Video journalism is all about visual storytelling. It is annoying to see video reports that is obviously just a voice-over with a bunch of visuals dumped over it that makes no sense. The best way really is to not have an voice-over, because if you do have it, it just means your visuals can’t do the storytelling for you.
Newsshooter.com’s Matt Allard, who used to live in Kuala Lumpur as a cameraman with Al-Jazeera, makes this point in a video documentary he shot recently about a knife making expert in Taiwan called Maestro Wu. No voice-over… not even an interview soundbite.
There is also a technique known as the ‘one-shot’, where a news story is done in just a single shot on the camera with no editing cuts. This one is even more of a challenge, but when done right, it can give quite an impact. Best suited for a solo-journalist, if I do say so.
Sometimes people forget the basics when it comes to video storytelling. If you keep things simple, a lot can be said. Below is a story I did about the Empire Shopping centre blast in Subang a while back. No voice-over but I had an interview though to explain a little bit of facts.
And another one I did… on the demolition of the historical Pudu Jail in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Solo-journalism is becoming somewhat of a fixture these days in the international journalism world. I’ve been doing it for almost a decade now in Malaysia and I see that there has been a bit of a resistance by journalists here, mainly those who work as staff employees.
It seems like they feel for a reporter to have to learn to handle the camera or video editing software is just having to something out of their official job description. And it goes the same for cameramen who are expected to learn to write scripts or even appear in front of the camera.
In fact, some broadcast journalists are even disgusted if they are expected to write an article for the web, and for print journalists to have to do a TV piece. It annoys the hell out of me.
I had been self-employed for ten years before I became a staff employee at a news organisation where I am now. And I would have starved to death during those ten years if I wasn’t a solo-journalist who could shoot a camera, edit a video, write an article, take photographs and appear in front of the camera.
It was the sheer financial and economic elements that made me do it (actually, I enjoy journalism so much that I just wanted to do it all anyway!). And that’s how I survived, by being multi-skilled and being able to offer more to my clients. I was a value-added vendor!
But honestly, there are so much more advantages to solo-journalism than just the economics side of it. The main reason I love it is the intimacy you get to foster with your subjects. When I shot my feature documentary ‘I’m Muslim Too!’ in Iran, I spent a week with the Persian metal band Arsames in the town of Mashhad. We really became buddies and it showed in the film. Also, the locals were just totally unintimidated by me because I was just this one guy walking around alone.
Yeah, things might get a little messy technical-wise since one person is doing everything, but the frankness of the story more than makes up for it. The guys from the band and I are friends till this day. But if you are careful and put in a little bit of effort, there shouldn’t be any reason why your work has to suffer technically anyway.
I have done immense advocating for solo-journalism, a style of multimedia journalism which sees only one person doing everything, basically a one-man-crew. He or she will handle the camera (both stills and video), do the visual editing, write the scripts, appear in front of the camera, write the article… EVERYTHING!
I’m not a technical person. I don’t care about the latest cameras, video editing softwares, lenses, apps, and all that bull! But I do keep up with technology that helps me be a better solo-journalist.
The gear that I normally carry with me is a small JVC HM100 HD broadcast camera, a small Canon 350D DSLR (I know! It’s ancient! But it gets the job done! I’ve even sold a photo-essay to Esquire and The Malaysian Insider using that camera!), and my MacBook Pro with FCP installed. Last week, I finally bought myself a brand new spanking DSLR so I can now shoot stills and video by only carrying one camera!! BOOM!!! Hahaha!! Late into the game…. but only equipment wise!!
So I got excited when I saw this video by Glen Mulcahy, who demonstrates his entire iPhone workflow for producing news packages. Inspiring is the least I can say about it!
I have used my iPhone too on many occasions. Below is a 30min TV documentary I shot in Myanmar with my iPhone. However, I edited it on FCP with my MacBook Pro. But I’m definitely going to experiment with how Mulcahy does it by using an iPad.
As a journalist, one of the things that I do worry about is being detained or kidnapped while in a conflict zone. With all the beheadings that have been happening online… all the courage in the world woudn’t make me feel courageous! I have actually been detained and interrogated once. It was by the military in Lebanon right when I was about to cross the border out of the country. It was 2007 and at that time, they were going through the Nahr Al-Bared conflict. But it was only for a few hour and they let me go after they deleted some photos I had taken of their checkpoint. Even then, I almost peed my pants!
So I can’t imagine how more macho journalists like Sean Langan and Sean McAllister can stay strong when they get held for months. Sean Langan was kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and held for three months. BBC made a re-enacted film out of his ordeal:
Sean McAllister (who I am now friends with after having the opportunity to hang out with him at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in 2011) was detained in Syria and accused of being a spy. CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed him:
And the latest that has caught my attention has to be the detention of Vice News journalist Simon Ostrovsky in Ukraine by pro-Russian forces. It’s just that I’m a loyal viewer/reader of Vice and I’ve actually been following Ostrovsky’s daily video dispatches from there on a regular basis. Suddenly, the guy just disappears for four days and then they let him go. Not before beating and torturing him, of course. He was released last Thursday (24 April 2014). Here’s he’s account of what happened:
I guess I’ve been taking it easy seeing that the last international assignments I’ve been on in the past six months have been in London, Stockholm and Perth.
One of the subjects I used to teach undergraduates many years ago was Human Communication. It was one of my favourite subjects to teach. I loved it because it was the study of how people communicate with each other, taking into consideration the context of different cultures, languages and beliefs.
A core principal of good human communication is to understand that there are many different people in the world. And being different doesn’t mean being wrong. In fact, it is important that we never judge people based on their culture because culture is never wrong.
Vietnamese and Koreans enjoy eating dog meat and it is considered a traditional dish. But most Americans would find it wrong to eat an animal that is normally a pet. Who is right or wrong? It is a norm in Chinese culture (and many Asian cultures) to have the extended family all living in one house together. But in Europe, this is not accepted as children are suppose to leave the nest when they grow up. Right? Wrong?
And now that the world is getting smaller, people are more exposed to different cultures and clashes start happening. It’s not wrong to have these clashes. People just need to be understanding and open-minded. But of course there are cultural practices, after being compared with others, come out as totally wrong.
And through education, these are slowly expected to disappear. For example, many indigenous tribes in Borneo practiced head-hunting a long time ago. Now that everyone is more educated and ‘civilised’, the practice has been totally wiped out. Which is a good thing. Genital mutilation may be the norm in some African cultures but with more knowledge, campaigns are now being conducted to educate the people so they know that it is not a good thing to do.
But one thing that cannot be done is to blame these people for their tradition and culture. It is what they’ve been doing for generations without thinking it is wrong. It’s the way they are wired to think. But of course, the key word is education.
With more clashes of culture happening, the more our minds are exposed and opened up. We get to see things from many perspectives. And that will eventually cause the entire human race to progress and evolve.