In recent years, broadcast and print journalism have been transformed by a sweeping digital revolution that has affected almost all facets of media production, especially in the area of video. In the past, video journalism was the realm of major broadcast syndicates.
Video was used primarily to convey information in short clips suitable for the commercial television model. Now, thanks in part to advances in technology that have made high-quality video equipment affordable to the average person, and the ease of sharing content online through sites like Youtube and Vimeo, video has become accessible to the masses like never before. Online journalists, freed from the constraints of the old journalism paradigm, are turning more frequently to documentary style stories. This allows a degree of expression using cinematic techniques that can help to shade a story’s impact on the audience.
The documentary form can provide richer, more engaging narratives with a depth of detail that cannot be provided by the short video blurbs typical of broadcast journalism. For journalists working in the era of new media, understanding the implications of the revolution to online video journalism is essential.
National media outlets are now moving towards online distribution to match consumers demand for mobile accessible content. A poll run by the Pew Research Center said; “The internet is slowly closing in on television as Americans’ main source of national and international news.”
Local broadcast news is still holding strong as 72% of Americans keep a close eye on what is happening in their community.
Broadcast news is the long established method of using a reporter to gather information and content to tell the story in the third person. This format requires short story segments that can be easily absorbed by viewers who may not be able to commit their full attention to television.
Melanie Dudley is a news producer for Fox 10 KSAZ in Phoenix, Arizona. As a producer, Mrs. Dudley designs content for the local 5 o’clock news broadcast integrating video feeds from multiple reporters around the state. Broadcast news can now incorporate footage captured and edited on cell phones and tablets like the IPad to bring breaking news footage to audiences right as it happens.
Documentary journalism is generally a longer form of video that allows the central character to tell their story. Documentary journalists often use large chip DSLR cameras to create a shallow depth of field that blurs the background, which gives the footage a cinematic feel.
Kurt Lancaster is a professor of journalism at Northern Arizona University and a documentary journalist. Mr. Lancaster sees himself as a cinematographer and his work as art. He believes that reporter-based broadcast news fails to provide an objective story, as all stories told by subjective individuals are intrinsically biased.
While broadcast journalism still holds an important place, and remains popular as a source for local news, technology has opened new horizons for video journalists, who today have more freedom than ever before in both content development and the ability to share their story using powerful new tools in online and digital media production.
Travis Fox and Bob Sacha are two talented video journalists who are currently raising the level of quality and depth possible in the medium of online video.
Travis Fox is a filmmaker and journalist for PBS Frontline. Mr. Fox’s work on the Frontline and NPR produced video, Solving the Tap Tap Problem, is an excellent example of nuance and detail in online video storytelling. What appears on the surface to be a story about the economic aspects of being a Tap Tap bus driver in Haiti ends up being a compelling story about life, artistic expression and the socio-cultural mores of Haitians.
Bob Sacha is a freelance multimedia producer whose work on the video Rebuilding New Orleans – Brenton Mock for the group Open Society Foundation offers a compelling portrait of the victims of the Deep Horizon Oil Spill, which continues to devastate wetland ecosystems along the Gulf Coast.
Another video that Mr. Sacha edited for the Audubon Society entitled Saving Lake Okechobee, gives a rhythm and movement to the story about the human impact on Lake Okechobee and the people who cherish it’s biodiversity.
As consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for the majority of their news, it becomes incumbent upon journalists to produce content that caters to the online community. With the on-demand nature of today’s news consumption, viewers will require more in-depth storytelling as television schedules become meaningless. For this reason, documentary journalism is poised to become the most relevant form of video content to the modern news consumer.