No Snitch Culture (view this story)

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Rep: 38
Kevin Wellenius May 6, 2010, 7:45 p.m. permalink

This is a challenging piece, because there's really only one fact (people witness crimes but won't talk to police). The rest of the piece is people talking about why that fact persists. You show us a range of affected people: police, schoolkids growing up in that culture, and families of victims of that culture. There's no resolution, and the only "news hook" is that a recent killing showed this behavior once again. Despite these challenges, I was pretty happy to watch the whole thing without feeling like it was dragging, which is an achievement since the piece clocks in at over 7 minutes.

My immediate impression when watching this piece is that it feels like it's trying to feel like "This American Life," with the conversational voiceover and the instrumental riff ducking in between segments. It seemed a little forced. I really appreciate a departure from standard voiceovers, though. This is absolutely NOT a piece I would ever see produced by my local TV stations.

There is a point at around 4:50 when we learn that someone left a tip on Valentino's killer, but we never learn if an arrest actually was made. We are just told that sometimes this works out, but sometimes it doesn't. Not knowing how the key event that starts this piece turned out kind of reneges on the promise of the opener (implicitly: stick with this piece and we'll unravel a mystery).

The story then switches gears to Jason Trent, which happened so fast I had to rewind to catch up with what had just happened. A more effective transition might have been to skip the information about the anonymous tip, and introduce Jason as an outspoken critic of 'no-snitch culture.' You can bring in the information about the anonymous tip, and Marvin talking about how eventually someone usually does speak up, as the closing segment.

On stills of Jason Trent and in a few video clips, there were zooming effects that were harsh and not necessary. I won't tell you to use a tripod, because a tripod in a cruiser wouldn't have helped. But there's only so many times a piece needs a shot of city streets through a windshield while driving over bumpy roads. Especially when seen full-screen, it's not very smooth. Similarly, some of the interview of Marvin Blades was so tight on his face that the video quality gets jumpy at full-screen. When the framing is a little looser, things are smooth.

I enjoyed seeing an approach I hadn't seen before. Thanks for sharing this.

Rep: 87
Michael Fagans May 6, 2010, 9:21 p.m. permalink


There are lot of nice things with your video. Kevin does a great job with the overview. I would just like to underscore that I too wanted you to deliver on your "what does this mean."

Ira Glass talks about one form of storytelling as this, led to this, which led to this and here is what it meant. I kept waiting/hoping for a "this is what it meant" moment. The low end of that bar might have been a tip line phone number, or community organization contact information; the higher end would have been someone talk about what the tragedy meant or what the continuation of the tragedy implies for the community.

I certainly applaud you for broadening the "newspaper video aesthetic."

Rep: 33
Adam Wisneski May 6, 2010, 9:47 p.m. permalink

Wow. Thanks for the thorough feedback. This is really, really helpful.

Usually, the biggest challenge I face, especially with this piece, is lack of qualified b-roll. I was editing and kicking myself for only having a police ride-along for "action" footage.

As for the anonymous tip and transition, I didn't mean to imply that someone HAD left a tip for this case, only that according to police someone eventually leaves a tip and sometimes they can catch the criminal in these types of cases. (At the time of publication, no arrests had been made for the killing and no suspects had even been announced).

But sometimes, no one does come forward and leave a tip. That's where Jason Trent comes in. He's supposed to be an example of what happens when someone DOESNT leave an anonymous tip. That was my intent, but I'm going to go back and review and see how I could have made that connection stronger. Maybe with clearer narration?

Michael, I see what you mean. I remember Glass talking about that moment of relfection, where you put things in context, or explain the "why should I care" of the story. I could've added a part that speaks to the never ending cycle of violence that this No Snitch culture creates. People don't speak up because they're afraid of retaliation, gangsters and criminals get braver because they know no one will talk.

I'm going to keep the moment of reflection in mind on my next venture. Thanks.

Good, good feedback. I will take this to heart. I'm super grateful for this. I'm guessing it feels forced because I blatantly try to copy the style of This American Life. I'm a big fan, and believe in their storytelling style. So I'm going to copy them until I get better.

Thanks again.


Rep: 91
Peter Huoppi May 7, 2010, 7:20 a.m. permalink

This is a terrific story, and one that needs to be told. I think the analogies to This American Life are appropriate. You've got a great radio piece, so then you've got to think "what can the video add to this?" I did like being able to see and connect with the subjects, but you're right, you need more b-roll. I wasn't too bothered by the unsteadiness of the shots from the car, but the ones from the street in the beginning needed to be on a tripod.

I really liked the casual nature of the narration. It felt comfortable and conversational.

For me, the visual that was missing was the crime scene. The narrator and the subjects mention several times these crimes being committed with many witnesses. To actually see a crime scene with all of the people there would have really made this piece sing. I acknowledge the difficulty involved in achieving that.

Even with the lack of visuals, the story kept my attention.

Rep: 38
Kevin Wellenius May 7, 2010, 9:07 a.m. permalink

Michael helped me pin down something I wasn't quite able to articulate earlier, which is that a lot of the piece is about explaining that people won't provide eyewitness accounts because they fear retribution. We hear about it from three police officers, three teenagers, and the narrator. But the thing is, it's a pretty easy concept to grasp. Every TV cop show deals with it on a regular basis. The notion that people won't "get involved" just doesn't need that much explanation.

So at some level you have to ask, how is this 7-minute piece advancing a viewer's understanding of the topic? For example, are there specific ways the police try to get around this fear? Are there people who have tried to help the police and then were 'punished'? Are there current or former prosecutors who can speak to the frustration of trying to build a case when witnesses suddenly get amnesia? Is this problem worse in Tulsa than in other places? What does it do to the sense of community to know that when you've been victimized, that your neighbors won't come to your side for fear of reprisals? Is there a backlash in some places where 'no-snitch' is regarded as not being responsible to your neighbors? (Jason Trent gets at this idea, though it's not clear his actions go beyond being critical in the newspaper to full-blown community activism. Are there organizations going into schools to try and foster a stronger sense of mutual accountability?)

Exploring these (and other) ideas would elevate the piece from a description of a phenomenon to one that shows its various ramifications and consequences. Showing a new side of a familiar topic is really what 'This American Life' does so well. That, more than the unique production style, is what is worth emulating.

Rep: 33
Adam Wisneski May 20, 2010, 7:27 p.m. permalink


Well effing said, my friend. This has REALLY helped me. Thanks for your time and advice.

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