The New York Times
Univision, Conference Calls, Story Corps, & Memorial Day With New York Film Academy Broadcast Journalism SchoolHere in the United States, the months when national TV audiences are measured are known as “sweep” months. This past May was just such a month, and the local news programs on stations that are part of the Univision television network did very well; in fact, they made history, finishing first in a number of key demographic groups and time periods.What makes this especially historic is that all of the programming on Univision is in Spanish, yet these Spanish-language news programs drew a larger audience than English language news broadcasts in the same cities. It says a great deal about changing audiences, and a changing America.A primary lesson to be learned from these results is that news organizations need to continually look for novel ways to engage audiences.The Neiman Lab at Harvard University, a research group that studies American journalism, reported recently that The New York Times is using conference-call technology to bring together hundreds of subscribers for what might be called “a private radio program.” Much like a conventional radio talk show, there are subject experts and the opportunity to “call in,” only — instead of being broadcast — it is distributed by telephone: often mobile phones.One of the things that typifies all of the departments at the New York Film Academy (NYFA), not just the Broadcast Journalism program, is an emphasis on storytelling. As broadcast journalists, we are in the business of “electronic storytelling.” One of my favorite examples is an organization called Story Corps. This nonprofit group travels the country collecting stories from everyday people. They do it in a novel way, in that they ask people to visit their small mobile recording booths in pairs. And it is there the storytelling happens. Recently, Story Corps began to create animations which portray some of these stories. This is especially important for social media, where people respond to images more than audio.Here is a wonderful example, posted online late last month for Memorial Day, the day when America remembers its war dead. And like all the best stories, it has a twist…The multimedia journalism (MMJ) skills students learn at the NYFA can be used in a wide range of ways. Former summer session student Alexandra Saeys was recently the on-site reporter for a digital conference called #DES2018, the Digital Business World Conference, which was held in Madrid. As you can see in the picture below, she had all the necessary resources to capture insights and trends that were being hotly debated at the conference.Congratulations Alexandra!Staying in Europe, in Georgia (“the country, not the state”), New York Film Academy alum Mariam Shalikashvilli works for Georgia Public Broadcasting. And while she is pretty tall, for one stand-up she needed to be a little taller. I don’t think she brought the little platform she is standing on in the picture below. In fact I think she “found it.” But in either case, it was just right.We end this week with a moving Memorial Day story produced by former Broadcast Journalism student Melissa Aleman, who works at CW33 in Dallas, Texas. She wrote:By far, one of my favorite stories that I wrote and produced … hope you all enjoy it… and truly remember the meaning of Memorial Day.
SnapChat Breaking News, NBC Bakersfield and More: Updates From New York Film Academy Broadcast Journalism SchoolI have said before — and I’m about to say again — that I have “seen the future” of electronic journalism, and it is “on the phone.”The folks at NowThis were among the first companies to build a business on this realization. The notion began at the HuffPost, when that successful online publication decided to start producing full motion video. But it chose to emulate MSNBC’s liberal-chat format. (A decision that proved wrong…) That led a key member of the creative team to jump ship, and help create NowThis, which targets people who get their news on the phone.
Last week Axios reported that NowThis is launching a breaking news channel on Snapchat. Why? Because, increasingly, people don’t view news “on the phone.” Rather, they view news via an app on their phone. And what better app to ally themselves with than Snapchat? It looks to be a very smart move…Meanwhile Ad Age, an old-style print magazine about the advertising industry that has reinvented itself as an online source of media information, reports that Google is stepping up its game when it comes to covering news. The Google Newsstand app is said to be on the way out, and a new app is on the way which will be faster and have more video content. Full-motion video is the “secret sauce” that attracts digital viewers. Printed pages with the occasional photo or graphic, not so much. This is why we teach NYFA Broadcast Journalism students to be multimedia Journalists (MMJs).The Poynter Institute is one of the leading journalism research institutes in the United States. A recent post had the headline, New York Times Co. is dipping a toe into television production. There are two fascinating aspects to this story. The first is that The Times is using digital platforms (podcasts, feature-style films) not to report the news, but to bolster their image as an outstanding source of unbiased reporting. They don’t see these efforts as potential profit centers as much as ways of shaping public perceptions about The Times. It is certainly not conventional television news.And that’s the second tantalizing aspect of the story. Unreported — and perhaps unknown to the reporter — was that The Times started a subsidiary to produce long-form TV news programming back in the 1990s. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t work out. Its founder, a long-time friend and former PBS colleague, would go on to do quite well sans The Times. You may have heard of a little thing he helped create called NY1?And speaking of news, we got some last week from NYFA graduate Karen Hua. She just got her first on-air reporting job:Some personal breaking news … In just two weeks, I’ll be starting as an on-air reporter for the NBC station in Bakersfield, California! Thank you to my mentors, teachers, and dearest friends for supporting and encouraging me this past year … ENDLESS thanks, Bill. Can’t say it enough — literally would not be here without you, or Evgenia!I should point out that Karen is a graduate of our 12-week Evening Broadcast Journalism program. Proof that, if you want to reinvent yourself while working a day job, learning key content creation skills can help you get to where you want to go. (In this case, Bakersfield, California … which I am confident is just the first step up the ladder, and back to NYC!)
