Poor Media Literacy Spawns Fake News Crisis

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Two and half years ago I wrote about failing literacy in America, caused in part by evolving digital media types. The average citizen is losing the ability to understand the written word, and cannot discern quality information online based on text. Never did I imagine that a crisis would come to a fore as quickly as it has with this year’s fake news crisis.

In 2014 I wrote, “Part of literacy… is being able to delineate quality information from bad data. In the visual world, that includes producing and consuming quality media in a loud environment.”

Since then we have witnessed the election of Donald Trump, Pizzagate, and the general rise of digital fake news. Today, any persona has the ability to dismiss any other group or media outlet as biased.

As a result, less trust exists for the media. Even triangulating the facts behind a story does not guarantee the data offered is actual truth. In fact, it takes a chorus of diverse voices to make even the unwilling yield to truth. Still, liars and those who want to refute such stories — propagandists like Donald Trump, for example — can call it a “conspiracy.”

The ability to widely disseminate bad information and have it shared with trusting peers creates what is now being called a post-truth reality. There is no fact that can withstand the battering of the adamantly wrong and intentionally incorrect. That is scary, my friends.

Most Adults Cannot Discern Quality Information

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The average American is not prepared to learn or understand information online. A recent Pew study showed that sixty percent of American adults don’t know whether the information they are consuming online is trustworthy.

There is no obvious answer for our digital literacy crisis. People are not questioning what they read online. Worse, they are unable to prepare their own children and grandchildren to discern quality information online, either.

This leaves the imparting of media literacy skills to our schools. As someone currently working in the edtech space, I can tell you that America’s schools are just coming to understand how to best implement online learning. Some schools are very good at it, others don’t even have basic computing devices for their children.

In addition to understanding how to consume information online, parents and educators must learn and teach how to research the information they are receiving. Questioning information must become second nature. We need to ask questions like:

  • Is this information from a credible source?
  • What data is providing the basis for this story?
  • Is the research reliable and based on statistically relevant data (whether it’s a video of an event or a study of thousands of people)?
  • Are there similar stories and data that support the source?

These are basic questions that the average American doesn’t ask online. Instead, we simply trust the source who shared that information. Whether it is a peer sending a story via email or a social network algorithm, the online trust economy created by digital media channels has demonstrated its truest weakness.

Slanted News

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As social media has risen and traditional media have lost market share, news outlets have moved to tabloidesque journalism from formerly trustworthy brands. We have also seen media fracture to cater to smaller demographics, which in turn has created polarized community groups. Most media outlets serve their smaller constituencies with sensational stories drummed up to captivate the human mind. Click bait rules the day.

A younger, smaller media corps with less seasoned editors behind them now write sensational headlines with shaky content. These stories lack the factual quality that even a second tier news outlet would have demanded two decades ago.

Unfortunately, people fall prey to the sensational. The human mind processes it as entertainment and humor, and then latches onto it as fact. The human mind is naturally attracted to the sensational, and when they share this “news” they receive endorphin affirmation from likes and comments.

Then there are those who seek to sway minds with fake news, propaganda disguised as tabloid news. These stories have been deployed through the interwebs, and in actuality through the centuries, with great damage to society.

Today, sensational and fake news stories spread like wildfire thanks to the Internet. Facebook has moved from its original intent to connect people to a viral mechanism to misinform them.

A cycle has been created with likes falling along party lines. With bad information comes unwieldy results. And here we are, a world where the very truth itself can be debated and hucksters can use propaganda and smeer tactics to convince the public they are right.

My News Experiment

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In the wake of the Trump election, I found myself needing to read more my then narrow group of political news media, primarily CNN, the New York Times, and Politico. I started reading more conservative outlets, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, as well as the Washington Post and USA Today. In addition, I tried Breitbart News but found it to be so malicious and ridiculous that I could not stomach it. Don’t get cocky, liberals, I could say the same thing about Jezebel.

My overall assessment surprised me. While groups of media tended to cover similar stories — e.g. “liberal media” outlets the Washington Post, CNN and the New York Times and the conservative group of the WSJ, and Fox News — none of them reported stories in the same way. Here is a masthead by masthead review:

CNN: Sensational and over the top. Pure tabloid, almost none of it seems well grounded.

