Mid-Career Grad Student

Curtis Franklin’s Weblog for Graduate School at the University of Florida

A story in Lincolnville

Posted by Curt Franklin on 30 April, 2008

We started out with a story in mind…a story of empowerment and the African-American church. We hadn’t been in Lincolnville very long, though, before we knew that another, much stronger story was there. This story was about a historic community undergoing historic change, experience through the eyes of a young man with a strong sense of history and a stronger love for his community and the people who live there.


Donte speaks of families and businesses, children and churches in this story of the Lincolnville Blues. He’s joined by other voices from those who have seen the community as their historic home, and those who see it as a new place to live.

There are many more stories to tell of Lincolnville and those who call it home — and we look forward to hearing and sharing those stories.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Learning to tell stories in video

Posted by Curt Franklin on 27 April, 2008

This has been an interesting term in Journalist’s Toolkit. On the one hand, I’m convinced that the things that we’ve learned are essential skills for journalists in the opening decades of the new millennium. On the other hand, I’ve been frequently frustrated as I’ve tried to keep up with learning these new skills. Some explanation is obviously in order…

The essence of “story” is something I think I have a decent handle on. I’ve been telling stories for a long time, I understand the concepts, I get the structure — the essence of the craft is something I “get”. In general, this term didn’t change my understanding of story telling, though it did help me attach a new word — the “train” — to a concept I’d worked with before.

The train came from our textbook, Documentary Storytelling: Making Stronger and More Dramatic Nonfiction Films, which was an interesting piece of the experience. Most of the points made in the book were on-target and useful — it was the scale of the examples that made things interesting. There were plenty of suggestions on topics ranging from story to scripting to financing the production, but they were aimed at longer-form documentaries. A section on developing the arc of a story through a 3-scene structure, for example, seems a touch over-engineered for a 2-minute video. With that aside, I’m not sorry that we worked through the book, and I plan to keep it on my bookshelf.

Now, the best part of the course was, I believe, the time I was able to spend with my hands on a video camera or editing tool. The worst part of the course was, I believe, the (lack of) time I was able to spend with my hands on a video camera or editing tool. While I understand the structure of telling a story, telling that story through video took me well out of my comfort zone. Yes, I had become much more comfortable using photographs with text to tell a story, but video was something else — I think the best analog would be if I had been told to tell a journalistic story through rhyming verse. On the one hand, I understand both story-telling and the basics of rhyme, but I don’t have nearly enough experience actually doing it to let me feel comfortable putting them together.

That could be, to be honest, the point of the course. I don’t feel like I’m coming out of the course with a mastery of telling stories using video. I do, on the other hand, feel that I’m coming out of the course with enough knowledge to allow me to keep learning from a rational starting point. I’m fortunate — I have a video camera that I can use to practice, and further develop my skills. If I didn’t have that equipment access, I can imagine becoming quite frustrated with a new set of skills that I couldn’t build upon.

One portion of the course that I greatly enjoyed was working on the final team project. I have a very small number of people with whom I collaborate on articles in my normal work, and it was fun working with a new partner on the final video. A partnership is always an interesting relationship in which the members have to bring their skills, judgement, and opinions while realizing that the final result won’t be exactly as it would have been had they worked on it alone. In my case, my partner has a great eye and a story-telling sensibility that is different than (though completely compatible with) my own. It was a very good experience.

So, do I think I’ll use what I’ve learned? Absolutely. I’m on assignment now, and I anticipate producing at least two video segments during the next week. I know that I’ll use the video skills for my primary job, and I am confident that I’ll be able to build freelance business based on video, as well.

What do I want to do with the skills? I want to improve my ability to tell stories through video, and I want to work on combining video, photographs, audio, and text into complete story-telling packages. For that, I’m certain that I’ll need to improve my Flash skills — another area in which I’ll be building on the initial exposure we received in class.

What’s my overall impression of the course? As I said at the top of this post, I’m absolutely convinced that any journalist who wants to earn a living in the next few years will need to know how to tell a story in a number of different ways. Video, Flash, photography, text, and all of these put together will be part of the job description of working journalists. For those of us who want to teach and train young journalists, being able to use these techniques to tell stories will be essential to preparing the next generations of journalists. My only significant disappointment is that our department isn’t moving in this direction more quickly and completely. We need the theories, the skills, and the tools to become complete modern journalists — not the modern journalism equivalent of the master button-hook maker.

Posted in Grad School, Video | 4 Comments »

Soundslide in an interesting place…

Posted by Curt Franklin on 7 April, 2008

I have come to enjoy Soundslides as a form of journalism, but I have an admission: I had, to this point, though of them primarily as a form to be used by a print publication to take advantage of photojournalists at a news scene. I was surprised to find a very nice soundslide package on a barrista competition


at CNN.com. It’s a great package, but as I look at it I keep wondering how they got the images — are these stills from a video shoot, or does CNN have still photographers on staff? If they’re stills from a video, why did they choose this form?

