Video journalism/Telling Stories

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Genre (zhahn-ra) a kind or grouping or type of literary, musical, or artistic work.

Having, an understanding of genres or the groupings of video (film) stories is useful. In fact it can be a saviour when under pressure and producing a video news story everyday. The video worker intuitively starts designing their story by first structuring the ideas, the shooting script, writing the voice over wording and sequencing video. This is done in terms of their understanding of the type of story they are expected to make.

This understanding comes from a broad conception of the codes and conventions applying to specific genres. In video news for instance, a weekend shift journalist in Russia Today for instance, finding themselves in the middle of a staff shortage, could be expected to cut and voice main bulletin stories ranging from sport, court stories or international stories that have to be rebuilt and voiced from satellite feeds, to shooting and editing a weekend arts story. They would construct for each genre in direct response to pre determined templates that run every day in every major video news agency.

Knowledge of genre indicates a visual story telling language and set of conventions that belong to the particular genre or group in question. Recognition of a particular genre will help determine structure, style and depth that relates to the task of construction. The application of genre applies as much to in-depth investigative TV journalism on the intricacies and politics of international terrorism as it might to news.

Refer to the text below, by Gunther Kress, 1985, Linguistic processes in socio-cultural practice, Deakin Uni Press, pp. 46–47. Apply all the notions discussed here to your scripting, then to the process of editing your video news story.

Your video news story[edit | edit source]

Your video news story consists of many types of writing; print in the script and on screen to the camera’s writing of sound and visual text, while the editing as a writing, gives rise to new sequenced texts.

Writing has a structuring logic which differs fundamentally from that of speech. It is a logic of the nominal rather than of the verbal; of objects rather than processes; of abstraction rather than specificness/concreteness; a logic of hierarchy and of integration rather than a logic of sequence and addition. Western technological societies value the forms and logic of writing over the forms and logic of speaking. They present a kind of technology which is homologous with other technologies in our society. Writing also represents permanence and control rather than the impermanence and flux of speech. For these and other reasons writing is the medium of the domain of public social and political life while speaking is the medium of the domain of private life. The ‘public person has to adopt the modes of writing in speaking. For the powerful therefore, there is effectively only the one mode, that of writing; both in writing and in speech.

As you construct your script, a very public writing, keep these differences in mind. Be aware, when using the sometimes personal grabs from interviewees and then linking and describing the story sequences with the powerful and more public voice of the anchor, the journalist, you. Again Gunther Kress:

From what I have said so far it seems clear that mastery of speech, and of writing, confers power and effectiveness in different areas, in differing ways, in different domains. Command of writing gives access to certain cognitive, conceptual, social and political arenas.

The person who commands both the forms of writing and of speech is therefore constructed in a fundamentally different way from the person who commands the forms of speech alone. Her or his range of cognitive, conceptual, social and political potential for being and acting differs fundamentally from that of the person who is confined to the forms of speech alone. Participation in public life and the power which that distributes depend on access to and mastery of the forms of writing. The possibility of being a certain kind of speaking and writing subject and therefore a certain kind of social and cultural agent depends on a person’s position in and relation to the forms and potentials of speech and of writing.

Authors, writers and originality[edit | edit source]

The general point of my discussion is to demonstrate the effect of social factors on the formation of a text. Discourse and genre both pre-exist the actions of the individual writer; so do the effects of the modes of speech and writing. Indeed, as I have attempted to show, writers are formed within discourse, genre, and the possibilities offered by speech and writing. What then is the role of the writer? And what are the demands for originality which can legitimately be made of child writers, or indeed of any writer? Notice that I have not included speakers here. It seems that we do not expect speakers to be original or creative in relation to the texts in which they are involved. Rather we seem to take it as assumed that speakers are largely obeying the demands of the occasion—of genre, of discourse, and of speech—when they speak. This may be due to the fact that spoken texts characteristically are multispeaker texts, so that no one speaker can be given responsibility for the construction of the text.

