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April 9, 2009, 8 a.m.

Richard Koci Hernandez: The online opportunity to rethink storytelling

Here’s our fourth and final excerpt from our interview with Richard Koci Hernandez. He’s talking about how the traditional grammar of news video — the TV style best summed up by the standup — works online. Or, more accurately, how it doesn’t work:

…what I’m trying to get people to think about is the idea that the web is different and the audience for the web is different. And that we have an opportunity as writers, as still photographers, as people coming into this medium with a clean slate. So essentially what I’m saying is: Don’t adopt something; try something new. I really think that we do have an opportunity to create a new form of what we might call web journalism, or storytelling for the web…

Full transcript after the jump.

The model of the TV standup doesn’t work on the web — I believe that. And the only reason I believe that — essentially I’ms saying it doesn’t work for me. I just don’t go on the Internet [looking for it], and I feel like I’m not the only one. I’ve also had that in the back of my mind as I look at the analytics of some of the stuff we put up on the Internet, and what people really respond to. And from my perspective, and my experience — that really hasn’t worked.

There are some new techniques — some more cinematic, some more humorous, things with a little more personality. Not that it wouldn’t work or it doesn’t work — I think it doesn’t work in the form that we are presenting it, which is another kind of stereotype that I’ve noticed. This kind of voice-of-God, that “we have the answer, and here is the report, and I’m objective.”

And I think that some of the things that are working — this is a bit of heresy to say this at a conference like this. But two of the really wonderful pieces of journalism that I’ve seen recently: One came from Jon Stewart, a guy with tons of personality and a bit of humor, but there’s no question that young people are getting used — and when you watch the show you’re getting news. You are getting some news. And the other was TMZ, they uncovered this Northern Trust Bank, the bank had to give back $1.6 million. These are really Edward R. Murrow level of journalism in terms — but then they’re coming from people and personalities.

So, I know it’s dangerous ground to tread, but ultimately I think that conversation, when I say that what I really mean is — not to beat up on broadcast journalism. It’s a wonderful, wonderful tradition. It can tell stories in an amazing way — and they do what they do really well. I say that often, because what I’m trying to get people to think about is the idea that the web is different and the audience for the web is different. And that we have an opportunity as writers, as still photographers, as people coming into this medium with a clean slate.

So essentially what I’m saying is: Don’t adopt something; try something new. I really think that we do have an opportunity to create a new form of what we might call web journalism, or storytelling for the web, that incorporates cinema, of course broadcast, and many different kinds of things. So it’s not so much to say that to beat up on — but every time we tried a standup, a traditional standup, it just never got the attention. And oftentimes I think the power of web journalism is that because the space is vast and you can tell stories in two or three minutes — and often times broadcast is limited. They are trying to get a lot of news across in a short amount of time, the news of the day, and it’s a lot of news. But on the web, you can put a two- or three-minute piece up and you can let the subject speak. You don’t even have to be in there if you don’t want to, and you can just let the cameras roll. So instead of telling you can show.

POSTED     April 9, 2009, 8 a.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Nieman Narrative Conference 2009
PART OF A SERIES     Richard Koci Hernandez
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