism is still a goat trail.”
Brian Storm formed his own multimedia production company, MediaStorm, in 2005 to prove that a business could be built around online cinematic narratives. He’s succeeding.
Storm says he takes a “disciplined” approach to his work and pursues topics that he personally cares about, with what he calls “ass-kicking storytelling.” Ultimately, he says, the video that will succeed online is either “cats spinning on a fan or the greatest story done on Darfur. No one’s gonna tweet what’s in the middle.”
In the past five years, his company has produced twenty-seven online documentaries and dozens of other projects for a variety of clients. He won’t reveal traffic, but points to a twenty-one-minute video story—following an illegal immigrant from Cameroon—that he said had a 65 percent completion rate, meaning the viewer stayed with the story for its entire length. Average time on his site was eleven and a half minutes earlier this year, before a redesign that he believes will increase the figure. At press time, MediaStorm has some 5,900 Twitter followers and 8,000 Facebook fans, 54 percent of whom are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four. “Our entire careers as journalists they told us that eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds don’t care,” he says.
MediaStorm’s business is divided into four parts. The first is his team’s own, independent journalism projects. The second is co-productions with other journalism organizations, including the Los Angeles Times and MSNBC. MediaStorm and the partner sites co-produce the story, each posts it on its own site, and then they share the advertising revenue. The third is straight client work, which is the real moneymaker. For repeat clients like the Asia Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Starbucks, its one corporate client, MediaStorm produces multimedia projects with the same high-quality storytelling as its journalism. “We love to work with NGOs. We love having a mission and resources,” Storm says. “They pay five times what The New York Times would pay for the same content.”
The fourth leg of his business is training others to shoot and edit high-impact multimedia and run a business his way. The workshop films also get showcased on his site. One notable piece is Take Care, an eight-minute story of a twenty-two-year-old woman in Staten Island and her complex family life.
Storm won’t disclose revenue, but profits pay for him and his staff—and their journalism projects. He took a year to produce Intended Consequences, a multimedia story on rapes during the Rwandan genocide. It was the first Web story to win an Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University award, earlier this year. The story also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the victims of Rwandan rapes. “I remember sitting in an office in 1995 and talking about Rwanda while my fifty-year-old bosses said no one would care about that story,” Storm says. “ ‘Audiences are apathetic to those issues and won’t watch it,’ they said. Well, our audience is fired up. They are telling stories every day. They have tools to promote them, on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. The people who are apathetic are in newsrooms, where they’ve gone through so many layoffs. The audience is hungry for great stories.
“I’m tired of people saying we’re the future. We’re the present,” Storm says. “I have real bills to pay and I make the money to do it.”