Moreover, in a multi-speaker text the speakers are not only fulfilling the demands of genre and discourse, but also seem to be under the reciprocal influence of each other as they take their turns in speaking. Written texts by contrast have the outward appearance of being the product of a single writer. However, if my argument is correct, then the function of the writer is not that of a creator of text, but of an assembler of text. That is, out of her or his experience of other texts, he or she creates a new text which meets the demands of a particular social occasion. My view stands in a fairly radical opposition to views held implicitly and explicitly in various linguistic or educational theories, which generally speaking regard the writer’s activity as one in which he or she draws on the resources of the linguistic system ‘as such’ (or draws on individual psychological, aesthetic resources) in freshly creating a text which fulfils the writer’s intentions or which meets the contingent demands of a particular situation. Such views lead on the one hand to demands for ‘originality’ end ‘creativity’ in children’s writing, and to tensions about plagiarism on the other hand in judgements made about children’s writing and other work.

In reality, all writers, poets, artists and journalists imitate and plagiarise - Kress again:

Therefore the task of any writer is importantly to understand the demands of generic form, the effects and meanings of discourses, and the forms of language in the written mode. The written texts of child learners everywhere bear the signs of the struggle to meet these demands, and everywhere bear the signs of their achievement in doing so.

The ‘stories’ written by children in primary school show the evidence of a (growing) understanding and mastery of narrative form, of narrative episodic structures, of knowledge of the syntax and the words appropriate to a genre, of formulae and of convention. All too frequently their developing understanding and mastery is classified and dismissed as copying, imitation, plagiarism.

As we have established, video-news and current affairs reports are visual ‘narratives’ or stories and they fall into distinct genres or groupings through their function, content, grammar, language and style. Your recognition of those genres and their visual conventions and codings will better serve your story telling ability.

The key insight here is that, over time, cultures establish certain relatively fixed ways of performing certain communicative functions such as arguing, explaining or story telling. Our concern is with the ways that our culture provides for the different forms of television-journalism story-telling.

Therefore, always start with an awareness of the intended audience, then visualise the genre into which you are producing. The next step is to acknowledge the fact that news and current affairs reports don’t simply reproduce reality. They don’t directly record what happened or what was said, rather video reportage is structured in production and editing so as to reflect key social values and to convey certain cultural meanings. These cultural meanings and messages are often built into journalistic practice to serve those in power – the networks and their advertisers. The visual language may also simply contribute to a news story’s entertainment values, making it more comfortable (less confronting) in viewing. A TV story that is easier to view, is more seamless, it is then more likely to convey information with clarity.

Video news story as narrative[edit | edit source]

Journalism and its culture can be viewed in many ways. The most reasonable of positions could involve taking a sceptical view of objectivity and reportage while also negotiating the negativity in journalism critique found in mass media and communications studies. The Nihilism in the critique of French media writer, Jean Baudrillard is to another extreme, while the unquestioning assertion of journalism producing nothing but objective truth is also as difficult to accept.

The Video News Story is but one of the ways of telling a story within the filmic text. Each story teller’s choice in content, depth and mode of delivery carries with it consequences as to meaning and rhetorical affect and this in turn affects, influences, viewers, conveys a political message. Documentary carries with it modes of representation that can be deeper, even less superficial than news, but within its longer story telling period, documentary has more opportunity to become indulgent and subjective, alienating the audience - ‘instead of citing the real (‘things’, ‘events’), it perpetually cites itself.’ [Baudrillard, J. In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, New York: Semiotext(e) Foreign Agent Series, Published 1983, in Morris, M. Room 101 Or A Few Worst Things In The World - the lost referential. In Seduced And Abandoned, The Baudrillard Scene. Frankovits, A. Editor. Stonemoss Services, 1984, p. 112. ]

Throughout this Learning Schedule, you are asked to push the boundaries, experiment with the forms, experiment in your work and read up on the theory, which that might start to explain that experimentation. This practice is unusual in the global television industry, so enjoy the freedom in experimentation while it lasts. Here at least you’re free of the tyranny of the network agendas, producer styles and the packaging requirements in terms of advertising.

