A Cast of Characters in Iowa

The New York Times video, “Why the Iowa Caucuses Loom So Large,” discusses the state’s brief and somewhat unexpected foray into the public eye during the presidential campaigns. The video explores the conclusions of a NYT reporter who has lived in the state for the past year, researching the role the caucuses play in “winnowing the field of candidates” each year. My questions relate to the brief, but robust, character development we see in this video, as well as they role of voice in journalistic video:

In just under five minutes, we meet a diverse group of Iowans, ranging from farmers to bartenders to veterans. As these Iowans are interviewed, little is explicitly said about their background, views, and demographics, yet each shot communicates a huge amount of detail about who these people are. How do the videographers use visual details to further our understanding of those represented in this video, and do you think video is more effective in communicating an individual’s story than written word? Do the Iowans included challenge or confirm your pre-conceived notions of the state’s populace? What do you think the journalists intended to communicate by including such a wide cast of characters?

Furthermore, we hear from a number of voices in this video, including a narrator, the journalist, and Iowans themselves. What sort of balance do you think a journalistic video should strike between the voices of the journalist/narrator and the people interviewed? How might this differs from the amount of quotes used in a written piece? Finally, is a video the most effective way to include voices and opinions other than those of the  journalist?


10 Responses to “A Cast of Characters in Iowa”

  1. Hi Anna,

    Great post and questions!

    In my opinion, the goal of the video wasn’t to communicate an individual stories, so this video was not as effective in communicating that. I think it’s goals were to use individual stories to help explain a broader view on the effects the Iowa caucus has and the phenomenon of media attention that it has brought.

    I love the question on what we think the journalists intended to communicate with the ‘wide cast of characters’ represented. This video definitely did give us a wide range of Iowa folks, and I think that the journalists were able to really show not only examples of the voters who turn out, but the wide variety in what kind of people are voting for which candidate.

    I thought the balance of voices used helped the video’s focus to explain “why such a small state has such an outsize significance”. I think the NYT did a great job of leading in with individual opinions to explain the broader scope of how the Iowa caucuses have an effect on the bigger picture of the election in many instances. For example, the lead in on Pastor Kenney Linhart’s opinion on voting Republican went to an explanation of how the Iowa caucus might effect Evangelical votes in other states.

    I think if this video were to be represented in a written piece, the quotes used may have made the story seem unfocused. I think video is a great way to include voices and opinions of others than the journalist – I also think it depends on what the goal of each story is. Thanks for the post!

  2. This video does an excellent job of showing the diversity in a state that generally flies under the radar outside of election season. I think the reporter did an excellent job of presenting different voices, which is important for a visual piece. If the reporter presented this story in a written article, it certainly would change the need to rely on other voices. In fact, I think that in a written piece, it becomes difficult to read and absorb the true message of a story if the reporter relies too heavily on quotes from other sources.
    I do believe that the diverse group also added value and substance to the video, because it did not seem biased, nor was one political party overrepresented. Overall, I felt that this video effectively explained the importance of the Iowa caucus, while captivating those watching it through the brief, diverse statements from the people of Iowa. This is particularly important today, when many people feel that they do not have the time to sit down and watch the news; by creating brief videos with many diverse statements, a viewer can gain an understanding of the importance of the caucus without having to commit a significant amount of time researching.

  3. Hi Anna,
    I really enjoyed watching this video not only because it is very relevant right now but also because it does a great job of visual storytelling with the portrayal of different characters. I definitely agree with your first point about how the visual storytelling tells a lot about the people involved without knowing their explicit backgrounds and beliefs. I definitely think that the visual storytelling in this video confirmed my pre-conceived notions of what I thought of the “typical Iowan” to say and believe. The first person, John Gilbert, the dairy worker was exactly what I perceived the local population to look like. Since growing up in a very urban and liberal place, I have always perceived Iowa to be very rural and uneducated. Furthermore, this video reinforced that stereotype when Gilbert implied that he was going to vote for his candidate through just the look in their eyes and their handshake…. which is simply terrifying. Another great example of the visual storytelling was the Pastor Kenney Linhart. He is shown with crazy tribal animal memorabilia and in the next shot he is riding a motorcycle. He talks in a very passionate voice and although he only explicitly says he’s an evangelical there are other characteristics of his personality that the viewer can imply.

