Ditch and moan

November 9, 2012 

While our reporters were bracing for the impact of Tuesday night election coverage, I had the much simpler task of shooting the mock version earlier in the day at Ellen Ochoa Middle School in Pasco. It wasn't exactly the most visual event as students filed in one class at a time to vote for president and governor along with the charter school initiative. Each class was assigned a state depending on size to teach about the electoral college, so my first move was to get some CYAs using that map as a backdrop:

Shots of kids filling out papers aren't interesting, though it was funny to see some perennially dark red states shaded blue when the presidential election was put into the hands of middle school students.

I also snapped a quick iPhone photo of the handheld ballot box to update our website,

and spent some time around that scene waiting for a moment to develop, which kinda happened when Joe Morales, right, requested that Juan Gutierrez place the "I Voted" sticker on his forehead:

But the bulk of my time was once again spent on shooting video. I was hoping to share some students' thoughts about the voting process, having them explain their level of political thought before and after the lessons leading up to the mock election.

Despite some excruciatingly long interviews, I was unable to get any useful insights from the kids, who seemed to treat my broad questions about elections as some sort of pop quiz. All four regurgitated basic information about the candidates' views on the Affordable Care Act and the importance of voting for somebody who has your interests in mind.

When I pushed to redirect them to a more general explanation about whether the class had got them thinking about politics more, they seemed flustered in a "this wasn't on the practice exam!" sort of way, stammering their way toward another semi-prepared statement.

What I ended up with is a quick video of Soto explaining the mock election with some b-roll of the process:

Its 59 views seems sadly appropriate, given the more important (real) political news of the day, and the effort I spent on shooting and producing probably would have been better spent on a number of other items that were on my back burner.

I probably could have made a better picture from the event too.

I'm not blaming the students for the bad interviews, however. Kids are notoriously difficult to get good quotes from, and that task is even tougher when you have to get a usable audio recording. Plus, the semi-chaotic and noisy environment full of judgmental and distracting peers doesn't help.

I had slightly better luck the week before at Washington Elementary's grandparent luncheon,

but that was a much easier question with less self-conscious subjects. It still failed miserably in attracting viewers, netting a why-did-I-bother 115.

While I'm getting better at switching between the two on assignment, it still hurts when you know shooting one thing is sacrificing the other. Monday was a perfect example as Beth Greene got a buzz cut during lunch after seventh-grade students exceeded her fundraising challenge. I knew the initial buzz would elicit the best reaction and decided to start with video to capture the sounds and excitement:

I also snapped some stills during the cafeteria cut,

and had an OK reaction when she felt the result:

My best still from the event was when she compared her new 'do with Tyler Hennessey:

Though you could make a case for a frame grab from the video as the strongest candidate:

The resolution isn't great, but I'm not shooting Megan Fox for an Esquire cover, so it would have been fine.

Anyway, I got a pretty good moment and produced one of the best videos I've done to date, managing to keep it almost as short as Greene's haircut. Of course, I had a fun subject who threw out some funny lines without prompting, which always helps. Surely our readers flocked to this clip, right?

Well, it only got 215.

And don't call me Shirley.

Still, I'd do it again without hesitation. The viewership wasn't much better, but this story actually lent itself to an online video. The motion and sound allowed me to give readers a better understanding of the scene and offered something that still photos and text could not. You got to hear the screams and get a sense of Greene's fun personality.

The other two don't capitalize on the medium's strengths and aren't nearly as entertaining or informative. It's hard to say what exactly attracts online eyeballs to our videos. The only certainty is the draw of breaking news, as more than 1,000 people click just about every clip from a fire or car wreck.

But those aren't the only stories that deserve multimedia treatment, and as we continue to figure out what works online, I hope these readily available numbers are strongly considered.

We've had some strong successes so far. Being able to send back clips from breaking news to be edited before we get back is an awesome storytelling option, and we've even had advertisers approach us for pre-roll ads on our videos. The photo desk has gotten faster and more proficient at editing our own videos and the production quality is much better than it was before.

Still, it's hard not to feel like an overcorrection at times. After years of no videos, I'm afraid we may be swerving away from the cliff and toward a ditch. The idea is to get readers used to expecting online videos to complement their daily print edition. I just hope they keep watching as we improve.

If the slew of recent sub-100-click clips is any indication, maybe some have already given up, but I'll continue to look for ways to make you want to watch them.

Speaking of slew...

Northeasterners are dealing with a "suckerpunch storm" after Sandy, which was covered thoroughly and instantly through numerous outlets. Pete Brook has an interesting take on photo coverage of Sandy, while Iwan Baan shares how he captured the sure-to-be-iconic aerial tale of two cities.

For EXIF geeks, Baan says he was shooting from a helicopter at 1/40th of a second, wide open at f/2.8. ISO?


Say what you will about digital taking the soul out of photography. A shot like that wouldn't have been possible before the latest technology.

Also worth a read are a couple bits about Getty photographer Andrew Burton. Andrew was a photojournalist at Oregon State University the same time I was building my portfolio at the University of Oregon. Now, he's jet setting around the world, covering big news. Here's some his insights about covering a hurricane. For more, check out a Q&A over at Gizmodo. It has a bit more breadth, but also some redundancies, with several people asking him the ultimate amateur's question, "what's your favorite camera?"

And while I'm sure you've had your fill of election photos to last a year or so until the next cycle starts, check out this clever photo essay reliving this election through objects by Grant Cornett.


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