In a scene from “It Was Pristine” by Ted Land (KING-TV, Seattle), Tiffany Lundgren surveys the damage on her island property where a stolen Horizon Air plane crashed in 2018. Debris remains on the land even after a cleanup crew had been to the site. Photo provided by Ted Land
Every year I pay particular attention to the winners of the NPPA’s Best of Photojournalism Video Awards. It’s a one-stop collection of some of the finest work from some of the most prolific and talented photographers in the country. This year I set new marks personally, placing with five different stories in six different categories. But I never stop learning.
Through their work, my colleagues across the country never stop teaching.
Here are five lessons I learned from five powerful pieces of journalism and storytelling:
The Story: “Remembering the Stains on the Sidewalk” by Jed Gamber (WBFF-TV, Baltimore)
The Lesson: Commit at every level, not just with the camera.
I remember seeing this story when it first showed up in my Facebook newsfeed. I was stunned then and blown back again watching it a year later.
Jed Gamber has won a cavalcade of awards for photography in his still-young career, and he has helped build a tremendous team at WBFF-TV in Baltimore. This story shows the standard he sets.
Gamber and reporter Paul Gessler followed a still photographer who documented the city’s homicides every day for a year. The camerawork is immaculate, but Gamber doesn’t stop there. He uses a projector, stacks photographs on top of one another with a series of smash edits and places subtle but effective camera clicks to provide audio cues.
The whole thing is a masterpiece, pushed by a moving, meaningful message.
The Stories: “Keeping Tabs” and “John Donaldson” by Chad Nelson (KARE-TV, Twin Cities, Minnesota)
The Lessons: Have fun. Break rules. And bring energy to your edit.
After watching this first story about a man collecting soda can tabs, you might wonder how many sodas its editor drank while putting it together.
Chad Nelson commits to an effects- laden, music-driven concept, filling the three-minute story with stacks of Mountain Dews, split screens of tab piles and a general jovial energy that propels this dynamic piece. Reporter Boyd Huppert, with his typically masterful writing, is entirely on board.
Much of what Nelson attempts here isn’t traditional. But that’s the point. It remains the point in the second piece, Sports Feature winner “John Donaldson.” Nelson erects a vision for a story and then embraces it fully. It’s hard to watch either piece, as a viewer or fellow photojournalist, and not be supremely impressed.
The Story: “It Was Pristine” by Ted Land (KING-TV, Seattle)
The Lesson: Use your tools. All of them. Even on your own. Even on deadline.
I’d been a fan of Ted Land long before he was a superstar solo video journalist with KING-TV in Seattle. He was an early guest on my podcast and a major interview for my how-to book for MMJs, “The Solo Video Journalist.” I always love watching his work because he continues to push himself and grow.
Here’s a perfect showcase. This piece, which won for Solo Video Journalist General News, shows Ted using two cameras in about 20 different ways. He puts a GoPro on the dashboard of a car, pans and tilts with his main gear to fully capture high-standing trees, and does whatever necessary to best serve the story.
The Story: “Smallville” by Forrest Sanders (WSMV, Nashville, Tennessee)
The Lesson: There’s always room to slow it down.
Speaking of solo video journalists who continue to shine, Forrest Sanders has captured seemingly every solo award under the sun this year.
And speaking of the sun, Sanders captures a sunset, sparkling water and just about everything else beautifully in this story about remembering a lost loved one. But it’s not just the visuals. Sanders takes his time and lets moments breathe. Silence can be so powerful, and Sanders embraces it.
This is a five-minute story that doesn’t sprint, yet you’ll be engaged the whole time. ■
Matt Pearl is a solo video journalist and the Chief of Storytelling and Development at WXIA-TV in Atlanta. His blog can be found at tellingthestoryblog.com.