Kicking off its ninth year, the Beloit International Film Festival celebrates and showcases independent films from all around the world — 120 films from 30 countries. This includes documentaries, features and shorts. The New York Times has recently given BIFF attention, recommending the festival as one of six alternatives to Sundance Film Festival. Starting on February 14, 2014 and wrapping on February 23, local Wisconsin residents and film lovers from around the country fill more than a dozen venues, ranging in size from 40 seats to the 700 seat Eclipse Center.
“From the outreach educational programs of BIFF, which brings thousands of students together to create films and develop critical viewing skills, to the Silent Film Showcase, and more than 120 films and artists from 30 countries, we have watched BIFF grow in its international reputation,” says sponsor, Diane Hendricks. “With the addition of BIFF PLUS Music, and programs like BIFF Latino, BIFF for the Deaf, and the classic film closing party, BIFF has truly moved up another notch and I am honored to be a sponsor.”
If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to BIFF, CLICK HERE.
This Monday, the New York Film Academy hosted a screening of ABC’s Brothers and Sisters with executive producer/show-runner David Marshall Grant. The event was moderated by Producer, Tova Laiter.
In addition to Grant’s success in television as Executive Producer/show-runner of NBC’s Smash and ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, he is an accomplished actor and playwright. His first play, Snakebit, was nominated for both a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. His second play, Current Events, was produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club in 2000. His most recent play, Pen, opened in 2006 at Playwrights Horizons. As an actor, Grant is best known for playing opposite Richard Gere in Broadway’s Bent and for his Tony-nominated performance in Angels in America. His acting credits include film and television work in such projects as The Devil Wears Prada, The Stepford Wives, The Rock, Air America, And the Band Played On, Citizen Cohn, thirtysomething, Eli Stone, and Party Down.
After attending the Yale School of Drama, David went to the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference in Connecticut where he did a workshop of Bent. He was very lucky to experience immediate success right out of school when the production, which was bound for Broadway, asked him to star opposite Richard Gere. “So much of life is what fate brings you, and so much of life is what you bring when fate shows up,” said Grant.
It was during his time at the playwright’s conference that David became fascinated with story and by the idea that the way an actor’s mind thought could actually help you as a writer. This kept gnawing at him until one summer he began to write a play. He wrote 23 pages the first day, assuming he could have the production up and running in no time. However, he ended up working on the play for five years and it was never produced despite his efforts.
When his acting career stalled after Bent, David started taking writing more seriously. His second play was entitled, Snakebit. It was twelve years before this film was produced on a very small scale at Grove Street Theater in New York. There was an audience of 53 people. One of these people was Peter Marks of The New York Times. Marks wrote a great review of the play, and the next day everyone was calling David. It seemed there was a renewed interest in him.
At the time, David was auditioning for episodic television and not getting the parts, so he decided to “open the door that wasn’t locked” and become a writer. Although, even that became an immense struggle for David. Five or six years later, John Robin Bates called David and asked him if he wanted to be a story editor on Brothers and Sisters, and he hasn’t stopped working since then.
David always tries to impress on his students that, “Failure is the norm,” and this industry is a long game. “You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize, and if it doesn’t happen today, it might not happen for the next five years. But that doesn’t mean you give up.”
David was also one of the first brave actors to play gay characters, like he did in Bent, when other actors (straight or gay) wouldn’t. This was also at a point when David hadn’t been out with the public. In thirtysomething, David took the opportunity to play a gay character, even though he was convinced it would ruin his career. He brought up the point that there hasn’t been a major movie actor that has come out yet. You can’t be Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise and be known as gay.
QUESTION: Can you give advice to actors who want to transition into producing?
DAVID: An actor’s job should always be to figure out how he or she can support the STORY—understand what your place in the story is. You are a part of the larger thing—and that thing is everything—STORY.
QUESTION: What are some of the roles of a show-runner?
DAVID: Your first job is to come up with a story every week. You follow the story. Also, it’s about navigating personalities—the demands of the studio and the actors on the script. That’s what the show-runner does. In the process of pushing that story up the hill, he deals with every human being that touches that story.
