Friday, January 27, 2006

Video Encoding, Nightline & Cold Calls

Click here to play Nightline Clip in Quicktime QT

This is the first of several posts on encoding video both on the Mac or PC for playing over the Internet. I encoded this clip for streaming over high bandwidth.In the next posting I will encode for a progressive download so you can view the clips and compare. I will also encode using Flip 4 Mac, the codec that allows a Mac user to encode for Windows Media Player.

I produced this story as a one person team on assignment for Nightline in 2000. I shot the story with a PD150, a wireless and shotgun Sennheiser mike. I wrote the script with the kind mentoring and assistance of former Nightline Executive Producer Tom Bettag. In Nightline's Washington studio I recorded the voiceover and worked with a talented Nightline editor as we crashed on this story.

...A Little Shoptalk. Tom Bettag, Ted Koppel

Ted Koppel and his longtime producer, Tom Bettag, left ABC's "Nightline" in November, not to retire, but to forge on mightily. Not long after Koppel departed, he became managing editor over Discovery Channel's news documentaries, with Bettag remaining at his side as executive producer. In a Broadcasting & Cable interview, Koppel On His Jump to Discovery, Ted Koppel talks about this next Big Leap Forward for the most talented duo in broadcast news.

Excerpted Ted Koppel Interview, Broadcasting and Cable

These folks are serious. While Tom Bettag and I are a couple of grueling greybeards who can probably afford to go off and retire, the rest of our team are not. They are being very generously compensated.

What are you going to get out of Discovery that you wouldn't get elsewhere?

An environment that is conducive to doing the kind of programming that we want to do. And a relationship with people of integrity and talent that is consistent with the kind of relationship Tom and I have had at Nightline over the years. The great joy of Nightline was, we could always do what we thought was important. The great joy of Discovery is that we can expand beyond even what we have done in the past.

The Power of a Cold Call

In fact, if you think " knowing someone" is the only way to get cross media assignments, here's a story to chew on. It was a "cold call" letter to Tom Bettag that set me out on my quest as a cross-media maven. I wrote a letter to Tom at Nightline. In it I expressed my interest to work with his team, as a " reforming" photographer who hoped to break in to TV news. I was then 40 something. Good luck you say.

Tom Leads to VNI...

This was before e-mail. Tom thoughtfully answered my letter on ABC letterhead that was typed. ( Those of you born after 1990 might refer to this archaic form of comunications a " hard copy.") In his reply Tom suggested that I contact Michael Rosenblum, who was then doing a start-up called VNI ( Video News International ). Michael believed that the next new thing was videojournalists equipped with Hi-8 video cameras, working as a one person team.

This is another long story I will delve into later... But to finish up on the Tom Bettag story. I did sign on to VNI and learned to write, shoot, report and track stories as a one person team.

...And then VNI Leads to The Digital Journalist...

Michael and his co-venture partner eventually sold VNI to the The New York Times. By that time I had graduated to shooting and producing stories on my own for CNN, WTN and CBS TeleNoticias. Shortly after, I founded The Digital Journalist along with my VNI colleague Dirck Halstead as partner.

After a story on our partnership appeared in Photo District News, Dirck told me he had trademarked our company name in his own and went off by himself. But that's fine. Come all ye. He's done a great job and built up The Digital Journalist as the go-to site for all involved in creating cross-media. He also conducts " Playtypus" workshops. I also hear he is an adjunct professor at University of Texas at Austin, the perfect venue for him to empower and incite the next generation of cross-media story tellers.

And back to Nightline. The Circle Comes Round

But to get to the end of the story. In 2000 I finally worked with Tom Bettag at Nightline. And it just goes to show you the power of a single cold-call, well-timed, thoughtful and properly executed without perstering. And my hat goes off with deepest gratitude to Michael Rosenblum as well who trained me to shoot video in the first place and write scripts. Two Pros

Proof of Lateral Thinking In Action

Only twenty mintes ago I began to write this post about encoding video and now find myself crafting a post instead that ends with an annecdote about the power of cold calls. What gives?

Check on my earlier post Big Bang Thinking and the earlier post on hyperlinks. No I'm not a Big Banger. Only in my dreams. But I certainly enjoy writing and thinking in a lateral manner although I also perform fine in the linear world.

Which is why I do cross-media.

How about you? Send us your thoughts to Send Comments To "Crossing Media"

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Long Form Caption Example

See previous post on writing strong captions just using the facts. Here is an example of a long form caption I wrote for my project on malaria to inform what would be an otherwise mundane photo.

The nurse on the women’s ward at Amana Hospital stops a minute to answer a visitor’s questions. She turns to the doctor for confirmation. “ Almost sixty percent of the beds in this ward are filled with women with severe malaria.” Dr. Bashiri nods in agreement. He adds, “ Indeed, malaria is the number one killer here, especially now that resistance is developing to treatment with SP drugs. “

In Tanzania death by malaria has increased from 18% in the 1980’s to 37% in the 1990’s. The groups most vulnerable to malaria are children under the age of five and pregnant mothers. 20% of the population of Tanzania is under age 5. Ward One in Dar es Salaam’s Amana hospital is perhaps the epicenter of this Fever Zone. Here in a clean but over-crowded ward for children those sick with malaria often share beds. Their mothers feed their fitful children and hold them close while mopping their brow. Some children’s eyes roll backward while others stare listlessly into the distance. Plasmodiom falciprium is the predominate malaria parasite in Dar es Salaam where hot and humid weather proves an incubator .

