When journalism (good or bad) makes you cry

This week has been all about video. It’s pretty much all we talked about in both lecture and lab. The topics have been pretty spread out: using a camera, using a tripod, zooming, panning, tight shots, medium shots, wide shots, sequencing, and a whole list of things I’ve written in my notes that I need to remember to do. The main point I’ve taken home? Video is hard. I don’t think I’m exaggerating this either. I have a fairly long list of all the multitasking I need to do if I am going to create a good video. And that’s just from lecture.

I think part of the reason why video journalism can be so difficult is that it can either be an amazing feat of storytelling or a total train wreck depending on how it’s put together. We saw some of both in Monday’s lecture. The first video we watched was basically the epitome of “how not to make a news video.” The story covered a series of floods and featured an extended segment of an official explaining how the river was rising. Notice how few concrete details I remember? That’s probably because the only thing I remember about it is that it was bad. I could barely hear the speaker talking over the sound of the wind, the image was shaky and there was this eerie, dramatic music playing quietly in the background (this made little sense, if any). I was lucky I could focus long enough to figure out the newscast was about a flood. The rest was so sloppy I could barely pay attention.

In contrast to that first piece, towards the end of lecture we ended up watching a video, photo and audio piece about a couple whose son was diagnosed with Trisomy 13 and was given hours to days to live after birth. The work follows the pregnancy and birth of their son, Thomas, and then walks with them until he dies a few days later. It ends with the mother, Deidrea, talking about how she chose to follow the pregnancy through not because she wanted a miracle, but because Thomas was her son. This was actually the second time I’ve seen this news piece. I watched it last spring in J2100. I have been close to tears both times. I discussed the piece with a few of my friends in the class, and I feel like all of these conversations included me saying some variation of, “You know it’s good journalism when you’ve seen it twice and it still makes you want to cry.”

I think both pieces, put together, really highlight how powerful video can be, but how disastrous it can be if done wrong. I have no idea what happened in the story about the flooding. I couldn’t focus, except maybe on how hard it was to focus. I didn’t really connect with the story or feel the need to do anything when it was finished. The Trisomy 13 story, on the other hand, lingered in my mind long after I watched it. I was moved, almost to tears, and while I don’t really know what I should do after watching something like that, I was left with the feeling that I had to look at life through a bigger lens than I did before viewing the piece. Good visual journalism can have a huge impact. It can make us feel like part of something other than ourselves and convince us to take action. It puts faces on the faceless and helps us step into their shoes. It conveys the horror of a downtown fire, the sorrow of a mother who will never get to raise her son. Done well and done ethically, it can genuinely make a difference.

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One thought on “When journalism (good or bad) makes you cry

  1. Great post! “Choosing Thomas” really is an amazing story. Do you have a link to the Minnesota flood piece?

    Love the writing style, but I wish you would have embedded the “Choosing Thomas” video rather than just having the link. Your posts are great, but they just aren’t visually appealing on the page.

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