Analyzing FRONTLINE/World’s “Jamaica: The Alpha Boys”

FRONTLINE/World’s “Jamaica: The Alpha Boys.” <Click

As always, Frontline World delivers a moving yet informative news package.

For Frontline World’s “Rough Cut” series, reporter Marco Werman visits Jamaica to see what Jamaica’s music scene is up to these days.

Werman traces the musical roots of Kingston, while profiling its musicians of today in the multimedia piece, “Jamaica: The Alpha Boys.”

Werman visits the Alpha Boys School for vocation and music training. The school originally started as an orphanage in the late 1800s and developed into a reform school. Eventually, school’s graduates were going on to become celebrities of the Jamaican music scene.

Today, the Alpha school is still teaching and disciplining young males through the art of music. Many of the school’s recent graduates have emerged as successes.

What makes Werman’s piece so effective is the quality of the production and the way the story is told.

Though the video length is longer than most packages, the “mini-doc” conveys Kingston’s past and present using multiple people’s stories. This is a technique many documentaries big and small use. Here’s what I mean:

  • Werman narrates different scenes and the basic facts.
  • Many experienced Jamaican musicians tell Kingston’s history.
  • Students and teachers of Alpha talk about Alpha.
  • Graduates of Alpha give their input.
  • Stories are told simultaneously.

There are two different stories in this piece. Profiling the Alpha school is the obvious. Jamaican musical history is the underlying narrative, which supports the primary story.

The mise en scène (in the scene), or the overall production, is achieved through the piece’s technical quality.

Cameraman and editor, John MacGibbon, includes plenty of b-roll and detailed editing.

What’s interesting is how Werman is included in the footage. However, most of his talking is done in the narration. This is different from usual mainstream media packages where the reporter is always on screen talking, and lo-fi pieces where the reporter is usually behind the camera.

The package includes a brief written abstract from Werman, allows for comments, and links to outside Web sites and articles, like many multimedia news packages.

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