Cut to video: the continuing path of on-the-job training

I’ve been doing video for more than a year, and now I’m teaching it?  But wait: I’m still learning.

Go figure.  This is the world where we work.  More on that in a bit.

Every time I work with video, I learn more.  That’s not surprising. But it’s what I’m learning that surprises me.  Not only is it sharpening my skills, increasing my speed, but it’s also teaching me more about the people around me and what they will.

That’s one reason I love journalism: the reaction.  You used to get it eavesdropping in coffee shops or the breakfast café: reader voyeurism.  You’d see where they paused as they turned the pages of the newspaper and listened to their comments about the stories. If you were lucky, you’d hear something about your story.  Good or bad, at least they were talking.

“What are people talking about?” an editor used to say, as a way of spurring story ideas.

“Well,” I would answer, “if it’s not what we wrote in the paper this morning, we’re not doing our jobs.”

Now, we don’t have to lift our butts out of the chair.  We can track our page views and time spent and see exactly what draws attention.  Usually, it’s a cat playing a piano on You Tube (10 million and counting) or as we found locally, yodeling cats.

We can read their comments, right on the computer.  They can talk to us.  OMG!

I carry a video camera with me as a part of my day, now.  I don’t do as many videos as I would like, but I’m ready if something presents itself.

What I’ve learned:

  • In addition to cats, people like stories about fire, even if it’s set on purpose.  I was sent to do a quick daily story on a controlled burn at one of our prairie preserves. Because I had a video camera handy, it was a natural.  And I thought the video turned out better than the story.
  • People like stories about animals (hence popularity of cats).  But they also like snakes wrapping around people’s necks. I was sent out to cover a wildlife exhibition on a Saturday morning.  I remembered a lesson from Angela Grant about video illustrations, using only natural sound and images to convey the story.  I tried it, and people watched.
  • People will watch a murder. I earlier blogged about a bizarre murder trial where the crime was caught on tape by a convenience store security camera.  I picked up the two videos by plugging into the video pool in the courtroom. The same footage appeared in clips on the local television stations, but we could show whole segments.  It gave me nightmares, recording, editing, watching these repeatedly.  Others watched, too.  They were among our most popular videos that month.
  • I learned there’s an audience for courtroom videos.  I posted a couple on my beat blog at work, and another local blogger noticed and linked there.  At a local meeting of Twitter users (a “tweetup”), the author, Bobby Rozell, said it made him feel like he was at the trial.  I took note.  I’ll do those more.

Those videos have different elements, used different styles and drew audiences for different reasons.  I’m learning there’s not just one way to shoot video.

But my favorite is the interview, illustrated by detailed shots.  It’s simple but I think effective.

Both my recent efforts revolved around race and racism.

My editor Jill Cohan put me in charge of wrangling up multimedia for our team.  She also wanted me to teach other reporters. I started with Christina Woods, our cultural affairs reporter.  Christina is in that generation of journalists who are young enough to be excited about multimedia, but in mid-20s old enough to just have missed multimedia training in college.  So just like old guys such as I, she has to learn from scratch.

On our first effort, we couldn’t get our schedules together. I went solo to shoot a video on an Obama campaign sign defaced by racial slurs. Although Christina’s story dealt much more in depth about the role race is playing in the presidential election, the story about the sign added depth of knowledge that wasn’t in the story and illustrated what she was talking about.  It added another layer.

For the 50th anniversary of the nation’s first lunch counter sit-in, Christina was on her first video assignment.  I had her watch me set up and camera and hook-up the wireless lavaliere mic. I rolled, while she conducted the interview that would serve as the foundation of the video.  She then acted as producer, telling me how to structure the interview, while watching me go through the motions in Final Cut Pro to construct the timeline.

Within a couple of hours, we had this video to go along with her story.  We thought it turned out pretty well.  Others must have, too.  People watched it.

This is my lesson plan with other reporters: you watch me do it, then you do it with me, then you do it on your own.  I think that’s a good way to get people comfortable with new skills.  We’ll see.

Christina, for one, is excited about finding her next video. She’s acting like I even taught her something.

My next project is a veteran reporter, who some might call a curmudgeon.  He’s a talented narrative storyteller. I’ve told him with his experience and gift for structuring a yarn, he’s a natural for video.

I pulled me aside the other day and said he was ready to learn video.

Watch out:  fire may soon be raining from the sky.

I’ll keep you updated on our progress.

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