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Fox News: Sometimes grounded, but extremely slanted towards the conservative. Runs a fair amount of link-bait chum that leans towards the malicious. When Fox owns a story favoring moderates or liberals, you know it’s true. They tend to be slow to publish stories that show Trump in a negative light.

New York Times: Very grounded, but written with a liberal slant. There’s great journalism here, but like Fox, when a story favors the conservative, it tends to be when the facts are in their favor, AND the story is big.

POLITICO: Pretty balanced in its news coverage with the exception of representing the political establishment (as a trade rag would be). So Trump coverage has been, but is increasingly less so, shocked and sensational. The zeitgeist has been accepted.

USA Today: The rare moderate masthead, USA Today plays it in the middle, and reports when facts are available. A fair barometer for breaking news.

Wall Street Journal: Similar to the New York Times, this paper is very grounded with great journalism, albeit a conservative slant. The conservatism on display here is that of big business, and as such it remains committed to facts, and will print a story favoring liberalism or anti-Trump if it is proven true or if it is pro-business. All political stories seem to be on delay here, a clear sign of careful vetting.

Washington Post: Grounded, but not as much as the New York Times. It still has a penchant for running the sensational, and can’t resist a good Kelly-Anne Conway quote (yuck). I take their anti-Trump slant as a partisan view.

As a result of broadening my spectrum, I do not trust CNN anymore. It’s pure junk. I also am not likely to trust Fox News and sadly, I don’t trust the Washington Post as much as I used to. In addition, if both the New York Times AND the Wall Street Journal agree on a story then it is almost certainly true.

Low Quality Information Creates a Wild and Ignorant Society

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The biggest take away from my informal experiment was the lack of integrity several of these outlets have when it comes to delivering “news” to their stakeholders. In the case of the more tabloid-esque outlets, it’s clear clicks and eyeballs matter more than the quality of journalism. They are purveyors of the sensational.

Perhaps more disconcerting, these outlets are some of the most consumed news producers in the United States. The study does not include the less reputable outlets that spawned the fake news crisis debated so vigorously over the past two months.

We have seen the results, and they are wild. Though people read and watch news online, because of their information sources, they remain ignorant. And worse, they are adamant about being informed.

To date we’ve seen Facebook offer algorithmic promises at resolving the issue. But given the intrinsic desire of the human mind to fancy the sensational, will it be enough? I don’t think so.

In the end, we must look at the root cause. And to overcome, we must come to know ourselves. We must educate ourselves to discern online information and then demand quality. Digital literacy is the answer, in my opinion, not algorithms to protect people from their own inability to understand information.

What do you think?

The Washington Post Proves You Can’t Trust the Media

News sources today suffer from an accuracy problem. Journalists are under pressure to publish first in a dramatic buzz-worthy way to drive traffic. And there are fewer journalists. Those that remain are younger and less experienced, and they have to produce more content. The end result is an alarming amount of inaccurate stories that are tabloidesque in nature. This is true of small and large media outlets alike, as evidenced by a series of stories produced by the Washington Post‘s sports section in the past two weeks.

Last week a media debacle unfolded for the Washington Nationals, largely created by errant Washington Post articles. The news that Bud Black was hired as the Nationals Manager — a story reported by the Washington Post’s James Wagner and then echoed across every sports rag in the country — was wrong. Instead they hired Dusty Baker.

When the tsunami of reporters descended on the strange twist, they shellacked Nationals ownership for underbidding Black and being only willing to extend a two-year contract at no more than $2 million per year, plus incentives. Leading the charge was the Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore (whose Twitter bio reads “Riding the line between honesty and schmucky journalist piling on”), who tarred and feathered the owners as out of touch, insulting, and cheap.

Personally, I thought the coverage was vindictive. Keep in mind Kilgore authored a series of Washington Post “expose” style articles at the end of the season detailing the Nationals horrid downward spiral. Again, ownership and management was tarnished (it’s never the players fault, is it?).

