Monday, September 14, 2009

So then I started this video series to expand the coverage of my beat

After the Twitter experiment worked, I began searching for other ways to expand my court beat online.

What I really wanted to do is reach past the types of cases that usually made news. There's so much that goes on in the courthouse everyday, you can't cover it all.  But I figured the web enabled me to go beyond what I used to do when I only had the newspaper, and its limited space, as a venue.

I always quipped that I could walk into any random courtroom and come out with a good story. Here was my chance to prove it.

So then I started this video series, which we would eventually call, Common Law.

As with most online experiments that have worked for me, Katie, was heavily involved in the initial development. My then-editor, Jill Cohan, gave it the go-ahead.  She even wrote the development of the series it into my goals for the coming year.

In future posts, I'll follow my work flow and how I try to get everything done.

What made this a little easier is getting regular sources follow.  That's served as the foundation for the series: I have a judge, a public defender, a prosecutor and two courthouse guards. I have to credit these folks for agreeing the jump into something that's so new.

I regularly check in with what their doing and produce 2-minute video segments which run several times a week.

I then asked for critiques from friends and colleagues, many of whom I've met through this blog.  They all gave some great tips and were very positive about what I'd done.  This fueled me to keep doing it and improve it.

Among them, Angela Grant, whose blog News Videographer has served as one of my main learning tutorials over the past couple of years.  With this series, I got to put everything I'd learned from her posts, and her past critiques of my work, into practice.

One of our concerns in all this is that while courts offer the height of human drama, it's often delivered in the sterile, clinical confines of people talking in court.

Wrote Angela:
Usually, talking heads are boring and do not make compelling video. But I think the way Ron is using the talking heads here is actually very compelling. Maybe it’s because the subject matter is naturally interesting. Maybe it’s the easy-to-digest format: One graph of info, followed by a short video. Whatever it is, I think it’s successful because I was able to watch like 4-5 of these in a row and I stayed interested the whole time.
Taking what is usually a 20- to 30-minute hearing the editing it down to 2 minutes helps keep the most compelling information about these cases.  I'm often checking back with the judge and lawyers, to make sure I'm keeping everything in context and portraying the gist of the hearings.  So far, so good.

The reason we called it "Common Law" (Jill's title) is because we deal with the everyday type of cases that come to the courthouse -- the stuff you normally wouldn't see.

The video views are comparable to others being produced for our site, and several people have stopped me in the elevator and the hallways of the courthouse to tell me how much they're enjoying them.

But I'm always looking for feedback. If you can watch a few, when you get time, leave a comment and tell me what you think. I'm always looking to improve.

I can also see a variety of beats lending itself to this kind of treatment.

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