    Your last question about the inclusion of the different voices in the video is very interesting to think about. While I was watching, I didn’t really think about these voices, however, stylistically they developed the entire story. I definitely think it is easier for a video to use these different voices since that is the main component that drives the story. Contrastingly in a journal piece, it is the words and description that tell the story. I definitely struggle with when to put in quotes because they add a realistic tone, but also sometimes disrupt the overall flow. In responding to your question on whether a video is the best way to propose an opinion, I don’t think that this is the case since the narrator in the video took a rather neutral stance in their tone and the content that they included.

    I really enjoyed this video and thank you for sharing it!

  4. I thought this video was interesting. It wasn’t very long, which serves well for people who don’t want to sit and watch a half hour episode when they could be doing something else they’re interested in. Because the videographers were using video as the means of communicating, they were more able to capture the scene in a more efficient way than spending a lot of room and time writing out descriptions. It also allows for more flexibility in the scenes. They were able to show many different scenes instead of just one, which is how it would more likely be in an article. In this way, I think video can be more effective than writing. One can also get a sense of what each person interviewed is like by giving a face to the name and the words, as well as facial expressions. I think that is always very important.

    Because of the wide variety of people shown in the video, I was not given any hint of how the caucus would pan out. The videographers didn’t show any bias in this way as well. I especially liked how they included the thumb tacks part that showed where people were standing. My original notion of Iowa was that it would tend to be much more conservative, but the people with varied opinions showed me that there is more to Iowa. I assume that’s what the videographers were going for, to show that it could go either way.

    A journalistic video differs greatly from a written article in terms of the quotes because it gives opportunity to use more people and to switch between them more smoothly. In that way, it is a good way to show a larger number of peoples’ voices and opinions rather than having to just focus on one or two people.

  5. I do believe your post brought up some very key questions surrounding this video, and digital reporting in general. I think the first thing discussed should be the actual content of the video and its presentation. Video must be edited and matched with sound before it can be comprehensible, thus I think the director should be commended for his usage of many different scenes in this five minute clip. With that in mind, I think he did a great job in giving some background on the individuals featured by simply showing them in a car, at a rally, and on their farm.

    However, I did notice that it was heavily discussing the progress of candidates who are not from typical political backgrounds. This now seems more of an issue because two candidates who are known as politicians took home the win, although you could argue the Democrats ended in a tie. This goes back to the idea of fairness. There are far more known politicians in the race, and some of them are the favorites to win the nomination, so that needs to be addressed more in the video.

    I do think that the director did a good job in covering both sides of the race, and I think the video gave sufficient background on the demographics of Iowa. There are lots of great things in this video, it is just hard to fit everything that needs to be talked about in this race in five minutes. Yet, for the amount of time the NYT used, I think they did a great job.

  6. Anna,

    Thank you for your video post. I am happy that you chose a visual representation that pertains to a very intriguing and important issue going on today. Having seen many videos and news features on Iowa and its voters, I am surprised to write that I learned a lot from this short clip. Not only does it prove the importance of video representations of the news in the media, it also shows the importance of journalism as well. Let me explain.

    First of all, I think this video does a good job of informing viewers why Iowa voters are important in the first place. Having an intro that hooks the viewer and makes them interested in the topic is crucial to any news story, be it visual or in writing. This particular mode of representing the news does a great job of showing a variety of perspectives and issues that pertain to the topic. It shows both the Democratic and Republican sides, along with the extreme groups within both of these parties.

