The continuing economic pressures in today’s news environment and the added skills needed to tell compelling stories in the new multi-outlet news business have created a demand for what Cox Media Group is calling the “all-media journalist.”
Being a good reporter in this new world is a challenging balance of disciplines. That person now has to do the job of at least five or six people in the past. Not only must the reporter get the story and gather the facts, but he or she must take the pictures, record the sound, write the copy and put it all together as the editor. Then the story must go to television, print, the web, tablets and radio.
Though there is training for the various skills required in this new all-media world, each of those skills has a deep history that used to require a separate individual to carry out. Now the news reporter, the videographer, the lighting expert, the sound operator and the editor are all the same person. This means the old right brain, left brain differences between technically minded people and creative people must be bridged into one.
Lets start with photography — or videography, if you like — which is now essential to all media. Great photography, whether in journalism or not, begins with learning to “see.” We’ve all seen the thousands of bad images non-professionals make.
Then we notice that one spectacular image that tells the story in a single image. The person making the compelling picture saw something the others did not. Like it or not, journalists must now aspire to being excellent photographers of both the still and moving image to feed their various news outlets.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photographer who is the father of “street photography,” called getting that essential shot “the decisive moment.” Very often one still image — executed perfectly — is far more powerful than a clip of moving video.
As an example, think of the image of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, the historic photo made in 1945 by Joe Rosenthal. It depicts United States Marines and a United States Navy corpsman raising an American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.
That photo won the Pulitzer Prize for photography. The scene has been memorialized in statues and on motion picture film. Yet, never has any other media equaled the intense power of that single photograph.
It’s the same today. Images, whether video or stills, must be used to tell the story in a compelling way. We now live in a visual age and all journalists today need to be good photographers. It is essential to the craft of storytelling.
Do not confuse learning to use the gear of the journalistic trade with knowing how to make good images. The two are totally different things. One is operational, or technical. The other is artistic, requiring some degree of talent. It’s what makes one photographer better than others.
In video, once the footage is shot, it must also be edited. Editing is an art form in itself. The written word and edited video must come together to tell a cohesive story. It’s not an easy process. If today’s aspiring reporters are not a good photographer or editor, he or she must learn the craft of both to be successful.
A great place to learn is the Maine Media Workshops. Take a week long workshop with an expert. A good place to begin is “Photographer’s Eye,” a class that teaches people to see. From there, build on your skills, with specific classes, in video, stills and editing. I’ve taken these classes with top experts and can say they made a real difference.
Another excellent series of classes are the Platypus Workshops, held around the world. They teach digital storytelling in a modern way — from finding the story to shooting it with a DSLR to editing the finished product. Attendees will get intensive instruction in all the necessary disciplines. Another good workshop is offered by MediaStorm in Brooklyn, NY. It also focuses on multimedia storytelling.
Regardless of where one studies, the essential beginning the reporter must learn is how to see. That may sound overly simplistic, but believe me it is not. It is the essential difference that will make you a great visual journalist. You can learn to use any brand of camera, but the critical element is telling a story. “Seeing” is essential to doing that.
In our next column, we’ll focus on audio — usually the stepchild of the journalistic process. But, it’s just as important as pictures. Great images, without good sound, usually fail. And that audio will also be needed for the web and radio. Think about that.