The wave of the web future

Columbia Journalism School building; photo by ...

Columbia Journalism School

I shared a Facebook link this morning to a PBS story about a new degree program at Columbia University, Medill School of Journalism that will create journalist/programmers. To me it made perfect sense, and I said so. I immediately heard back from an old friend.

“Geeks instead of journalists?” he wrote.

“Not instead,” I said. I told him that in my opinion individuals are demanding more control over content than ever before — no longer (if ever) the realm of a programmer.

I also said that, IMHO, writers and designers have historically been separated at birth as far as the web goes. Not for all companies, of course — there are many fine examples of well-designed web sites. I’d say they’re few and far between.

But for the masses? A company generally calls a web design company, who offers a design but no copy — the web design company considers web copy the responsibility of the company. So, as in so many media tragedies, the company calls up its PR person and asks that she or he produce copy for the web site.

Why is this happening when there’s a long history of tight relationships between writers and designers as far as advertising and print collateral? Hard to say exactly, but I think part of it has to do with money and speed. The web has grown so quickly that an infrastructure to support its proper execution has never solidified. Geeks went out and got the jobs that writers and content people didn’t know how to execute themselves. And content went begging.

Not only that, but web designers aren’t always the best people to judge usability. Every time you go to a web site and can’t find the thing you came to find — someone was asleep (or missing) at the wheel.

This scenario is changing, thank goodness. WYSIWYG design programs are getting easier to use even if their users don’t fully understand HTML. Blogging software, incredibly easy for anyone to set up and use, is now fair game for designing full web sites. There are many, many templates available for non-designers and programmers to use. In other words, it’s possible for a content person to “come over to the other side.” Cost, among other factors, has made it so.

Also, web consumers are becoming savvier about what works and what doesn’t. We don’t have that much patience for web sites that don’t work as we need them to. So it makes sense that those who are better at organization, usability, and writing are taking back their birthright.

And, as time goes by, we’ll see the gap narrow even more, as software and e-learning each accelerate. Certainly there will always be a market for technicians, but there will be a larger market for content people who can create anything from an electronic newsletter to an interactive web site at a much lower cost than is now possible.

My friend wrote back, “I hope you’re right. I’m just an old newspaper guy suspicious of technocrats and J-schools on principle.”

I say he and I will both be satisfied with the outcome. The medium will always be the message, and the message needs to be controlled by the many.

Is corporate video dead?

Italian Cooking by Basecamp Productions

Italian cooking by Basecamp Productions

Is corporate video dead? Gosh, no.

Since the first electrons burbled from a black-and-white studio camera seemingly right into our home television sets, we’ve been fascinated with seeing ourselves on the screen. I don’t mean that literally, of course. (more…)

A revery on bars and tone

a revery on bars and tone with SMPTE color bars

SMPTE color bars

If you’ve spent the equivalent of years staring at (and singing along to) bars and tone, this little fantasy may amuse you.

I call this one a revery on bars and tone.

I discovered it while searching for a real digital version of bars and tone to use for a commercial I’m cutting. I thought about using this one, but it’s my first time submitting to this particular cable station. You know how senses of humor go.

Click Bars & Tones from André Chocron on Vimeo.

Deliverance, or, you can’t be too careful shooting on a farm

deliverance for video camerasI recently had drinks with an old friend and camera operator, Steve D. He may not want me to reveal his full name.

Steve had exceptional prowess behind the camera. There wasn’t a tree he wouldn’t climb or ravine he wouldn’t descend to get the shot. He was eager to please. (more…)

How to keep a viewer’s attention

3D movie audienceSuppose I asked you to graph your attention level while viewing a very interesting film. For a good show, people often answer that their attention level is high throughout — a flat line in the upper quadrants of the graph.

Not so. Even while watching the most engaging of stories, your interest typically waxes and wanes — kind of like a roller coaster in shape.

How do you keep a viewer’s attention?

As you watch a video — a good video — the action, words, sounds, and music spark memories and associations that feed into your experience of the video. In a well-done video, that’s a good thing. Hooking a reader’s personal emotions can do a lot of work for you.

Also, most people don’t focus steadily in a passive activity such as watching a video. The mind typically wanders during any presentation, whether it’s a feature film, a play, or a YouTube clip. Full attention returns when you create a new turning point — a plot change or new information, for instance.

So, when you craft a video presentation of any length, you want to be mindful of these “mental breaks” that will occur. And, if you’re good, you learn to manage them by carefully doling out important data in a time-release fashion, building on each “release” to a final climax. It’s really very much like how a feature film is carefully crafted.

For instance, at the beginning of a video you have just a few seconds to keep viewers who aren’t a captive audience. (Some say the attrition begins in the first second). So the beginning needs to be bold, surprising, unique, or otherwise attention getting. After that, you create peaks and valleys to continually reward your viewer for staying with you. Each peak builds on the last, and each valley provides supportive information for its peak, or the next one, if you will.

Plus, everything I’ve just said about keeping someone’s attention is exponentially more challenging every day, as you and everyone you know encounters hundreds of media messages every day. We want our information, and we want it fast.

USA Today hit on a novel idea back in the 70s by releasing bite-sized news, and received a lot of flak for it. But they were right. And today, as other newspapers flag and fail, USA Today still circulates more newsprint than any other newspaper in the United States.

Video is a lot like USA Today. You want to introduce memorable information and keep your audience’s attention throughout. In a well-composed video, you can do just that by thinking through your turning points. More on how to figure those out in another blog!

What is scriptwriting?

Film-style script

Screenplay

What is screenwriting?

Scriptwriting and screenwriting are not the same thing. Sure, in Hollywood they are. But not for the rest of the United States.

Screenwriting is writing done for the Big Screen. It makes beaucoup bucks, at least ideally.

Also, screenwriters write screenplays.

What is scriptwriting?

Scriptwriting is writing done for just about any venue other than the Big Screen — television, radio, web, corporate, educational, museum, training, industrial. You name it. And there’s a lot of it.

What’s the big deal? Most people aren’t even aware there are scripts for other presentations. They think an editor just makes them.

However, there are far more dollars spent every year on non-broadcast videos than there are dollars spent for Hollywood films. I’d like to give a citation here, but I can’t find it right now. Check back.

And so, for those of us who don’t write a lot of drama, we’d like a place in history! “I am a scriptwriter, and my name is Susan …..”

But when have writers ever been celebrated in their day? And when have behind-the-scenes writers (and I don’t mean the Hollywood kind) ever been singled out at all? It’s a rare trade competition that even recognizes scriptwriters (or writers of any kind for that matter) on a par with producers, directors, and print designers. Even though, without a scriptwriter (and a GOOD scriptwriter) there would be no story to tell.

So today, when you’re out there being bombarded by the 129 audio and video messages you’ll receive from commercials, YouTube videos, and Discovery programming, think of the writer. The person who makes it all make sense, who takes (or thinks up) all of the visuals and words that will make you buy, feel, know, or do something.

Thank a scriptwriter today!

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