What wordsmiths can learn from visual storytellers

Today, it is not enough to be able to write an interesting, important news story. To capture the public’s attention, you must also be able to tell a story visually, either through photos or informational graphics.

In a world where we’re all flooded with information, video is projected to make up 86 percent of the data uploaded to the web within three years.

Here are some videos that explore the future of news by students at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Here’s a look at how some news organizations are using Vine, Twitter’s new video tool.

For a look at how video can help tell an environmental story, check out the Detroit Free Press’s prize-winning series about Asian Carp and the videos that accompany it.

What do you like about these videos? What do you not like so much? What lessons can you take from these videos that may help you as you capture scenes in words for your stories?

As a first step towards developing basic literacy as a visual communicator, please watch this video about the Rule of Thirds. These tutorials from the Knight Digital Media Center are also worth browsing, if you have a few minutes.

Prize-winning environmental videographer Florian Schulz is traveling from his home in southern Germany this week to meet with students at the University of Michigan. Here is a short video clip describing his work in the arctic. Here is a profile of Shulz from National Wildlife Magazine.

What questions would you like to ask Florian Schulz? What lessons can you take from his work that you can use to create a short video pitching either your news feature, your profile or your team’s Knight Challenge idea?


About emiliaaskari

Journalist, teacher, news game designer. Promoting digital literacy and content creation in the public interest.

8 Responses to “What wordsmiths can learn from visual storytellers”

  1. Visualization is important for learning and sharing information because our brains are hardwired to process visual information. <a href="http://datajournalism.stanford.edu/"Journalism in the Age of Data is a series of videos that provide and overview and discussion of the power and potential pitfalls of data visualization in journalism. Data visualization has the potential to communicate not only the statistics but the story and context behind it in an interactive way. Numbers don’t mean much without a context and it is the experts that understand the context. Intelligent data visualization has the potential to capture and communicate several elements of an issue.

    The shift towards visual media and data driven pieces will undeniably change journalism. The more I look into these ideas and changes, the more excited I am to be a young person in today’s society. We only just discovering how far the information age can push the boundaries of how we communicate, learn, and live.

  2. Visual media is a powerful medium, one that conveys much more emotion, detail and depth than a typical written news piece. While words can describe, nothing is the same as actually seeing with your own eyes. I wouldn’t have imagined how large Asian Carp truly are, as well as how high they can jump without the video coverage provided by the Free Press. Seeing the Mississippi environment and hearing from a number of sources is helpful in gaining a greater understanding of the severity of the issue.However, the long length of the videos make it difficult to garner a quick summary of the issue. From these videos, I have a deeper understanding of how I can transition from scene to scene in my article as well as the amount of description I’ll need while still being concise.

    On another note, I would ask Florian Shulz how he discerns what issues to cover, what footage he uses for pieces and if he has any criteria for his selection process.

  3. I think the world of using visual media as a way to present the news is both exciting and a bit distressing.
    I think it is great that we have the technology to distribute news stories to reach a wider variety of people. Those who are illiterate or a low reading level, have little money to expend on paper news sources, or perhaps don’t care unless it is presented to them in the form of a video can now have better access to the issues that are happening both locally as well as on a global scale, something which was not able to be presented in this way before now. I think the spreading of news to more than the academic demographic is important for the sharing of information and ideas in this technological age. Fewer barriers on news and information, I feel, can empower society and connect people to ideas and causes that they feel passionately about. Something people in certain circumstances did not have the luxury of before.
    I agree with Kaitlyn, we are biologically adapted to favor visual stimulus. It is easier and more enticing for us to process from an evolutionary standpoint, because we, as humans, rely predominantly on our sense of sight. Bright colors and flashing lights captivate our attention and hold it. This could be used in a negative way, however, those news sources that may lack substance, can make up for that with a flashy presentation. This is seen in current society. Also, now everyone has the ability to put their opinion out on the internet, which can have both positive and negative consequences.
    With all of the innovative ways to present news, or information as a whole come with an entirely new set of standards and concerns that the public must inform themselves on. I feel that the idea that “not everything you read on the internet” is not internalized within society as it should be. This of course brings up the idea that who teaches that lesson, and who knows about the limitations of the internet, and who does not.
    I would ask Florian Shulz what aspects he includes or tactics he uses to get people to really care about environmental issues. What strikes people’s pathos, ethos, logos the strongest?

  4. It is undeniable that visualization is an integral part of story telling. In a way, it bridges the gap between written and oral traditions, and can allow the audience to feel more intimately connected with the material. When the goal is persuasion, videography becomes a powerful tool in swaying hearts and minds about an issue. For instance, I would venture to say that anyone watching Florian Schulz’s video indubitably feels a strong pull towards the caribou and her young calf. However, as with any media source, the journalist, videographer, or director has control over the content they chose to show you, and the facts they chose to highlight. Visualization thus presents the same challenges as print media in that it is often the burden of the audience to decipher through the information.

