Telling stories digitally Composing stories with video [and other platforms] By S.P. Sullivan spsullivanmedia.com
The medium doesn’t matter <ul><li>OK, it does.  But it should matter to the story, not to you. </li></ul><ul><li>Learn to ...
The medium doesn’t matter <ul><li>Presenting information by traditional storytelling [video, audio, print and the Web] is ...
The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>Before you try telling a story to others, figure it out for your...
The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>At the   Poynter Institute, faculty members Al Tompkins and Sara...
The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>The second question you should ask yourself is,  Who cares?  Why...
<ul><li>That’s because I spent so much time explaining how the Open Media Project was affecting ACTV, that I never explain...
The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>The next question you should ask is,  Why video?  At a time when...
The second person you should interview is someone else. <ul><li>And that should be someone you don’t know. One of the bigg...
The second person you should interview is someone else. <ul><li>Don’t be afraid to pick up a phone, knock on a door and as...
But sometimes broad is good. <ul><li>I learned my favorite question from a class on Native American activism. It was an or...
And sometime specific is necessary <ul><li>Questions that are too specific can be leading , especially those that start wi...
Telling stories <ul><li>There is no formula for creating a great video package, the great American novel or an amazing piz...
Learn from others <ul><li>Ira Glass  is the host and producer of  This American Life  on Chicago Public Radio.  </li></ul>...
Learn from others [especially those smarter than you] <ul><li>Before this workshop, I asked some really great visual journ...
Learn from others [especially those smarter than you] <ul><li>Mike Higdon, a designer and photographer, said this: </li></...
Composition <ul><li>All stories - audio, video or written - need narrative structure. The traditional  who, what, where, w...
Composition <ul><li>Most stories are linear - i.e.  This happened, then that happened, then this happened. </li></ul><ul><...
Your lede <ul><li>In traditional newswriting, the lede [pronounced  leed ]   is the opening paragraph of the story. </li><...
Your lede <ul><li>So what does this mean for video?  I made a video package once for Steve Fox’s course  Politics, Journal...
Wrong.
Your lede <ul><li>Within the  first 10 seconds  of video, you had better either a)  draw the viewer in  with a really inte...
Your lede <ul><li>But  don’t give away all your good stuff in the first 30 seconds . They were nice enough to hang in ther...
Start with good material <ul><li>Your story isn’t going to be any good if the content you gather is crap.  This goes for a...
Some technical stuff <ul><li>Always bring a tripod.  Always. Even if I’m following protesters marching, I use the tripod t...
Some technical stuff <ul><li>Zoom with your feet.  When you use the camera’s zoom,  any movement  [eg. If you hit the trip...
Some technical stuff <ul><li>Check your equipment.  I can’t possible stress this enough. Are your batteries charged? Do yo...
Some technical stuff <ul><li>Think in sequences. Think like you’re shooting a movie.  If your story starts out with a bask...
Shoot a crapload of footage <ul><li>Get more material than you can possibly use.  This is true for all types of journalism...
Don’t show me dead stuff <ul><li>Try to get human beings in all of your shots.  If you’ve got an establishing shot of your...
Get multiple perspectives <ul><li>Find angles that people aren’t used to seeing.  Get above the crowd, or below the speake...
Get multiple perspectives <ul><li>The same angles on the same story about the same people discussing the same things are b...
Putting material to work <ul><li>When you sit down to edit, watch all of your footage, and  start drafting and outline and...
Check your work <ul><li>No matter what the medium,  typos, factual errors and other mistakes undermine the credibility of ...
Ask for help <ul><li>This presentation was put together by about a dozen people. Why? Because I didn’t want to risk missin...
Thanks <ul><li>For listening to me ramble. </li></ul><ul><li>For paying for this workshop. </li></ul><ul><li>For making an...
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Telling Stories Digitally: a video journalism workshop

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I put together this presentation for a workshop with high school students who produce a news program for Amherst Community Television.

