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Making a 'Good' Newspaper Video: Expert Advice


By Deborah Nason

For some print reporters, entering the world of video journalism is a daunting task. A reporter’s first foray into this different form of storytelling invariably comes with questions: Do I tell the story the same way? How long should it be? How fancy should it be? How hard will it be?

Here’s a bit of advice that puts the task into perspective: “Don’t do Web video if you don’t have anything interesting to show, and don’t compete with TV unless you can do something they can’t or won’t. In other words, use the medium,” wrote Kurt Andersen in a February 2007 column in New York Magazine.

Before you get overwhelmed by the myriad uses available for newspaper online videos, take a look at some of the categories that especially lend themselves to video. According to a December 2007 Burst Media survey, the most popular categories of online video among respondents were news clips (44 percent), entertainment news/reviews (30 percent), and sport/sports news (22 percent). Here is an expanded list, including links to examples:


“Don’t do Web video if you don’t have anything interesting to show, and don’t compete with TV unless you can do something they can’t or won’t.



Kurt Andersen, New York Magazine


Local news : Video makes breaking news come to life, increases audience engagement, and gives people even more reason to visit the newspaper’s Web site throughout the day. Here is the breaking news video page from the Ventura County Star. Video can also liven up somewhat mundane stories. For example, watch the San Antonio Express’ video tour of a new business.

Sports: For a “you are there” experience and an example of how to leverage local coverage, watch this high school basketball video from the Modesto (Calif.) Bee. Here is a high school football talk show from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Entertainment: Video lends itself especially well to entertainment-related news and information. For examples, see this piece on the Central Pennsylvania Hip-Hop Awards from the York (Penn.) Daily Record. Watch bi-weekly entertainment suggestions from the Greensboro (N.C.) News-Record’s “Unwind.” A local chef cooks a signature dish in a New Haven (Conn.) Register video.

Stories with an emotional element: Video can bring a deeper understanding to an emotional story. See a Boston Globe piece on the impact of a son’s murder on his family. For another example, watch a video series on cancer from the Knoxville News Sentinel. A video from the Minneapolis Star Tribune focuses on how a soldier readjusts to ordinary life after returning from Iraq.

Evergreen stories: The web provides a great venue for stories or special projects with a long shelf life. The Ventura (Calif.) Star has an extensive gallery of videos in a number of evergreen categories, such as animal and surfing videos. Alternatively, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times features an entire year’s worth of multimedia reports on one page.

Video Story Forms

Online news video can be classified into several forms, from basic, single-shot interviews to full-blown documentary-style features. Angela Grant, multimedia journalist for the San Antonio Express-News, describes these in the March 2008 issue of Quill magazine:

  • Video illustration : “The simplest type is just one or two shots totaling 30 seconds or less that complements or illustrates a text story.... It enhances the print story by showing something that is not as effectively described in print as by video.” Appropriate uses for a video illustration include scenes of car accidents, house fires, and to show emotional testimony in court or in controversial public meetings.

  • 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….[It includes] source interviews and can also feature a reporter-written and recorded voiceover.” This format is usually produced on deadline and runs less than two minutes.

  • Documentary video : This story form “usually runs in multiple videos that can be as long as five minutes each or even longer. [It] 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....”

Thinking Visually First
To the novice, the world of video journalism may seem foreign at first – but like print journalism, it is still about telling a story.

One of the biggest differences between print and video, however, is that video requires one to think visually and plan ahead. Incorporating some standard elements will help build a visual story that is both succinct and compelling.

Andrew Satter, video producer for Congressional Quarterly, explains by using the example of a visit to a pizza parlor: “Break any action down into multiple sequences. For example, as an establishment shot, you can shoot footage of the pizza maker from outside the restaurant. Then move closer into the action – guide your viewer into the pizza maker’s personal space, and create intimacy using a medium shot, from the waist up. Then get close-ups of his hands working the dough.”

It’s the little things that count. “I can’t overemphasize how important this is: it’s better to shoot more detail and edit it out later,” he says.

Video footage is classified as A-roll and B-roll. “The interview is called A-roll and will be the main sound track for the piece. The images you shoot of whatever the subject talked about is called B-roll. For a minute-long interview, you'll need dozens – DOZENS – of different B-roll shots related to what he's talking about,” wrote Chuck Fadely, visual journalist for the Miami Herald, in an e-mail.

Basic Rules of Videography
Fadely sums it up in a few basic principles:

It's about emotion. The first thing to consider is the story you're trying to tell. Video stories are not about facts and figures. Video deals best with emotion and feelings. Use video to tell the viewer how your subject feels.

Tell a story . The second thing to remember is that video stories are linear – you need a beginning, a middle and an end. A video is like a short story, not like an inverted pyramid. Find a character.

It's visual. Third, video is a form of visual communication. The visuals must be compelling, with interesting shots and action. A talking head is not good video.

Can you hear me now? And finally, the most important thing in video is the audio. If the sound is bad, you've lost your audience.

