It’s unusual to marry video and print journalists.
We often gather information in similar ways, but when we work side by side, we inevitably have Felix and Oscar odd couple differences driven by our different needs.
A power saw in the background matters not to print, but it can ruin a video interview. TV needs sound-bitey sentences. Print can be one person with a pen and notepad, while TV requires a crew that totes videocameras, tripods, microphones, spacious memory cards, and lights that are dependent on intact cord and juiced batteries. Print interviews, especially outside of offices, often happen in spurts, move slower and last longer. TV shooters need B-roll shots to show the setting and also allow for editing room cuts between the subject speaking and the correspondent asking questions. When traveling far for a story, TV people largely get what they get, but a quote in a print story might come from an interview done after returning home.
I am a reporter with Science magazine, and, with seed funding from the Pulitzer Center, I have been collaborating over the past two years with correspondent William Brangham and producer Jason Kane from the PBS NewsHour on HIV/AIDS stories around the world. In 2016, we completed a project that looked at ending AIDS efforts in the United States, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Africa. The final multi-media products we produced are something of a broadcast-print magazine-online smorgasbord.
Now we’ve begun a new collaboration that examines attempts to improve the HIV/AIDS response in various locales. Our first destination was Russia, and the PBS crew included a photographer Misha Friedman, who is taking photos for my Science stories, and Russian videographer Artur Bergart. The five of us spent two weeks working together in November 2017 and traveled by plane and train between Moscow, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, and St. Petersburg.
We usually moved between interview locations in a large van that also had an interpreter and a driver. Sometimes a local host rode along with us, too. We were well aware of our big footprint and did the best we could to not draw undue attention to ourselves and show respect for our environs, but, inevitably, there was a circus clown car aspect to us piling out at each stop.
Michel Kazatchkine graciously joined us in St. Petersburg for three days, visiting with people at the front of the HIV/AIDS response there. Kazatchkine is one of the world’s foremost experts on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Russia, currently serving as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He has, for an outsider, unusually informed perspectives of the epidemic in Russia: Not only was he raised in Paris in a Russian-speaking home, Kazatchkine previously was head of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. When Brangham and the PBS NewsHour crew finally sat him down for a formal interview, the most convenient place was a dress shop adjacent to the LGBT film festival we had just visited. I found a patch of floor in the background, off camera, adding a question here and there when video pauses allowed.
In Yekaterinburg, an industrial city at the base of the Ural Mountains that’s nicknamed the “gateway to Siberia,” the visual needs of video led us to conduct a snowy interview on a park bench covered with ice. Fortunately, the woman we were interviewing could sit on her long coat, but Brangham had to suffer for his craft to be in the camera’s frame, literally freezing his ass off. I got to stand to the side with the interpreter, enjoying the advantages of print.
On a practical front, the trickiest and stickiest situations occur when our newsgathering requirements clash. We watched a man packaging antiretroviral drugs in his apartment, and the video needed to record the action for the NewsHour while Misha wanted to shoot stills for Science. The click-click-click of the still camera ruined the audio: It simply would not make sense to a NewsHour viewer—this wasn’t a press conference—so we decided to take turns shooting the action. Misha as a backup also switched to his iPhone camera, which is silent, but the quality doesn’t compare to his main gear.
The flip side is that situations often dictate who does what when. During one interview of a family, the electricity went out repeatedly, shutting down the lights needed for the video shoot but providing more time for me to do my interviews. A drug rehab house we visited had so many interesting people in different rooms that we naturally splintered off to do our own things. A non-governmental organization running a needle exchange program on the Moscow streets at night asked us to only have two people observing at a time, so we became a tag team.
In the end, the collaboration requires often checking in with each other to make sure everyone is getting what they need. We tease each other hard, and we sometimes even bump elbows. But we’ve become a work family, symbionts of sorts, and in Russia, comrades.