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Telling Stories Digitally: a video journalism workshop

  1. 1. Telling stories digitally Composing stories with video [and other platforms] By S.P. Sullivan spsullivanmedia.com
  2. 2. The medium doesn’t matter <ul><li>OK, it does. But it should matter to the story, not to you. </li></ul><ul><li>Learn to be flexible. Learn camera work, editing and post-production. Learn basic photography and writing skills. Familiarize yourself with publishing platforms, online applications and anything else that will help you tell a story. </li></ul>
  3. 3. The medium doesn’t matter <ul><li>Presenting information by traditional storytelling [video, audio, print and the Web] is fundamentally the same across platforms . </li></ul><ul><li>Stories across platforms all start with the same thing: people. Without people it’s all just places and dates. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>Before you try telling a story to others, figure it out for yourself. Ask, What is this story about? </li></ul><ul><li>Joshua Benton from NiemanLab likes to think of it in terms of telling his girlfriend what happened. When writing or editing a piece, think about how you’d tell your friends during lunch - just leave out all the “dudes.” </li></ul><ul><li>Dude, Carl was mooning the busses in the parking lot yesterday and got suspended. </li></ul>
  5. 5. The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>At the Poynter Institute, faculty members Al Tompkins and Sara Quinn taught me the three-word pitch. It goes like this: Tell me what your story is about in exactly three words. </li></ul>Students take workshop Chancellor cuts budget President addresses economy You’ll elaborate on the story when you start composing it, but not until after you’ve figured out what it’s about. If you can’t reduce it to three words , [eg. This story is about more than that, man. It’s about love and death and the human condition ], then it will probably suck .
  6. 6. The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>The second question you should ask yourself is, Who cares? Why is this story newsworthy or relevant to the community? </li></ul><ul><li>I recently wrote a piece for Local Buzz about ACTV’s participation in the Denver Open Media Project. </li></ul><ul><li>The reader response went something like this: </li></ul>
  7. 7. <ul><li>That’s because I spent so much time explaining how the Open Media Project was affecting ACTV, that I never explained what it means to the community. Who cares? is an important question, even if that guy was kind of a jerk. </li></ul><ul><li>Here’s my response, most of which should’ve been there all along: </li></ul>
  8. 8. The first person you should interview is yourself <ul><li>The next question you should ask is, Why video? At a time when all platforms are, more or less, equally accessible, you shouldn’t have to cram every story into the same platform. As Greg Linch says: </li></ul><ul><li>“ The story rules. If it's all pretty pictures, make me a slideshow.” </li></ul>
  9. 9. The second person you should interview is someone else. <ul><li>And that should be someone you don’t know. One of the biggest challenges young journalists have to overcome is unlearning what your parents taught you: Talk to strangers. </li></ul><ul><li>A longstanding mantra in journalism is “GOYA KOD,” which stands for “ Get Off Your Ass and Knock on Doors.” </li></ul><ul><li>If you’re not comfortable meeting new people now, that’s OK. But get comfortable. Interviewing your friends is lazy, dishonest and an awful way to get diversity of opinion. </li></ul>
  10. 10. The second person you should interview is someone else. <ul><li>Don’t be afraid to pick up a phone, knock on a door and ask important questions. Some people aren’t going to want to talk to you, and that’s OK [unless that person is an administrator, politician or other person of influence. Then you have to keep harassing them.] Just be respectful, and be interested. Genuinely interested. Because if you’re not interested in the story, why the hell should I be? </li></ul><ul><li>And ask questions. In video, you want to be able to edit these questions out, so let your interviewees know that they should answer in complete sentences, and try to provide enough context so someone can tell the question from the answer given. Sometimes, very specific questions are necessary, but you want to shoot for questions that are neither so specific or leading that they affect the answer, or too vague that they can be danced around. </li></ul>
  11. 11. But sometimes broad is good. <ul><li>I learned my favorite question from a class on Native American activism. It was an oral history class, and my professor, Alice Nash, learned the technique from a colleague. If someone alludes to something that you want them to elaborate on, just ask: </li></ul><ul><li>Can you tell me a story about it? </li></ul><ul><li>You can get some of the best answers that way. </li></ul>
