Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 01/12/2007
In Assignment, I Saw Myself and My Son
I'm always up for helping out a colleague, but I hesitated when asked to help produce a story on teenagers growing up without their fathers - afraid the story was too personal to cover. I haven't lived with my 5-year-old son in three years. He currently lives in Italy, so we don't see each other as much as I would like. There's one long stint - about two months - in summer, two weeks for Christmas, and around 10 days for his birthday in March.
I ended up doing the story. To my surprise, the kids actually lined up to talk about a subject that most hadn't even discussed with their mothers. They needed to talk about how it felt to grow up without a father, and I needed to hear what they had to say.
Most of the kids were angry because their fathers never followed up on their promises. Some fathers never called their children; some forgot their birthdays. All the kids wanted, it seems, was to spend some quality time with their dads. I got the impression that although they were managing very well, the teenagers had a gaping hole where their fathers were supposed to be.
The assignment forced me to reflect on my situation. It was definitely therapeutic for me and, I think, for the kids, too.
Posted at 3:21 PM ET, 12/30/2006
More Than Music
I usually jump at the opportunity to produce videos involving music, musicians or composers. Music can be very inspiring, and it is a rare treat to be present while a musician's creative process unfolds.
The first long-form, music-related video I did was about a German-born vibraphonist named Lennie Cuje. It took about a year, and it was something I worked on between other assignments. The more time I spent with Lennie, the more complex his life's story became. Born the year Adolf Hitler came to power, this former Hitler Youth fell in love with jazz at age 12 right after the fall of the Third Reich. To Lennie, jazz represented individualism, improvisation and freedom of expression - all things that were stifled during his childhood in Nazi Germany.
I could have stopped reporting this story sooner than I did and produced a very nice package. However, if I had stopped just a few months earlier, I would have missed out on a lot of important details and the video would have turned out quite differently. I learned a great deal while shooting and editing "A Life Lived in 4/4 Time." I reflect on Lennie's story often - especially around the New Year, which happens to be his birthday. This year, he'll be 74.
In December, I worked on a story about another musician. Dominik Maican is a classical music composer who recently turned 18. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up with Lennie!
Posted at 3:46 PM ET, 12/21/2006
From Class Clown to Head of the Class
Star AP teacher Frazier O'Leary learned the value of education the hard way. He never gave school much thought until he played the worst season of his college baseball career the year the scouts had their eyes on him. He began teaching English and coaching sports in DC soon after. And 35 years later, he's still at it - and nationally known as one of the best in the country at challenging and inspiring kids in struggling high schools.
The best quote that hit the cutting room floor:
"None of them are as bad in high school as I was as a student. Nobody can do something in my class that I didn't do. Seriously. I mean I was a disruptive influence in my class."
Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 12/15/2006
Bill Cosby and Me
Bill Cosby doesn't like my video. When I first heard that he "attacked" the piece at a forum on black youth in D.C. last summer, I was shocked and a little perplexed. I mean, c'mon he's famous, a comedic genius and played Dr. Huxtable on TV. So why would he bother commenting and with such apparent anger? His problem was apparently that he thought the video (which asks folks to define what it means to be a black man) neglected to include any mention of the important role of family and fatherhood as part of being a black man. It is a point he's been hammering home to mixed reactions from black audiences for at least the past several years.
Of course, I do feel some need to defend the video, which I produced with Post reporter Hamil Harris. So by way of rebuttal, I direct your attention to the column "Invoking Responsibility" by Post columnist Jabari Asim. Asim cited a quote in the video by Demitri Kornegay. The Montgomery County, Md., police lieutenant defines a black man as "a man who is honest, reliable, as well as self-reliant" and "assumes responsibility not only for his own actions but for the actions of those persons he is responsible for."
Your witness, Mr. Cosby
P.S. You can check out other reactions to the series and video here.
