Bannish boring slideshows

Michael Bazeley is bored with SoundSlides. I tend to agree. I’ve never been a big fan of audio slideshows (not as most commonly produced, which is as a collection of static photos with music or voice over).

Most of the time, when I watch a slideshow, I can’t help but think — for all the time put into this, why not just shoot video?

I’m not knocking the value of still photography here. I’m a big fan of still photos, both as news and art, but it’s important to think about your audience and how best to spend your time in service of the audience. Video, all things being equal, tells a better story. For example, I don’t want to hear the disembodied voice of a subject talking over a static image. I want to see his lips moving, the particular tilt of his head or his eyes conveying his emotions. There is a depth of personality that just a voice and picture can’t capture.

That said, in the right hands, with the right subject, an audio slideshow can, indeed, work very well. An example is “The House That Brian Built” (disclosure for those that don’t know: the company I work for owns, and I have bit of a supervisory role with it, but had nothing to do with this piece). For me, this slideshow works. It’s part the subject matter, part the writing, part the quality of the narration. The danger of planning a static slideshow is that if any of these elements are subpar, you wind up with boring multimedia. Whereas, video, for the same subject, effort and talent (again, all things being equal) is more forgiving.

However, if a still photographer wants to bring his or her photos to life, fine — do the slidshow and add the audio, but make the pictures move. Use the iMovie “Ken Burns Effect” or learn how to simulate this in Movie Maker or your other video tool. A great example is this piece onMatt McClain’s photos from Sri Lanka (note: WordPress plug in is automatically embedding this video, since I’m linking directly to it) Matt McClain’s photos from Sri Lanka produced by Bruce McLain for the Ventura County Star, which remains my all-time favorite “slideshows.”

Slideshows don’t need to be boring. Photographers need to learn to do them better, or start shooting video.

UPDATE: The House that Brian Built won a monthly contest by NPPA.

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23 thoughts on “Bannish boring slideshows

  1. Howard – I left a comment on Michael’s blog disagreeing with his thesis – but I also have to take exception with several of your points:

    >>Video, all things being equal, tells a better story.

    That is really an oversimplification. All things are never equal and the quality of the storytelling depends entirely on the journalist, not the medium. I would say the average newspaper photographer has a better shot at creating a great slideshow, than a great video, just based on the alignment of skills required.

    >>Use the iMovie “Ken Burns Effect” or learn how to simulate this in Movie Maker or your other video tool.

    The KBE is a fun tool, but it is not a cure-all for a boring slideshow. When used sparingly, it can be powerful, when overused, it is just another cliche.

    >>Slideshows don’t need to be boring. Photographers need to learn to do them better, or start shooting video.

    This is not a cause-effect relationship. A photographer doing bad slideshows is certainly not going to improve just because we stick a video camera in their hand.

    Newspapers are still on the edge of this brave new world of storytelling. We struggle every day to decide how to cover multimedia assignments: Soundslides vs video. With a small staff Soundslides is often the best answer, but it would be the right answer in many cases regardless of our staffing.

    I would hope that newspapers take the time to create their own vision of multimedia storytelling rather than just default to video. We already have enough TV stations in the country.

  2. If the average photograph can do better slideshows than video, why aren’t they doing it? I’ve looked at a lot of slideshows from papers all over the country. Most are really, really boring. I don’t care how great the photography is, because it’s not the photos that make a great slideshow — it’s the whole package. Video by default gets you closer to a complete package with less required of the shooter than photography does, because no you’re no longer trying to get by just on the quality of the images.

    Passively sitting and watching a bunch of great photos go by is generally a pretty boring exercise.

    There are places and times for slideshows — the town parade, where you want to get as many local faces onto the web as possible, or a high school sporting event … but producing a slideshow just simply to get photos online is the wrong reason to do it. In the abstract, most stories covered by slideshows would be better covered by video.

    Most slideshows are created by photographers wanting to showcase their talent. In otherwords, it’s about them, and not about the audience. Content needs to be created for people, not for creators.

    A photographer doing bad slidshows has no alternative but to produce something more interesting with video. It’s the nature of the media.