Across language and culture the video news story mimics itself. From a Cantonese language based Hong Kong television news-story to the news stories on Russia Today, to Fox news, to stories on air in Central Australia in several different Aboriginal Languages; they can all be seen holding similar lead-intro picture based form.

While there are subtle differences, audience screen literacy is something that is quite universal. This occurs through the globalisation of all modes of television, its strongest influence coming from the USA. Television is often cut to a literacy that is slightly below the average audience screen reading ability. Despite this, TV producers retain the assumption that all news programs are representing mainstream values.

International TV news packs all bulletins with encodings that purport news as natural, truthful, objective and universally understood. This Lead-dominated news structure is capable, of course, of serving the interests of non mainstream ideological perspectives. It can naturalise and construe as ‘objective’ the assumptions underlying alternative models of the social order. On the basis of this, Radio TV Hong Kong in the mid 1990s used to produce its Friday night program, ‘Headline’. According to Sze Wing Yuen, then Executive Producer at RTHK, the editor takes chunks of footage from the news throughout the week and re-edits the material into satirical, sarcastic and humorous vignettes that have a style akin to a music video. By Friday night the audience is already familiar with the news images and sound bites from throughout the week. This restructuring of the news footage through various dramatic and musical devices is pre-empted with a sophisticated audience knowledge of the stories and issues, gained throughout the week.

Programs like this play with and prosper on the news story structure and its intended function. With irony they subvert the news codes by making a mockery of the ideological positions and culturally-specific assumptions that underlay selection of news angles. Here, freedom of expression through comedy provides a questioning of the news story’s claim as arising naturally out the events themselves.

Seepage[edit | edit source]

A range of camera techniques, that a few years ago were confined to feature film or to the music video clip, have now seeped into documentary, current affairs and even news production. One popular example, that perhaps may have arisen from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, is the shooting of material already on the TV screen. This suggests the presence and affect of the screen’s persuasive ability on us all, it suggests the screen’s recent history and archival nature.

Another screen device now seeping even into news, is using a hand-held camera in a super-close up camera style. Producers know that this will most often evoke a sense of realism, as it did in the 1960s with the arrival of Sixteen Millimeter film cameras and Direct Cinema. But when this style is not edited skilfully, it will look clumsy and will not convey a seamlessness that is essential in structuring a reality of naturalness.

The adoption of codes and conventions from Hollywood iconography and films like Natural Born Killers, by TV-news stories is possibly subversive of the news and journalism culture itself. Television sequences and images can, in fact, get out of control and end up serving the interests of non mainstream ideological perspectives, despite their being manufactured in the mainstream. Such practice can naturalise and construe as ‘objective’ the assumptions underlying alternative models of the social order.

Television / video students who may be working and broadcasting in cultural perspectives and languages other than English should look to the journalistic traditions of their language to see what seepage might be occurring. You are encouraged to consider possible experimentation and alternatives that might be available within the form that you are working.

The public sphere — documentary, viewers and a current affair[edit | edit source]

Despite these blurred and rather suspect boundaries (as discussed above), both filmmaker and journalist have a privileged and powerful relationship with the lives they film. This involves the trading of information and the construction of film material for public consumption - as part of the Public Sphere. This notion of public sphere is encapsulated by Peter Dahlgren (editor) in his introduction to Communication and Citizenship, Journalism and the Public Sphere.

As the political and cultural significance of traditional and localised arenas continue to recede in the wake of social transformations and media developments, the notion of the public sphere moves to the fore and takes on a particularly normative valance. It becomes a focal point of our desire for a good society, the institutional site where political will should take form and citizens should be able to constitute themselves as active agents in the political process. How well the public sphere functions becomes a concrete manifestation of society’s democratic character and thus in a sense the most immediately visible indicator of our admittedly imperfect democracies. [Dahlgren, Peter ed. in Communication and Citizenship, Journalism and the Public Sphere Routledge Publ,1991, p. 1.]