Tips for Success
Fadely, Satter and Ryan Sholin, director of community site publishing for GateHouse Media, contributed several of these best practice tips for producing good videos.

Plan. Plan before you go, says Sholin. “For example, if you’ll be shooting a car crash, you’ll need video of witnesses – emergency workers, police, survivors. For the wreckage – you’ll need a wide shot of the location, close-ups of broken glass, and emergency staff at work. And for B-roll – video of broken glass and audio of sirens.”

Interview consciously . Fadely offers these techniques for successful interviewing:

  • Record the interview sound separately from the images.
  • Get the microphone within 12" of the person speaking and hold it still during the interview.
  • Don't talk while the person is speaking – nod, but don't say "uh huh." Keep the subject's sentences short and sweet.
  • Get the subject to tell the tale: Don't ask yes or no questions. Ask the subject to "describe" or "give me the background" or "tell me in short sentences" what happened. If they ramble, say "I'm not sure I understand. Tell me again about...." until they say it in a direct way. You need the 25-words-or-less version!
  • Don't step on the audio: Don't start talking until they've stopped. Don't jump in immediately with another question after they've stopped speaking -- first, you need a break in between for editing, and second, people hate a vacuum and will sometimes volunteer really great stuff after they've directly answered the question.

Record carefully. “Sound is the most important thing in video,” according to Fadely. Some advice:

  • Record the sound in a quiet place. Turn off the TV and radio.
  • “Air conditioners, traffic, and ringing phones are your enemy. Listen to the sound through headphones while you're recording,” he says
  • “It’s ok to get close to people – it’s the best way to improve the audio,” Sholin adds.

Shoot with discipline. Besides shooting the interview, take video of everything the person talked about.

  • Use the rule of thirds, advises Satter. “Imagine your viewfinder has a grid of nine boxes. You can see this in the video of the men building the fence. Their energy is leading the eye toward the open part of the frame to the right. Leading the look works not just for people – whether shooting landscapes or what have you, you often want the main focal point of the image framed by the rule of thirds with the action leading across the frame, the same way our subjects’ eyes are leading off the frame.”
  • Hold the shot. Fadely is emphatic about this: “Line up your shot in the viewfinder, press record, and then hold it for ten seconds. Don't pan. Don't zoom. Hold the shot. Count to ten! Even if we only need a second of it, hold the shot so it can be edited later.”
  • Get close. “Brace against something so the camera doesn't shake. Use a tripod. Web compression can't deal with shaky shots,” says Fadely. But if you don’t have a tripod, bring your elbows close to your body, advises Sholin.

Shoot for variety. Be conscious of the shots you take, and be very careful with panning and zooming.

  • “Get a variety of shots – set the scene, show the action, get details, wide to medium to close, back and forth,” says Sholin. “And don’t be afraid to cut away to something else; to use the camera as an audio recorder.”
  • Avoid zooming. Let the subject move – don't pan or zoom. “Zooming is not natural to the human eye, we quickly change focus in response to close-up views,” explains Satter. He says it’s better to cut, then shoot close-ups. If you have to zoom though, says Sholin, digital zooms (20X) are harder to hold still; therefore, only use optical zoom (3X).

Get details ! “Detail or ‘color’ shots show ingredients, part of the scenery,” says Satter. “They fill out the details and serve an important editing function, allowing us to make transitions and visually set up processes and actions – to ‘time-shift’. You always wish you always had more of them.”

Fadely suggests: “Shoot lots of shots of the subject doing things. Make sure you've got at least five different shots for each good sound bite. For example, if the subject says ‘Oh my god – I can't believe we're alive! The car crashed right into the bedroom!’, you'll need a wide shot of the house, a medium shot of the car in the wall, several shots from different angles of the car from both inside and out, close-ups of the bed, close-ups of the broken wall, details of family photos on the dresser with debris around, etc.”

Frame the story. Here are Fadely’s quick tips on how to build your story:

  • Be focused: Web videos need to be short – one or two minutes. Pick one aspect of your story – something with emotion – and make the video about that. Keep it short.
  • Find a character: A successful video needs a 'character' to be the star – find someone who is articulate and engaging, someone who makes quips and jokes – and does them in short, sweet sound bites. Run-on sentences are death in video.

Capture their attention fast! “Make something 'good' happen in the first 15, no, 10, wait, 5 seconds…or you are doomed. Don't bury your lede. Put the good audio quote or image up front,” wrote Richard Koci Hernandez on his blog, Multimedia Shooter (“Rules for Video on the Internet, July 7, 2007”).

Additional Resources

Although newspapers’ entry into online video has accelerated greatly in the past few years, there still is a sense of conquering a new frontier. The plethora of blogs and how-to sites are evidence of a widespread culture of sharing in the online news video arena. There are many amateur and professional videographers just a click away – and willing to help.

Blogs and Expert Advice

Training Guides

Comments


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First Published:
May 7, 2008