  3. Howard – you are painting with a really broad and incriminating brush here.

    I would invite you to look at the few of the slideshows our team has produced and point out what the selfish motive is behind their creation in Soundslides as opposed to video:

    Toy stories

    Stanford Larsen

    Summer’s Warriors

    Sugar Shack

    Sugar Shack

    I have nothing against video – it is a tool just like slideshows, audio, stills or words are. We are trying to make our slideshows be more like NPR with photos, as opposed to doing video all the time which can as easily slide from being ‘art’ to being just longform local-TV news.

  4. I’m sorry. I don’t want to insult anybody, but I think the first one I look at “Toy Stories” is a perfect example of a story that could be much better told with video. I want to see this guy, not just hear them. He seems like an interesting character, and he could be doing things with his hands that would look more interesting. This story is crying out for video. The photos are just not that engaging. It’s a good example of “all things being equal, do video.”

    Our job isn’t to be the NPR of photos, or make “art,” but to tell stories in ways that are most relevant and interesting to people.

    We have a critical, critical job — build audience online. That is job #1. It is not to try and be the NPR of photos.

    I don’t know where you get the “long-form” bit … nobody is talking about longform.

    We should be doing video all the time. Lots of it. Frequently. As great as is with video — doing two or three a day — it’s still only about 50 percent of what it should be.

  5. OK, I was thinking about this more while I was in the shower :-)

    On Toy Stories — why didn’t the photographer bring a video camera with him? This isn’t a still vs. video debate, so much as it is — how do you create multimedia that engages an audience? There is nothing preventing that story from being told with both stills and video.

    Also, about the Ken Burns effect — there is an art to using it. If used right, it helps tell the story. It also draws the eye to key elements of the photos. It enhances the value of the still photograph, when done right. A multimedia presentation shoul never, ever, ever, ever have just a static, still photograph. There should always be motion.

  6. I will try to continue the discussion later on but I am glad you mentioned Toy Stories as it makes both of our points.

    Yes – that could have been done in video, and probably done very, very well. But it would not have been the same story.

    The two different methods (video and slideshows) allow you to tell the same narrative in different ways. One is not better than the other – just different.

    In this case – I think a slideshow was the best approach – the still photos of the toy, the subject’s hands, the teethmarks on the block lent themselves to still photos.


    If I can make this in an hour – then I expect a professional photojournalist to do much much better.

    “Most slideshows are created by photographers wanting to showcase their talent. In otherwords, it’s about them, and not about the audience.”

    Yes! If I can make a soundslide show, I am not impressed that the newspaper uses it to showcase the photos rather than tell a good story.

    Once more, I’m concerned that newspapers are moving slowly and that hobbyists will pass us by as we debate the merit of still vs. video.

    The thought should be “how fast can we get this on the web.”

  8. Mark, for much of what journalists do, “how fast” is really not relevant. A picture of a plane crashing into a building? Okay, fast is best. But most stories are hardly that urgent.

    I agree that an awful lot of the Soundslides out there are terribly, terribly boring.

    But I find most of the video even MORE boring.

    Howard wrote, “I want to see this guy, not just hear them.” I am sick and tired of seeing talking heads, or talking people from the waist up. I do buy into Howard’s idea that news organizations should shoot lots more video and take less time doing it — then they will learn to do it better, in less time. But so many of these early efforts are deadly dull.

    There are some journalism videos online that I have liked (although at the moment, I cannot think of a single one), but they just take so darned long to watch, relative to the content in them. Often I feel cheated at the end — cheated out of my time. If the content of the video could be conveyed in about 50 words, then I have really wasted my time watching it for 2 minutes.

    The difference with slideshows, to me, in the condensed power of the images.

  9. Mindy:
    How fast is not relevant? Boy do we disagree!
    Remember, most people are accessing newspaper websites while at work. I don’t know of many workspaces that have televisions, and usually the radios are on FM, which typically don’t carry much news – even breaking news. (NPR excepted)

    So if we are to grow traffic we must attract those people at work back to our sites over and over again. The only way to do this is to offer fresh content that they can’t get elsewhere.

    Have you looked at they have their site loaded with the “stuff” that people will be talking about.

