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September 29th, 2009

Multimedia of the Month – The power of balance

Posted by Benjamin Chesterton

Former BBC radio producer Benjamin Chesterton and photojournalist David White, as the multimedia production team duckrabbit, build high-quality multimedia pieces, provide insights on their blog, and help photographers through multimedia training sessions. Once a month on RESOLVE, Ben and/or David highlight and explain a multimedia piece that breaks a “rule,” uses a new technique, or creatively solves a common problem.

I’m writing this from a small hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where duckrabbit and the Bangladeshi photographer Sheikh Rajibul Islam have been working on a documentary about the effects of climate change on this beautiful country.

If the scientists’ predictions are right, up to 20 million Bangladeshi’s will become environmental refugees in the next 50 years. There is no bigger long-term story than the havoc man is wreaking on nature.

It would be easy for us at duckrabbit to reduce our stories about Bangladesh to the most brutal, the most shocking. This is always a temptation for photojournalists looking for the money shot, for their World Press award, but it’s a cheap and ultimately destructive way to capture the world because it reduces people to the status of victims.

At the BBC I used to produce Costing The Earth, their flagship environmental documentary programme. We always strived to tell a balanced story, beyond emotion, because understanding is more important than shock, and debate is more powerful than bashing someone over the head with a message.

Adam Westbrook, a multimedia journalist and blogger, expressed this point brilliantly in a post about a controversial video advertisement by the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontieres:

“We want true stories … but we also want balance.”

“We want true stories, and we want them as gritty as the real world is. But we also want balance — and we recognize a third-world-cliché when we see it.”

There are plenty of weak multimedia pieces about the environment out there that suffer from the same clichéd black-and-white photography and lack of balance in their storytelling, but let’s not blow any more CO2 on their two-dimensional approach. Instead I want to point you to a visually stunning and deeply thoughtful piece of work by Toronto Star photographer Lucas Oleniuk.

Airsick: An Industrial Devolution is designed to persuade us that the earth is slowly drowning in CO2. Part of why it works so well is that, instead of focusing on apocalyptic images of the developing world, the piece is rooted in the familiar, in the industrialized world. I can’t watch this and not feel part of the problem. That is powerful multimedia.

(duckrabbit would like to thank the CBA for funding their recent Bangladesh trip.)


  1. December 26th, 2009 at 8:27 pm


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  2. March 13th, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    John Pablo

    I don't know if you saw this documentary about coastal area in Bangladesh.
    Ashar Chor sits in the Bay of Bengal in the southern coastal area of Bangladesh. The country is only 1 meter aboe sea level and is prone to natural disasters, making Ashar Chor one of the most unpredictable places to live in the world. With the sea rising, Ashar Chor’s natives have begun relocating to other parts of the country, increasing the number of climate change refugees in Bangladesh.

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