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Home > Publications > Quill > Get a camera and go! It's the only way to learn


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Monday, March 3, 2008
Get a camera and go! It's the only way to learn

Angela Grant

It’s hard to write an article that will teach journalists how to do video.

Scratch that. It’s impossible to learn video by reading this article. You must learn video by doing video.

So the most I can hope for is to help you start doing.

I want to plant a bug in your head that will allow you to recognize the stories that video can enhance, and give you ideas about different video story forms you can use toward that goal. I will also point out the Internet resources to help you learn to shoot and edit video.

Choosing stories for video

The beauty of the Internet is that you can choose the medium that will best communicate the information in your story. Text, photos, audio and video all have their strengths and weaknesses. Before heading out with a video camera, ask whether it will enhance your story.

First, a story with a lot of emotion almost always makes a good video. You’ll never convey emotion in text as well as with video. Emotion is communicated non-verbally, and nothing can substitute actually seeing it on a person’s face or hearing the emotion behind a person’s words. Even a story that would make a bad picture, lacking interesting visuals, could possibly make a great video with enough emotion. For examples, watch these stories of a family whose son was murdered (www.boston.com/news/multimedia/luis_gerena_murder) or these stories of people who survived the suicides of loved ones (hamptonroads.com/pilotonline; click on “Specials and Multimedia” under the “News” dropdown menu for a link to “Survivors’ stories.)

Second, a story with a lot of action and movement will usually make a good video. These stories usually make good pictures, too. Unlike still photography that captures lone moments in time, though, video captures periods of time. So you don’t want a period of time with no action and movement; a lone still photograph would convey that story better than video.

Third, odd or unusual stories usually make good videos because they’ll show something that people must see with their own eyes to believe. For example, watch this video of twins conjoined at the head (www.theglobeandmail.com/generated/realtime/conjoinedTwins.html) or this video about a donkey that testified in court (www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/VideoPlayer/videoPlayer.php?vidId=136788&catId=342).

These are general descriptions, and you shouldn’t allow them to stifle your creativity when choosing stories for video. Allow yourself to experiment, fail, learn and succeed.

Video story forms

Online video journalism has been in a period of experimentation for the past few years, but already several types of story forms have emerged.

The simplest type is just one or two shots totaling 30 seconds or less that complements or illustrates a text story. Online video journalism bloggers have discussed this video type in detail and come up with a variety of names for it, such as “complementary video” and “video illustration.”

This video relies on the text for context and meaning. It cannot stand on its own, but it enhances the print story by showing something that is not as effectively described in print as by video. In traditional journalism lingo, this type of video would be the equivalent of a text brief or a one-column photo. Some examples of when complementary video could be used would be at the scenes of car accidents or house fires, to show emotional testimony in court or in controversial public meetings.

The next step up would be the deadline video package. This is a stand-alone video that can run with a text story but does not rely on it for context and meaning. If a viewer saw only the video, he or she would still understand the pertinent facts.

Deadline video packages include a complete visual story with a beginning, middle and end. They include source interviews and can also feature a recorded voiceover. This type of story form is produced on deadline, usually runs under two minutes long and can be considered the equivalent of the 12- to 20-inch deadline print story and accompanying photos.

Documentary video is the highest-level story form that has emerged. The journalist spends a considerable amount of time, sometimes months or years, with the subjects. The final project usually runs in multiple videos that can be five minutes each or even longer. This type of video story gives the viewer an in-depth look at a topic or at the lives of the subjects. An accompanying print story is unnecessary, but often, documentary video is packaged with text anyway.

In addition, many news organizations are producing online video shows featuring reporters from the newsroom who discuss various topics. The shows are sometimes recorded in a video studio and usually appear daily or weekly. The successful shows seem to feature a host with a big personality who delivers information in a quirky or irreverent way. Successful shows also seem to focus on specific topics, such as high school football or the city’s music scene, rather than general topics like “the news of the day.”

I’d again like to stress that you shouldn’t allow these set formats to stop you from trying something new and different on your own.

Online resources

It’s an unfortunate fact, but we all know that news companies are asking journalists to learn new skills without always providing adequate training. In a perfect world, your employer would send you to a weeklong intensive video training workshop.

But this is the real world. You’re responsible for your own professional development. So how do you train yourself to shoot and edit video?

Like I said before, the only way to learn video is by doing video. So pick up a video camera. Shoot something. Edit it. Your first attempt may be terrible, but you’ll learn from your mistakes and do better the next few times.

For some helpful online resources, get a free RSS reader such as Google Reader or Bloglines and subscribe to these blogs:

• Andy Dickinson (www.andydickinson.net)

• Mastering Multimedia (masteringmultimedia.wordpress.com)

• Mastering Videography (masteringvideography.com)

• MultimediaShooter (www.multimediashooter.com)

• News Videographer - my blog (newsvideographer.com)

• Teaching Online Journalism (mcadams.com/tojou)

• VideoJournalism (press.com>cyndygreen.word

press.com)

Here are a few more online resources:

• Knight Digital Media Center (media.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/video>multi

media.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/video)

• Make Internet TV (makeinternettv.org)

• NewspaperVideo Yahoo Group (perVideo>finance.groups.yahoo.com/group/Newspa

perVideo)

• Wired Journalists (mediageeks.ning.com)

Angela Grant is a multimedia producer for the San Antonio Express-News and the founder of < a href=http://newsvideographer.com>newsvideographer.com. She shoots and edits video stories for the Web, produces audio slideshows and builds multimedia packages using Adobe Flash. Angela also trains journalists to shoot and edit video. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2006 with degrees in multimedia journalism and government.

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