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Best of the Web

Best of the Web

Every week Best of the Web features outstanding multimedia and visual journalism and, as the search for new content continues, more and more outstanding visual journalism is being published independently.  As media re-monetizes during what feels like a digital revolution, visual journalists are having to become more creative in raising the funding to produce high-quality visual journalism.

The digital revolution is and has been under way and, as technology advances, the digital media landscape is also changing in tandem. Technologists thinking about the advancement of technology often refer to Moore’s Law — an observation that describes the trend that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years. This idea can be applied to computer processing speed, memory capacity and digital camera sensors.  What this ‘techno-jargon” means is computer technology is advancing exponentially, literally getting twice as good as it was, every two years.  This exponential growth of technology has been affecting all things digital and, as media itself is becoming digitized, media publication is also changing.  Technological breakthroughs have made media much more accessible to consumers; multimedia on just about any topic is just a few clicks away.  Media consumers now have a seemingly endless supply of content to choose from, everything from the latest cute cat video, to scholarly dissertations by the world’s leading experts.

With so many choices of media to choose from, advertising models that supported media companies were quickly becoming outmoded; age-old institutions of media and publishing were now in jeopardy of going the way of the Dodo bird, extinct and long gone.  In order to move forward with the times and stave off extinction, media publishers are rethinking and re-strategizing the entire industry, budgets have become tighter, doing more with less is becoming the new reality, the bottom line is becoming more and more important.  In the newspaper world, the public service of high-quality journalism now must often contend with shrinking budgets, and financing long-term projects has become more of a challenge.

Media has become a sea of change and change can be scary… but change is also exciting.   The same technology that is forcing  media industries to rethink and retool is giving content creators an unprecedented set of tools to create content but also new ways to engage their audiences both for viewership as well as funding.

Filmmaker, Drea Cooper and photographer Zackary Canepari have been leveraging technology to reach their audience since 2009.  In 24 months, the filmmaking duo who decided to make short documentaries about interesting people and curious subjects have had their films viewed over 4 million times, all this without advertising, sponsorship or endorsements.  Cooper and Canepari met while working on a commercial and things clicked — they knew they would be working on a project together.  Their first film was “Cannonball,” about  a group of skateboarders in Fresno that takes advantage of California’s foreclosure crisis.  Eight months and four films later, California is a place was born.

In two years, they have published eight short documentaries about stories they love most, stories in their own backyard of California. Cooper describes California as a place of dreams, a land of opportunity… a place loaded with people’s big grandiose ideals and aspirations   They tell stories of California that reveal these lofty ideals and aim to do so in a way that is honest, real and poetic.

This passion project has yielded much commercial work for the filmmakers and, while developing a TV series on teenage phenom athletes, they came across female boxer Claressa Shields last winter.  After spending time with her in Flint, Mich., at Berston Gym, to a basement hair salon and a high school Sadie Hawkins dance, they dropped everything, and for the last six months they’ve been following her as she chases Olympic Gold. You see Shields is a force of nature with passion like no other, heart of gold, growing up in Flint, a place that represents everything wrong in post-industrial America.  Her story is a story of survival and passion; it is a story that with belief anything is possible. Stories like this don’t come around often. They teamed up with producers Sue Jaye Johnson and Bianca Darville to film “T-Rex,” a documentary about 17 year-old Claressa “T-Rex” Shields, one of the first female boxers ever to compete in the Olympics. For the first time in history, female boxers will step into the ring to compete at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

It’s one thing to do a short doc of shooting in three or four days followed by five to  seven days of editing. Shooting for six months to a year following Shields all over the world would be a huge challenge and that would only be the beginning.  Costs would be at a much larger scale — everything would cost more, especially licensing out the boxing footage from the Olympic committee. “Not cheap for sure,” as Cooper put it.

The first stage of fundraising is a Kickstarter campaign to cover production costs — the filmmakers were told it would be a lot of work and they should be scared.  As soon as the campaign was launched, a sense of dread and emptiness poured over Cooper and Canepari — a big zero on the Kickstarter page stared them in the face.  They had to figure out how to get people to believe in Shield’s story enough to fund it. California is a place that has been building and cultivating their audience for some time now and it is that audience that Cooper and Canepari have tapped into for support, harnessing the power of the Internet, to inform and rally people to fund parts of the filmmaking budget.

Their belief in Shield’s story and how they wanted to tell it along with countless emails and social outreach would help the filmmakers cross the finish line on their minimum initial Kickstarter goal.  Funding for the film is far from over. Shield’s road to the Olympics is a drama yet to unfold, as is the funding for the film. They are continuing to raise funds to finish and distribute the film, costs including licensing and distribution. There are literally hours left in the Kickstarter campaign, so anything over the initial Kickstarter goal is much needed gravy.