Less than half the population of Tanzania has access to safe and clean water. Diarrhea and other illness lower immunity in children, leaving them open to malaria infection. Photo caption by Stephenie Hollyman

Photo Captions: Choosing Words Carefully

The carefully chosen word or well-turned phrase can help make a simple photo come to life. Pictures are only loaded by the words that are chosen to describe them. Read Anne Van Wagener's It's a Great Image. Now What? about the power of a great headline to lead into a photo. She uses the photos of the coffins of U.S. soldiers coming home from Iraq as an example.

Contest: Choose the Right Word

Active verbs. Oh yes. Powerful words? Think harder. It's also about context. In the last post I wrote about using a thesaurus if you don't have a good short-term memory or quick retrieval process. ( most right brain folks don't ).

Look at the pictures in this Slide show I took documenting malaria in Africa and use the visual thesaurus ( link to the right) to pick the right words to describe what you see. Kind of like sending me those word magnets for refrigerators, except this is for cyberspace. These photos aren't awfully dramatic so they beg for good captions.

Send your words back and I'll post them here at Crossing Media. E-Mail Pithy Words Back. Or send a haiku. If you want more background on what the stories behind the pix are contact me too. Or Google " malaria, Africa". I'll send the winner an 11' by 14" print of the photo of their choice from this slide show. The contest ends on March 1, 2006.

Caption Writing 101

The AP Stylebook details writing a good workman-like caption. But if you don't have that spiral-bound hard-copy, here's a link to Kenny Irby's Hot Tips for Writing Photo Captions that may prove helpful, kind of Caption Writing 101. " Don't assume" says Irby , or " make judgements". As the photo is a point in time use the present tense. "Be willing to allow for longer captions when more information will help the reader/viewer understand the story and situation," says Irby, especially quotes.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Visual Thesaurus

Crossing Media is not only about creating video, photograph & audio content. Multimedia content also includes writing. Active verbs ? Of course. Metaphors? Absolutely. But choosing the right word and putting it in the right place certainly helps get the message across. But what if the right word doesn't spring into mind because your short term memory is overloaded while processing the myriad of items that now make up our daily life?

Like editing video, audio, answering e-mail, syncing the PDA, remembering to take out the garbage...whatever.

How about a thesaurus? With hyperlinks no less. Try out a Visual Thesaurus Most of you probably know about it. If not, give it a whirl. Type in the word " dog". Then try " God."

In a previous post I wrote about lateral or associative thinking. That's also the process by which writers find the right word.

For those writing for cross media, like writing haiku, brevity is best. Choosing the right word is now more important than ever. That's where a thesaurus can come in handy.

If you don't like looking for words online ( I don't) just trudge to the bookstore and ask for Roget's book instead. There's something infinitely satisfying about thumbing through pages when you're stumped.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Low Light Digital Photography

Photograph Stephenie Hollyman, Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved

With the 8-11 and higher megapixel cameras such as Canon's D-20 and the even better D-5 available light photography without a tripod is now possible in some of the lowest light situations. Stabilizers on the lens allow exposures as long as 1/20 of a second. The larger CMOS CCD's allow shots to be taken at 1600 with less noise, such as this other photo taken in Tanzania.

This was taken while I traveled for two months last Spring with WHO assistance to document malaria for my multimedia project called " Fever Zone." In Ward One in the National Hospital in Dar es Salaamm Tanzania, beds were crammed with children of malaria along with their mothers. The last thing nurses tending IV drips needed was a photographer equipped with a video camera who was also taking photographs.

I took this shot at perhaps 1/20 second, handheld, using a stabilized lens. So I pushed the ASA to 1600 and began shooting, trying to find whatever available light available to help frame my shots. The shots aren't artful but they do tell the story. WHO is using them even as we speak.

You can read more about these remarkable lenses NY Times Article on Stabilized Lenses here.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Photo Casting with Slide

Jamaica's youngest consultant to the Minister of Information
Photograph Stephenie Hollyman, Copyright 2006, All Rights Reserved

The Slide Photocast, while still in Beta, presents a powerful tool for those wanting to upload photo essays quickly online, share photos, display products for auction or URLS. Slide is a new start-up being backed by Max Levchin, who co-founded and was CTO at PayPal. As this promising new web-based tool is still in Beta, it certainly has some quirks of its own, but nothing daunting. Once you use it, it's a no-brainer. Photos, URLS, Quicktime movies and other media can quickly be embedded as links. Gawker uses Slide for navigation, in an interesting way.

This is a Photo cast I quickly created using Slide, part of an ongoing personal project in which I am photographing people's long term friendships. These three men, who work together in a Chinatown garment factory, meet each Sunday to take photographs together. After they sip tea and munch on snacks while viewing and discussing the photographs they took the week before. Their friendship is kind of like Flickr conducted in real ( not virtual ) time....not online...but in Chinatown... over dumplings and tea. The warmth of their interactions just goes to prove that there is something to be said for a life lived offline.