Posted at 8:15 AM ET, 12/15/2006
Mexico Rocks It
One of the most fun video experiences I have had this year had to do with coverage of Mexico's elections. When I heard about a Mexican nonprofit organization's first attempt at its own "Rock the Vote" campaign, I was definitely interested in covering it. I used to live on the Texas-Mexico border, where I would hear interesting "Rock en Espanol" on Mexican airwaves. I wanted to see what some of those bands were up to and how they were getting involved politically.
Organizers of "Tu Rock Es Votar," which translates literally as "Your Rock is to Vote," were running black and white ads online and on Spanish language MTV. The ads featured Mexican rock and pop stars telling young viewers to "shut up" if they don't go to the polls. The message was direct -- if you don't vote, you can't complain about the results. The ad was bold but also fun. It was also politically neutral and didn't side with any one candidate in a presidential race that turned out to be particularly heated and close. Organizer Armando David elaborated on the effort in a Live Online discussion. When I talked to young voters in Mexico, they responded positively to the ads. Some were even collecting "Tu Rock" posters around Mexico City.
After my video ran, I received a call from an organizer in the United States who wanted to start a similar effort aimed at Spanish-speaking voters here. "Tu Rock, USA"? We'll see....
Posted at 8:10 AM ET, 12/15/2006
In Michigan, the Unemployed Seek Help
In the weeks leading up to the elections, I traveled to Michigan, the epicenter of American manufacturing. Cutbacks at the Big Three are pushing the economy there into a tailspin. I hung out at one of the state unemployment offices for a few days and listened to people who'd just lost their jobs talk about how bleak the situation really is.
To drive the point home, one of the guys who came in had just been laid off from the factory that was literally next door to the unemployment office. The entire factory was closing.
The Michigan economy is being impacted because fewer people are buying American cars, there is a sense that American cars aren't what they used to be, and health care and benefit costs are astronomical driving companies both small and large out of business. For those that can afford to stay in business, many of them lay off experienced workers and replace them with temps who they don't have to give benefits to.
I met some really interesting people who were pinning their hopes on candidates vying for office. Hopefully, I made a decent video story out of the experience. You be the judge.
Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 12/15/2006
The Weather Factor
Not a drop of rain had fallen on the greater Washington area in more than two months when this video was produced. Gardens everywhere were drying up. Plants were dying out. Gardening Editor Adrian Higgins and I decided to help out by showing people how to spruce up a garden during the stifling drought.
As the final touches to the video were being applied, rumors of a tropical storm heading our way began circulating. Needless to say, the video never saw the light of day. This one's for the archives!
Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 12/15/2006
Welcome to Behind the Lens
Since 1998, a team of videojournalists, multimedia editors and designers have been creating a new form of visual journalism using the strengths of video and interactive media to tell stories on the Web. In doing this, we are deliberately trying to create a new model of storytelling harkening back to what Marshall McLuhan once described as an "acoustic space" that had more in common with cave paintings and oral storytelling tradition than the linear narrative forms that have flowed from text in the last 500 years.
We produce video stories in which the subject is more important than the storyteller, differentiating ourselves from the anchor-driven, reporter-driven model of broadcast news. We strive to create subject-driven narratives where people, places and events drive the story. We aim to connect our audience to situations, personalities and news events that shape their world. I believe that Web-driven visual journalism is still in its earliest stages. I encourage experimentation from our videojournalists and multimedia editors, and I believe audience feedback can be very helpful in shaping our evolutionary path.
This last point brings me to the reason for this blog. Our seven videojournalists who do their own visual reporting, editing and field production, as well as the team of 12 multimedia editors who shape washingtonpost.com's daily visual report, want to share their thoughts, experiences and philosophies with you in hopes of sparking a productive dialogue about developing the medium of Web-based visual journalism.
This blog will include stories by individual washingtonpost.com videojournalists along with some insight into the news gathering and editing process.
We hope our blog will prove useful in acquainting you with our ambitions for our storytelling, the issues we face in exploring the range of storytelling possibilities unleashed by the Internet and new technology, and memorable moments we encounter in the field or in the editing process.
Thanks for watching. We look forward to your reactions.
Managing Editor of multimedia