Mobile Reporting: Gemstone Exhibit at The Field Museum

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Museum patrons walk around the gemstone exhibit at The Field Museum on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. The Grainger Hall of Gems at The Field Museum in Chicago was established in 1985.

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Rachel Hammer peers into a case containing different gems set in jewelry on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, at The Field Museum. The collection was updated in October 2009.

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Rachel Hammer, 22, poses in front of a display at The Field Museum in Chicago.

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This stone, known as kunzite, is named for geologist George Frederick Kunz. The stone was found in great quantities in Southern California.

The Field Museum was lively on Sunday afternoon, boasting three main exhibits in addition to museum permanent collections such as the gemstone collection and dinosaur displays.

The gemstones ranged from small pearlescent opals to many-carat diamonds and topazes. While some stones remain in their natural forms, like the kunzite above, many have been fashioned into delicate jewelry. The stones in the collection come from all over the world.

Oftentimes, permanent museum collections were donated by or dedicated to devoted patrons of the museum. The Hall of Gems was dedicated in honor of Juli Plant Grainger, a museum trustee and member of the Women’s Board.

The non-permanent exhibits included one on the 1893 Columbian World Exposition in Chicago and one on bioluminescence, a phenomenon displayed by creatures who mainly live deep in the ocean. These exhibits will remain in the museum until their respective end dates in 2014.

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What’s in it for me?

I’m deviating from the prompts this week to do some thinking-out-loud over a conflict my project group has had as we try to start interviewing and filming for our final project. It relates, in part, to a conversation we had in class yesterday about our “missions” for our projects.

Aside from clearly delineating what we want our story to accomplish, our mission statements, we discovered, also need to include a statement that gets at the “what’s in it for me?” attitude readers have. Don’t get me wrong — this is not a bad thing at all. If a reader is taking the time to give our work attention, it’s only natural that they try to figure out how they then benefit from having consumed it.

Journalists should always be thinking of the reader and how they can serve them best. We need to show people how what we do is valuable to them, and that requires thinking at the outset for why we’re doing the story in the first place. Why is this information necessary? Who might be interested by it? How can we tell someone something in a way that changes their behavior or improves their lives?

However, “What’s in it for me?” doesn’t end there. If readers feel that way, why do we assume sources don’t as well? Granted, we are under a different set of obligations and responsibilities to our sources, but there’s no denying that sources sometimes have an agenda when they work with us. There’s nothing sinister about it — it’s just the way it is.

For this project, in my multimedia class, we are at a complete loss for leverage with sources. Essentially, we can’t give them what they want — publication in a news outlet. Usually, a source has something to gain from working with journalists, be it publicity, raising awareness or something else. That benefit is hinged on a story being published and distributed to a wider audience. My group project will (very likely) not be published in a news outlet and won’t be distributed to a wider audience. Even though our work will be professionally produced, designed and put on a publicly available website, it just doesn’t have the reach a newspaper or TV station has.

I get that this is a given for many J-school classes. Students need the experience producing real journalism, and publication isn’t always possible. But it certainly puts my group and I at a significant disadvantage when trying to appeal to sources to work with us. It doesn’t matter how polite or professional my request is, or how much research I’ve done and how important the source’s contributions would be; by labeling myself as a student, I’ve already implicitly told my sources that there is nothing in it for them. Their message won’t reach as broad an audience, so they are free to turn me down with little to no harm to them.

Frankly, it’s frustrating. Even though I 100 percent understand the reasoning behind the source’s decision, and I know they get requests almost constantly to participate in student projects, it still injures my ability to tell the best story I can. I’ve lost a key source, and there’s not much I can do about it. In this case, there aren’t substitute sources that I might normally turn to. My group just has to deal with it and do what we can. Hopefully, others will have the flexibility and time to work with us.

This certainly won’t be our last stumbling block, but I’m hoping it’s the worst of what we’ll encounter as we move farther into our reporting and shooting process.

My 10 Commandments for better video editing

Prompt: What you will do differently next time you put together a video story to make it better than the one you did? Be sure to cite specific ideas from the readings and/or specific pieces of feedback your received.

The title of this post is quite fitting, as I just went over the 10 commandments with my third- and fourth-grade Hebrew school class. Although we focused on monotheism, I’ll change things up a bit here to focus on video editing and how I can do it better.

While I’d encourage anyone to not make the mistakes I have, I’ll note here that these are commandments that apply specifically to me, not necessarily general ones.

1. I shall have a fuller understanding of what jump cuts are and how to avoid them.

2. I shall have my subjects speak up when using stick microphones.

3. I shall not take for granted that my camera can focus itself.

4. I shall use tighter framing in my interviews.

5. I shall work to get even more detail shots, even when I don’t think I need them.

6. I shall not take shots that are not precisely leveled.

7. I shall work to even out the volume levels between my voicing, natural sound and interview clips.

8. I shall keep trying to have my voice be conversational and natural when I voice parts of the story.

9. I shall not jump the gun by introducing my subjects by name and let the lower third do that for me.

10. I shall work to be faster as I use the camera so I can film more complete five-shot sequences.

My first attempt at a video package was not perfect (by any stretch), but I am proud that I was able to piece it all together. The whole time I felt like I was juggling text, soundbites, natural sound, b-roll, and interview footage. I’m know I definitely included more jump cuts than were appropriate, but I didn’t quite understand what they were until watching other people’s videos in class. I guess I assume that the viewer is sharp enough to know that my subjects aren’t traveling through space or time, but maybe that’s just me. I won’t make the same mistakes again.