You know, I may just have to make time for a couple of calls to Atlanta…

Posted in Journalism, photojournalism | Leave a Comment »

A Flash journalism experience

Posted by Curt Franklin on 20 March, 2008

For the second blogging assignment in Journalists’ Toolkit II, I spent some time with Lebrow Jones and the Death of Micki Hall, an on-line feature of the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, New York. The feature is a true multi-media package, with text, photographs, video segments, and interactive graphics combined to tell a complete story.

When I look at packages such as this one, I’m always fascinated by how (or even whether) the journalist is able to lead me through the story. I’ve seen many multi-media presentations that don’t so much tell a story as present bucket-loads of information for the reader to sort through. In the first seconds of looking at this story I was afraid this was the case, but I fell back on our cultural organizational standard — I went to the top left of the screen — and I was led logically through a compelling story.

We’ve looked at many on-line article packages that told their stories through video or a combination of photographs and text. For me, one of the most successful parts of this particular story was the addition of interactive graphical elements like the on-line time-line shown here:


This story has a correct understanding of the sequence of events as a critical part of the narrative, so the time line with buttons at crucial junctures is a very useful tool to help the reader understand the flow of events — versus the flow of the narrative that came out in the trial.

While I felt the overall organization and layout of the story package was superb, not every piece of the story worked equally well. For me, one of the pieces that worked most poorly was a video of the Elk Hotel, a downtown hotel that was one of the last places Micki Hall was seen alive. The video, reached through a link in the text narrative, has no voice-over, no interview, and ultimately nothing to provide context to the images that we see. It is all atmosphere in a story that is very direct and straight-forward. The image here is one frame of the video, but it provides no less context than the entire piece.


I found this video especially puzzling in light of another video clip that I found incredibly effective. Lebrew Jones, as it turns out, is the son of a well-respected big-band drummer, Speedy Jones. In one video segment, clips of the father and son are intercut to great effect and substantial exposition. I was taken with the production of this piece, and moved by the extent to which it rounded out my perception of Lebrew Jones as a complete human being.


Overall, this piece worked for me because it combined the traditional methods of leading me through the story with facilities that allowed me to dig deeper into the information on points that I wanted to explore. In many ways, that combination exploits the strengths of the Web and leads us in the direction of a complete on-line, interactive journalistic package.

With that said, I don’t think it’s a perfect story package. There are things I’d like to keep exploring (it would be great, for example, if there was a way for the site to let me sign up for updates as the story of the possible re-opening of the case proceeds), and individual pieces (like the video I mentioned above) that don’t move the story forward. Those pieces should either be improved or jettisoned. Taken all together, though, I think this is a piece of journalism that is very good. Very, very good.

Posted in Journalism, Media, Video | Leave a Comment »

A few Vista Movie Maker discoveries

Posted by Curt Franklin on 3 March, 2008

I’ve been playing with the various settings in Windows Movie Maker for Vista, and I’ve found several things that might be useful:

1. Movie Maker CAN create clips automatically when importing from a video camera.

When you bring your footage over, the default behavior is to break it into (roughly) five-second segments. You can go into the Tools –> Options menu and change the length of the clips. You can also tell it not to break the imported footage into clips.

2. Movie Maker WILL NOT create clips automatically when importing an existing video file.

The only behavior I find (or find any reference to) is importing the existing file as one large piece of video. Now, once the file is imported, you can go to the Tools –> Create Clips menu and have Move Maker break the video into clips for you. As with the clips you import from a camera, you can change the length of the clips in Tools — > Options.

3. Movie Maker doesn’t make ANY CHANGES to the original video file.

This is important: Movie Maker brings a COPY of the original file into memory, and works on the copy. The project file, and any edits or changes you make to the video, are stored as a set of pointers to the original file. If you want to keep track of the changes, you have to save your project. If you want to have a video file that reflects your changes, you have to export (create a movie of) the project. This can be a fine thing to do, but be careful: All the video that we’re working with involves compression. If you continually export a video from your work, then re-import the saved video and work from that (then export your work, and start the whole cycle over the next time), you’ll eventually degrade the quality of the copy you’re working from with highly unpredictable results.

If you’re working from a USB-connected hard disk, you’ll want to make sure that the disk always attaches with the same drive letter designation. If it doesn’t, then the pointers to the original file can be messed up. If anyone’s interested, I can find a tutorial on how to do this, or catch me before class, and I can show you how.

Posted in Grad School, Media, Video | Leave a Comment »

A Quick Technology Note

Posted by Curt Franklin on 22 February, 2008

Today in the lab, I discovered a problem when I tried to copy the .AVI file of my raw video from the workstation onto my portable hard drive. While the file was a bit over 5 gigabytes, and my hard drive had 232 gigabytes of free space, when I tried the copy I got an “Insufficient Space” error message.

