Video edits explained

When you watch a movie or a TV news story, are you aware of the editing? If the answer is no, you’re probably watching a good example of how to do it well. But if the result is so seamless that you don’t notice the individual edit points, it’s hard to pick up the tricks of the trade.

This video from RocketJump Film School uses movie clips to illustrate different types of edits and explains how they’re done. Some of these techniques should really only be used by experts. For TV news, you want to avoid jump cuts at all costs and use transitions like dissolves only rarely. But other types of edits, like J-cuts and L-cuts, work really well in news video. So have a look. (Fair warning, though: some of the movie examples are a little gory.)


Podcasting tips

What are the keys to creating a successful podcast? That depends on how you define success.

Podcasts are niche products, by definition.

“When you choose a topic, you are limiting the size of your audience,” says Michael O’Connell, host of the It’s All Journalism podcast and author of Turn up the Volume: A Down and Dirty Guide to Launching a Podcast. “Expect your audience to be much smaller than you imagine…and don’t expect to make any money at it.”

The average podcast gets just 150 downloads per episode each month, according to O’Connell. That’s not nearly enough to appeal to advertisers.

If you’re not intent on making a living with a podcast, what you need to succeed are passion, authenticity and commitment, O’Connell says.

“If you have a message you are passionate about, people will connect to your passion and listen.” That’s more important than broadcast-quality audio or high profile guests. “I don’t want to downplay the importance of good audio production. It’s important to master it, but it’s not that difficult to master.”

O’Connell says regularity is crucial to success. “Establish a rhythm and a routine for people to come check out your content.”

All you need to get started is a microphone, an audio recorder (which could be your smartphone) and a website. Edit audio with Audacity (it’s free). Interview guests using Zencastr, also free for hobbyists. Put your podcast up on SoundCloud or a similar hosting site, embed it on your own site, promote it on iTunes, and you’re off.

How long should a podcast be? As long or as short as it needs to be, O’Connell says. He rejects the often-recommended length of 22 minutes.  A recent study found the average listener stays tuned for 33 minutes. The sweet spot may be somewhere in between, since many people listen while commuting and the average commute time in this country is…26 minutes.

O’Connell’s advice is to “start short, earn long.” Do 10 minutes a week when you begin and see how it goes. But keep this in mind: there’s a big drop off in listeners after two minutes. “If you don’t hook them, they’re gone.”

Finally–this may be obvious–before you start a podcast, listen to some! Here are a few of O’Connell’s and my favorites:

Into the Dark, a true crime series from American Public Media.

Millennial, a show about “how to maneuver your twenties.”

RadioLab, a show about curiosity, from WNYC.


A mantra for shooting better video

“Wide, medium, tight, reverse, reaction.”

That phrase has been running through video journalist John Bullard’s head for nearly 40 years.  Bullard has shot video stories at the local level and for networks like CNN and ABC.  He owns his own video production company and is a regular freelancer out of Washington, DC.

Video journalist John Bullard offers advice to student journalists.

He says, despite the move to multimedia, the basics of good video storytelling remain the same.

“First of all, you have to work to avoid jump cuts,” says Bullard.  “A wide shot can take you anywhere you need to go in a story.”

If you’re working with a reporter, Bullard says don’t dismiss the need to get a reversal — essentially a shot that views the action from the opposite side of the previous shot, as in the case of a reporter interviewing someone.  The reversal creates the effect that you are looking from one person to the other.

“Always, always shoot a reversal of the reporter, no matter what.  Even if they say no, it could save you when it comes time to edit.”

Bullard says you’re not always in “a picture rich environment” as a video journalist, so it’s important to shoot absolutely everything you see that’s relevant to the story in those situations.

He also has a piece of advice for today’s multimedia journalists.

“You’re expected to write, to shoot to edit, so in the words of comedian Steve Martin, you’ve got to be so good you can’t be ignored.”

So get that mantra into your mind:  Wide, medium, tight, reverse, reaction.

Bullard shot this piece while working for CCTV in Washington, DC. See how many sequences you can identify.