I am happy, however, that I told a story of the class, from barre, to stretching, to center work, to across the floor combinations. Going forward, I’m glad I’ll have some more specific ground rules to guide me and pitfalls to watch out for.

Video: 1, Shaina: 0.

Prompt: What are the hardest things about doing video, and what can you do to improve your ability to do them?

This question couldn’t come at a more perfect time because, honestly, I think video is incredibly difficult. All of it. All the time. The second time out filming the Wednesday night ballet class was a little easier this time, but it still didn’t feel at all intuitive. I suppose I could be more specific…

  • Anticipation: With photos, the goal is to capture the decisive moment. With video, it’s capturing a series of decisive moments, and I still lack the judgement to discern the best way to do that. How long is too long? I know there are rules about 5-second shots and the length of details vs. wider shots, but it’s still hard to tell at this point where to cut in and where to cut out. I can’t quite anticipate it yet. I think the best way to improve this is to practice with different shot lengths and types until I get a better feel for how to transition in and out better.

 

  • Audio + Video: I can handle audio. I can handle visual. But putting them together at once is a whole different story. I have a hard time thinking about how to balance a good audio clip with an good series of images. What if the audio and video aren’t timing out together? Sometimes I know that I can use natural sound over b-roll footage, but having just a solid clip of video that also happens to line up with audio that makes sense and is complete is challenging. I’m not sure how to get better at this because it seems to heavily dependent on the subjects. Maybe I just need to get over the idea of getting a perfect shot and think more about how I can edit in the most accurate, but smoothest, way possible.

 

  • Subject matter: The hardest part about filming dancers is that they are constantly moving. They also don’t necessarily repeat combinations enough so that I can take the three or four minutes necessary to line up a five-shot sequence with appropriate audio. By the time I am on shot three, they have moved on to a new exercise, so it’s hard to maintain continuity in the shots even though I have the advantage of knowing ballet class structure well. Again, I think practice makes perfect in this case. I know I can’t ask sources to repeat movement just because I missed something, so I either need to become faster, or learn to edit in such a way where every shot doesn’t need to necessarily be a continuation of the former. Part of that might be making sure to get detail shots so I can use an action-cutaway-action sequence, which will help bridge those gaps.

Luckily, my editing skills have usually developed more quickly than my reporting skills. In the end, I think I’ll be able to fix and splice and narrate my clips into submission.

I am happy to say, however, that I survived my 9 week crash course in multimedia journalism. We’ve finished the basic skills portion of the class, and all that’s left is our final project combining everything we’ve learned. Just 2.5 short months ago, I had no idea how to use a DSLR, put together an NPR-style radio story or what a five-shot sequence even was.

Now, I do.

I’m no pro just yet, but I feel so much more confident in my ability to take on any kind of reporting challenge. You want an audio slideshow? Got it. Text piece with a photo gallery? No problem.

This might be the exhaustion at the end of a long week talking, but it’s a little heady knowing that I’ll leave here in May being as prepared as I possibly can for getting a job. I upheld my end of the bargain, challenged myself, and learned a lot. If that isn’t a reason to celebrate with a Friday evening pizza and a pint of Blue Moon, I’m not sure what is.

Go, Dogs! Go!

Prompt: Find an example of a good journalistic video on the Web. What makes this story worthy of being told through video (as opposed to still photos and/or text)? And how might the video or story be improved? (Be sure to link to or embed the original video in your blog post.)

Flying Dogs from Columbia Missourian on Vimeo.

At the Missourian, we’ve been giving special attention to video lately. Honestly, I think most of our photo and multimedia departments’ efforts have been spectacular (it’s all kind of magical to a text reporter), but I especially liked this video.

When you have a subject that is so based around motion, such as dock diving, there’s just no way words can do it justice. Sure, they could very nicely describe how a dog jumps or what the rules of the sport are, but they can’t capture the call the trainer makes or the splash of the water or the excitement of the dogs as they race to catch their toy. The motion is really at the heart of what is happening, and video captures that best.

I like how this video satisfies most, if not all, of my curiosities about the dock diving dogs. I get to see them from multiple angles, including underwater, behind and in profile to see just how far out they jump. Within those shots the framing and composition is interesting — there is movement in and out of the frames and I don’t feel like any of them are repetitive.

I see them interact with their owners and trainers and with each other. While the soundbites are very informative and definitely add to the piece, they almost seem like gravy when the video shots are this good. I barely need the explanation to understand what the dogs are doing and what they are like when they’re doing it.

As far as improvements, I don’t have a terribly long list. I might’ve liked the soundbites to have a slightly more obvious story arc, and maybe include more voices from the other people present. It also seems like the soundbites from the main source are just a tad too quiet, and sometimes the b-roll sounds overshadow it.

Generally, I think it’s a great feature video. The journalists got shots that I wouldn’t have thought to get. It’ll still probably take me awhile to think “visually” enough to realize what of the action in front of me should be included in a story. What’s cool, though, is that the first time I watched this video, I really liked it — plain and simple.

Now, I watch it and I still really like it. But I also am starting to think about how it was made, why the journalists might’ve done what they did, and how I might employ some of those strategies in my own reporting and video gathering. It took me years to get to that place with writing. I suppose it just goes to show that self-awareness (and a hunger to emulate what’s good) goes a long way toward improving your skills.