Reasonable Doubt: The Controversial Case of Anthony Graves (view this story)

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Rep: 38
Kevin Wellenius Oct. 14, 2010, 6:43 p.m. permalink

It seems Texas has had a number of dubious convictions; at least Graves wasn't executed before his conviction was struck down. But poignant as his case is, you asked for feedback on the video piece.

In a way, this is the toughest kind of situation to translate into a strong visual piece. For one thing, nothing is actually happening. There's no action. You have to rely on people re-telling what happened in the past, but the visuals are limited to old photographs and video of the people in the act of re-telling what happened. Neither, unfortunately, are very good anchors for a visual piece. (The exception is the jailhouse admission video footage, which shows how flabbergasted Graves was to hear of the charge against him.)

I was puzzled by the detour into Graves' past: having had kids while still a teenager, his prison stint for pot ... etc. This seems like a distraction from the main story. It is also not particularly interesting or relevant; it doesn't establish a connection to Carter (the killer) or explain how Graves got into this mess. It's just personal history, dangling there but not doing anything to move the story along.

Ultimately, nearly everything I learned from the piece you mention in the short intro at the top of the piece. The 2006 vacating of the conviction and the fact that he's awaiting a new trial is new, but 19 minutes is a long time to wait for that additional information.

There are lots of questions that might have been addressed. First, how in the world did Carter decide to finger Graves? Did the men even know each other? Second, did the DA, Sebata, have other convictions that were overturned, suggesting a pattern of prosecutorial error or misconduct?

To make the piece stronger, I'd suggest first paring it down to the essentials, and doing everything possible to create a sense of curiosity and drama. Maybe start with Graves' mother describing the first time she heard that Anthony was being charged with capital murder. The thin evidence and his guilty verdict are important. It is also important to get a sense of the many years that passed before Sebata's "Geraldo revelation" that triggered the appeal. The tape of the various people talking could be improved by more controlled interview settings and lighting (and use of a tripod); attention could also be paid to ambient sounds, which make for jarring transitions. I like the use of music; it's subtle and works as a spacer between 'chapters.' When you introduce the "senior editor," it took me awhile to realize it was a senior editor at Texas Monthly. That should be in the lower third, especially if the video is ever seen on its own (without the Texas Monthly context around it).

Thanks to you and the magazine for devoting time to this story.


Rep: 38
Kevin Wellenius Oct. 20, 2010, 4:12 p.m. permalink

Hi again, Pamela.


I was wondering whether there might be an alternative way of using online video at Texas Monthly. In your piece, you essentially tell the story of Anthony Graves, which is also what the magazine's written piece does. Since TM has a paywall that only lets non-subscribers read the first paragraph or two, I was wondering if the online videos might be used as a teaser for the paid content. This might be structured around an interview with the author, Pamela Colloff, and others involved in producing the piece. It would be interesting to know how they heard of the story, what they discovered, what was surprising, challenging ... etc. This could be mixed in with the strongest of the documentary footage (intake video, Graves describing his disbelief when the verdict was read ... etc.) It could be a mix of "behind the scenes" and a "trailer" for the article, used to drive interest in the article rather than being an alternative to it.


Just a thought,



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