    Look at this:
    • Task force to review Bamboo Village rezoning (6:51 p.m.)
    • Bonita hires consultant to look at marina sites (6:42 p.m.)
    • Aronberg won’t run for state attorney (5:22 p.m.)
    • Cooper, police chatted in a bar 4 days before arrest (5:17 p.m.)
    • Interstate-75 reopens after wreck (updated 5:48 p.m.)
    • Q & A with a toll booth worker (4:42 p.m.)
    • Blades’ Tuomi traded for Ice Pilot (4:02 p.m.)
    • Riley taking leave of absence from Heat (3:48 p.m.)
    • DNA test doesn’t exonerate Gateway suspect (3:17 p.m.)
    • Lehigh woman dies after car hits deer (3:12 p.m.)
    • Environmentalists, Lee join forces against canals (2:51 p.m.)
    • $1,000 damage done to Cape school (2:42 p.m.)

    Fast is good, Fast and good is best!

  10. Hi Howard. I’m the ME in Roanoke and have been meaning to thank you for your kind words about the experiment known as the TimesCast. What prompts me to write is this post, however, since I’ve got to disagree with your “well you might as well do video” suggestion. Video takes time — at least in the hands of formerly print folks. A Soundslide, once you get the hang of it, does not. We’ve produced them as dailies (election day is an example). There’s no way we could crank out a video piece on deadline right now. Someday, hopefully.

    Like many folks out there, this is our first dip in the pool in doing multimedia more frequently. We can’t just produce the occasional biggish video with the major projects. We’ve got to produce multimedia more regularly, so that users come to expect it of us and it’s not some random treat.

    Soundslides are especially valuable because they’re teaching us to appreciate the wonders of natural sound. (And I would add that appreciation can translate into improving our writing. A reporter involved in one might be more likely to draw on his auditory sense after been so immersed in it producing the Soundslide.)

    As part of our training here, many reporters and editors are producing Soundslides just to get the taste of it. Even I ventured out one day with Seth Gitner and cranked one out. We have video in our budget and training plans for ’07, but you gotta start somewhere …

  11. Carole — You’ve pretty much hit the crux of the case and in a way, made my argument for me. Video can take as little or as much time as you want it to take. There is no reason that you can’t shoot, edit and post a video in under 30 minutes, if not under 20 minutes (not counting commute time, talk with the editor time, gossip with a co-work time, etc.). Whereas, if you took that same 20 minutes and produced a slideshow, you would have a (in most cases) a very weak and boring multimedia presentation. In that same 20 minutes, you are much more likely to have 30 seconds to 2 minutes of interesting, if not engaging video — far more engaging than a quickie slideshow. That is the heart of what I’m getting at.

    If you are regularly taking hours to produce one video production, you making a significant strategic blunder. The story that warrants that effort is rare. And in that same time, you should shoot, edit and post three, four maybe even five shorter videos pegged to as many stories.

    Can you really do that with SoundSlides?

    Learn something from blogs: Post frequently and irregularly — shorter is better, but not required. Speed, efficiency and targeted interest are key. Mark is sort of making the same point, I think. This is not your grand father’s journalism. Those days are dead and gone.

    Mindy’s right, video can be boring. Even at 30 seconds, it can be boring. But it doesn’t have to be. And just about any 60 seconds of boring video (unless it is horribly produced from a technical standpoint) is a heck of a lot less boring than 60 seconds of a boring slideshow. That’s what I’m trying to convey — pound for pound, all things being equal, video is always less boring. It takes extraordinary effort and talent to produce non-boring slideshows — why go to that effort when the absolute most critical task for newsrooms right now is to produce more faster and more frequently — be it text or multimedia. We can’t win if we don’t.

  12. Howard —

    We need to get people to want to do this kind of work.

    We want to get them starting out producing high quality video. Video where they know how to tell a good story. Not just crank out crappy video like a machine.

    We want these folks to be passionate about their product. We want them to want to go out and do their best — to produce great multimedia stories.

    Yes I want our folks to do more — but to get back to what started this whole conversation — that word in your headline — I don’t want the multimedia product to be “boring” — 30 second clips of a random dude talking in an office is not what the audience wants — the audience knows good and bad video much like they know good and bad photos in the paper.

    I say let’s do quality over quantity — when the opportunity arises and needs it — yea I’ll crank it out, stay late, wake early, put in the hours — but in the interim while I am still trying to figure all of this stuff out give me time to do it right let me start out on the right foot.