Top three things when flying drones for news

Though 2016 was supposed to be the year of the news drone, 2017 may actually bring a little more progress. Thanks to a partnership involving the Poynter Institutethe Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, National Press Photographers Association and DJI, journalists can take part in a series of drone journalism camps across the U.S.

Upcoming workshops include:

  • Syracuse University (April 21–23)
  • University of Wisconsin Madison (June 16–18)
  • University of Oregon (August 18–20)

But newsrooms and journalism educators are already experimenting with drones for newsgathering.  At the University of Mississippi, instructor Ji Hoon Heo is a Part 107 Remote Pilot.  He’s helping students develop story ideas that lend themselves to the use of drones.  For example, this piece, about a workers’ protest in Jackson, Mississippi that brought Sen. Bernie Sanders to the state, cried out for drone footage.

In working with the students over the past few weeks, Heo has developed three essentials for using drones for news.

Planning is key. Heo now requires reporters to have a shot description or a storyboard of the shots they think they will need for their stories.  He created a video to demonstrate the different types of shots they might consider.

Use the team approach. Heo says it helps to have a drone operator, an observer and a journalist.  The drone operator has the technical know-how, the observer makes sure that the drone is safe, and that allows the journalist to focus on covering the story.  (If three people are out of the question, Heo says it can be done with the two.)

Shoot more than you think you’ll need.  The young journalists Heo works with typically stop recording too early.  Every shot should be at least :10 long and more is better.

Whether it’s a hard news piece about a protest or a feature about the prettiest college campus, Heo focuses on using drone footage when there’s a reason for it, rather than using it as a gimmick.


For TV reporters, how you look is first hurdle in job hunt

Sure, it’s important to be a good writer, a strong storyteller and an excellent journalist, but Talent Acquisition Lead at The E.W. Scripps Company Matt Miller says that might not be enough to get you hired.  He says he’ll watch a resume reel for 10-15 seconds on average before deciding whether a candidate is worth investigating further.

“Number one is how you look, then how you interact,” said Miller.  “You have to speak clearly, be memorable.  Content is second.”

Miller says that he’s typically trying to pick the best five reporter candidates from a pool that may have 50-100 applicants.  He says a reporter reel should be 3-5 minutes long, starting with a stand up montage of 30-40 seconds.  He’s looking for creativity and movement, interaction with the environment or the use of props.

He also has a number of general recommendations for job hunters:

  • Create your own website:
  • Customize your resume for the job you are seeking; don’t use the same one for every job.
  • Keep that resume to one page and focus on relevant experience, forget mentioning the job at Applebee’s.  Make it easier on recruiters by including references on that same page.

Miller points to this job applicant’s use of key words as an important tool in the job hunt.

Miller says he uses social media regularly for recruiting, especially for producer candidates.

“LinkedIn is Facebook for professionals.  If you’re not on it, get on it.”

And once you’re there, Miller says you need to be smart.  Think about the key words someone may be using to look for reporter or producer candidates, i.e. multimedia journalist, TV reporter, news producer, etc.

He also offers a word of warning from years of wading through candidate missteps.

  • Avoid spelling errors; you don’t look professional if you misspell words.
  • The overall look of your resume tells potential employers what kind of person you are. Colored paper and italicized font might appeal to some, but you’re taking the chance of turning someone off.
  • Select your social media profile picture carefully.  You don’t want to look goofy on LinkedIn or dress like Darth Vader on Facebook.

Miller says right now there’s good news and bad news for job candidates.

“There are jobs out there, the question is, are you in market 100 or 175?  You may have to think of your next job as grad school,” said Miller.  And he reminds job hunters that there is a lot of competition.

“One misstep and it knocks you off the board because there are others there ready to take your place.”




Using Facebook to promote nightly newscasts

It’s no secret that Facebook is a major driver of traffic to local TV news websites, but there is less certainty that social media has an impact on newscast ratings.

Marketshare’s Paul Greeley explored the issue recently since it’s the November ratings period and “many stations are using Facebook to promote special reports for their TV newscasts.”

