Some thoughts on my first stab at video journalism

October 18, 2007

As a writer of nonfiction, I’ve learned to first rely on words, later on the skill of observation and memory, and finally on detailed facts. It’s almost needless to say that in journalism school, the latter has been most emphasized. That a journalist’s credibility begins and ends with the accuracy of her facts is the simplest and most fundamental truth in this field. Written journalism is often about the replication of an event. It involves recalling memories through interviews, searching through documents for a previously recorded happening and contacting your sources well after the interview to acquire a detail.

As I discovered while making my first video piece, the concept of portraying fact applies differently to visual journalism. With a camera in your hand, you aren’t recalling an event; you’re capturing a moment in the present. If you fail to turn your camera at the right moment, you can’t dig the event out from the pages of a notebook or recall it through a witness. The idea that a picture doesn’t lie, however, brings a great deal of comfort. If I capture an image of a musician playing a piece, his gestures, shirt color, height and surroundings are at my fingertips. I don’t have to question them later on. When I conducted interviews, I wasn’t lingering over dates and specifics; the opinions and insights of my subjects provided nearly all the quotes I needed. Especially in a short piece, the images did most of the work.

These ideas are, of course, some of the most trivial in video journalism, but perhaps the most revealing part of creating my video was living these simple differences first-hand. The freedom of not having to recall words, remember colors or list items in a room was almost exhilarating. Standing inside Big Apple Jazz with a camera I felt I was living a moment more freely than with a notebook in my hand. All I had to do was put the images in a right order, and my viewer would know exactly what the place looked like.

Needless to say, I was hooked. Like most writers, I produce through a degree of agony, and being freed from the constraints of a dictionary was refreshing and surprisingly worry-free.

Later on, as with writing, I stressed over my mistakes. When a subject began to talk, I didn’t always take the time to plug in a microphone. When an interviewee mentioned a place or an object, I didn’t always think to get an image of it. When I saw something compelling take place, I rarely took the time to check my lighting or balance. In other words, I failed to understand fully how crucial the quality of an image can be when pictures tell the story.

There has been much talk—and evidence—lately about the convergence of journalism. It’s no longer enough to know how to write a compelling piece or take a good picture. A successful storyteller today should be able to master all fields. The concept of convergence excites me, but not just for the prospect of being able to file multiple angles to a story at one time. More than anything, I’m motivated by the possibility that I could, in the future, master different forms of storytelling. If only one chance to capture a story in a new way made me so inspired, I can’t wait to learn the complexity of these different languages.


2 Responses to “Some thoughts on my first stab at video journalism”

  1. amyvanvechten Says:

    Nice post. I have to say, it’s freeing to have multiple platforms from which to choose, because some stories just take better to particular mediums than others. But it’s also hard to become a master of all of them in a couple of semesters! I feel you.

    Nice work. Keep it up!

    Thanks for the nice comments on my blog. 🙂

  2. juanitaleon Says:

    I wish it were so simple that you don’t have to worry about unintentionally lying in video. The worst way of lying (or at least the hardest to accept) is what you ‘don’t see’, what you intentionally or unintentionally leave out.

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