    I am very passionate about multimedia storytelling and where it will take online journalism.

    This is the time not to crank and look at numbers to see where our ad dollars are for that “quick fix” — this is the time for us to build the infrastructure for our multimedia future.

    BTW check out Carole’s first soundslide at


  13. […] I’ll clairfy what I meant about slideshows. From my perspective as a viewer, I’m seeing a lot of slideshows out there that are starting to look and sound the same to me. They have the same tone and pacing and look. And it’s getting old. It’s as if a lot of folks are drawing from the same audio slideshow textbook. In some cases, the subject matter doesn’t seem to warrant an audio slideshow. My sense is that some papers are starting to produce slideshows just because they can. Do regular readers share my opinion? I don’t know. Are my views skewed because I consume a disproportionate amount of media? Perhaps. Is video a better alternative? In some cases, yes. Like Howard, I personally tend to favor video. But in many cases, video doesn’t work or isn’t worth the time. […]

  14. Carrole Tarrant:

    To expand on Howard’s response. With a $14 web cam on a pc and Visual Communicator ( software ($300) you CAN do a video segment on deadline.

    You need to put that in your budget?

    Howard is dead on with his time estimate.

    You can try Visual Communicator free.

    Sure you will want to upgrade, but why wait?

  15. To Mark: Sure, we can put a video “segment” up online — point a camera at something for 10 seconds and then add it to the site. We do that now with the TimesCast. But that’s not a video “story,” which has a beginning, middle and end, with all of those time-consuming editing segues. There’s a place online for those 10-second video bites, but there’s also a place for the rich video storytelling (but under three minutes please!) that we’re capable of, once we get the hang of it. I just want both.

  16. I’m not a PJ or a scribbler – just the guy who reads and views what you put on paper or on-line. I don’t care if its a picture or a video or just text – it has to be compelling and informative. I’m rather tired of poorly executed stories that tell me nothing. Thats why I’m getting my news on-line and not from a TV or newspaper. But the content on-line right now is not significantly better – there are just more outlets to get the info. If you want me to come back to the same site (and maybe even pay to access it), the content has to improve – regardless of form.
    If its truly a matter of how quickly you can get quality material posted with the least amount of effort (oxymoron?) then I suspect the scribblers have you all beat…

  17. […] Mindy McAdams left a comment on this post pointing to a video she found not boring.  What  I found most interesting is that the video was shot with lo-fi equipment, thereby proving that you do not, indeed, need to spend a lot of money to achieve quality results. The expense on this video is even less than anything I’ve ever proposed. Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

  18. Dear Mr. Owens, A still photo is a tiny slice of time, in an instant everything comes together. Expression, foreground, background, light, dark, emotion, action etc. Even in the best video, most of that is lost in the flow. That same moment is over before the viewer even realizes it was there. Video is all about flow and timing, sound and motion and emotion and time. They are two different mediums. Two different ways of thinking about a story and cannot be done at the same time. As printed newspapers still need to tell the story on a printed page, and at this point pay the bills, still photos will be the work of record. Audio slideshows with good audio add another element to the story, that the printed page could not.

    You want video in a form that is marketable? Watch TV and movies. You get most of your information from the web? Really? Who puts that information on the web? Mainstream print and electronic media thats who. Who must make a profit to survive. No money no story.

    I will shoot every story in video, when someone figures out how to make more money doing that than by printing a page. I am sure that day will come, but until then video on the web will be a way to enrich stories that started out in print.

    Also the audio slideshow you did about Sadam was sappy, and more like a poor music video than a documentary. Did you obtain usage rights for the music? Good song for being royalty free.

  19. What, you think I don’t know what a good photo is? That’s a little condescending.

    Most of your argument is a red herring and misses the point about how to build web audience so you can make money.

    And what slideshow did I do about Saddam?

  20. […] My previous post on boring slideshows generated a fair amount of comment and a good deal of disagreement.  In this Poynter interview with Joe Weiss, the inventor of SoundSlides, Weiss seems to imply that yes, there are a lot of boring slideshows on newspaper sites, and he offers an antidote. The most important thing is not your photojournalism. The most important thing is not your audio journalism. The most important thing, overall, above anything else, amen, to the end of it, is the story and how well you communicate that to the human being who’s on the other side of that computer. […]

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