Making the P-I farewell video

The Nieman Foundation's Narrative Digest web site is currently highlighting the video I did for the P-I's closure as well as the video the Rocky Mountain News did for their final day. I'm still a bit stunned by this and very humbled to have my work singled out.

The P-I video was important to me and it's nice to see it recognized. I just wish it had been for something other than covering the end of the P-I's print publication.

[Update: I have to thank D. Parvaz, a former P-I colleague who is currently at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow, for passing the video along to everyone at the Nieman Foundation. D.: Thanks and the drinks are on me!]

Andrea Pitzer, deputy editor of the Narrative Digest, interviewed me by e-mail about the creation of the video. She had to edit the interview down a little for the site. My ego running wild, I thought I'd publish the longer responses here. If you're interested in video storytelling online, you might find this interesting (or you might drop off to sleep before the end):
1. What story were you hoping to tell in your video? To put it simply: our story. This was meant to be a chance for the people who worked at and loved the P-I to tell their story. Much had been written about the P-I's potential sale and possible closing and about how the community felt about losing the paper, but there hadn't been much chance for the staff to speak about their feelings of loss and sadness. And this would be one of the last chances.

I have to give credit here to assistant managing editor Chris Beringer who made two key suggestions: focus on the staff and that the question they would be asked in their interviews would be "What will you miss about the P-I?" Those two ideas gave me vital direction and helped guide the shooting and editing of the video.

2. On using the group photo shoot in the video: I always tell people there are two really difficult parts of any video project: Getting the piece started and then figuring out how to end it. Of course, the in-between part isn't exactly easy but if you know how you're going to open and where you want to end up, it makes it easier.

In this case, the opening and closing are linked. I came up with the idea of having the audio of staff members identifying themselves play under a shot of the P-I's iconic neon globe with it's giant letters spelling out the paper's slogan: "It's in the P-I." The sign refers to the news being in the P-I but I wanted people to know that we were the people in the P-I who made it all happen. And that we were the people who loved the place. This was going to be our story.

This was the second time in two years that we had done a group shot of the paper's staff in that same spot. The first time was in April 2007 when the P-I came out of a lawsuit with our JOA partner with a new (albeit brief) lease on life. It was decided that we should do a second, final portrait to run in the commemorative edition of the paper that would appear on our last day. I quickly realized that that would be the perfect ending for the video. The people who were "in" the P-I, some of whom you heard at the beginning and others of whom you met during the video, would gather one last time. We'd show everyone gathering for the shot and then we'd end it with the still frame (which seemed like a very newspaper format) and the long fade out at the end. Simple and elegant. It just says: This is us and we are the P-I. And now we're gone.

3. What was it like to shoot the story and stay in my role as videographer? It was tough. Photographers talk about the camera being a shield in dangerous situations. You don't worry about the potential of being hurt because you're so focused on getting the image. The camera protects you. That's how it was for me making the video. I was able to focus on the details of getting the interviews and editing the piece and delay my emotional response. It wasn't until I finished editing the end of the video and saw my name come up on the credit that I really felt the sadness hit me. There were some tears and a catch in my throat. It still happens when I watch the video. Others in the newsroom started to drop by and watch the video and they had the same reaction. In a sense, we'd been using the daily production of the paper as a shield and now the enormity of what was happening was settling in.

4. Do I see the video as being for the P-I staff, the Seattle community or a larger audience? All three, I think. Primarily the staff. I wanted them to have something that would reflect their point of view and their thoughts. This would be part of their legacy. So much had been written and speculated about us, more than a little of it inaccurate. I wanted this to be our turn to speak. And I knew that many people in the community who loved the paper would share our grief and would miss many of the same things we would. Plus, it would tell a larger story of what's happening to the industry and what we'll lose as newspapers go dark. It's a record of what the paper was and what it did for its community.

5. A little about the process of making the video: I was leaving town for the weekend on the day the Rocky Mountain News closed and posted their final video. I started to watch it but had to stop because I had to leave. I forwarded a link to the video to Chris Beringer, an assistant managing editor who was working on the commemorative edition for our final day, and Sarah Rupp, senior producer for seattlepi.com, and suggested we might want to do something similar. Both immediately said yes and I left town wondering what I'd just agreed to do.

I knew we couldn't compete with what the Rocky had done (and I purposely didn't watch their video until I was finished with ours). I had been shooting video around the newsroom since early January when Hearst put us up for sale: shots of people working, the news meeting, walking through the newsroom ... stuff like that. I knew I had that material to work with. But what else to add to it?

I decided pretty quickly that the best thing would be to just interview staffers and use those interviews as the core of the video. As I mentioned earlier, Chris came up with the question everyone would be asked: What will you miss about the P-I? That turned out to be a great suggestion and I got responses from serious to silly.

I set up the camera in the newsroom and e-mailed the staff, inviting them to come by and tell us what they'd miss. Close to 50 people did. There's something powerful about a person just standing there and telling you directly what they think. It really says: This is who we are.

The tough part about doing a project like this is that you end up with lots of material and you have to then find the story and the arc of the piece. I spent a lot of time watching the interviews and making notes about what people had said. Certain themes began to emerge (the P-I as champion of the little guy, the P-I's iconic globe, all the fun, cool things we got to do on the job ... and so forth) and I decided I'd structure the piece around those. And the idea that I mentioned earlier that we were in the P-I. When you're on the right track, it all just comes together. And this project did.

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