Where the Post Went Wrong

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There were two primary points the Post missed in the Bud Black/Dusty Baker story. At issue in the original story were Wagner’s nebulous sources, “according to multiple people familiar with the situation.”

Better sources were needed (says Captain Obvious after the fact). Every sports magazine and news outlet across the country that cited Wagner’s story as the definitive source should be ashamed of their blind shallow reporting.

At the Baker press conference, GM Mike Rizzo stated that he had told reporters that he wouldn’t go to print with the story, but the Post ignored him. Then on a local sports radio show, Rizzo said, “the media jumped the gun.” Dusty Baker said he hadn’t heard from the Nationals at the time the Black story came out, and felt hurt. In hindsight, maybe that was the ultimate sign that the managerial hire wasn’t finished.

An even bigger whiff was the Kilgore article slamming the Lerners’ character for not wanting to hire a manager for more than two years at a $2 million clip. The reason is simple: GM Mike Rizzo’s contract is up at the end of next year. After the horrid Matt Williams debacle, the terrible Papplebon trade, and horrific bullpen and bench moves over the past two years, the Lerners might be losing faith in Rizzo. The 2016 season is a make or break year for Mike Rizzo’s tenure with the Nationals.

Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips, a former general manager, spoke on the 106.7 show Grant and Danny on November 4 (segment 5). Phillips was quick to point out that new GMs don’t like to inherit managers. They hire their own manager as soon as possible. No GM wants to inherit a manager with an odious four or five year contract from his predecessor. So new Nationals Manager Dusty Baker really has one year to save Rizzo’s job, two to save his own.

As for the salary amount, that’s business. And in the end, Baker agreed to the $2 million a year salary plus another $3 million in potential bonuses. If the rate was too low, the position would have been unfulfilled.

Bad Reporting Is the Norm

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The past few months of the Washington Post‘s sports coverage reminded me more of the National Enquirer than a storied news outlet. Woodward and Bernstein did not write these pieces. Instead, the articles read more like ESPN gaffes. The 24 hour network has been know to incorrectly publish stories as quickly as possible and ducking responsibility for them.

Poorly researched dramatic news stories are normal now. Reporters are strapped. They have to do more with less, and the end result is increasing errors and over-the-top drama. That’s across all types of media. There are no sacred mastheads anymore. Every outlet has a bias, and most reporters are chumming the social network waters for the most shares.

Blind faith in the media is a mistake. Triangulate sources, and make sure different articles are not citing the same originating story. More than anything, question everything you read and see.

Maybe I am wrong, perhaps the Washington Post printed a retraction on the last page of the sports section at some point over the past week. That’s where such errors are usually buried unnoticed by the masses. Who knows? I don’t read a physical print paper anymore (do you?).

More importantly, are there any trustworthy news sources out there anymore?

Jodi Gersh on Social Media-Driven Journalism

Jodi Gersh is the Director of Social and Strategic Brand Marketing at USA TODAY. She has been with Gannett since 2000, and has helped guide the company through the social media revolution. She will be speaking on a panel with the Washington Business Journal’s Jennifer Nycz-Conner at xPotomac on how the digital media revolution’s continuing impact on journalism.

The following is an interview conducted with Jodi on behalf of xPotomac as a sneak preview of her session. You can see her speak at xPotomac on August 27th in Georgetown (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Any typos or errors are mine, not hers.

GL: What’s the biggest thing you have seen changed in journalism as a result of social media?

JG: The two-way dialogue and as journalists we are no longer deciding what you need to know. People are telling us what they want to know. It’s a different dynamic. Journalists always trusted their gut, and [decided] this is what you need to know; this is what we are going to report; this is what’s important.

In social media, you get interactions and pings from the crowd saying, “Hey this is what’s important.” If you are doing it right, you start to recognize this is something we maybe wouldn’t cover or an angle we wouldn’t take, but it is resonating with the people so let’s do that.

GL: You have a unique perspective because of your position within Gannett, and USA TODAY and its local newspapers. How do you differentiate between the stories on social?

JG: There is a difference.