David’s story was inspirational in regards to the success one can achieve in this industry through endurance and never giving up. He made the point to say that you must consciously inspire yourself. “It really works by failing every single day, until the world sees,” he concluded.
Andrea Swift is the department chair of Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy’s New York City campus. She has written, directed, and produced many projects, having been awarded the Scriptapalooza TV Award, Silver at the Chicago International Film Festival, a DGA award, and many others. Her PBS Documentary “In the Life” was nominated for an Emmy three times.
Has a viral video ever really changed the world? Even a little bit? How?
As the latest crew of NYFA Docsters begin their first cyber film, I am once again updating my list of must-see viral videos for them to consider. It’s always a tricky list to compile, and even trickier to narrow down. YouTube’s greatest hits make a good starting point. In at least one key respect, they clearly “worked.” Hundreds of millions of people have watched and shared Charlie Bit My Finger and The Evolution of Dance. There’s something to learn there, and something to learn from Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa) and other uber viral music videos.
Perhaps virally successful corporate advertisements have even more to teach. Somehow the makers of The Force, for example, got well over 50 million of us to willingly watch a Volkswagen commercial without the pay off of “real programming” around it. And then they got us to “share” it with to our friends. That’s an even higher bar to clear. Yet they did it.
However, the real Holy Grail for us social documentary types is the movie that changes the world – at least a little bit. Not an easy feat. If it was, everyone would do it. Still, I propose that there are several viral videos, mostly micro-docs that have managed to pull it off.
5.) Crush on Obama: This one’s been on the cultural radar for four years now. In their combined incarnations, Obama Girl videos have scored over 120 million views. And while it seems silly, many in the mainstream media have identified Crush on Obama as a key influencer in the 2008 elections, and beyond. Perhaps the greatest take-away for aspiring viral game-changers is its success as a “meme.” In fact, in 2010 Newsweek named the video the #3 biggest meme of the decade.
Elaborating, The New York Times wrote, “That video probably had more to do with shaping Obama’s complicated public image — young and exciting but maybe a bit shallow — than any Internet appeal devised by the candidate’s own aides.”
I have to admit it’s especially warm in my mind because its director is upstairs teaching a Viral Video class for the Doc students right now. On the other hand, he’s there because it was already warm in my mind.
4.) Susan Boyle – Britain’s Got Talent: This micro-doc pulled from a television show, tells a great, authentic story that makes the cyber world laugh, cry and share again and again. For the viral doc-maker, I´d say the major take-away here is story. As the old adage goes, “a great story, well told” is pure gold in any medium. And a great, well-told, cyber-sized, underdog fable hits our biological “share” button like one of those little rubber reflex hammers.
Granted the first chapter of this particular viral video-making story is luck. Well-produced luck, I would argue, but still, luck. Even so, her performance would have been a tree that fell in the woods had the producers not met that lucky occurrence with the skill to recognize it, shoot the story beats as they happened, and then carefully recreate them so their audience could experience the moment as if we were in the room the moment it’s going down. Even with all that, however, it would have been a tree that only fell on British TV if someone hadn’t excised the exact arc of that perfect cyber-sized story, uploaded it and set it free to spread itself through our socially networked cyber psyche.
But what game did it change? It certainly didn’t help elect a president. Someone who’d been marginalized was laughed at and then became an international star. Her game certainly changed, but more to our point, the whole pop culture game changed with it – just a little bit. That story shamed us for the initial pejorative response we probably shared, at least a little. And it opened our hearts and minds to the possibility that a woman who is not young and not so physically attractive could still be worth listening to, could even have a place in the modern Pop Pantheon. It´s hard to measure the exact impact of that change, but by integrating Susan Boyle into our pop iconography, our collective-self image grew just a little more complex, and ever so slightly less scornful.
3.) Playing for change, “Stand by Me”: This little documentary is my all time favorite viral share. “But that’s a music video,” you say? It is. It’s also a micro documentary. I only argue this about the original Playing for Change video, Stand By Me. The others really are just music videos. Good music videos, but still, just music videos. “Stand by Me,” on the other hand, tells the story of the making of itself, and consequently the story of the project and its meaning. That’s what lifts it out of the realm of simple music videos and into the arena of viral micro-documentary.
More importantly for this list, I argue that in rhythmic, gentle ways that are difficult to quantify, that musical documentary changes the world by changing us. It tells a story that moves us – both emotionally and physically – which helps it work its simple meme deeper and deeper into our consciousness: all our divergent, wonderful cultures can play together and when they do, our global jam session can become transcendent. We aren’t “others.” We make magnificent music together.
And being a story with a great beat, and a meme we can sing along with, Stand by Me can reinforce that change, and inspire its propagation, over and over again.
