Visual ethics – Part 1

Newspapers and Web sites around the country recently made a serious mistake.  They ran an altered photograph of an Iranian missile launch.  According to the Photo District News Web site:

“The problematic image was distributed by Agence France Presse, which said it obtained the photo from Sepah News, the house organ of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Video footage shot from the same angle and a second photo that is nearly identical show just three missiles, not four. AFP issued a correction Thursday saying, “The 2nd Right missile has apparently been added in digital retouch to cover a grounded missile that may have failed during the test.”

News organizations forced to make corrections include the Los Angeles Times, Boston Gobe and the Chicago Tribune.

It was the blog Little Green Footballs that’s getting the credit for cacthing the deception.  Many photo editors intervied for the article feel they should have caught the manipulation before publication.  Others believe they should have done a better job of sourcing the photos since some did not indicate that the picture came directly from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.


Web news tools

You know about Twitter.  You’re already LinkedIn.  But do you “Summize?”  Tom Cheredar of thinks you should.   Summize–a search engine that collects Twitter updates–is tops on his list of “silly Web applications” that belong in a journalist’s tool box.

He also recommends:, which combines video with Google Maps.

FriendFeed for Smart Phones, to keep reporters who are out of the office in the loop.

and, another Twitter-based service, that creates a directory of people by profession, ranked by number of “followers.”

Let us know if you’re using these, and if you have more to add to the list.

Small newsroom, big results

Coincidence or Cluster,” an investigation by the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake, Illinois, proves you don’t have to be a big news organization to make an online splash. The small-circulation daily put together a meaty online version of its six-part series on a suspected brain cancer cluster in nearby McCullom Lake, including videos, an interactive map, timelines, documents and background information on the disease and chemicals involved.

The series itself is thoroughly reported and told through the experience of people most directly involved in the story. The online package takes a bit of a risk by having videos default to play automatically and at full-screen size. Didn’t work for me when I was traveling, but on a high-speed connection the video quality is outstanding. One of my favorite design elements is the drop-down menu for “related content,” which tells users exactly what they’ll get if they click on “documents” or “more information.” Nicely done.

Tips on video opens

Strong visuals, great nat sound, a fast-paced sequence: they’re all good ways to open a story. Talking heads? Not. As online videographer Colin Mulvaney points out, it’s important to let the viewer know right away that your video is worth watching:

Online viewers are a fickle bunch, where the click of a mouse button will lead them to some other cooler destination. The key is to smack ‘em upside the head and wake them up. Your first 15 seconds better be good or they won’t stick around long.

That holds true for TV viewers, too, of course. For years now, they’ve watched the news with remote control in hand. So capturing attention is a key goal for any video story, whatever the medium. Mulvaney’s post offers half a dozen excellent examples of how to do it well. (Thanks to Angela Grant for pointing it out.)

Source of multimedia examples

The Online News Association is behind the re-launch of a site devoted to showcasing multimedia journalism.  According to ONA president Jonathan Dube, Interactive Narratives is worth checking out.

The new Interactive Narratives is designed to capture the best of online visual storytelling around the country and the world. The goal is to highlight rich-media content, engaging storytelling and eye-popping design in an environment that fosters interaction, discussion and learning.

The site is open to anyone wanting to post examples and it should be a terrific resource for anyone looking for ideas on how to produce strong multimedia content.

Best practices for online video

The explosion of online video has raised lots of questions about copyright and fair use. When is it legal to post a chunk of someone else’s video for free? What about the entire work? Can you mashup, remix or alter someone else’s video without penalty? Today, the Center for Social Media at American University is offering some suggested answers in a new code of best practices. AU professor Pat Aufderheide tells Broadcasting & Cable:

We think it will help creators in this exciting new realm to get and stay legal, and will also help copyright-holders understand when it’s actually fair to use their material without paying for it.

The code takes a broadly permissive view of what can be done with online video. Among the highlights:

  • Video makers have the right to use as much of the original work as they need to in order to put it under some kind of scrutiny or start a discussion about it.
  • Video makers may quote copyrighted material (for instance, music, video, photographs, animation, text) because it aptly illustrates an argument or a point.
  • Video makers may recombine elements of copyrighted works if they create new meaning by juxtaposition.
  • Video makers may use copyrighted sounds and images when they are recorded in everyday settings.
  • One important principle that underlies all of these exceptions is good faith. And one way to prove it, the code’s authors say, is to provide credit or attribution.

    Capturing moments

    Scott Jensen-KTUUThe best photojournalists often talk about “moments” in their stories–specific shots or sounds that highlight turning points or discoveries. Scott Jensen, director of photography at KTUU-TV in Anchorage, Alaska, is a master of the “moment.” Jensen is this year’s winner of the NPPA TV news photographer of the year award–for the second time–and as Beth Bragg writes in the June issue of News Photographer Magazine:

    Not only does he have an eye for detail, he has an ear for sound and empathy for people. These qualities help him tell stories filled with natural sounds, seamless transitions, and moments of unguarded emotion.

    To capture those moments, Jensen invests both time and effort. KTUU news director John Tracy remembers wading into knee-deep, freezing water carrying Jensen’s tripod so he could get steady shots from the middle of a river. He used only about four seconds of what he shot there, but those few seconds set the mood for the entire seven-minute piece. Jensen says his stories these days are all about characters and moments:

    When you first start, you’re hot and you’re flashy. Then you learn the viewers don’t remember the sizzle. They remember the people.

    What else has he learned over the years? Jensen tells Digital Journalist:

    We have a pretty powerful medium and if we’re able to put pieces together in the right way we can cause people to feel something, feel emotion for the things that they care about or the things that we care about.

    So what’s an award-winning photojournalist doing in market 150? Enjoying being home. Jensen’s worked in a top-20 (for KARE-TV in Minneapolis), where he won his first photographer of the year award. But he grew up in Alaska and he’s happy to be back. Check out the Digital Journalist feature to hear Jensen talk about his work and watch a couple of his favorite stories.

    The ethics of music

    Back in the old days when I worked at CBS News, the standards manual clearly prohibited the use of music in news stories unless it was captured at the scene. If we did use music, we had to show the source–video of the band playing, the car radio, whatever. These days, there’s music all over TV news stories, added from CDs and audio samplers stations buy the rights to use. Is that ethical?

    News Videographer’s Angela Grant (bless her) says no. In her view (and mine), adding music puts an editorial spin on stories:

    I really believe that the music is adding feelings and emotions that weren’t present in the actual story. The music is telling the viewer how to feel about the story. Since [the videographer] is the one who chose the music — He’s telling the viewer how they’re supposed to feel about the story. This is inappropriate for an objective journalist.

    I’ve been fighting this battle for years to little avail. Many video editors see music as a legitimate way of adding “texture” or “pacing” to stories. They either haven’t really thought about the effect music has on the audience or they have thought about it and use music deliberately for an emotional effect. Either way, it strikes me as a violation of this clause in the NPPA Ethics Code:

    Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.

    Music manipulates viewers’ emotions–that’s why movies have soundtracks. TV news and online news video shouldn’t emulate the movies. Adding music in post-production is a Hollywood gimmick that doesn’t belong in daily news.