KARE's Chad Nelson Repeats as News Photographer of the Year
By Lori King
Partway through his tape that won him the 2018 Ernie Crisp Photographer of the Year award, Chad Nelson presents “Gnome Sweet Gnome,” a story shot and edited so masterfully that it defies a simple explanation of how he did it.
This heartwarming feature tells the tale of a Minnesota artist whose favorite “hand-painted, red-cheeked, guest-welcoming” garden gnome artwork was stolen from her front yard Christmas display 40 years ago and then discovered in 2017 outside a record shop.
The story could have been spun traditionally, with straight cuts and a single camera, but not in the magical hands of Nelson, a KARE 11 News photojournalist in Minneapolis who spent a full day shooting the video and then an additional 26 hours editing. He used sliding cameras, animation and motion tracking software and experimented with filters, color correction and pencil sketching to make some frames look like paintings.
“Most of the techniques I already understood, but I never based a whole story on motion tracking before,” Nelson said, a Minnesota native who’s been at KARE since 2014.
He admitted there was a lot of trial and error, but that’s when he enjoys the work.
“I could stick to a formula, but it is not fun doing stories exactly the same. I like living on that little boundary where I’m not really comfortable. I had no idea how I was going to make it work, but in my head, I thought it’d work,” he said. “And it worked fairly well.”
Nelson methodically placed his gnome storybook in the center of his 10-story entry, a selection and placement approach he feels helped him win Photographer of the Year. He also won that honor last year, as well as Editor of the Year, marking the first time in NPPA’s history that a photographer won both titles simultaneously.
'I really love trying to immortalize people, capturing people’s stories and making them last forever.' Chad Nelson
His entry began with a spot news story on a house fire caused by lightning, but it’s a rescued feline that steals the show. “Oh, my God, they found you, baby,” cries the owner as she kisses her cat’s head. “That’s life No. 1. You got eight more, buddy.”
Next up is a general news story about a community responding to a not-guilty verdict for a Minnesota policeman tried in the shooting death of Philando Castile.
“You all murdered my friend,” wailed a man standing on the steps of the state Capitol in St. Paul and surrounded by protesters. Nelson’s edit cuts to marchers chanting, “No justice, no peace,” then focuses on a woman standing on the sidewalk. “When I heard the verdict, I was upset,” she said. “I cried because there was no justice today.”
Two human interest stories followed: A Texas family with newborn twins deals with its flooded home, and a father dying from ALS witnesses his son’s specially arranged graduation from the University of Minnesota.
So what is Nelson’s method for success? He said what works for him is having a passion for what he’s doing, telling stories well enough that people remember them for a long time, not being afraid to ask for help and having a lot of fun.
“My personal thought is when you’re doing a story, it’s the ‘why’ that is the biggest thing because it’s the easiest for everyone to identify with,” he said.
“When I’m putting a story together, if the why and the reason you’re doing the story is really strong, you can connect with way more people. The why is really critical in every story, and that’s what I’m always trying to look for,” he said.
Nelson said he was drawn to journalism because of the ever-changing dynamic.
“I really love trying to immortalize people, capturing people’s stories and making them last forever. That’s kind of my mantra,” he said.
Nelson also revealed his strategy for selecting stories for his winning entry. He works on the flow of the total video and chooses each story so that they feed off of one another, even though there might be better stories to choose from.
“I look at it as a show you have to produce,” Nelson said. “When judges are sitting down to watch a tape for editor or photographer of the year, they are watching a show, up to 30 minutes of content, so it’s strategic,” he said. “We’ve had seven or eight people win POY here at KARE, so there are people here who will tell you it’s about getting rid of a story because it kills your flow, even though that story is better than the other one.”
That strategy certainly works, considering KARE has won NPPA Large Market Station of the Year nine times and placed second this year.
KARE has also churned out quite a few POY winners and finalists over the years, including Kevin Sullivan, a finalist the past two years, and former KARE photographers Rob Collett, who won in 2016, and Jonathan Malat, a three-time national photographer of the year.
Malat had been behind the camera for most of the “Land of 10,000 Stories” episodes, a weekly show hosted by KARE reporter Boyd Huppert, who, not coincidentally, is the 2018 NPPA Reporter of the Year, his seventh time to earn that honor.
“I couldn’t have accomplished that without working with great photographers. It recognizes that synergy,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to work at KARE because of its culture of storytelling. It’s no accident I came here. I wanted to work here because I knew that great storytelling lived here and that this culture existed for decades, and it continues to.”
Huppert said he thinks the NPPA Reporter of the Year award often recognizes reporters who contribute to visual storytelling, an acknowledgment how writing and reporting add to the package. Huppert is also the voice for many of Nelson’s stories, including the gnome story, and Nelson is now the primary photographer for Huppert’s continuing “Land of 10,000 Stories” after Malat left KARE two years ago.
The collaboration and teamwork between reporters and photographers definitely swayed Huppert from radio to television.
“I thought I was going to be a radio guy, but I couldn’t find an internship the summer of my junior year,” Huppert said. “I got a call from a TV station, and then I was off. I spent a summer in a television newsroom, and I was done with radio. I loved the collaboration and energy.”