    I recently watched a documentary called Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering the Truth, it can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLV9szEu9Ag

    The documentary uses expert testimonials, and striking pictures and video from the conflict itself. I think the documentary is effective in that it portrays a situation that is incredibly violent and complex in a manner that is striking enough to attract attention and inspire action, but not overly graphic, which often makes a situation seem unsurmountable or repulses viewers (a careful balance which we talked about last week in reference to print media). However, the documentary also presents a very narrow perspective on the causes and solutions to the conflict in the Congo (which is in part a resource-based conflict). Do you think, at the end of a documentary like this or like Florian Schulz’s, the typical viewer would be pushed to act? to research? to move on?

    In addition, after watching the Vine videos, another question I have about the increasing move towards visualization in general is the effect this has had, and will continue to have on our attention spans. Information is flashier, brighter, faster, and easier. Does this make us less able to concentrate on one thing? Less tolerant of ‘boring’ black and white newspapers, or less apt to sit down without distraction and read a book? If 140 character tweets are the future of journalism, are videos of 6 seconds or less the future of videography?

  5. Visual journalism has increased the number of “independent” artiest posting their stories on a public forum. Anyone can make a video and showcase it on youtube. It used to be much more selective whose stories ran for the public’s viewing. What do you think this does to the quality of media information available to the public? What problems might this cause?

    I found the one man band to be fascinating, it creates a more independent control over the product which the “journalist” creates. Having produced a few short films myself I understand the stress and joy which comes along with the creative freedom of writing, shooting, editing, and producing your own films. I am actually surprised by the fact that the “one man band” as it were is growing in popularity in the news broadcasting industry. With all of the specialization in tech fields I would think that the current trend would be to take the tech jobs and partition them out to specialists instead. Why do you all think this is happening? What do you think are some of the benefits and downsides to doing it this way?

  6. I have to agree with many of my classmates here. Video is only going to become more and more important in our lives as we really become immersed in the digital age. In my opinion, not only will it be able to deliver ideas faster and more efficiently, but it will be able to connect people to landscapes and concepts that they have never had such easy access to in the past. But indeed, it is bound to affect the way our culture takes in media. Reading a black and white newspaper may be something that proves ineffective within this new era. We are seeing that already, as more and more news sources switch to online formats that allow for conversation with readers, more visuals, easy search functions, and especially video. Why read about something when you can see it “first-hand”?

    Again, however, this gets into the realm of ethics when it comes to video production. Not unlike other forms of media generation, video production includes choices and points of view. It is not as objective or as realistic as its imagery promises, and it is definitely not passive. In some ways it can be even more powerful than written word. Seeing the wildlife images in the clip about Florian Shulz inspires a deeper reaction that reading statistics. And I would say these types of images absolutely have the ability to inspire people to enact change. This has to be viewed, however, as a tool that is used for that very purpose. Therefore, we have to always consider what the message of the video is doing for the creator, and even more importantly, what is not shown. Of course, this is also true in all forms of media generation, including what you would find in a newspaper.

    Another thing that I think is important to consider is the generation of young people now entering the work force. They come equipped with all of these skills of media generation, and the know how and ability to reach out to a population that was never as accessible to earlier generations. Sure, sometimes its just a funny video of your dog barking at his reflection, but the very fact that it can be communicated and proliferated to millions of people in a short period of time is in itself a source of power. I bet that most young American entering the work force have the skills to wield such tools of communication. It’s the language that we speak. I think that is going to be continued to be utilized in the world of professional media generation. Video is only one part of it, though an important part when it comes to generating news information.

    I’m very excited to see what Florian Shulz has to say about using video and photographic images as a tool to inspire change. I also wonder what role he feels that written formats have.

  7. I love that with the way that technology and the internet are moving forward, so are reporters by using visuals. To a reader, visuals are much more interesting and memorable. They catch the reader’s eye and draw them in to the story. They also make the story more personal. For instance, if you read a story about a family’s home burning down, even the simplest visual of a family portrait or the family in front of their lost home makes it that much more powerful. It inspires the compassion or energy in people.

    I feel that I could most certainly use this to my advantage in my news feature story. If readers saw pictures of feral cats or videos of them playing, they would be less likely to side with those in favor of mass euthanization of these animals. It is the same technique used by the ASPCA in those heartbreaking commercials featuring injured or abandoned pets.

    I particularly loved the webpage documenting newsrooms using Vine. I felt these little clips showed that reporters are real people with humor and personalities. I believe sometimes this is lost when watching news reporters on the television or reading their articles. You feel more like they are scripted or actors. These clips showed the process of creating a paper, setting up a scene on location, and the relaxed posture of a reporter. Visually, it brings us closer to the people we depend on for information.

  8. I think the easiest way to see how compelling video and visual imagery can be is simply to contrast the written profile about Florian to the immensely gorgeous video Florian made about the Arctic. The point he was trying to make is that the Arctic isn’t just a flat wilderness, nothing gets that point across quite like striking shots of the diversity the Arctic is teaming with. Video creates the illusion of cutting out the middle man. Even though video is just as edited as a written piece, there is an intimacy that is created by video. This can be a double edged sword though, since video can be easily manipulated and viewers are still seeing a curated piece that can be edited however the viewer want it (see any political documentary ever). But one of the best video pieces I’ve ever seen is VICE’s guide to North Korea. North Korea is such a closed society and we don’t have a lot of access to information, so the video, more so than any written piece gave insight into the Hermit Kingdom and gave viewers a first hand account into a society where the outside world has very little information about. It was absurd but also very humanizing.

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