WASHINGTON, DC, 26 February 2011 â€“ The technological advances driving the revolutionary model that we refer to as backpack video journalism enable a single practitioner to exchange ideas and information as never before in the history of mankind.
But there is a dark side to this methodology, which empowers lone practitioners to document and disseminate information from the most remote corners of the world. Itâ€™s the yin and yang of backpack video journalism: A single practitioner now can generate broadcast-quality stories for television or the Internet, but precisely because that practitioner works alone, he or she is more vulnerable to attack by opponents of the free exchange of ideas.
We live in a different world. During my years of covering conflict for United Press International (UPI) and Newsweek Magazine in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Persian Gulf, attacks on journalists were relatively rare because most of the protagonists understood the importance of how they were perceived by the rest of the world. But today many key players rely on the Internet to affect how the world perceives them. And others see the media, especially Western media, as part of the problems affecting them.
Now, and especially in light of stories from the Middle East about assaults on female journalists, backpack video journalists must be hyper-vigilant as we practice our craft. Working alone allows us to document events while being as non-intrusive as possible. But it also makes us more vulnerable to violence from the dark side.
So the first safety precaution is awareness â€“ of our surroundings, of the people we cover and of measures we can take to be safe.
(Kabul, Afghanistan, 2005. Photo by Tomas Munita.)
WASHINGTON, DC, 23 February 2011 — I got a query this morning from a person inquiring about my “Backpack Documentary Expedition: Nicaragua,” coming up this summer. She was concerned that her lack of experience with new digital cameras might be a stumbling block on the journey. Here’s part of my response:
“The methodology that we refer to as ‘backpack journalism’ or ‘backpack documentary’ really is a technology-driven phenomenon. The technology has become so (comparatively) simple that even beginners pick it up fairly quickly. My specialty is teaching the visual storytelling process with this technology. This is something that even the most tech-savvy kids of today too often don’t fully understand, as evidenced by the lack of visual literacy that we see on television and especially on the Internet.”
And this is a point that I cannot emphasize enough. The current revolution in visual media is driven by technology that now is available to the masses. Digital cameras and the Internet now make it possible for us to communicate instantly, globally and in a language that we all understand: The visual language. But the fact that we have access to high-tech gear does not mean that we can effectively speak that visual language. Take a look at television and the web to see what I mean. Generating still pictures and video with high-tech machines is one thing. Telling powerful visual stories with that technology is another.
(Photo by Bill Gentile. Helmand River Valley, Afghanistan, 2008.)
WASHINGTON, DC, 9 February 2011 — The “Backpack Documentary Expedition: Nicaragua,” is a 10-day immersion in the craft of character-driven documentary making. We follow American volunteers with a leading U.S. non-profit to the Nicaraguan town of Ticuantepe, just outside the capital of Managua. For me, it’s not just about teaching backpack video journalism, or documentary. It’s also about drawing attention to the needs of people in a country that has given so much to so many people, myself included.
– Bill Gentile
WASHINGTON, DC, 4 February 2011 — I just ran across this story about the Miami Herald’s production of its first documentary, about the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti: (Click here.)Â Just one more measure of how the media landscape is shifting beneath our feet.
– Bill Gentile