What kind of stories go well with video?

Angela Grant at News Videographer has listed some char­ac­ter­is­tics of sto­ries that work well with video. These slam-dunk video sto­ries should have:

  • Lots of move­ment and action
  • Something peo­ple just want to see
  • Emotion

Of course, these char­ac­ter­is­tics are obvi­ous, but Grant includes sev­eral exam­ples of each kind of story beneath the list items. It’s worth check­ing out the list of links.

Originally published on another of my blogs on May 5, 2009


Fundamentals of video: Sequencing

Sequences are the foun­da­tion of video sto­ry­telling, writes Colin Mulvany, a mul­ti­me­dia pro­ducer at The Spokesman-Review. “Sequences com­press time in a video story. Without this com­pres­sion, what you’re left with are long video clips that visu­ally bore view­ers to death.”

Rather than show­ing action in real time, show sev­eral estab­lish­ing shots to hint to the viewer of the action tak­ing place. Shoot a vari­ety of wide, tight and medium-range shots and you’ll have some­thing to work with in the edit­ing process and, ulti­mately, some­thing that will effec­tively com­mu­ni­cate a story.

When shoot­ing a sequence you have to antic­i­pate the action. Still pho­to­jour­nal­ists are skilled at this. But if you are a word per­son, it might be a bit for­eign to you. When I’m shoot­ing, I’m always run­ning sce­nar­ios through my mind. I ask­ing myself: Where’s the action headed? Where do I need to posi­tion myself to be in the right spot? What shots do I need to get me from point A to point B?

Mulvany also drills in the con­cept of not mov­ing the cam­era and to hold the shots long enough, at least 10 sec­onds. “Don’t pan or zoom,” he writes. “Just let the action enter or leave the frame.”

The other thing you should remem­ber is to weight your shots to the tight and super tight end of the shoot­ing spec­trum. Tight shots make great tran­si­tions between two wide shots or two medium shots. They pre­vent the infa­mous jump cut (two shots that look the same) that annoy and con­fuse peo­ple view­ing your video.

In addi­tion to pre­vent­ing viewer deaths as a result of bore­dom, using sequenc­ing tech­niques has cut down Mulvany’s edit­ing time.

Sound advice

Recording moving images can be hard enough; you’ve got a lot of different things to think about when the camera’s on. But the sound that goes along with your video is just as important, if not more so.

Consider this, we have to compress the heck out of video to get it into formats that will play happily on the lowest-common-denominator computers out there. However, audio quality remains pretty good, even when it’s compressed. So, as the quality of the video decreases, we must rely on audio more and more to carry the project.

Put another way: Users will often tolerate poor quality video, but if that crappy video is paired with terrible sound, they won’t even give the video a chance.

So, here are some things to keep in mind about the sound you’ll be recording with videos in the field:

  • Rooms are sel­dom as quiet as they seem. Even things like a run­ning com­puter, the air vents and flu­o­res­cent lights can turn what you thought was good audio into unus­able trash.
  • Make small talk with your inter­view sub­ject while you set up the cam­era and micro­phones. Not only does it help put the sub­ject at ease, and you can get an idea of how loudly they’ll be talking and whether you’ll need to tell them to speak up.
  • Be aware of the sounds you make.
  • If you’re using a clip on micro­phone, ask your inter­view sub­ject not to move around too much. The sound of a micro­phone mov­ing against cloth­ing can ruin an oth­er­wise per­fectly good soundtrack.
  • Be aware of the dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties of the micro­phones you’ll be using. If you’re relying on the microphone built in to your camera, realize it will not produce great quality in noisy situations. It may be best to ask the person you’re interviewing to step into the hallway or some other, quieter space.

I want to add one thing to this list (for now). Rooms with hard walls, like most of the cinderblock-built rooms on cam­pus, tend to cre­ate an echo when peo­ple speak loudly and clearly. We kind of tune it out when we’re sit­ting there hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a per­son, but a micro­phone is not so for­giv­ing — even a poor qual­ity one like the one built-in to your Kodak cameras.

If pos­si­ble, sit­u­ate your inter­view sub­jects in a room with some­thing on the walls, cur­tains or fab­ric or even wood. Just some­thing that won’t echo as much.

Facebook + Journalism 101

Facebook and JournalismI know I haven’t come along yet with the fifth and final installment of the Twitter series yet, but I came across this document tonight and thought it was too good to not post right away.

Vadim Lavrusik is an adjunct journalism instructor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He also works with Facebook to teach journalists how they can put the social network to good use in their reporting.

The document embedded below is one that Lavrusik put together to help journalism instructors integrate Facebook into their curriculums, but it also offers a bevy of tips and ideas for how to make Facebook into yet another tool for your reporter’s toolbox.

Lavrusik describes it thus:

I’ve included some key aspects of Facebook that can be used by journalists in their reporting, as well as examples of assignments that can help familiarize students with Facebook as a reporting tool.


Practical tips for producing video

This post is another one that I’ve pulled from the archives of other training blogs I’ve written. This was originally published April 29, 2009.

Back to Mindy McAdams again. I can’t help it; her series, “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency,” is so full of good advice for print jour­nal­ists mov­ing into the online media that it can’t be ignored.

This time, McAdams is look­ing at video. She’s not just con­cerned with the tech­niques, though. She wants to make sure that reporters cre­at­ing video sto­ries are cre­at­ing sto­ries that are worth telling.