  12. 12. And sometime specific is necessary <ul><li>Questions that are too specific can be leading , especially those that start with “But don’t you think that…” and “Wouldn’t you say that…” Nobody should think or say for your subject except them. </li></ul><ul><li>Yet when dealing with those POIs [persons of influence], pressing questions can be necessary. If an administrator tells you a program was cut because of “conflicts within management,” ask “Like what?” </li></ul><ul><li>Again, this is actually a very nonspecific question. You want your subject to be specific, and it’s better if you can do that without leading them to say things they wouldn’t otherwise have said - unless they’re trying to hide something [as POIs often are] </li></ul>
  13. 13. Telling stories <ul><li>There is no formula for creating a great video package, the great American novel or an amazing pizza pie. But there are best practices. </li></ul><ul><li>The best way to find best practices is to find people whose work you like and copy it. </li></ul><ul><li>[Actually, emulate, unless you want a lawsuit.] </li></ul>
  14. 14. Learn from others <ul><li>Ira Glass is the host and producer of This American Life on Chicago Public Radio. </li></ul><ul><li>He says good audio and video stories have two “building blocks:” The sequence and the moment of reflection. </li></ul><ul><li>The sequence is the action itself [eg. a fire, a protest, a concert] and the moment of reflection is when those involved in or affected by the action discuss what happened and why it’s significant. </li></ul><ul><li>My translation: The shit that happened vs. “Shit happens” </li></ul>
  15. 15. Learn from others [especially those smarter than you] <ul><li>Before this workshop, I asked some really great visual journalists about what I should tell you. Marcey Evans, a TV reporter, said this: </li></ul><ul><li>“ I'd tell them that their ultimate objective is for the video to be so compelling and camera shots to be so creative that if the viewer muted the audio, they could still follow and understand the story.” </li></ul>
  16. 16. Learn from others [especially those smarter than you] <ul><li>Mike Higdon, a designer and photographer, said this: </li></ul><ul><li>“ As a writer you do the same thing by not staring at your notepad. Impart on your young'ens that looking up from the camera is important . And more than anything else, being a stealthy observer is sometimes more important than rushing in and ruining a scene with their presence. Tell them to watch Ninja movies or something .” </li></ul>
  17. 17. Composition <ul><li>All stories - audio, video or written - need narrative structure. The traditional who, what, where, when and how should all be there. </li></ul><ul><li>Who is talking? What ’s going on? Where and when did it happen? How did it occur? </li></ul><ul><li>The sooner you introduce these things to your audience, the better. </li></ul>
  18. 18. Composition <ul><li>Most stories are linear - i.e. This happened, then that happened, then this happened. </li></ul><ul><li>But sometimes, it’s better to start in the thick of things. If you’re covering a protest, you don’t want to start with talking heads talking about why they’re protesting. Start inside the protest, then when the viewer knows it’s a protest, explain what happened. </li></ul><ul><li>To return to Ira Glass, the protest is the sequence, and the explaination is the moment of reflection. I can’t reflect until I know what happened. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Your lede <ul><li>In traditional newswriting, the lede [pronounced leed ] is the opening paragraph of the story. </li></ul><ul><li>Ledes can be broadly grouped into two types: summary ledes and creative ledes. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>a summary lede tries to cram as many of the five W’s and an H as possible into one paragraph. [eg. The Student Government Association held an open forum in their main office yesterday to address student concerns over a recent fee increase. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>a creative lede tries to draw the reader in with narrative elements. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>[eg. Jim Lescault sat at his desk, wondering how to bring public access into the 21st century.] </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. Your lede <ul><li>So what does this mean for video? I made a video package once for Steve Fox’s course Politics, Journalism and the Web. Steve looked it over and said, “You buried your lede.” </li></ul><ul><li>That was something I’d expect to hear about a newspaper story, but not a digital video package. There are no ledes in video, right? </li></ul>
  21. 21. Wrong.