In Australia, as in many social democracies – publicly funded documentary-filmmakers work for audiences hungry for entertainment in current affairs and documentary. Australian audiences in particular, have a sophisticated literacy in popular documentary. This ability enables complex and multiple readings and views of the language in a particular work. The journalist or film director’s observation and vision interacts through film with the audience. The assumed ‘naturalness’ and reputation of documentary is hinged on the assumption that it was filmed by a reputable professional, an artist, a well known filmmaker. These texts are packaged and submitted to the public forum as evidence or documented truth. In abuse of this, the filmmaker is sometimes caught out; with presumptuous arrogance, they are found assuming license or professional mandate to explore social reality and life’s casualties with bestowed levels of objectivity, balance and fairness by the mere fact of holding the job to make the film. This ‘naturalness’ and Public Sphere mandate in documentary, like that of the news story, is assumed and has been the embodiment of the profession since the documentary form began. Journalists and filmmakers could do the profession well by avoiding the assertion that they hold such privilege.

Highly criticised for their sensationalism, commercial current affairs programs like Australia’s, Channel-Nine Sixty-Minutes have until the 1990s, shot on film rather than video. This had the effect of creating a documentary look that in a stylised way is left suggesting authority and truthfulness to the audience. Now in the high definition video age, the same truthfulness is conveyed by the beautiful moving pictures of HD TV.

As documentary film methods were imported into the now mature television industry’s methodology, the use of film in mainstream TV current affairs sets up a look that purports an ethographic, privileged, reliable and tested form. Shot on the time tested format of HD video with a film look, a current affairs program like Sixty Minutes is assigned a documentary genre membership by nature of its deep (filmic) texture. Subliminally, this will assist the audience in making certain assumptions throughout their viewing. The documentary film look carries superior coding to that of video. Through its elitist and authoritative time tested culture and visual languages, documentary film, over earlier video technologies, can assert itself as being part of the time tested dominant paradigms.

The broad film genre – documentary, in the Public Sphere is packaged and marketed – presented as reliable, looking where others don’t, experimenting where others won’t, with camera, that since the days of its appearance, has wrongly been accepted as something akin to a scientific instrument. How the image and sound combinations are laid down in editing, is ultimately the journalist’s work, coming out of their thinking, their culture and views.

Experimental forms of video story telling are surely welcome to the scene. In Jean Baudrillard’s ‘Simulations’ this is given a context, an incentive to break away from the same:

Against the truth of the true, against the truer than true . . . against that unclean promiscuity with oneself called resemblance, we must re-make illusion, rediscover illusion, that both baleful and immoral power of tearing the same from the same called seduction. [Baudrillard, J. Simulations, New York: Semiotext(e) Foreign Agent Series, Published 1983, in Morris, M. Room 101 Or A Few Worst Things In The World - famous last words. In Seduced And Abandoned, The Baudrillard Scene, Frankovits, A. Editor. Stonemoss Services, 1984, p. 104.]

Or Bill Nichols:

The primary markers of stance, or space occupied, are the sound and image relayed to the viewer. To speak of the camera’s gaze is, in that one phrase, to mingle two distinct operations: the literal, mechanical operation of a device to reproduce images and the metaphorical, human process of gazing upon the
world. As a machine the camera produces an indexical record of what falls within its visual field. .................................... the camera reveals not only the world but its operator’s preoccupations, subjectivity, and values. The photographic (and aural) record provides an imprint of the visible surface of things. [Nichols, Bill. Axiographics in Representing reality. - Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Indiana University Press. 1991. 79.]

Activity[edit | edit source]

– In using video news examples on Vimeo, or Russia Today, or the like; study, deconstruct and discuss the origins and perspectives of the standard video News Story structure. Divide a story into sections containing the lead, the complicatiing action and the coda (the conclusion). – Does it purport objectivity? - What are the natural codes that sit in amongst the text to give it a tendency to convey truth, as discussed in this last section? – Throughout your regular video news viewings, what other structural or coding characteristics have you noticed in the typical video news story? – Could it be represented as having an atomic model rather than the inverted pyramid? The atomic model of story structure having a nucleus or centre part being the lead, intro and angle while the orbiting shells (the electrons), represent the dependant points in the story that follow in the complicating action and coda.