Month: November 2013

Final project thoughts

TidalVolume

Today a group of two other journalism students and I presented our final project for our Multimedia class. We were tasked to create a video piece, audio piece, photo gallery and text story that centered around one topic. Our group was then required to create a website for the project using either WordPress or Wix.

For the last several weeks, my group has been shadowing a band called Tidal Volume for the project. The band has been a lot of fun to follow this last month or so. They already have one recorded album out and are in the process of producing an EP to be released next Spring. Three of the band’s five members live in Columbia and are University of Missouri students. Although we had some challenges getting visuals for the project (see my last post), overall I think our project came together well. Granted, this project may not rival that of a professional website, but I feel like our project captures an interesting story about a young band trying to get a break.

I ended up writing the text story and taking some of the pictures for the final story. I was able to take what I had learned earlier in the semester and apply it during the project. I still get a bit nervous operating a camera, for example, but I feel like I would be comfortable taking photos for a publication if I needed to.

As a continue to take more advanced journalism classes- I will be taking a more advanced class called Convergence Reporting next semester- I feel like I will only be better able to market myself as a communicator. While having a specialty in journalism is important, many of my professors and past colleagues have emphasized how invaluable people who can “do it all” are.

This summer, I had an internship at Union Station in Kansas City. I primarily helped promote an event called Maker Faire by blogging and using social media. I tried my best to cover the event with the tools I had, my smartphone. I took point-and-shoot pictures and some quick videos of the event on my phone for the event’s Facebook page. I am proud of the communication work I did over the summer, but I am so glad to have gained more advanced skills that I can bring to a future internship or job. I can now confidently say that I could produce quality journalism and promotion materials across platforms including text, video, audio and photo. I can’t wait to utilize those skills.

Continued reflections on visual storytelling

Writing news stories is pretty formulaic. You write down a list of some open ended questions, interview at least three sources for 30 minutes and begin to write your story. Each story needs a 30-40 word lead, and each story should follow an inverted pyramid style with the most important information in descending order from the beginning to the end of the story. Granted, many news stories have unforeseen challenges, and some evolve into complex and unpredictable pieces. However, after four years of primarily writing news stories, I am confident in my ability to gather information and translate that information into a valuable written story in this basic formulaic way. Even when I write a sub-par story, I can recognize the mistakes I made or the information I lacked.

Earlier today I spent about 30 minutes taking photos for my multimedia final project. I still have no idea if I have a good story. Visual story telling is unpredictable. There is more to think about in the moment. There is equipment to set up, lighting to check and settings to manage before you even press the shutter button or the record button. There is also little room to tell a great visual story without, well, great visuals. My group is featuring a really talented band for our project called Tidal Volume. They’ve been fairly successful so far for a group of college students, and they even opened for the Plain White T’s last summer. The band’s story is very compelling, and my group got caught up in how cool the project sounded. Soon though it became clear that our project was a bit visually challenged. The band really only practices in St. Louis, and when they do get together in Columbia, which isn’t often, they practice in one of the band member’s dimly lit apartments. An apartment is not an ideal location in which to feature the energy and excitement of a band-Unpredictable and a bit poorly planned on our part.

It’s all a learning curve I guess. That, at least, is what my multimedia professor told our group after we explained our visual issues. For so long, I had become very confident and, honestly, complacent in my writing. At first I didn’t think I would enjoy visual story telling. I have always favored writing and sort of down played the skills and hard work it would take to produce any sort of video or photo story. My experience in this class has completely changed my opinion of this and has been invaluable for me so far. Tidal Volume is best portrayed by video and audio pieces that can highlight its sound in a way that text can’t. I would have most certainly overlooked this before.

I further realized that this week when I watched some of the winning multimedia pieces that came out of the College Photographer of the Year competition. One of my favorite stories, called “Waiting for a Miracle” captures a mother’s struggle to care for a daughter born with physical disabilities. Seeing the photos and video footage of the little girl pulls at my heart in a way that a text story never could.

Every story is given meaning by the way in which it is told. Journalists need to remember this every day. Every word has the power to capture a story in a truthful or inaccurate, emotional or apathetic way. Every photo, video and audio piece has this same power. When done well, these mediums deeply move us and teach us profoundly about the world and each other. I want to get it right, and I hope that my group can convey everything that Tidal Volume is about even through all of those photos I took in a tiny, dark apartment.

Exploring award-winning photography at the College Photographer of the Year competition

Mizzou’s journalism school has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities. Last year, I had the chance to meet Laura Ling and to interview Rajmohan Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. This week I got to meet Brian Stelter of the New York Times and Jason Kelly of Bloomberg. The highlight of my journalism-filled week, however, was attending the 68th College Photographer of the Year competition. Mizzou hosts the competition, which has thousands of entries from journalism students around the world.