  22. 22. Your lede <ul><li>Within the first 10 seconds of video, you had better either a) draw the viewer in with a really interesting visual or b) tell them what they’re in for, because by 15 seconds, if it’s not interesting, they’re out. They’re gone. They’re watching clips of “Family Guy” on YouTube. </li></ul><ul><li>Do you really lose out to “Family Guy?” I didn’t think so. </li></ul>
  23. 23. Your lede <ul><li>But don’t give away all your good stuff in the first 30 seconds . They were nice enough to hang in there, so don’t reward them with boring stuff. </li></ul><ul><li>The best way to avoid this is to make all of your footage valuable. We’ll go into how to do that now. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Start with good material <ul><li>Your story isn’t going to be any good if the content you gather is crap. This goes for all forms of storytelling. </li></ul><ul><li>If you didn’t bother to get sensory details or write down quotes accurately, you’re not going to have much to work with when you get back to your desk. In video, if your camera is shaky and your audio sucks , it doesn’t really matter how interesting the story is, your audience isn’t going to like it. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Some technical stuff <ul><li>Always bring a tripod. Always. Even if I’m following protesters marching, I use the tripod to stabilize the camera against my body. Holding the camera over your head with one hand is for dads at soccer games. You’re better than that. </li></ul><ul><li>Use headphones. The most important element of video is the audio. Listen to the world around you through the camera , so there are no surprises when you sit down to edit. Pay attention to subtle external noises like refrigerators, office lighting, air conditioners, fans and desktop computers. You might not notice them at the time, but they’ll show up twice as loud on your audio track. </li></ul>
  26. 26. Some technical stuff <ul><li>Zoom with your feet. When you use the camera’s zoom, any movement [eg. If you hit the tripod with your foot] gets magnified with the image . Zoom in all the way and a cough can look like an earthquake. </li></ul><ul><li>Get up close and personal. Especially with interview subjects. This is particularly important when you don’t have a lavalier mic or you’re in a loud environment. But it’s not just for audio’s sake. </li></ul><ul><li>Washington Post video journalist Travis Fox says that 50 percent of your shots should be tight, 25 percent medium and 25 percent wide. This is especially true in Web-based video, where your audience will be looking at a much smaller image, sometimes no bigger than three inches wide. Think about what your shots are going to look like on a 12-inch TV . Then think about what they’re going to look like on YouTube. Suddenly shooting from across the street doesn’t sound like such a good idea. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Some technical stuff <ul><li>Check your equipment. I can’t possible stress this enough. Are your batteries charged? Do you have an extra battery? Do you have an extra extra battery? Do you have your notebook? Did you bring a pen? Did you bring an extra pen? </li></ul><ul><li>When working with equipment [i.e. audio/video], set everything up beforehand, and check it all out. When you’re covering news you don’t get any do-overs. Do-overs are those cheesy reenactments on the History Channel. You can reenact history, but not the news. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Some technical stuff <ul><li>Think in sequences. Think like you’re shooting a movie. If your story starts out with a basketball player talking about how he practices for games, don’t just show him talking and then show him shooting. Get shots of him tying his shoes. Get close ups of his feet as he walks. Shoot the ball before he picks it up. These are actions that are boring by themselves, but form a sequence when you put them together. It puts the audience in the moment. </li></ul><ul><li>This is where the 50-25-25 rule is most important . </li></ul><ul><li>But to shoot sequences, you have to make sure you… </li></ul>
  29. 29. Shoot a crapload of footage <ul><li>Get more material than you can possibly use. This is true for all types of journalism as well [see a pattern here?]. Gather too much information and you get to be picky; gather not enough and you’re screwed. </li></ul><ul><li>But, that doesn’t mean you should just shoot anything you encounter. It does mean you should be accounting for every possible shot you’ll want to use. You never know what you’ll need until you start editing. </li></ul><ul><li>And get natural sound. If you’re covering an outdoor festival, get in the crowd and just record the noise for three minutes. You can use this “nat sound” as a soundbed for the rest of your story . That way the audio levels aren’t jumping up and down. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Don’t show me dead stuff <ul><li>Try to get human beings in all of your shots. If you’ve got an establishing shot of your high school, shoot kids coming in and out. [Ahem, let me rephrase that: Film kids coming in and out. Never say “shoot” during school hours. </li></ul><ul><li>People want to see other people . They don’t want to look at a building for ten seconds unless that building is falling down. </li></ul>
  31. 31. Get multiple perspectives <ul><li>Find angles that people aren’t used to seeing. Get above the crowd, or below the speaker - or better yet, show me the crowd from her perspective. </li></ul>When you change angles, you give a new perspective on something your audience may have seen a hundred times before.
