▲ Train Jumping: A Deseperate Journey. The photographer rode the rails and the reporter provided a voice-over for this harrowing tale of immigrants trying to reach the “promised land.”
(Photo by Gary Coronado/Palm Beach Post))
This symbol indicates when to go to the Videojournalism
website for either links to more information or to a story cited in the text. Each reference will be listed according to chapter and page number. Links to stories will include their titles and, when available, images corresponding to those in the book. Bookmark the following URL, and you’re all set to go: http://www.kobreguide.com/content/videojournalism
Or use your smart phone’s QR reader app to scan this code.
This chapter is about the many ways to tell a story and serves as an introduction to videojournalism as it relates to nonfiction storytelling. Videojournalism is not reality TV; it is not traditional front-page news articles. The secret to good videojournalism lies in finding and telling well-shaped, powerful stories in multimedia presentation. Most successful stories have a main character.
There are many ways to tell a story. You can do it chronologically—start at the beginning and end at the end. Or, you can disclose the most important piece of information first, and then
reveal the rest of the story, bit by bit. You can tell the story through the eyes of your characters, or from the viewpoint of an outsider. As a videojournalist, you get to decide how you will tell your story—in a way that will compel your audience to stop, look, and listen.
You Tell Stories All the Time
You already know how to tell stories. Don’t you do it all the time? When your car breaks down on the way to the hospital? Or your girlfriend or boyfriend leaves you? Or simply because your dog eats your homework? Then, quite naturally, you tell the tale to a friend.
How is your story different from the story in a novel or a movie? First and foremost, of course, your story is real. The events actually happened. They were not figments of your imagination. You did not invent the characters or the plot. Your story is nonfiction.
In this book, we will be dealing solely with true nonfiction stories—with events that actually happened in the past, are taking place right now, or might occur in the future. Herein we deal exclusively with actual events that happen to real people—not to actors, volunteers, or contestants. Again, this book deals only with reality.
▼ The Reach of War: A deady search for missing soldiers
. The photographer gives a firsthand report of the patrol in Iraq that he went on and that ended in tragedy. Three soldiers were wounded. One died. The photographer’s images and narrative turn this incident into a gripping story.
(Michael Kamber, New York Times)
Reality TV Versus Real Stories
◀ Bachelor. When “reality” show bachelor Jason Mesnick selected as his final choice Molly Malaney, whom he had rejected six weeks earlier, some viewers figured the change of heart was one more example of TV producers meddling with the outcome of supposedly “real” situations.
TV shows like Big Brother or Survivors are loosely referred to as “reality shows.” But is reality TV real? Not quite. Reality TV shows such as The Apprentice, Fear Factor, and The Amazing Race are highly orchestrated and often partially fictionalized pieces of entertainment. They would not occur without a producer, multiple camera crews, willing participants, and bundles of money. These shows are contrived contests, not real stories. They would never have taken place without the creative energy of a writer, a producer, and a director. The outcome of such shows may be unknown at the beginning. But the setup is cleverly engineered to produce an almost fictional effect.
Real stories, on the other hand—those you see on television news programs such as 60 Minutes
or on the Web at KobreGuide.com
—reveal actual people living through the thrills and pitfalls of unadulterated events in their lives without the interference of a script doctor.
STORYTELLING OR NEWS REPORT
So how are stories you tell your friend different from front-page articles published in the newspaper or news segments broadcast on the six o’clock news with an anchor providing the lead-in?
Traditional news stories required starting with the most important fact—a form of news reporting called the inverted pyramid.
News reports sound like this:
A fire burned 30 homes in San Bruno today.
The San Francisco Giants won the World Series yesterday.
Sometimes news reports are just headlines. Sometimes they have more supporting facts. These reports relate what happened today but don’t engage viewers with a character or plot.
Reports rarely introduce you to a subject, follow the subject from one state of emotion to another, see the challenge the person is facing, or reveal how the person resolves the problem. News articles and typical television reports are content to inform viewers. Storytelling, however, not only informs viewers but engages them emotionally.
Let’s go back to your original story about the calamity of getting to the hospital despite your malfunctioning car, tragically breaking up with your sweetheart, or losing your homework to your rambunctious dog.
When you tell your interesting story, why doesn’t your tale sound like a plain newspaper article or even a report on the evening news? It’s because you are telling your story in the form of a narrative, not simply reciting facts with the most important fact at the beginning.
And, of course, your particular story has a sympathetic character—you!
Your story evokes the problems you yourself faced with a car breakdown, a relationship breakup, or mangled homework. “Oh boy, my car broke down on the way to the hospital.” You might begin by exposing the problem. Then you might go on to explain what you did about overcoming the problem—how you had to call AAA and get a ride to the hospital in a tow truck; how many phone calls, gifts, cards, and letters it took to make up with your boyfriend or girlfriend; or how reprinting the brilliant 200-page term paper your dog ate almost made you miss the deadline for turning it in.
▼ Car Accident. Police officers hold up a white sheet as paramedics remove a victim from a Honda Civic that crashed on Robeson Street in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The victim died in the one car accident. A standard news story puts the most important facts first.
(Andrew Craft, Fayetteville Observer)
Your tale features a sensitive character (you!) facing an obstacle to overcome. Your adventure has a story arc—a beginning, a middle, and an end. Along that arc, you interject drama, humor, or insight as you reveal how you overcame the obstacle and what finally happened. In sharing your tale, you are—in the classic sense—a storyteller.
The Rise and Fall of Freytag’s Pyramid
▲ Freytag’s Pyramid. Classic storytelling structure.
The narrative is a classic storytelling form. Just like a movie, a novel, or even a story you share with your friends, the narrative contains a clear beginning, middle, and end. On this path lie an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement, or resolution—an arc known historically as Freytag’s Pyramid.
• Exposition provides an introduction to the character(s), the conflict, and the basic setting.
• Rising action reveals the complication in more detail.
• The climax is the moment of greatest tension in a story, a turning point (for better or worse) in addressing the conflict or complication.
• Falling action is what unravels after the climax. In some cases, this may involve continuing suspense, but the story is now heading toward its conclusion.
• Finally, the dénouement is where complications are resolved and the story comes to an end.
Freytag’s Pyramid, originally developed to analyze ancient Greek and Roman plays as well as those of Shakespeare, applies to documentary-style visual storytelling as well. You need to set up your story—characters, issues, location—in a way that allows events to unfold so that viewers learn more and more about the topic, the ways your characters are affected by it, how they develop a solution (or not), and finally, where they go from there. Just like the cowboy riding off in the sunset at the end of an old Western, at the end of your story, real characters go on with their lives.
▶ Consider a story about a vote on a proposed gasoline tax increase. Consider two approaches.
NARRATIVE VERSUS NEWS STORY
An Idea Is Not a Story
You may have tons of keen ideas for stories. But don’t confuse an idea with a story.
Steve Kelley and Maisie Crow of Maryland’s Howard County Times, for example, had the idea to document the effects of an incurable genetic disorder whose symptoms include insatiable hunger, low IQ, and ...