Slide seems to come up with a new use almost weekly, with new partnerships announced. And it's no surprise why. Their technical support is terrific. By Monday morning a bug had been corrected that I had reported on their user forum the night before, a Sunday night no less. Which leads to the next question " Don't they have a life?" Hey they are in the intoxicating throes of building a new company.

"The company plans to let members incorporate video, text and news headlines with photos too, creating multimedia "channels," writes Alorie Gilbert, Staff Writer, CNET News ( August 26, 2005) PayPal Co-Founder Readies Photo-Sharing Service

Slide has just come out with a new Beta version for Mac that integrates with IPhoto 6. Apple is using slide to showcase new releases from I Tunes. I Tunes in Slide Player and Slide has devised a way to display a catalogue of items for auction on E-Bay in a photo cast. Slide For E-Bay.

To see how to use IPhoto 6 for your very own Photo Casts from a Mac or PC go to Photo Cast Feeds. You can also subscribe to a RSS Photocast feed here too.

Big Bang Thinking

We all know about the power of hyperlinks to tell a media-rich story. But what about the thinking process it creates? Or how about the thinking process of the people who create cross media content? Are they right brainers or lateral thinkers or just ordinary people trying to do their job? Some people who think in a more linerar fashion may call cross-media creators " scattered", lacking focus. Others, such as marketing guru Linda Kaplan Thaler in her book Bang says that lateral thinkers are more capable of coming up with "Big Bang" ideas because they are "discontinuously innovative."

" They reject the idea of incremental or evolutionary thinking and instead look for step-change solutions. They alter the landscape forever by introducing a way of thinking about a product or service that did not exist previously and that changes our entire pattern of behavior and attitudes about it. "

Thaler's advertising agency, Kaplan Thaler Group, came up with the highly successful concept for the AFLAC duck.

But is all this plethora of information leading us to lose the forest to the leaves" in the words of an internet blogger? Or is hyperlinked story telling another way to organize the massive amounts of information that now bombard us?

If Darwin were alive he would probably study how the homo sapien cognitive process is beginning to evolve. Instead of studying birds and beaks on isolated islands in the Galapagos he would probably study hyperlinks and the cognitive process of people who create and peruse cross media.

Lateral Thinking & Hyperlinks

Maybe is hyper linked story telling " like a song that freed from beat and measure, wanders... like a bird that coasts the wind. " ?

Hart Crane wrote a poem called Forgetfulness.


Forgetfulness is like a song
That, freed from beat and measure, wanders.
Forgetfulness is like a bird whose wings are reconciled,
Outspread and motionless, --
A bird that coasts the wind unwearyingly.

Forgetfulness is rain at night,
Or an old house in a forest, -- or a child.
Forgetfulness is white, -- white as a blasted tree,
And it may stun the sybil into prophecy,
Or bury the Gods.

I can remember much forgetfulness.

Harold Hart Crane

Coney Island, Vodka & Brave Polar Bears

On New Year's Day I stood at Coney Island knee-deep in sea-water, taking photographs as stalwart Polar Bears, young & old, fit & fat gathered to shiver and commune as they dipped into the chilly sea -- an annual tradition that some say began in Russia.

Slide Technology
Above you will see an " Photo Cast" using the new technology. These digi-pix were taken with a Canon D20 digital camera and flash. The slide only plays 20 pictures as a time so try exiting this blog and returning to see a new set. " Slide" is an interesting application still in Beta.

...Back to Polar Bears and Coney Beach

My friend Fumiko had invited me to join her to offer support to her husband George, as he transformed temporarily himself from a Columbia University post-doc fellow into a brave hero whose bare chest was littered with goosebumps after his icey plunge. I first met Fumiko in Lima Peru where we both were covering the take-over of the Japanese Residence by MRTA rebels. I was sent there ( freelance) for CNN and she by TV Asahi.

This day, though, far from Peru and conflict I watched as Fumiko toweled off George. They suggested we follow his dip with a visit to the Moscow Cafe on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. There, older men cast furtive glances over shoulders while speaking in Russian. Fumiko and George proceeded to order a plate of cold cuts and slabs of whitefish on bread from the bar.

George, Brighton Beach & Vodka

The bartender poured shots of vodka in small-stemmed shot glasses but ordered " No photos" when I asked his permission. As I was the designated driver for this caper - and certainly have no tolerance for such proof of liquor- I politely declined further vodka shots, now being offered by George's new friend, Michael, gratis. Dressed in plaid pants, Michael invited us to his apartment above the Moscow Cafe for tea. He said it was a Russian New Year tradition. But no tea appeared. There he began to tell us a story of his life as a commando in Afghanistan, forcing shots of vodka on us. ( I kept pouring my shots into George's glass when Michael was not listening ). In the words of the poet Hart Crane in To Brooklyn Bridge

"The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . ."

In this case it was cold water followed by vodka for George. On our way home he started to bark gently like a young dog. But that is another long story.