This year’s judges came from some of the best news organizations in the U.S. I watched the judging for the feature and documentary categories of the competition. Watching professionals judge the photos was insightful. After awhile I found that I could intuitively predict which photos the judges would like the most. Here’s what I picked up on during the judging:

IMG_0031

 

IMG_0032

1. Great photos tell a story

This year’s feature photo category had more than 1,100 entries. Judges viewed each entry for only one to three seconds before voting “in” or “out” on their clickers. After the first round, only around 80 feature photos remained. Before moving on to the second round, judges swept through the photos one more time in thumbnail view and occasionally made requests for any photos to be pulled back into the competition. The silver and bronze winners of the category were pulled back into the competition in this thumbnail viewing. It was clear that the photos were brought back in because the judges wanted to know more about them. The photo had told them the beginning of a story and now they wanted to know more.

In the documentary category, the importance of a story also became clear. The category asks for submissions which are “a long-form photographic essay or extended narrative story which portrays important contemporary concerns or social issues.” The judges quickly voted out entries that contained only a few photos. The winning entries also all focused on central characters; Each photo unveiled a new important detail about the subject of the photo story. The best entries didn’t need captions for the viewer to feel or to understand what the photos had to say. The gold place entry called “A Portrait of Domestic Violence” captured layered complexities of a family struggling to stay together through issues of domestic violence.

2. Photographers must be able to write

By the second or third round of judging for a category, the judges can ask for captions to be read for each photo. Time and time again, photos with a “bad” caption were voted out. One caption, for example, was a long paragraph written in first person about the photographer’s personal journey to take their photos. Several judges seemed frustrated, saying the caption should be about the subject of photo and not about the photographer. Judges also dismissed photos with captions that revealed nothing about a photo.

In contrast, they responded to photos with attention grabbing captions. The beginning of one caption read, “I’m going to kill somebody,” said Gage Winscott playfully as his mother Kayla sits nearby. The family lives with 10 other family members in Kayla’s parents two-bedroom house in Harrisburg, Missouri.” After the caption was read, all of the judges decided to keep the photo for the next round. The photo ultimately won second place in the feature category.

3. Some stories are better than others

The best documentary entries told a story the judges hadn’t seen before. A number of entries, for instance, followed a pregnant woman through birth. While birth is a beautiful thing in and of itself, the photo essays focusing on pregnancy didn’t reveal much about the subject other than that they were going to have a baby. My high school journalism adviser used to tell me that there’s a huge difference between a story about a dog biting a man and a story about a man biting a dog. Photographers have the unique opportunity of revealing something powerful about life through visuals. The winning stories ultimately showed the judges something new. Or showed something every day from a new perspective. The winning documentary entry seemed to tell the story of a typical family at first. Several frames in the entry though captured an instance of domestic abuse as it was happening. We have all seen families, we have not all seen what violence within a family looks like as it is occurring.

Every winner, the university also hosts the Pictures of the Year International competition. I can’t wait to attend and learn more about photography by observing the judges. I may not be capable of producing any photos that are remotely award winning now, but I can certainly learn about award-winning photography now and hope to apply what I’ve learned.

Mobile assignment: “My America” exhibit explores artist and community identity

Ron Thompson looked to his childhood for inspiration for his “My America” exhibit.

The exhibit which runs from Oct. 28 to Nov. 8 at the George Caleb Bingham Gallery features seven large paint and graffiti covered paintings depicting black TV icons from the ’80s like Michael Jordan and Bill Cosby who challenged traditional depictions of African-Americans in media.

“I wanted to talk about my community, where I was from, my family,” Thompson said. “That kind of grew more into the general black community. I kind of used my own personal life to relate to a broader idea of what it means to be black in America.”

Thompson’s said his inspiration for the exhibit came from an undergraduate professor John Biggers. Biggers, who taught Thompson at Lincoln University, wrote a book called “My America” exploring African-American life in the 1940s.

“His America looks totally different then mine,” Thompson said. “I wanted to put a spin on ‘My America.'”

Thompson also looked to W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness. Bois came up with the term to capture the struggle of confusion, anger and torment he went through in coming to terms with his identity as an African-American, Thompson said.

Thompson said he uses the idea of double consciousness in his work. A piece depicting an alter ego of a positive view of self hangs across from a piece thy represents a more tormented view of self.

This search for identity is universal, Thompson said.

“We’re all struggling to find this place in life of who you are,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he feels the exhibit has already brought people together. The opening exhibit reception drew a large crowd, and Thompson hired a DJ to create a fun environment.

“It didn’t matter what race you were,” Thompson said. “People were just being happy. That’s what I really wanted, is to bring a sense of community to the work, and I think I achieved that.”

20131105-105916.jpg

20131105-105929.jpg

20131105-105943.jpg

20131105-105953.jpg

20131105-110002.jpg