The problem, as it turned out, was in the way the drive was formatted. Most USB hard disks will come with a FAT32 format applied. This format is used because virtually all versions of Windows can cope with it, and Mac OS from about 9.5 until current versions can load the disk without much trouble. The problem is that there’s a file size limit in FAT32, and that maximum file size is 4 Gigabytes. Obviously, some of the files we’re going to deal with can be larger than that.

The answer is to reformat the drive to use the NTFS file system. This is the latest Microsoft file system, and it has a lot of advantages for a disk that doesn’t hold the basic operating system. Now, it will take a while — on my 250 gigabyte Toshiba drive it took almost four hours for the format to complete — but it should get rid of the file size limitations.

If you need to go back and forth between Macintosh and Windows with your drive, you can find instructions (and a link to a simple program you’ll need) here at lifehack.org.

That’s it. I’ll head back to the lab tomorrow to pick up the raw files, and the process of turning that into a video can begin.

Posted in Grad School, Video | 1 Comment »

Video Storytelling at the Toronto Star

Posted by Curt Franklin on 13 February, 2008

The assignment was fairly simple: find two videos at any one of several newspaper web sites, then compare and comment upon them. I looked at some of our options, but was impressed by the very rich (and easy to find) options at The Toronto Star.

The first video I chose at covered the opening of a snowboarding venue in downtown Toronto.

Urban Rail Park

You expect plenty of action in a video about snowboarding, and there is a lot here, with different angles and points of view. The snowboarding action is interspersed with interviews of snowboarders, and the very static setting of the interviews plays nicely against the movement of the snowboarders.

Does Urban Rail Park tell a story? I’m not sure it does, in the classically-constructed sense. It does, however, report nicely on a new venue in the city.

The next video I chose covers the process by which an animated character was created.

How Laurie Maher became MMe. Tutli-Putli

This is a very deliberate video that does tell a story of an actresses process for creating a character — from emotion to eyes to costume. The music behind much of the video increased the deliberate mood of the piece, and enhanced the connection between the video and the film. This is a much slower-moving video visually, concentrating on two characters, those of the actress and her animated creation. It was interesting to see a recurring artifact in the video screen behind the actresses head during some of the interviews: it’s almost impossible to synch the video refresh rate of a video camera and a monitor, and the moving shadow we see is the result. It doesn’t distract greatly, though, and the video we see with the actress is worth the bother.

Now, the very first thing I looked at on the Star site didn’t really qualify for this assignment, but it was very powerful, nonetheless.

Airsick: An Industrial Devolution

Airsick is the work of Lucas Oleniuk, a Toronto Star photographer who, we’re told, took 20,000 images in a span of 20 days. The images were used to make a stop-action video. The music behind the images and narration through titles give the video a Koyaanisqatsi feeling that’s very powerful. It is astounding to see what can be accomplished with a camera, a computer, and the commitment to a vision. It’s not like either of the other two video presentations, and doesn’t tell a well-formed story, but the overall effect is quite powerful and completely unambiguous.

Posted in Journalism, Media, photojournalism, Video | Leave a Comment »

The Very Short NFL Documentary

Posted by Curt Franklin on 8 February, 2008

During the Super Bowl, we watched for the commercials as much as for the football game (hey, none of the Florida teams made it), and finally saw a great NFL commercial in the fourth quarter.

The ad, titled “Mr. Oboe”, is the story of an NFL lineman who didn’t play football until he reached college. It’s a complete story told in about 55 seconds, and a great example of cutting video to tell a compact story.

You can see a “Making of…” video here, at the Houston Texans’ web site. It does a good job of describing just how much work (and how many minutes of raw footage) went into the commercial.

Together these two are a great example of telling a solid story in a brief time — a good lesson for on-line video journalists.

Posted in Journalism, Media, Video | 3 Comments »

A Post on Paying Journalists

Posted by Curt Franklin on 8 January, 2008

Maybe it’s because I so enjoy the feeling of being paid for my work, but I think a lot about models for journalist’s compensation. I’ve written about some of those thoughts in my personal blog, CF2 Technotes, and invite you to take a look. Feel free to comment either here or there — I’d like to know what you think about the issue.

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New Tool to Start the New Term

Posted by Curt Franklin on 8 January, 2008

Boy, the break was good. Now, though, it’s time to get back to work, and the folks at Lifehacker just introduced me to a very cool (free) tool that should help in a bunch of different situations. MediaCoder Audio Edition converts to and from a whole bunch of different audio formats — this should make moving files back and forth from various sources much easier.

Given the work I’ll be doing this term, I’ll probably also play with the full MediaCoder edition, which converts to and from a huge number of video and audio formats. You can get rather fine control on the encoding parameters (which should come in handy when trying to balance quality/size issues) of various formats, and it seems a very well-supported package.

I’ve found some other great tools I’ll blog about soon…ahh, the fun of talking about gadgets, tools, and toys.

Posted in Journalism, Media | Leave a Comment »