Tackling complex issues, unleashed from the clock

This is one of a series of blog posts from the second ONA class of MJ Bear Fellows, three journalists under 30 who are beginning to make their voices heard and expand the boundaries of digital news. Fellow Hagit Bachrach is a video producer at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Before joining the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), I worked on hard-core news desks for many years, and there are a lot of things I miss. I miss breaking news, I miss convincing sources to go on record, I miss asking unexpected hard-hitting questions, and perhaps most of all, I miss the pace.

But … one of the advantages of producing video at an organization like CFR is that we have that rarest of commodities — time — at our disposal. Unleashed from the 24-hour news cycle pressures and the ever-growing industry focus on metrics, we are uniquely positioned to prioritize substance and quality. The result: producing videos like the first in a new series that provide primers on complex issues of global concern.

Fifty thousand people have been killed in the past five years in Mexico due to drug- and organized crime-related violence. The security crisis has been driven by many factors, including the Mexican government’s offensive against drug trafficking organizations, the country’s underpinning economic inequality, and weak security and justice institutions prone to inefficiency and corruption.

Without the demands of the news cycle, we conducted extensive interviews with leading experts who highlighted the many aspects of Mexico’s crisis, including its security concerns. We delved into the impact the drug war has had on society, the spillover beyond the country’s borders, and the U.S. role in helping Mexico address the flows of drugs, money and guns. The many hours of HD footage from these interviews were then transcribed and time-coded in preparation for scripting and editing. Meanwhile, we dug into extensive archives to find footage and soundbites that would bring in the voices and visuals from the ground, and help bring the story to life.

With all the ingredients in hand, we then turned to scripting — initially just on paper. The research was woven in with the highlights from our transcribed interviews. From the “paper cut” to Final Cut, it’s difficult to remember how many versions we went through. Every word was dissected, every cut scrutinized. Are we getting the balance right? Are we doing it justice? Are we getting it all in? Why is it still 15 minutes long??

We were extremely fortunate to have an expert guide, Shannon K. O’Neil, to help us tell this story. Housed within a think-tank, our video and multimedia productions benefit from unparalleled access to a deep bench of experts who readily lend their insight. Every word of text, every soundbite, every photo in this piece and many others were not only reviewed by an outstanding editorial staff but also by some of the world’s leading thinkers.

In the era of fast-paced vines and loose-lipped tweets, I feel very fortunate to be held to such high standards of accuracy, balance, quality and depth.


Hagit Bachrach is one of ONA’s three MJ Bear Fellows for 2012. She is part of the multimedia team and the first video producer at the Council on Foreign Relations.