In some cases, the Facebook promo is the same as the TV promo. But in many cases, the Facebook promo is different since it needs to be effective without any audio, as it’s been reported that 85% of Facebook users watch videos with the sound turned off.

I looked for posts that had a clear “call to action” to watch in either the post or the promo.

One of the most effective, with more than 100,000 views and dozens of shares, comes from Stephen Stock at KNTV, the NBC O&O in San Francisco.  Note the call for the Facebook audience to interact with Stock via the comments function.



As Greeley notes, most Facebook users watch video with the sound off, so think about how much more effective this video might have been with text to help the audience get the gist of the story without the narration. It’s a good effort, though, and clearly engaged people on social.

Check out the rest of Paul’s examples to see what other stations are up to.


How journalists can play the social media game

If you don’t have time for social media, you don’t have time for your customers. So says Chip Mahaney, a recruiter for E.W. Scripps, who offers suggestions for journalists trying to expand their social footprints.

“Be social, not awkward. It’s not just about you.  Your camera has two lenses and journalists need to be using the front-facing camera more often,” Mahaney says.

He also recommends that you “paint your posts blue.” Use hashtags and tagging features to include others in the conversation, in order to build audience engagement. Mahaney’s session on social media at the Excellence in Journalism conference focused primarily on Facebook and Twitter.

“Facebook is a game where you are competing against other posters,” says Mahaney.  “The algorithm acts as the judge and jury.”

To win the game, Mahaney says you have to start posting through the eyes of your user. You want to think about what the audience wants at the very moment you are about to hit publish. You win if you get users do to something with your post:  like, comment or share.

“You should be creating ‘thumbstoppers’ — something that will make people stop scrolling and pay attention.”

For example, Mahaney says the first two seconds of a Facebook video have to be especially compelling or you might consider beginning with a screen of text designed to draw people in.

sommervilleYet, even in a world that seems consumed by video, Mahaney says text still matters. He points to KTVU’s Frank Somerville who writes what Mahaney calls “beautiful, simple text” in his Facebook posts and gets rewarded for it with plenty of audience engagement.

“If Facebook is a game, I call Twitter hand-to-hand combat,” says Mahaney. He maintains posting frequency is what matter most on the platform, but that consistency and a mix of photos and videos is important as well.

To improve your Twitter following, Mahaney suggests checking out your own Twitter Analytics.  Identify one thing to work on at a time and set a weekly goal.  For example, if you notice tweets about local schools engage audience, see whether you can increase your following by increasing your school-related posts.

In answering the oft asked question of how much sharing is too much, Mahaney says, “You have to decide where your line is between personable and private. You don’t have to put private out there, but do share what’s personable, as long as it is professional.”



Small markets, big dreams

VJ doc stillEvery journalism student hears the same advice: Plan to start small, and work your way up. But what does it really mean to “start small?”

Will your first job in TV news be easy? Glamorous? Lucrative? Not likely. You’ll work hard, make personal and financial sacrifices, and learn a ton of things they didn’t teach you in J-school. Along the way, your dreams may shatter. Or you may just find your way to the job you’ve always wanted.

A new documentary produced by Karin and Bill Schwanbeck, who teach journalism at Quinnipiac University, tells the unvarnished story. The film follows five young journalists as they struggle with the reality of small-market TV news. The long hours and low pay. The demands of working alone as a VJ/MMJ, generating stories, shooting, writing, editing. Along the way, the filmmakers talk to Mary Bock, now at the University of Texas, whose research on VJ’s we featured a few years back. (Full disclosure: they also interviewed me.)

Small Markets, Big Dreams runs an hour. It’s well worth watching.


Five essential skills for a newscast producer

MadiProducingIf you want a job in television news, be a producer.  At any given time, more than 20 percent of all the job ads posted by TV news outlets are for producers, but just a tiny fraction of journalism graduates have any producing experience at all.

Madi Van Zile is one of the exceptions.  She took part in a newscast producing internship through the University of Mississippi, which led almost immediately to a full-time job at WTVA in Tupelo.  With three months on the job now under her belt, Van Zile believes she’s identified five essential skills that a journalists needs to become a TV news producer.

