Confession: when I think Pulitzer, I think hard-hitting investigations and thoroughly researched journalism. I don’t necessarily think YouTube. That’s my mistake, though, because yesterday YouTube announced the winner of its Project: Report competition, a collaboration with the Pulitzer Center to find aspiring journalists who focus on stories “not typically covered by the traditional media.” Working much like the Sketchies, Project: Report narrowed down the field of entrants to five over the course of three rounds of competition, and the winner was determined by YouTube viewers.
The question is, how much reporting can you actually do in a five-minute span of time? Even given my bias against longer videos, sometimes you simply need more time to tackle a given subject. Project: Report winner Arturo Perez Jr. triumphed with his third round entry Abilities, a heartfelt portrait of a community for adults with developmental disabilities. Not exactly a hard-hitting investigation, especially given the too-short time frame: while Abilities manages to convey a strong message about learning to see “the person behind the disability,” it raised so many other questions (What kind of obstacles do Camphill California and its residents face? Why are communities like this important?) that I felt unsatisfied. The topic could easily supply several episodes of material, so the piece as it stands feels a bit superficial.
But before I gave up on the concept of five-minute journalism, I checked out Perez’s second round entry for Project: Report, Little Change… Big Difference — and it was great. Focusing on San Francisco’s decision to ban plastic bags from grocery stores, the video features representatives from both sides of the issue, sums up the environmental and economic factors involved, and makes its argument in a compelling way — all in four minutes, even! The difference, I suppose, is in the specificity of its focus, and the ability to cut between the different elements of the story efficiently — while the format might not be excellent for broader portraits of a community, the bullet points approach works really well.
As the winner of Project: Report, Perez will receive a $10,000 grant to “travel abroad and work with the Pulitzer Center on a story of global importance” — he also receives equipment from sponsors Sony and Intel to make that easier. What he chooses to cover with those resources should be interesting to see — especially if he gets more than one five-minute episode in which to do so.