    I found the video especially interesting, then, because it focused its attention on these said “anti-establishment” politicians – Sanders and Trump. The amount of viewing time these two politicians had on the screen was greater than any other candidate. This proves the power of visual representations and who is going to receive more attention in the media. As journalists, then, I think it is especially important for us to think about what we show in visual representations and through writing, and how this affects the viewers and their perspectives on certain issues. By giving a few candidates more publicity, are we being biased journalists, or are we just covering the news that people want to see and read about?

  7. Dear Anna,

    Great post, and thanks for your thought provoking questions! In the context of this video I think the intention of the journalist was to use video as a means of adding depth to the typical story the Iowa caucus tends to tell. By adding in the citizens from different viewpoints, the video was able to demonstrate that there may be a wider variety in opinion then the stereotype. However, I think the message was clear that Iowa is an unrepresentative sample of the entire U.S. population.
    In terms of visual storytelling, I think there is added value to seeing and hearing the person interviewed as an audience member. Sometimes I read pieces and feel as though the author is casting their interpretation of the person being interviewed, instead of the person letting them speak for themselves in videos. Therefore, I believe this creates a better balance between the narrator and the other voices. I also think this video adds an emotional appeal to the audience because they see the farmer on this land, the pastor in his church, and the uber driver in his car. These scenes help the audience relate to the Iowans and it deepens the context on the story.

    Thanks again!


  8. he videographers did a wonderful job of recording each individual citizen in action with whatever they do. When we meet Trip Gabriel, we see him writing on his computer. When we meet John Gilbert, we meet the dairy farmer on his own farm, working with his animals. I believe that video can provide a more complete picture of the subject, as we no longer see the subject through the author’s eyes, but rather our own eyes directly. This video does a wonderful job of framing each individual Iowan without bias for the political candidate. I think that Acosta and Laffin desired to create a portrait of just how broad each individual Iowan can be. In the thick of a political race or event, it is easier to picture Iowans as this mass group of people that share no differences beyond political affiliation- this no name variable deciding this political event. I feel as if the purpose of this video is to get the nation acquainted with the broad range of unique individuals that compose of this term “Iowans”.

    I thought that the mix of voices used in this video was superbly balanced. I feel as if the narrator’s job in these types of videos is to present their points, thoughts and conclusions about the events and let the outside voices fill in the reasoning for their arguments. It is the narrator’s job to let the viewer inside what has been happening, and the subject material’s job to provide the support for that story. In a video report, it can be easier to include more information and points of view from more characters- in an article, it is harder to bring in three or four characters while maintaining the author’s presence in the article themselves.

  9. Hi Anna,

    This is a great post! For starters I love your title of your topic. I love that it suggests Iowans being cast members of in this production of the “election”. I believe that the video does a great job of presenting a diverse set of voices from a region that is traditionally not thought of being racially diverse. I could be wrong but I thought that the intent of the video was to discuss the importance of the caucus and the significance that Iowa plays in the election rather than the opinions of their presidential hopefuls. I like your questions as well because they give a different perspective to the video that I hadn’t thought about.

    To answer your final question I believe that in the consideration of our society and its dependence on visual captivity, I believe that a video is the most effective way to communicate what was discussed.

    Overall great video, and an even greater read!


  10. Hello!

    Coming in late here. There are a lot of good ideas in here! Videos often show what writing is trying to recreate. When you show each individual Iowan, in the midst of doing an action that describes them, while putting forth an opinion that also describes them, you have created a vivid character within seconds. Meanwhile, this may take multiple paragraphs to recreate, interspersed with quotes and details to set the scene. Our eyes and ears can do this much quicker. However, the issue here is that often times you don’t have such a perfect scene to show in a video. The action, head shot, and quick opinion blurb can be hard to catch on video, and that’s where writing can be better. In writing, you have the freedom to paraphrase, and to pull multiple scenes into one to gain a larger perspective.

    In a piece like this, I think there should be three parties heard: the narrator/journalist, an expert on the issue at hand, and local bystanders that are also related to the topic. This video includes all three, giving you a well-educated perspective from the expert and the journalist looking into the story, and a grounded perspective from the locals. This threesome give a nicely elevated perspective.

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