Local journalists live in those cities. So they can be tweeting with someone and then run into them at the supermarket. It’s harder for USA TODAY to have that kind of relationship because the community is everywhere, BUT they can be a very engaging brand online. They have engaging personalities and they have very social content.

On a local level, the brands can also be engaging, but the journalists have more of a connection, an emphasis on being recognized, being knowledgeable, being experts in their community, and living in the same place that they are reporting on. It’s very different. The way both local and national approach social is very different.

Of course, social content is social content. Choosing what to share and how to share it, that’s going to be the same nationally and locally. You want to make sure the way you share things on social media is going to engage the audience that’s in that social zone.

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GL: How has data changed the formula?

JG: There are different types of data, and we actually have many, many types of dashboards. We are looking at a way to pull it into one dashboard. We have social data, we have website data, and we have audience data for our communities of people.

Last year, actually, we rolled out a whole training program for all of our journalists where they were shown how to look at and use their dashboards. So rather than just making the data available, we walked them through what it means and how to take action on it. If you see something happening in Chartbeat or Omniture, how can you do something to see if it will make it better? We have put a big emphasis on using data that way. Actionable.

There’s the marketing funnel and the data coming in from our CRM, our audience, our subscriber databases and our email sign-ups. There’s a lot of data there, and we have a whole other team looking at that. I am not as involved with that right now. Although for paid social, it is all relevant.

GL: What was it like on the broadcast side before the split [Tegna is the new company representing Gannett’s former broadcast properties]?

JG: I worked with social champions across all of the TV sites. There were different ways they looked at social for TV than the ways we looked at it on the publishing side. When you watch your local newscast, you’ll see a few local stories, then you will see stories from other local markets, affiliates within the network. You are accustomed to that.

They would approach social the same way. They weren’t just sharing their local stories, they were sharing stories from across the network if they were super social. Things like a cat stuck in a tree, saved by a fireman.

There was always a back and forth about whether that made sense for our print or publishing sites to do. For the longest time, I felt that didn’t make sense, that this kind of news was a commodity, and that everyone is sharing that viral story about the cat in the tree.

I believed local publishing sites shouldn’t do this, and especially after our Facebook reps told us if every news site shared the same story they won’t show it to as many people. They don’t feel like that is a good user experience. It’s not curated.

Now we’re trying to decide if there can be a mix of that. Can you go for the slightly easier social win even if it is not a local, local story, if you are also providing good local content? Can you create related content for social media that ties into a local market? The answer is probably yes. Those stories are popular, even if they aren’t from your local market.

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GL: You’ve seen the rich media trend, but you work with all types of media. Which media forms are winning out, or is the rich media trend hyperbole?

JG: It’s hard to answer that. When you say which kinds of media are winning, I think that people’s media diet includes all kinds of media. Obviously, print [like newspapers] is slowly dying. Will it ever go away? Circulation is going down every year, and every year they say print is going away, they say five years, but it’s been like that for 20 years. I think there will always be print.

It’s not always by age. There are some hipsters who like their Sunday newspaper, and it’s totally fine. Yes, it’s an older demographic that usually subscribes to newspapers, but that doesn’t mean younger demographics don’t like newspapers.

We’ve done a lot of focus groups with the millennial age group and younger Gen Xers. The way they share information is so different. They are not necessarily loyal to a brand but getting that information from their friends has gone to a whole new level. We were speaking with some younger millennials, and they get their news from their friends via text message. They will take a screenshot of a story on a website and send it to their friends.

So you can see the media type could be anything or anywhere. People get news today on Instagram. How is that? The media diet is really varied, podcasts are in there, apps, photo storytelling.

GL: We’ve seen social become a validator, the success of a story becoming measured by how well it is shared. We’ve also seen the value of conversation. We’ve seen hard data. Have we seen the end game for social or are we going to see something else come along and blow this thing up again?

JG: I don’t think so, we haven’t hit the end of it. I was just talking to someone about how only a few years ago, we started having social media managers in the newsroom. We said, well this is kind of a temporary thing because in five years we won’t need social media managers anymore because everyone will be social.

