Content matters most

Kevin Sites in NepalKevin Sites, a pioneer in online solo journalism, says he learned a ton when he covered 20 of the world’s “hot zones” for Yahoo! And one of the biggest lessons came from the story that drew the strongest audience response–a report from Afghanistan that used no video, just still photos and text, because his video camera had been stolen.

The content still has to be there. It doesn’t matter how many gadgets you have. It doesn’t matter, you know, how mobile you are. If you’re not getting a true story, if you’re not capturing the essence of a person’s existence, you’re not going to have people come to the site. The other thing that I learned, I think, that was really important and also a little unsettling is that the delivery system that I was using to tell my stories was also the same system that people could use to respond to me. So they would read a story and either be moved by it or very angry and respond immediately. They didn’t have to pick up the telephone. There was no intermediary. They could respond directly.

Sites told the NewsHour on PBS that he thinks “sojo” reporting is here to stay. Some newsrooms may adopt it to save money, of course, but Sites says he hopes others will do it for the same reasons he did, on the understanding “that it provides mobility, it provides access, and a little bit different kind of a storytelling.”

After his NewsHour visit, Sites stopped by USC Annenberg to continue promoting his new book, In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars. OJR’s Jean Yung reports that he demonstrated four techniques for sojo reporting.

…in a traditional first person stand up, the reporter holds the camera at arm’s length and films himself speaking over events in the background. A variation of this technique is one in which the reporter does not himself appear on camera. In both cases, the solo journalist can pan the scene using himself as the center, turning in place, and drawing a circle with his arm and camera. A third technique uses POV plus nat sound….Using a fourth technique that Sites calls “post-impressionistic narration,” the reporter provides a sort of director’s-cut commentary. He watches a video with the viewer, talking over the footage.

Sites is still doing sojo reporting for Yahoo! His latest project, People of the World, profiles people who use the Internet to “bypass the traditional world.”

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