The Difference Between TV and New Media

It’s been a tough 3 weeks teaching video to journalists in China – perhaps the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.  It’s not the teaching part that’s hard – it’s knowing if what I am saying is being correctly translated to my students, it’s being away from friends and family and just being away for so long that makes it tough. I have one more week to go and will take a good long rest when I return to the US.

Last week was especially difficult but yet my amazing students got me through it.  They simply amazed me in how quickly they learned.  They learned in 4 days what it takes most photographers to learn in 4 weeks or months.

Every week I have a new group of students and each week there are always one or two students that I know really “get it”.  There was one student who I coined a nickname for “Mr. Question” because he asked more questions than most.  His questions weren’t just about what settings to use on his camera or how to do something in Adobe Premiere, but more about the “big picture”.  His questions always showed me he was thinking.

One question, this particular student asked me this week, really caught my attention.  He asked me “How are we (new media producers) different than TV?

Stephen-Lee-TV-News-Presenter SMALL
Stephen-Lee-TV-News-Presenter SMALL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had just read an article online that addressed this very question and it talked about how newspaper video journalists are now winning more Emmys than TV news journalists.

I responded to my student by telling him:

  • TV news makes the reporter part of the story – sometimes even the “star”
  • New media tells the story through the voice of the subjects – making them the “stars”
  • TV news is delivered to us on the network channels – 3 times a day.
  • Online news is 24/7 and on demand.  We get the news online when we want it and wherever we want it – on our desktop computers, on our iPhones or on our iPads. We also can share the news and interact with others.  We become part of the delivery chain.
  • TV news journalists rush back to the studio to get the story on air by 5 o’clock. The stories are generally very short – limited to their broadcast slot.
  • As new media producers we have the luxury of working longer on feature stories and delivering them online to a global audience.  While print newspapers and magazines are folding – there has been a rebirth of the long documentary story that can now be delivered online.  We are communicating to a wider audience around the world, no longer being restricted by time and space.

In the 1960’s newspaper executives were lamenting about the good old days and predicting that TV would kill them.  I find it ironic that the shoe seems to be on the other foot now.  I teach “motion” and “video journalism” to a lot of still photographers.  There are some who buy their DSLR’s and aspire to make broadcast spots for TV.  There are some who aspire to make feature length films for Hollywood.  And then there are some who tell me that there is nothing new about video and that field is already glutted with videographers and cinematographers. Those are the old business models for video and motion.

The ones who “get it” are the hybrid creatures that recognize that there is a shift in the way we communicate.  They understand that video is really just another medium in which to tell their stories – not a business model, nor a niche market.

My student in China who asked me this question- he “gets it”.  He understands that he is part of the future of how Chinese journalists and others around the world, will deliver the news. That’s why they call it – new media.

Week One – Teaching in China

I’ve just wrapped up week one, teaching Chinese photojournalists, in Beijing, to think and shoot in motion.  Like any new job or new experience – the first day or the first week – is always the hardest.  The week flowed like any good story, with “ups” and “downs” but by Friday afternoon – my students triumphed and amazed me.

It’s difficult to teach any “still” photographer “motion” because so many photographers are so gear oriented, they underestimate the most important part of the process – thinking and shooting in motion.  I find that many times, still photographers think that all they need to do is switch their DSLR’s to “video mode” and shoot.  There’s a certain attitude amongst some professional photographers – that all they really need to do is get a camera that’s capable of shooting video.  But they quickly realize that there is a lot more to learn.

Day one, we talked about thinking and shooting in sequencing.  It took longer to get this message across, simply because everything needed to be translated into Chinese.  I showed examples that helped and then gave them an assignment to shoot a sequence of video clips that told the story.  The next day we reviewed the work of the students and they quickly understood the successful attempts and the not so successful results.  They also realized how different shooting motion is from shooting stills.  I had told them in class that “stills are moments in time” and “video is time in motion” but until they actually tried to shoot that way – and then analyzed their results in the critique – did they begin to understand. Many made the common mistake of moving the camera, rather than letting the motion happen in front of the camera and many produced video clips that didn’t relate to one another.

Day two we started to talk about audio.  That’s a subject that all still photographers underestimate because they don’t realize the importance of capturing good audio.  They think that their camera mics are sufficient in this task. After all, they are capturing sound.  It’s not until they can hear the difference between good audio and bad audio that they really begin to understand that audio is more important than the visual.  I could see the light bulbs going off the next day in the critique that they were beginning to understand this important concept.

Day three we talked more about the importance of audio and that when shooting with a DSLR camera, it is essential that they capture audio with an external microphone and a separate digital audio recorder.  After a morning in the classroom, we all headed out for a field trip.  I set up a situation where I did an interview of a subject and they shot the b-roll.  That evening, we broke into 3 groups (video is a collaborative effort) and they set off to capture a story, using everything we had learned in the past 3 days

Day four, we put a small dent into learning the vast editing application, Adobe Premiere.  That was perhaps the most challenging day for all of us.  I’m somewhat new to Premiere, since I’ve been editing in Final Cut Pro for the last 10 years, but it was the most viable solution since most of the students were using PC’s and Premiere is cross plat formed.  We learned the basics in the morning and in the afternoon – the hard work began.  The next day, we would be joining the other 3 groups who had been learning things like lighting and Lightroom and the clock was ticking to get their assignments edited.  I cannot even begin to tell you how amazed I was at how far these students had come in just 4 days – it was remarkable.

The next morning we showed our completed projects to the entire student body and other faculty.  Based on the resounding applause – I believe we amazed them as well. That evening we were all beyond exhausted, but my students invited me out for a “banquet”.  I was lucky  – many in my group spoke some English – so the evening was spent sharing stories and cultural experiences and food and drink.  It created a bank of memories that I will cherish.

We had two days of rest and our first day; we headed to a remote area of the Great Wall.  I shot some still images and then I needed to just take pause.  As the other 3 teachers continued to shoot – I knew I needed to stop and just take a moment to put the camera down and really “see” where I was.  I needed that time to absorb not only the week I had spent but to relish the “now” and think about where I was in the context of the world.  It’s those moments, when I put the camera down, that always create the memories that linger in my mind forever more.