It’s the opposite now because social has become so fragmented across so many different areas. It’s more important to have a group or people in organizations who understand where and how it’s being used. We’ve got our circulation department using it, our ad sales people selling it, we’ve got editorial using it, we’ve got brand people promoting it; it’s all over the place now.

We’re not at the end point. It is so much a part of the fabric of everything, yet we’re still not where everybody truly understands it. Five years ago you had executives who said ‘why are we wasting time on social.’ But now that’s all they ask for, but they still don’t totally get it. Until everyone gets it – which might not ever happen – we’ll still need expertise.

Jennifer Nycz-Conner on How Technology Is Transforming Journalism

Jennifer Nycz-Conner is an editor at the Washington Business Journal, where she serves as the business anchor on WTOP and she runs the Working the Room column. She has seen how digital media from blogs to today’s newer technologies like Meerkat and Periscope have changed journalism.

The following is an interview conducted with Jen on behalf of xPotomac that focuses on how digital has and continues to change journalism. You can see Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th in Georgetown (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Any typos or errors are mine, not hers.

GL: Where have we come in the past decade with digital?

JNC: It’s light years. I have been at the Business Journal for 10 years, which is strange because that’s a really long time in journalism. It has been interesting, as we have had front row seats for this evolution.

I have seen [the paper] move away from a weekly, where we focused on publishing once a week. We threw that out the door. Stories are no longer held for print. We publish [stories] as soon as we have them. We changed our approach to our weekly print edition so it is more of a wrap-up with a deeper analysis rather than breaking the news. So that for us is one of the big changes.

GL: How do you like being on the radio instead of print?

JNC: Radio offers an immediate reaction so that part is really fun. I’ve always been passionate about radio, but I have come to develop a great respect and appreciation for it that I didn’t have before doing it every day.

Part of that respect is people invite you into their lives; it’s very much a one-to-one medium where print is one to a whole lot of people. You are sitting next to people in traffic. For people to listen to you not only do they have to appreciate what you are saying, but they also have to want to spend time with you and like you.

The writing style is very different. Brevity is very important. You learn that 30 seconds is actually a very long time, and I never thought that before.

You give a lot of thought about what you are putting into that 30 seconds. There is not a lot of fat to work with on that. You really have to cut it down as quickly as you can, and give people what they need to know right now. They have to care about what you are saying. It has to mean something.

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GL: Do you feel that’s true across media today, particularly the way social media is working?

JNC: Yeah, there is so much noise, and you can find your news anywhere now. When you look at the traditional broadcast news that we grew up with you waited for Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw to tell you what was going on. You don’t have that anymore.

What you still have are trusted voices. If you are still getting news you want to get it from someone you know and trust.

GL: Jennifer Nycz-Conner [laughs].

JNC: Let’s hope so, seriously, I think about that sometimes. That is part of the job and the occupation and the mission of a journalist to be that trusted voice. They are going to tell you the most accurate, insightful truthful version you can find.

The other part is the “what does it mean to me” part? We all have tons of noise, and we can find any fact any time of the day. What you can’t find is meaning. What is the analysis, and how does it affect me and my family, and where I live? For us as business leaders, what does that mean? Part of our job is to translate that.

GL: You are [very involved] in video, and we are seeing big changes including livestreaming taking off. What are you seeing happen with video? What is your perspective as a journalist?

JNC: It is a crazy time. I’ve been working on our video for three or four years. What we have learned, there is an incredible appetite for video now. We all have screens with us at the time.

If you think back 20 years ago, that’s crazy to even think about. I started out in live television production. I used to have to get 53-foot tractor-trailers to do the stuff you can do today on your cell phone. It’s crazy!

People will watch video if it is the right medium for what they want to see. You can’t take what you wrote for the paper and put it in a video. You can’t just recreate the standard news form. They want it short, they want it insightful, and they want the pay-off: “What does it mean to me?” If I am going to invest my eyes and ears and give you two minutes of my time, I need some sort of pay-off for it.

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GL: How do you stay relevant with everything and the way the media seems continuously evolve?

JNC: That’s assuming I am relevant. It’s an upward climb. A benefit for journalists and technology is curiosity. Journalists by their very nature are curious, we don’t go into this business if we are not. That curiosity translates to technology.

