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Video Reporting: Images With Sound and Motion
Photographers and reporters are mastering a multitude of skills to create online projects that reach readers in new ways.

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While in Burma and Thailand earlier this year for a story on refugees, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel photojournalist Steve Linsenmayer captured hours of audio and video along with still photos. The resulting multimedia presentation was featured on the paper’s Web site and in a show on the local public TV station.

Fort Wayne News-Sentinel photographer Steve Linsenmayer packed a Sony video camera and mini-disk recorder along with his two Nikons when he traveled to Burma and Thailand earlier this year. His subject: refugees – a passionate topic in Fort Wayne, which has the largest population of pro-democracy Burmese dissidents in the United States.

Linsenmayer brought back much more than a story for readers of the paper.

Like many veteran newspaper photographers who are diving into the world of video journalism, Linsenmayer juggled the equipment to capture hours of audio and moving images, as well as riveting still photos. In late May, The News-Sentinel launched a project that included a 32-page special section with photos, a show on the local public TV station using Linsenmayer’s pictures and videos, a half-hour radio program with his audio recordings and a Web presentation created from his work. (See the web site.)

Linsenmayer’s multimedia efforts are testimony to the expanding capabilities of photojournalists who are stretching their talents – and the newspapers’ ability to reach readers – by picking up a video cam. Increasing newsroom emphasis on the Internet is encouraging experimentation with new storytelling mechanisms. Many see the foray into moving pictures as a natural progression of the profession, which already has seen darkrooms and film replaced by laptops and fingernail-sized digital cards in just the past decade.

More stylized than TV news clips, the best of the three-minute videos shot today by photojournalists can be as haunting as a single image and as informative as a 1,000-word story.

“We can’t do this in the print edition, so why not try it online?” said Beth Macfadyen, day news and online editor at The (Macon) Telegraph. “That’s what online is all about now – experimenting. I’m hoping that particularly with younger people who have grown up with TV this is going to be what draws them to newspaper Web sites. But only time will tell.”

Concerned about overzealous use and expenses – not to mention the extra time required and the risk of missing that perfect shot while fumbling with additional equipment – photojournalists are cautiously optimistic about the latest technological tools. But, for better or worse, video cameras, iMovie editing software and Flash multimedia tools are changing the job description for many.

“I haven’t touched a still camera for three to four months,” said Jen Friedberg, a photographer who has taken on the new title of multimedia producer at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. All the photographers now shoot video for a monthly online feature and were recently trained to use Apple iMovie software. “It’s a big change, but it’s very rewarding,” Friedberg said. “We’re getting to tell stories in a new way.”

At The Wichita Eagle, staff photographer Jaime Oppenheimer, who calls herself a “videographer-in-training,” recently hung out of a helicopter going 120 mph to shoot still and moving images of a grass fire that burned 10,000 acres in Kansas. The paper’s television news partner used the aerial footage to open its evening newscast, and closed it with a one-minute clip that included Oppenheimer’s still photos. (See the video clip.)

At The Miami Herald, photographer Chuck Fadely and picture editor Battle Vaughan hosted workshops for newsroom managers and photographers on the power of video storytelling. (The two had attended a Platypus Workshop hosted by two former Time magazine photographers who became video producers.) Fadely and Vaughan promoted the meetings with posters emblazoned “Change or Die.”

Fadely, a Herald photographer for more than 20 years, is so smitten that he’s changing the title on his business cards to “visual journalist.”

“I could happily switch over to doing only video stories,” Fadely said. “It can be very compelling. The viewer is engaged in the story rather than simply being told about it.”

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Richard Koci Hernandez, deputy director of photography/multimedia at the San Jose Mercury News, created this self-portrait using a Web cam and PhotoBooth, a new software program from Apple that allows the user to create a variety of styles. Koci Hernandez is experimenting with ways to use the software on the paper’s Web site.
Photo by RICHARD KOCI HERNANDEZ/San Jose Mercury News

On-the-job training

Across Knight Ridder, the charge is being led by a small group of enthusiastic photojournalists, many self-trained. Before his Burma trip, Linsenmayer’s only experience was shooting home movies of his wife and two kids.

At the San Jose Mercury News, photographer Richard Koci Hernandez was the first to take the leap last year, learning on-the-job with a camera purchased by the paper.

“When I first got it, I shot nonstop,” Hernandez said. “I shot everything, even my dog, just to get used to the camera.”

Now Hernandez leads technical training workshops, teaching his colleagues how to use the camera and microphones and how to compress the files so they can be transmitted quicker. Recently named deputy director of photography/multimedia, Hernandez says many photographers resist the push because they don’t want to become second-rate broadcast journalists or lose sight of the power of still images. They also worry about taking on additional responsibilities and whether the newspaper will spend the money to purchase quality equipment.

“In any business, there is always resistance to change,” Hernandez said. “When we first went over to digital cameras, a lot of photographers had their hands in the air, saying ‘This isn’t going to work.’ Photographers are a skeptical bunch. And there’s a learning curve to this. We’re asking them to learn a whole new set of skills. We’re asking a lot.”

Says Linsenmayer in Fort Wayne: “I worry that editors think this is just another simple duty to add to the daily load. It’s going to demand informed decisions on what to cover with which camera. You can’t always have both.”

There’s a creative pull to moving pictures, say Hernandez. “Many great photographers, including William Klein and Robert Frank, went through a period of doing moving pictures.”

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