March 13, 2007

The Washington Post‘s Travis
Fox
has done it again. Travis is a
backpack journalist who travels the world documenting stories with video for the Post’s Web site. He is just home from Darfur, and the work he brought home with him may be his best yet.

I’m
dedicating today’s column to this
work for three reasons. First, newspaper folks want to learn how to do
online multimedia. Second, even the most experienced TV folks can
benefit from watching
Travis’ video. And finally, the educators and students who read this
column daily will
learn a ton.

If you are pressed for time,
just watch
the opening story.

This
is a story that utilizes silence and
quiet moments to teach us something about what life is like in a
refugee
camp. I especially like the way Travis uses the shots of barren soil to
transition from character to character. And his use of natural light is
nothing short of spectacular.

Travis
also wrote an article about what he saw.
And at the bottom of the Web page, you can find a number of panoramic photos he created. I really like
these because they give me context that I
can’t get in a single
shot.

Last
week, the National Press Photographers
Association awarded Travis first and second place in the in-depth online
photojournalism category
of its Best of Television Photojournalism contest.

I interviewed Travis by e-mail earlier this week.

Al Tompkins: What did you hope to accomplish with this work?

Travis Fox: In the broadest sense, I wanted to give our
viewers a sense of place and give the
victims in Chad a voice.
More specifically,
I wanted these videos to
provide a deeper understanding of
the issues behind the
horrific
personal stories coming from
Darfur. Finally,
I wanted to show (not tell) just how fragile the
situation is, to
focus not so much on the backstory, but on why this story
matters right now.


Al:
What has the reaction
been to this piece?

Travis: The reaction has
been positive. I
have received e-mails from
viewers who have been propelled to
make donations by the package. That is
always nice to hear.

Al: What were some of the obstacles you ran into
and how did you get around them?

Travis: There are several obstacles [to] working in
eastern Chad, but
compared to what the people living
there have to face everyday, I feel a bit
ashamed to list
them. There are several rebel groups in the
area that are best avoided. It
was always unclear to me what would happen if we
came across them, perhaps a situation of
theft, not necessarily violence,
but these encounters are notoriously
unpredictable. Logistics were
an issue. The U.N. was nice
enough to allow us to stay in their basic
compounds for a small fee, where [such facilities] existed
and when there was space. Other than that, home was a tent. Electricity came
from the car battery. There aren’t really roads out there, so we drove in a 4×4
through the sand. It took four days of driving from
N’djamena, the capital, to
the farthest point,
Dogdore. Luckily, I
was able to skip one
of those legs by catching a
U.N. flight, but our driver had
to make the journey with the
car filled with
enough water and food for the two weeks we spent in
eastern Chad.

Al: Were you working alone?

Travis: I worked with a
great translator and driver.
Mubarak, the translator, is a
refugee himself from Darfur and
knew the territory
well. Our driver,
Abdullah, was also great, as driving a
4×4 through the sand is a
real skill. He was also a mechanic, which was invaluable
as the intensity of
driving
meant that the car often needed servicing.

Al: Give us a rundown of the gear you use
on a tough assignment like this.

Travis: The most important
things are my video
camera, satellite
phones for communication, and
power converter for recharging
batteries in the
car. I usually bring a
can of compressed air to
clean the incredible
amounts of dust, but I forgot it this time.

Al: After you have been to a place like
Darfur, how do you get back to normal in
your life? What enduring
images from your trip
stick in your
mind?

Travis: I think the image of
crying, malnourish[ed] babies in
Dogdore is one that is stuck
in my head and something [viewers tell me] is a
lasting image.
The image of Sadiya, who
was gang raped, covering her
face because she was embarrassed to tell the story of what had happened to her is the other
powerful image in this
package. It’s often difficult to
readjust to a normal life.
Sometimes I stop off in a third
country to decompress. This trip
hasn’t been as difficult
for me as war situations
such as Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza, where the adrenaline is pumping all
the time and the fear of a bomb falling on
you at any time is a
hard sensation to
shake, even after you’re back home.


We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.

Editor’s
Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, edited story
excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as
original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly
from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided
whenever possible. The column is fact-checked, but depends upon the
accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. Errors and
inaccuracies found will be corrected.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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