Posted by Ben Cranston
*Disclaimer* This is not a paid endorsement for National Geographic, rather it’s an homage. Also, apologies for not embedding videos but the links should work.
This being my first foray into blogging and ecology writing, I thought it appropriate to draw attention to one of the undisputed masters of contemporary storytelling: Nat Geo (that’s National Geographic magazine to the uninitiated), and just how exquisite a model they provide for those trying to communicate and engage people in their personal passion for research, drive to explore, or love of all things Terra.
I’ll omit the rich history of the organization responsible for giving us the ever-pervasive yellow rectangle, save for one rapid-fire fun-fact: did you know that Alexander Graham Bell was the second president of the Nat Geo Society? He succeeded his father-in-law, Gardiner Greene Hubbard (the lawyer who actually filed Bell’s patents for the telephone), after he died.
After 129 years, Nat Geo magazine is still in publication, yet the somewhat recent advent of videojournalism has offered a new medium through which they have given stories even greater depth than via traditional photojournalism
As many of us can attest to, videojournalism is fast becoming a favoured method of data assimilation — especially when made to a high standard — due in part to its abilities to convey many ideas quickly and effectively by superimposing, say, illustrative graphics with verbal audio, or text over film to help viewers better connect with the content/context.
Take this clip. Now, what begins as a seemingly simple statement that conservationists should be tree-planters rather than cutters is contradicted by the text a couple of frames later that states for the purpose of fighting climate change, they have been working to clear-cut 13,300 acres of trees! But it is critical to the ensuing story for general audiences that they begin by opening with a common adage only to then immediately dispel the myth that plantations on peatlands are a good thing for carbon storage. After that they use the remainder of the piece to expand on the restoration project as well as the potential scale of its impacts. As an aside, background bagpipes and scientific literature are just a winning combination, eh?!
Another greatly significant advantage of videojournalism that Nat Geo utilizes is the ability to incorporate appeal-to-pathos into otherwise logos- and ethos-centric narratives which become saturating when limited to mostly text and graphics.
The next video is a bit longer but the power of the speaker’s emotions is palpable throughout the first couple minutes.
(Note, Nat Geo was not responsible for the making of this videojournal, however it was curated by them in their Short Film Showcase)
The project of cloning and replanting redwoods, though the main focus of the piece, was not necessarily the most logical place to begin spinning this tale. It bent the rules a bit in order to highlight the speaker’s reason for involvement and personal philosophy towards old-growth Redwood forests which, I believe, is an oft understated component of scientific inquiry (not old-growth Redwoods specifically, but any internal investment to our respective fields). In this as in most cases, hearing a voice, seeing the vivid colors and subtle movements of the forest add incalculable value to the conveyance of the message.
The last video exploits one major fixture of storytelling that suddenly amplifies the viewers interests: drama.
Whether by sweeping aerial shots or the anomalous statement that Ascension Island once only laid claim to a single tree, or even the somewhat paradoxical set of conditions which lead one man to transform a one-tree volcanic island into a flourishing artificial ecosystem, the dramatic effects of this story owe much to the videographer(s) who took what would have been an above-average spread in a magazine article at best and created an immersive experience for the viewer, complete with a fair understanding of this novel landscape and a notion of what it might mean to balance the needs of native vegetation with those of the introduced species.
Become a VJ
As I continue on with ecological research, I would like to make time to transfer some of my work to videojournal in much the same way that the above and countless other examples of Nat Geo videojournals have been. I reckon it’s well worth the effort in the long-run insomuch that videojournals are a hyper-effective supplemental communication device, they allow for some artistic value be given to at times rigid and demanding projects, and, maybe most important of all, they represent new branches of story-development that can potentially contribute entirely new perspectives.