2.) KONY 2012: Scoring over 100 million views in less than a month and spawning spin-offs and backlash videos which have generated almost as many views themselves, it is easily the viral video story of the year. Like Zietgeist before it, KONY 2012 demonstrates the incredible power of the web to spread ideas and create movements, along with its absolute lack of controls for testing a video’s validity or veracity before allowing its entry into this burgeoning engine of our collective consciousness. On the other hand, it also demonstrates the new, highly democratic forum that, if stimulated, creates a remarkable after-the-fact control for both the validity and veracity of the memes we launch into cyber space.
That video’s career also demonstrates the power of simplicity in this realm, as well as our potentially ruthless response to being initially taken by a video what we then start to feel is a gross oversimplification, propaganda or self-promotion. Personally, I found the later pre-arrest video of Jason Russell almost as heartbreaking the original video. Yet I have to confess to feeling a teeny, tiny wave of schadenfreude as well. But why?
There was an almost classical Greek symmetry to this flash tragedy playing out before our cyber eyes. Here a well-meaning hero sets out to save the world. But his hubris taints his self-told tale with just enough reckless oversimplification and self-aggrandizement that its instant mega-success breeds a near immediate aftershock of denunciation. And the laceration of that backlash wounds him so intensely that it sends our hero out onto the street, naked and beating the ground, seemingly driven mad by the extremity of his near simultaneous fame and mass rejection.
It’s a cautionary tale for would be viral world-savers. However, read carefully, the story of the KONY 2012 video, can also light the way for making cyber media that matters. I rate it an unparalleled success, though perhaps not in the exact form its maker intended. April 20th will not find me graffiti-ing in favor of increased military support for a regime that now kills people for being gay; nor wheat-pasting in support of American military adventurism in Africa.
But it did get us talking about KONY and the Jacobs of the world. It did get young America interested in the mass kidnapping, rape and forced soldiering of children in central Africa. It did create an atmosphere that led the ratings-driven American media to devote the kind of airtime to the human toll of central African turmoil that it usually reserves for freeze-frames of Lindsey Lohan’s underwear, or purported lack thereof.
So regardless of how many people hit the streets on April 20th, it’s already changed the world – a little bit. It could arguably have changed it more and more lastingly, and caused significantly less pain to its maker, if he had been a little more careful with his facts and little less certain that he knows best for Africa. But the equivalent of one in three Americans listened to Russell’s idea for a full 30 minutes, shared it, and spent an hour or two considering it, arguing about it, telling other people. And as a culture, we decided, at least, that what happens to children in Uganda, matters to us.
1.) It Gets Better: You may remember that in 2010, American news reported four gay teen suicides in rapid succession. Each boy had clearly acted in response to relentless bullying. Trying to form a response, the nation could only seem to mutter inchoate disapproval.
Meanwhile two men, Dan and Terry, decided that they had to reach out the hundreds (maybe thousands) of other teens who were experiencing similar fates. The men sat on their couch, in front of their home video camera, making a low quality, YouTube message-in-a-bottle for those kids. In it, they just shared the stories of their own terrible, humiliating experiences being bullied as teenagers, and about the thriving lives they have built since. With their stories, they offered the simple hope that “it gets better.”
Well, the rest is history, that video tore around the internet spawning countless replications and morphing from a simple, unassuming offer of hope into a national rallying cry for reform. Hollywood, the Secretary of State, even the President stood up to be counted in their own, It Gets Better videos. And reform we did. State after state and school district after school district has changed its laws and policies. Anti-gay bullying is no longer simply swept under the rug of the collective cultural consciousness, with a “kids will be kids” wave of the hand. Like any other form of violence, it is now a crime.
This one changed the world, in obvious ways – both political and cultural.
And the big take away? For me, there are a few. One is that the law of unintended consequences is turbo-charged in cyber space. Set an idea free in the wilds of that vast neural network and there’s no telling what it will do. But the nature of your initial offering is crucial. It may replicate and morph and go places you never could have guessed but all of that will be defined by the essential nature of your meme. In this case, the voice of that selfless, authentic, first person “true” story carried throughout the entire movement it spawned and moved people to truly change themselves, and thus to change their policies.
So what do you think? Have I convinced you that viral video can change the world – a little bit? Which videos would be on Your Top 5 list?
 When Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, he wanted a word like gene that conveyed the way in which ideas and behaviour spread within society by non-genetic means. Since then the word has been picked up to describe a piece of information spread by email or via blogs and social networking sites. A meme can be almost anything—a joke, a video clip, a cartoon, a news story—and can also evolve as it spreads, with users editing the content or adding comments. Common collocates in the Oxford English Corpus are spread, pass, and transmit: as with the Internet sense of viral, meme uses the metaphor of disease and infection.