  1. The first skill is one of the first lessons taught to everyone in their first journalism class: Know how to write a story.  While the producer may not be the one going out to cover the story, he or she ultimately makes sure that what is being read by the anchors is easily understood by the audience. That means using short and concise sentences that an anchor can read clearly without stumbling and that are designed to keep the audience engaged.
  2. The second skill I believe all producers should have is another skill that every journalism graduate should be familiar with: Video editing. Nine times out of ten, the reporters will have their videos, VO/SOTs, VOs and packages edited for the producers before they leave for the day. However, when breaking news happens, the producer may have to take over, and even on a slow day, the producer may need to edit some tease footage or another element within the show.
  3. The third skill that I believe every producer should have is knowing how to stack a show. Stacking a show is at the very core of what a producer needs to know because producers decide which stories need to be put at the top of the newscast, which need to run later in the show or which need to be pulled altogether.  For the 6 p.m. show, I focus primarily on local news and important information that people need to know for the rest of the day or for the next day. Hard news stories such as crime, localized national stories or breaking information usually make it to the top of my newscasts. On the flip side, small event stories or ‘fluff’ stories do not usually make it into the ‘A’ block (unless it is a really slow news day). There is no perfect way of telling a new producer a basic format of what stories should be at the top of each newscast every night. They have to get the feel of what they believe the viewers at home want and what feels natural for the station. It takes time and communication with each reporter, news manager and anchor in the early stages of being a producer to get the idea of what the new station wants to classify as ‘important.’
  4. Speaking of communication, every producer should have good communication skills. One of the first things I do every day when I walk into the newsroom is ask my reporters about the stories they are covering. Are they doing a live shot? Are they going to have enough information to turn it into a package? Have they communicated with their interviews? Do they need any extra equipment? If a producer just assumes that their reporters are fine and that they can just stack the show when the reporters return to the newsroom, they are surely mistaken. Communication continues throughout the day, but it’s a balancing act.  If I call every five minutes for an update on their story, my reporters would not get anything done. A producer needs to find the happy middle between not communicating with his or her reporters and not trusting them.
  5. The last skill that I believe is essential is time management.  For most stations around the county, their primetime newscasts usually run 30 minutes.  A new producer might think that it is overwhelming trying to oversee every news story for the newscast. However, if one takes into consideration all the commercial breaks, weather and sports, an average 6 p.m. newscast only has around 10 minutes of news. That makes it all a little less daunting.

There is a reason why most students studying journalism go into reporting instead of producing. Being a news producer can seem extremely stressful, and though they are often unnoticed by the audience, if anything goes wrong, they are usually the first ones blamed. However, I would not have asked for anything else than what I am doing now: sitting in the booth, waiting for 6:00:00 to hit and to hear WTVA’s intro music for the start of another night’s newscast.

Madi Van Zile is a 2016 graduate of the Meek School of Journalism & New Media at the University of Mississippi.


Take a hike to find a story

Most journalists know that to find really good stories they need to step away from the computer. Sure, there a ton of information online that could lead to a story, but nothing beats getting out of the office. And the best way to observe what’s really going on in a community is to walk it. But where to begin?

Credit: National Geographic

Paul Salopek, Out of Eden. Credit: National Geographic

Writing in Quill, the SPJ magazine, Jeff South of Virginia Commonwealth University shared a process developed by a retired editor at National Geographic. Don Belt helped plan the Out of Eden reporting project, launched in 2013, which sent Putlizer Prize winner Paul Salopek on an around-the-world journey (still underway) to tell the story of human migration.

Since then, Belt has developed a university class to teach students to find untold stories by taking a hike. Here’s how he describes the process:

Slow down, carefully observe and use the tools in their hip pockets to tell the subtle, powerful stories that ‘fast’ journalists often overlook in the rush to feed a 24/7 news cycle.

Students at VCU piloted the course, and told stories about neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia, that challenged their perceptions and opened their eyes.

For educators wanting the full “Out of Eden” experience, Belt offers campus workshops supported by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. If that’s not possible, why not encourage students to do what Jeff South suggests and “stroll as they troll for untold stories.”