You want to try out new things. You want to test new things. You want to experiment and find new ways to tell a story. In a way, that makes us pretty good technologists.

It is hard to stay relevant. Time management is challenging. It used to be reporters went out, took a notebook and pen, and wrote a story, and had a deadline, and had deadline at 5 o’clock that night.

Now you are filing a story on your cell phone half the time. You are also shooting video, recording audio, taking pictures, tweeting while you are reporting the story, then writing the story, then writing the wrap-up of that story. Journalists have to do a whole lot more. It’s a constant decision making process about what’s the best use of my time. How will this best serve my audience?

GL: How do you feel about getting pitched through social media, Twitter, Facebook…?

JNC: It is hard. The only benefit of the tweet pitch is that it is short. You know their not going to bother with the 18-paragraph introduction before they get to the point.

What drives me crazy is the more of the ping-pong game that a lot of PR people play. They will send you an email, then they will call you and say, “Hi, I am calling to see if you received my email.”

[And] what does drive me crazy is when people don’t know what we cover. That hasn’t changed with technology. We get really consumer oriented pitches or pitches that don’t have anything to do with anything we cover. You got to know the publication, especially today when you can go online, Google it, spend five minutes and get a pretty good idea of what we are doing.

I don’t mind connecting in different ways. I was on Twitter pretty early, 2009, and that was a great way to connect with people and get some really good stories that way.

See Jen speak at xPotomac with Jodi Gersh on August 27th!

Some More Thoughts on Using Periscope/Meerkat

Periscope and Meerkat are all the rage. Like Robert Scoble I still think these services will create many bad videos. But at the same time, I’d be a fool if I denied that some brands like GE are already using these tools to build a narrative, and actively engage audiences.

So this Tuesday Tenacity5 Media will be experiment with it during GiveLocal America. C.C. Chapman came on board for tomorrow, just to help the team here in DC. I’ll be in New Orleans covering GiveNOLA, and Erin Feldman will be in Kimbia’s office here in Austin, TX and Jessica Bates will be working with C.C. in DC.

All three of us will be providing updates from our various locations about what nonprofits are doing to win their communities’ respective giving days. These updates will be short and spaced out with each oof us reporting every hour, and one of us reporting on the @givelocal15 account every 20 minutes.

Getting ready! Just under 32 hours until #givelocal15

A photo posted by Give Local America (@givelocalamerica) on

So I needed to brush up on live streaming best practices. There have been some good pieces on best practices put together already. A quick summary of some smart tips:

1) Get a tripod for the phone so the video is steady.

2) Make sure your battery is charged.

3) Use the top third of the phone for your head (and shoot vertically).

4) Turn off notifications from your other apps so they don’t interrupt the broadcast.

5) Do your best to schedule your broadcasts in advance.

One thing I’d like to see some more of is using live video to offer citizen journalism broadcasts. So I started thinking about how I was going to use live video in combination with photos from the scene. More often than not, I thought of major events and how networks cover them live

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GiveNOLA will offer a live event in Lafayette Square with organizations actively fundraising. So it’s a great opportunity to use live video to execute interviews with donors as well as Greater New Orleans Foundation and nonprofit staffers.

There will be many nonprofit parties, too. So the trip offers an opportunity to show live event activities, parades, music, etc. Then there is the behind the scenes management of the giving day from the community foundation’s perspective, the metaphorical war room shots. Finally, there will surely be good stories unfolding on site, and this is an a opportunity to report on them.

One thing I think traditional broadcast media does well is that they keep video material short. I think livestreaming offers the temptation of continuing to show live coverage when in reality, we know social videos do better when they are brief. Five minute livecasts of in-street action or behind the scenes interviews is probably too long for this purpose. I am thinking two minutes give or take is the cap for these efforts.

What do you think of Meerkat and Periscope so far?

Featured photo by Iwan Gabovitch

Building Visual Narratives with Photographs

Melissa Farlow and Ami Vitale taught a National Geographic Traveler Seminar on storytelling through photography this past Sunday here in Washington, DC. It was a wide ranging seminar that covered basic tips on photography, storytelling, editing, photographing people, and gear.

