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Home > Publications > Quill > Digital Media Toolbox



Current Issue | Browse Archive | About Quill | Advertising Info
Media Kit [PDF, 785 KB] | Back Issues | Reprint Permission Form | Pulliam/Kilgore Internship Info

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Digital Media Toolbox

Six steps to 15-second video gold

By Jodie Mozdzer Gil

More people are watching news videos online, Pew Research data suggests. But fewer people make it past the one-minute mark.

We can debate all day whether shortening news to fit 140-characters or 15 seconds is helping or hurting journalism and attention spans. The reality is that people are watching short videos — and doing so on their mobile devices.

So experiments with short news videos on platforms such as Instagram and Tout are popping up more frequently these days. Some leaders in the field include BBC News, which launched its 15-second video feed Instafax in January 2014, and NowThisNews, which uses short mobile videos as a model for all its updates.

Both NowThisNews and BBC use high-quality video and have professional editing to create content that stands out from citizen journalists.

Raw video footage can be good — when the content is compelling. Think flames, fights or famous people. Otherwise, shaky cell phone footage with poor audio gets old fast.

But even though this is video optimized for mobile viewing, you don't have to produce it using a mobile phone.

It's easier than you think to produce your own professional-quality Instagram updates, especially if you are collecting your own digital media elements for stories.

Here are six easy steps to produce similar videos that incorporate text, audio and video into 15-second news updates.

Know your story. To have a compelling and accurate 15-second news video, you need to boil down the story to its essence. To do that without getting it wrong, you need to fully understand what you are writing about. Report it as you would a 15-inch written news story.

Keep it simple. You only have 15 seconds. Keep your story to the most important point and some supporting details. Make sure you have an expanded story on your website or in your regular print or broadcast product. The idea is to get your audience interested in the story so they come to you looking for more details. You can't give all the details in 15-seconds, so don't try.

Pick compelling visuals. Once you have the main idea you want to express, decide what visuals to use. Don't feel limited to moving images. Photo slideshows with a voice-over can work just as well as a short video clip — sometimes even better. Remember to keep it simple.

Think square. Most editing software uses a rectangle frame (either widescreen or standard definition), but Instagram videos are perfect squares. If your editing program doesn't let you change the aspect ratio to a square, you can still edit the video to fit in the center of your screen, and let Instagram cut off the edges for you. I created my own "title safe" square for making Instagram videos. I import a photo file that is 640 by 640 pixels and place it centered over my footage in the timeline. Anything outside the square will be cut off by Instagram on import, and I edit with that in mind.

Edit. Incorporate good photos or video, clear and concise soundbites and text to tell the main points of your story. Remember: Keep it simple. Make sure you have time to read your text three times before it disappears. That should give your audience enough time to process the information. Make sure you don't go over 15 seconds, as it won't make the cut on Instagram. I delete the title safe box from the project before exporting it.

Store it in the cloud. Now that you have your video edited, you need to somehow get it to your mobile phone for uploading to Instagram. I compressed my video file and saved it to Dropbox, which I could easily access through an application on my iPhone. From there, I just saved the file and sent it to Instagram through the app.

Jodie Mozdzer Gil is an assistant professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University and the immediate past president for the Connecticut Pro Chapter of SPJ. Interact on Twitter: @mozactly

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