Controlling chaos

That’s what newsies really do – impose a sense of order on chaos. While we may like to think that the world is predictable and orderly, it isn’t. Lightning does strike. Evil can defeat good. Common sense and logic disappear when chaos moves in.

A typical news day has the crew out shooting a general assignment story and maybe a few pickups like weather shots or real estate shots from last night’s fire or crime scene. A typical news day can be an all day hearing on some mundane topic guarenteed to put the most caffeine-stoked photographer to sleep. A typical news day can be a nightmare that never ends.

Each of these requires the photographer to “see” the story and, working with the reporter (or on their own), impose sequence and order on the information so that the viewer can grasp what has/is/will happen. In a word – edit out the unnecessary and edit in the essential.

Today the focus is chaos. Chaos is often the story too big, so overwhelming, so unpredictable that videojournalists are forced to pick and choose what to communicate to the viewer. Hurricane Katrina. The Loma Prieta earthquake. Twin Towers. Murroh Building.

Initially information from stories this big shoots into the newsroom and right out to the public – there is no filtering. The public sees and knows that the news professionals see and know and is allowed to draw their own conclusions. The truth be known – this is the most honest way to get critical news to the public: just pass it on as it comes in. There can be disturbing images and it may not be possible to accurately check all information in situations like this. But the information is at least flowing to the public. One of the biggest mistakes many news organizations make is underestimating the intelligence of the general public. Too much information is better than no information or tightly controlled information.

The biggest restriction on getting all of this information out, however, is time and space. How long will the viewing audience sit and absorb information/how much space does it take either on a website or in a newspaper or magazine.

But chaos does not only occur during calamnities. Chaos is your everyday story – perhaps about a school board meeting or some other mundane issue. There are multiple opinions that need to be sorted out and presented in a clear manner. Visuals must be found to illustrate information so that the audience understands the issue. Order is once again imposed.

I guess the real issue is how much order should videojournalists impose. Too little, and the story is gibberish. Too much and information is left out – and worse – the story may actually take a side, leaning in favor of one side or the other or may even eliminate minor voices and opinions. While traditional news in magazines, newspapers, and broadcasting may be limited, the Internet offers a wide open option that may allow those seeking information to delve as deeply as they want, seeking facts so that they can form legitimate decisions.


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