Creating stories through photographs requires more than the rule of thirds, or f-stop, ISO, and shutter speed balance. For most of us, photographs are personal, capturing a moment in that we can’t ever recapture. When we show people the beauty of the world, we may care about it more. That being said, technical things do matter in telling a visual story.

Here are my notes from the event. Wherever possible, I tried to illustrate certain points by following them with some of my own photographs.

Basic Tips

Mid-day light is a photographers bane. But avoiding the sunlight can be a good rule to break, too. Shooting into the light can offer fantastic contrasts. High noon offers fantastic light inside, it streams inside. Take advantage of window light.

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Flash can be great, but avoid metering the whole photograph. While this is standard procedure for a pro portrait, telling a story can often best be told using highlights.

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Digital cameras today can pick up the subtlety of gentle light. A singular remote flash and reflector can do more than you might think. Less is more. Take your flash off the camera, it destroys the mood (and trust) with your subject. A remote flash creates much more drama.

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Light creates mood with landscapes. We shoot based on where the sun is. Light drives what the primary subject is, so pay attention. Dusk is a great time to shoot, creating dramatic nightscapes. At night you can use a slow capture on a tripod and the. One cool tip is to use a flashlight to illuminate a subject as you take the slow capture.

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Bad weather and clouds create drama. Embrace it as an opportunity. You can get a rain jacket for your camera, and also bring a shammy. Morning shots allow for additional drama with fog, mist, frozen breath, and the light quality.

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Motion with people may actually work with slower shutter speeds, particular when there is fire, water and smoke present. Panning works and creates a different take on action. Blurs add motion if it is done right. Take some time and shoot for a while. Experiment. This is true for long exposures, too.

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Look for layers: Back drops, foreground, people, buildings, trees, light can all add layers. Water creates mirroring and mood. Think about the rule of thirds differently. Are there layers in the thirds? Change your perspective, get high, get low on the ground.

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Don’t shoot constantly. Give people time to stop posing, and take more natural images. Be there for a while and become a part of the scene. Allow people to come to their natural rhythm and be themselves.

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Moments matter. Try to capture people together because relationships make for great contrast on camera. Animals and people together can show you some great natural shots. If you are aware you can capture moments as they happen.

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Telling Simple Stories

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With photographs you can tell a complete story. Photograph one person, and show their life. By taking photos over time, you can tell a complete story. This applies to any subject, even a forest or a landscape. Seasons and time show different aspects of a person or a place. That tells a simple complete story.

Elements include a story opener, sense of place, portraits, moments, details for context, and a mystery or a surprise. You want closure to end the story.

Putting photographs together to tell a narrative is extremely difficult. Singular shots are easy, but a visual story is very difficult. This is what separates great photographers. Photo journalists help people imagine how important a story is.

When you read a story in a newspaper you only get one angle. A photo journalist goes further to show more elements.

You provide a sense of place, a picture a landscape that opens up the whole scene. You can provide a sweeping view or be in the middle of it.

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Portraits can be tight and up close, or you can provide context with a sense of place. That helps tell the story. Portraits can be more. They help us relate to people.

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Pay attention to little details, they make a huge difference. Showing a bunch of hands together can show more unity than a group of people. Feet and hands can tell a lot.

Storytelling moments are probably the most important part of a story. You have to show people’s moods. Capture emotion. For example, joy in dire straits is powerful. Humor is so important, because it allows people seeing the story relate to the people no matter what the situation.

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Quiet images make as much of an impact as a busy one. There are always quiet moments that contrast action. Together you have a powerful story.

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Ending your story has a traditional cliche, people walking away or leaving. But it can also be a moment. If you go early and stay late, you capture moments that can serve the end of a story; the closing of a door, the room emptying (or just beginning to fill) or a nicely layered image. The classic window shot can work well as a closure. Dusk also offers a great opportunity to take shots that empty stories.

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If you would like an example of a complete story told in this fashion, I applied the National Geographic story rubric to my xPotomac post on Monday.