  32. 32. Get multiple perspectives <ul><li>The same angles on the same story about the same people discussing the same things are boring. This is true [wait for it…] for all forms of journalism. </li></ul><ul><li>The most memorable piece of journalism that came out of John F. Kennedy’s assassination was by columnist Jimmy Breslin. Why? Because the story was told from the perspective of his grave digger. </li></ul><ul><li>Here’s an excerpt: </li></ul><ul><li>When Pollard [the gravedigger] got to the row of yellow wooden garages where the cemetery equipment is stored, Kawalchik and John Metzler, the cemetery superintendent, were waiting for him. &quot;Sorry to pull you out like this on a Sunday,&quot; Metzler said. &quot;Oh, don't say that,&quot; Pollard said. &quot;Why, it's an honor for me to be here.&quot; </li></ul>
  33. 33. Putting material to work <ul><li>When you sit down to edit, watch all of your footage, and start drafting and outline and a script that will tell the most effective story that can be told with your material. You can’t use the footage you didn’t shoot, so it doesn’t make much sense to write a script and then try to retrofit your footage. </li></ul><ul><li>Be resourceful, but don’t be MacGyver . </li></ul><ul><li>As you are editing your piece, a few things to be mindful of: </li></ul><ul><li>Music can be editorializing . There’s a lot of debate in professional journalism about the use of music. Avoid the debate and try to stick with natural sound. </li></ul><ul><li>Preserve context . If someone said something at the beginning of the rally, don’t put it at the end. If you forgot to get B-roll the day of the event, don’t go back and pretend you did. </li></ul><ul><li>Brevity and clarity are key. Don’t let subjects ramble on longer than they have to, but don’t leave the audience confused or unsatisfied. Most news packages are under three minutes. Enterprise pieces can be longer. </li></ul>
  34. 34. Check your work <ul><li>No matter what the medium, typos, factual errors and other mistakes undermine the credibility of the work. </li></ul><ul><li>So the first step is: Don’t make mistakes. </li></ul><ul><li>But when you inevitably do, you should catch them early-enough in the process so they don’t become a problem. Don’t rely on editors to catch your mistakes. </li></ul><ul><li>When dealing with video, you should watch the entire piece - twice - before you export it. Read the titles, subtitles and credits. Look out for glitchy transitions or rough patches in the audio. </li></ul><ul><li>Believe me, you lose a lot of time when you have to re-export because of a typo. </li></ul>
  35. 35. Ask for help <ul><li>This presentation was put together by about a dozen people. Why? Because I didn’t want to risk missing anything, and I’m not perfect [just ask my girlfriend]. So I asked my peers, and I read material by people whose work I admire, and I compiled it all for you here.. </li></ul><ul><li>You can find all my sources - plus some video best practices - at: </li></ul><ul><li>http://delicious.com/spsullivan/ACTVworkshop </li></ul><ul><li>You should ask for help, too. Ask your teachers, your peers, and the fine folks at ACTV. Hell, ask me. I check my email compulsively - [email_address] . </li></ul><ul><li>Journalists make their careers out of finding things out from people who know better. So ask. </li></ul>
  36. 36. Thanks <ul><li>For listening to me ramble. </li></ul><ul><li>For paying for this workshop. </li></ul><ul><li>For making an effort to do better journalism. </li></ul><ul><li>For supporting your local public access center. </li></ul><ul><li>For being a good audience [assuming I didn’t have to kick any of you out.] </li></ul><ul><li>In advance, for all the great work you’ll do. </li></ul>

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