Photo
The bike path along the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan where a driver killed eight people with a pickup truck on Oct. 31. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

On Oct. 26, the United Nations released the findings of a panel investigating a lethal sarin gas attack in the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun in April. The Syrian Air Force was responsible for the attack, the panel found; Syrian and Russian denials of involvement were false.

That result was no surprise to Mark Scheffler, the director of news for The New York Times’s video unit, which worked to uncover what really happened in Khan Sheikhoun. “You had the Russians and the Syrians telling a story about what happened in this location,” he said. “And the reporting, the work that the team did on that, really debunked it.”

After the attack, two of Mr. Scheffler’s team members, the senior story producer Malachy Browne and the video editor Natalie Reneau, pieced together satellite imagery, photographs and videos of the attack, drone footage and more into a seven-minute video examining the strike. They concluded that “all of the circumstantial evidence points to a chemical weapon being dropped,” as Mr. Browne says in the video, which “put Syria and Russia’s story in serious doubt.”

The Khan Sheikhoun investigation, the first such in-depth video forensics report carried out by the team, illustrated the potential for such projects. “We’re increasingly seeing the value in this type of reporting, and The Times has committed to making it a part of how we gather and report the news,” said Marcelle Hopkins, the deputy editor of the video department. “It has been done in the past with human rights organizations and some smaller investigative organizations, but we’ve recognized that this is something that can be extremely useful in reporting.”

Mr. Browne, a former computer programmer, joined The Times early last year from the news site reported.ly and began exploring how The Times might use forensic-style video, and the team has continued to expand. The video unit has produced detailed forensic reports on the May 16 clash between protesters and the security team of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Oct. 1 Mandalay Bay mass shooting in Las Vegas, and more are in the works.

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Using many of the same techniques, the video team also produces shorter pieces. After last week’s vehicle attack in Lower Manhattan, the desk worked quickly to combine eyewitness footage and mapped reconstructions to lay out the attacker’s route. The desk posted the video the day after the attack.

While each project brings a unique set of challenges, and very different source material to work from, “we learn a lot from every piece that we do like this, and it has helped us to understand what this means for us as a reporting tool,” Ms. Hopkins said. “Every time we do it, we learn more about what this can be and what kind of information we can glean from these open sources.”

For Mr. Browne, videos of an event not only provide a sense of what it was like to be there, but are also sources of important information about the location and timing of key moments — “all these data points,” as he put it.

What draws the team to a story that might put such data to good use, Mr. Scheffler said, is twofold. “There has to be visual evidence that we can make deductions around, and there have to be discrepancies in the story being told” — by governments, the police or even the news media — “and the one we think we can tell through this sort of evidence-based journalism.”

While the unit’s approach is analytical, working with often horrifying material, of a shooting, or a chemical attack, can take an emotional toll. “I don’t think that you become desensitized to it,” Mr. Scheffler said. Rather, establishing what really happened helps to put things in perspective.

“You find a way to remove yourself from the emotion of it in order to analyze it and get as much data from it as possible,” said Mr. Browne. “But you can’t ignore those images.”

Continue reading the main story

On Oct. 26, the United Nations released the findings of a panel investigating a lethal sarin gas attack in the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun in April. The Syrian Air Force was responsible for the attack, the panel found; Syrian and Russian denials of involvement were false.

That result was no surprise to Mark Scheffler, the director of news for The New York Times’s video unit, which worked to uncover what really happened in Khan Sheikhoun. “You had the Russians and the Syrians telling a story about what happened in this location,” he said. “And the reporting, the work that the team did on that, really debunked it.”

After the attack, two of Mr. Scheffler’s team members, the senior story producer Malachy Browne and the video editor Natalie Reneau, pieced together satellite imagery, photographs and videos of the attack, drone footage and more into a seven-minute video examining the strike. They concluded that “all of the circumstantial evidence points to a chemical weapon being dropped,” as Mr. Browne says in the video, which “put Syria and Russia’s story in serious doubt.”

The Khan Sheikhoun investigation, the first such in-depth video forensics report carried out by the team, illustrated the potential for such projects. “We’re increasingly seeing the value in this type of reporting, and The Times has committed to making it a part of how we gather and report the news,” said Marcelle Hopkins, the deputy editor of the video department. “It has been done in the past with human rights organizations and some smaller investigative organizations, but we’ve recognized that this is something that can be extremely useful in reporting.”

Mr. Browne, a former computer programmer, joined The Times early last year from the news site reported.ly and began exploring how The Times might use forensic-style video, and the team has continued to expand. The video unit has produced detailed forensic reports on the May 16 clash between protesters and the security team of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Oct. 1 Mandalay Bay mass shooting in Las Vegas, and more are in the works.

Using many of the same techniques, the video team also produces shorter pieces. After last week’s vehicle attack in Lower Manhattan, the desk worked quickly to combine eyewitness footage and mapped reconstructions to lay out the attacker’s route. The desk posted the video the day after the attack.

While each project brings a unique set of challenges, and very different source material to work from, “we learn a lot from every piece that we do like this, and it has helped us to understand what this means for us as a reporting tool,” Ms. Hopkins said. “Every time we do it, we learn more about what this can be and what kind of information we can glean from these open sources.”

For Mr. Browne, videos of an event not only provide a sense of what it was like to be there, but are also sources of important information about the location and timing of key moments — “all these data points,” as he put it.

What draws the team to a story that might put such data to good use, Mr. Scheffler said, is twofold. “There has to be visual evidence that we can make deductions around, and there have to be discrepancies in the story being told” — by governments, the police or even the news media — “and the one we think we can tell through this sort of evidence-based journalism.”

While the unit’s approach is analytical, working with often horrifying material, of a shooting, or a chemical attack, can take an emotional toll. “I don’t think that you become desensitized to it,” Mr. Scheffler said. Rather, establishing what really happened helps to put things in perspective.

“You find a way to remove yourself from the emotion of it in order to analyze it and get as much data from it as possible,” said Mr. Browne. “But you can’t ignore those images.”

Nytimes

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