Most jour­nal­ism stu­dents, and a lot of reporters too, “wouldn’t know an inter­est­ing story if it fell on their head.” For a story to be inter­est­ing and worth­while on video (and in most other media) it has to have three “things,” she says:

  1. action or activity
  2. emo­tion
  3. “you’ve got to see it to believe it” or “some­thing peo­ple just want to see”

So she rec­om­mends that before any cam­eras or other record­ing devices come out, the reporter scopes out the story, just to get a feel for the place and the char­ac­ters. “Remember,” she writes, “this is not break­ing news — this is a story. People will be doing these things later; it’s not a one-time action that you are going to miss with­out your camera.”

Plan, plan, plan. That’s her motto.

On the prac­ti­cal side of things, McAdams also sug­gests a shoot first, ask ques­tions later approach — mean­ing that she would rather that reporters shoot their footage before going in for an inter­view. If you inter­view first, she says, then you wind up shoot­ing footage to cover the mate­r­ial you learned about in the inter­view. Shooting first might open up some new door­ways for ques­tion­ing later, ques­tions you didn’t think of before. Shooting first could take your story in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent and more inter­est­ing direction.

McAdams also talks about the “five-shot method.” You should get five shots of every­thing you film, she says, to give you options in the edit­ing room.

  1. Extreme close-up of action detail
  2. Close-up of the per­son doing the action
  3. Medium shot, face and action together
  4. Over-the-shoulder view of the action, the point of view of the per­son doing the action
  5. One more dif­fer­ent, cre­ative angle

“It’s not that you will nec­es­sar­ily use all five shots,” she writes. “But if you’ve got them, you’ll find that edit­ing is immensely simplified.”

Other tips for video beginners:

  1. Dot not move the cam­era hor­i­zon­tally (pan).
  2. Do not move the cam­era ver­ti­cally (tilt).
  3. Don’t zoom.
  4. Press the “record off” but­ton — often.

Great advice, and I rec­om­mend read­ing the entire post. If you missed the link at the begin­ning of this post, here it is again.

Will your story abide audio or video?

Back in 2009, I came across a series of posts by Mindy McAdams, an online jour­nal­ism instruc­tor. One of the posts in the series, “Tell a good story with images and sound,” has some great tips for decid­ing whether your story is inter­est­ing enough to sup­port an audio or video medium.

I list a series of her tips below, but I’ve also included a chart that she designed show­ing the energy level of a story. (She talks mostly about photo slideshows with audio in her arti­cle, but the prin­ci­ples work for video too.)


McAdams is a big pro­po­nent of decid­ing what mes­sage you want to com­mu­ni­cate about the story before you go in. Once you have that mes­sage fig­ured out, make it your mis­sion to gather the resources you need to tell the story. A sto­ry­board might help, but any kind of plan­ning would be bet­ter than no plan­ning at all.

She is also a big sup­porter of fig­ur­ing out your open­ing and clos­ing before you decide on the mid­dle of the story. The strongest slideshows and video sto­ries she has seen start out direct and to-the-point. That hooks a viewer. Then, the story needs to move toward a sat­is­fy­ing and worth­while con­clu­sion. That way, even if the thing wavers a bit in the mid­dle, the viewer will prob­a­bly say with the video for the duration.

McAdams’ Tips:

  • Shoot a lot of pho­tos or video to cap­ture the ambiance of the loca­tion, more than you think you need.
  • Consider the inter­view a dress-rehearsal for the on-camera or on-mic inter­view. This means re-asking some of the impor­tant ques­tions from the inter­view, the ques­tions whose answers will drive your story.
  • Let the sub­ject know you’re record­ing and why you’re ask­ing ques­tions over again, but don’t tell them how to say things.
  • Don’t record too much audio; it just makes a lot of extra work in the edit­ing bay later.
  • Do the math. For exam­ple, if your video is going to be 120 sec­onds long and you want to inter­view six peo­ple and use them evenly, that means you need no more than 30 sec­onds of video per per­son. That might mean ask­ing each sub­ject only one or two ques­tions per inter­view to get what you need.
  • For audio pro­duc­tion only, gather as much back­ground noise as you can. You may wind up need­ing it dur­ing the edit­ing process. Try to get at least a solid minute of the “silent” room.
  • Editing is a repet­i­tive process. Know that going in.
  • McAdams sug­gests decid­ing on the open­ing and clos­ing of your piece first, then fill­ing out the mid­dle of the piece.
  • She fur­ther sug­gests fill­ing out the mid­dle of your piece with pho­tos that show a good mix of angles and dis­tances to improve the pac­ing of your piece.

She has other tips too. Read them here. Her whole series on mul­ti­me­dia jour­nal­ism (12 posts long at this point) is linked below. I’ll be writ­ing in more detail on at least one more of her posts, the one that has to do with video.

Verifying a tweet

There may come a time in your journalism career when you will have to start a story based on something posted to Twitter or another social network. Or, perhaps, you’ll simply have to refer to a tweet in a story.

Don’t laugh or think it’ll never happen. With the rate people are using social networking sites these days, it’s not a matter of if but when.

When your turn does come, refer to this handy blog post from Twitter Journalism that offers quite a few handy things you can do to make sure the person tweeting is tweeting the truth.