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.

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