In 2006, then secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in an interview to Reader’s Digest, had said that the most amazing political transformations would happen in the next few years in the Middle East. Political predictions didn’t include the speed at which the change would come.
Slide show that worked
There was a time when Egypt was synonymous with the pyramids but the incidents of Tahir Square changed that forever. Hosni Mubarak is now on trial and while that doesn’t generate the kind of frenzy that the protests leading to his ouster did, it still was front-page news for many media globally.
The MSNBC.COM (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4999736/) had a slideshow combining visuals from the Egyptian state television via AP. Some of the photos were common to most media. But what made this work standout from news presented elsewhere was its combination of photos, their sequencing and the text.
The opening shot was one that went viral this morning showing a caged Mubarak arriving on a hospital bed to court. This was followed by a shot of a single man’s reaction highlighted in a sea of blurred protestors outside the courtroom in Cairo. The slides were a mix of general scenes from inside the courtroom and the ongoing protests outside. The text on the side doesn’t interfere nor distract from the visuals. They are there for those interested in minutiae. An eclectic mix of the various shades to the event, the slideshows main appeal lay in its use of stark individual reactions juxtaposed with general scenes. They built up effectively to the highly charged emotional atmosphere.
The eye was given a break from having to scan many details to focussing on one powerful visual (like slide No2 or slide no 8). Besides underlining the general mood brought out by the photos of the protestors, they help transitioning to the next slide keeping alive a sense of anticipation.
The entire presentation was uncluttered with no advertisements and no Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons jostling for space. One email link was provided at the top bar of the slide. The close-ups captured the eye expressions of the people and the police and therefore the slides (loading fast and moving well), helped the viewer share a sense of energy with the images.
A female protestor carrying Hosni’s photo (Slide 6) wasn’t immediately followed by pro-Hosni crowds. That came at No: 11 and lent a balance to whole presentation of what could be this year’s most sensational trial unless Gaddafi was found talking his evening constitutional in a garden in Kolkata. The weakest (when contrasted with the energy of the preceding slides) photos of Hosni’s sons leaving the court are placed right towards the very end (Slides 9 and 10). But the show doesn’t end on a weak note. A young protestor being forcibly detained by the police leaves viewers with a reminder about the repressiveness of the toppled regime: a compelling polar to the opening image of an obviously ill and caged Hosni.
The New York Times also had a slideshow accompanying the article “Mubarak Trial Rivets Egyptians” (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/08/03/world/middleeast/20110804EGYPT-9.html). While its photos weren’t similar to the ones used on MSNBC.COM, it’s more general approach with nearly not as much attention detail like the MSNBC’s visuals didn’t grab attention and hold it. In some visuals (like slide 8) the close-ups too didn’t capture the sense of urgency surrounding the issue.
What didn’t work?
Quite simply the full story or the video story of the same trial (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43998161/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/). The video took 28 seconds to start. The opening shots document the channel’s first move to Egypt to cover the protests. The reporter anchoring the sequences, talks about the issue while his voice floats up from the ground as well. Trite comments, “What does all this mean?” with the reporter taking up most of the frame does nothing for the story.
While the camera does pan to capture footage of the protests, its movements are jerky and cuts too often and too abruptly, making scene changes sudden and uncomfortable. This isn’t live television here. These are file shots taken in February. Careful editing would have helped prevent the jump cuts. Pan shots are essential to give a sense of the action but here the camera moves too fast, capturing no detail and therefore the scenes don’t have a sense of being a part of the Egyptian protests. Very frankly? They could have been anywhere.
The video did have some very gripping interviews like the man shot in the leg or the women whose son was skilled. But the moments aren’t dwelt upon long enough to create an impact. Most great news videos have subjects shedding light on issues instead of the reporter’s or anchor’s voice. Its characters that tell a good video story.
The interviewees here were dynamic but the focus seems to be to move onto the next subject fast. The ending was trite thus making viewers wonder if more interviews could have been incorporated.
The anchor intruded into the screen too much and too often, his presence often overshadowing the protestors. What should have been or rather would have worked just as well as a voice over is instead a reporter waving hand nearly in our faces. We back away in fear right out of the page and into other news site more subtle in its approach and where the Egyptians are the focus instead of the journalist.