And with the Las Vegas Sun, which combined flip-cam recordings made by Las Vegas resident Tony McDew—as he bottomed out in his gambling addiction—with its own video interviews with him, for a story that runs eighteen minutes. McDew records himself after a big win, fanning out hundred dollar bills in front of the screen. He records himself climbing into his van after losing, spritzing his face with water because the vehicle has no air conditioning. He records himself as he pawns his possessions before heading back to the casino to try to claw out of a very deep hole. You go along with him as he does all the wrong things and loses some $35,000.
And with Time Inc.’s Craig Duff, who holds fast to standards as he tries to produce eight video stories a week, telling his small staff, “We can’t let it go because it’s quote-unquote just for the Web.”
And with reporters like Ian Shapira, who blogged on Washingtonpost.com’s Story Lab site about working in print but studying video journalism on the side, to try to master a form he believes in.
And with Ann Derry, editorial director of video and television for The New York Times, who has an eighteen-person staff and a goal of “making video become a storytelling and journalistic language for the Times, the way print and photographs are.” She’s experimenting with formats like TimesCast, the daily report from the Times newsroom. Though I’m not a fan of TimesCast—because it’s mainly newsroom interviews and they’re pretty boring—I’m happy Derry’s team is trying to build awareness among viewers about Times video, which can be really good. One of my recent favorites is An American at the Bolshoi, which follows a fifteen-year-old who leaves her family in Texas to learn dance at the highest level.
News-related video today is a raucous field. It’s a place where you find the number-one story on YouTube’s top news category to be a parody of Old Spice commercials. But you also find that The Associated Press’s YouTube channel has streamed more than 458 million videos since September 2006, providing quality, hard-core news to a wide audience.
Because video reporting is a game everyone can play, consequently blurring all the lines that had previously set off professional, independent inquiry, it’s more important than ever that serious journalism organizations engage in video as more than just an offshoot of their core missions.
For candid video to move to the forefront of online news and address a rising generation of news consumers, several things have to change: online video journalists need to develop their own storytelling styles, breaking with the anchor-centered conventions of broadcast. Newsrooms need to better integrate and bolster their multimedia and video staffs, and create career paths for visual journalists that extend right to the top. Great video needs to be promoted just as big text stories are.
Video stories need to be judged like all other stories—by how good they are, not how many clicks they get. And at the same time, media companies need to push search engines to focus on creating better tools to highlight well-produced, unique video stories.
Although there’s likely to be no immediate payoff, the current obstacles—like poor search returns—that block quality stories from finding quality audiences will be surmounted.
I have seen such things happen before, through the prism of my own family. My husband’s father, Robert L. Drew, was a correspondent for Life magazine when he took a 1955 Nieman fellowship and developed a concept for candid filmmaking that became the basis of cinema vérité in the U.S. It’s his concept of “picture logic,” versus “word logic,” that I feel is the key to great video.
He produced breakthrough documentaries like Primary—the first candid documentary, which followed John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey on the stump in Wisconsin in 1960—and Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, filmed inside the White House and in the Alabama governor’s mansion as the Kennedy administration forced the desegregation of the University of Alabama against the will of Governor George Wallace.
He revolutionized visual journalism with his belief that a camera shouldn’t stand on a tripod, but should move freely with the characters. Working with Albert Maysles, D. A. Pennebaker, and Richard Leacock, he took the tools available and re-engineered them to work in new ways, including replacing a camera’s noisy metal gears with quieter ones, fashioned from plastic, to enable a new kind of intimate storytelling. Today’s lightweight and easy-to-use technology makes it easy for journalists to continue exploring candid filmmaking.