The Internet and social media are having great impact for filmmakers. Independent filmmaking and journalism can now leverage an interested audience to help finance stories that need to be told.  Through our photojournalist Amanda Lucidon’s career, she has focused on stories about stereotypes within communities — race, gender, ability, culture, class and sexual orientation. While a staffer at Press-Enterprise, it was much easier for her to find an outlet for long-term documentary projects.  As the industry changed and old print advertising models began losing their reach, budgets shrank and it became more of a challenge to support the costs of long-term projects.  In 2008 Lucidon took a buyout from a staff photographer position at the newspaper; finding support for long-term projects as a freelancer would be even more challenging.

While on assignment photographing a dozen same-sex couples simultaneously exchanging vows, she dug deeper into the story. Lucidon discovered that under the 1996 U.S Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), married same-sex couples are considered legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government and therefore not entitled to 1,138 federal rights, benefits and entitlements.  As a married person, she had no idea that she and her husband were entitled to more than a 1,000 rights that same-sex couples were denied. And in conversations she found it was a rarely known fact. This would spur Lucidon to launch The Legal Stranger Project, breaking down the complexities of DOMA though the stories of those who have been personally impacted.

Lucidon  realized that if she wanted to produce long-term multimedia projects, she would have to find creative ways to fund it.  She created a website, cut a trailer and built a following on Facebook and Twitter.  In the beginning, the fundraising efforts were constant, hours a day researching grants, posting to social media, linking articles, managing Facebook and Twitter, basically keeping up the conversations that were happening online.  Schedules packed with meetings, postcards to pass out, speaking engagements…. anything to get the message out there.

When the project was ready for crowd funding, she went with IndieGoGo because it did not need to meet a minimum goal to get the funds and every donation is available immediately. “Crowd funding is scary.  It’s like standing on the edge of the high diving board as a kid.  Eventually you jump just to prove your not a chicken.” Lucidon dove in. She posted a trailer and reached out to her Facebook and Twitter follower. People rallied to get the project funded; some of the largest donations came from people she has never met.  Those who couldn’t afford to donate helped by spreading the word about the project.  In the end it wasn’t just about fundraising, it was also raising awareness.  The project still has a long way to go, but Lucidon feels social media has really allowed independent multimedia producers to create their own outlets with limited resources, reaching the audience on multiple platforms.  As Lucidon says, “ It is challenging… but it’s possible.”

Talking with Brian Storm, founder and executive producer of MediaStorm, a multiple award-winning multimedia production studio, about revenue and funding, the studio has always been both content creator and publisher.  In order to diversifies the business model, the company pulls revenue through four lines of business: 1. Publishing their own content, which is supported by ads, sponsorship, transactions, and Pay Per Story.  2. Licensing projects to other outlets news outlets.  3.  Working with clients to produce stories. And 4. Offering advanced multimedia workshops and online training.

No industry or company can sustain itself for long without revenue from its products and MediaStorm’s independent publications, as opposed to workshop and client projects, are produced at 100% cost to MediaStorm and project contributors. Most costs were absorbed by the company because their first concern is reaching people with their stories.

MediaStorm recently launched two projects, A Shadow Remains, by Phillip Toledano and Maggie Steber’s Rite of Passage, through a new Pay Per Story platform. The Pay Per Story platform allows viewers to directly support multimedia content.  A trailer is online for free viewing and the full documentary along with supplementary content is available for $1.99. MediaStorm’s new Pay Per Story program has raised a bit of a stir, as all content on the MediaStorm site was previously available for free.  The platform is a step forward for the publishing company. It is about finding a sustainable model to fund online content. MediaStorm’s diverse business model leverages several sources of revenue to make sure it can continue to tell powerful and impactful stories.  The Pay Per Story platform integrates social sharing tools. Future plans for the platform include licensing out the player and making the platform available to work for causes and collect funds.

As an early adopter of technology, MediaStorm has always leveraged the benefits of technology to engage the audience and tell stories.  However, MediaStorm has always believed quality storytelling is the killer app.  MediaStorm’s core mission is to convey the essence of the human experience in a deeply personal, intimate and emotional way — stories that help people understand things about the human condition.  Storm’s advice for visual journalists is: “Focus on quality, not quantity. Don’t be part of the noise that low quality and volume creates.”  “Do something important and put in the time to make it great. ” “Everything we need is in place for us to do that now — the tools, the distribution, and new ways to generate revenue.”

Before crowdsourcing and social media  organizations, independent photojournalists have often depended on organizations and foundations to support and fund photojournalism projects.  Websites such as PhotoPhilanthropy list some of the resources for funding visual journalism projects.  Notably the Alexia Foundation, a foundation with a 22-year history of supporting photographers as agents of change, has launched a new initiative to highlight and focus on the plight of women in the United States and around the world.  The first part of the initiative is awarding a $25,000 grant to a professional photographer to document abuses against women in the United States.

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1 Comment

  1. May 4, 2013, 10:44 pm

    Now we completely moved into digital world and most of the works we can complete sitting in one place. Best of the web such development about photos and video is really appreciative and I enjoyed reading through their visual storytelling way pretty much. Thanks.

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