Tips for multimedia journalists on writing fast

Video journalist Anne Herbst firmly believes in preparation. She does research on stories before leaving the newsroom. She shows up to assignments early so she can meet people and figure out in advance who might be a strong character. And she writes fast–an essential skill when you’re working by yourself and you have to do it all.

Herbst is a former TV news photojournalist for KUSA-TV in Denver who now works for the Denver Post, where she shoots, writes and sometimes voices her own stories. She’s able to write fast, she says, because she logs every bit of her video. But that’s not her only trick for writing in a hurry. She also uses her smart phone to help her write on the go.

Herbst started writing stories while she was still in local TV because she saw where things were going in the news business. She encourages photojournalists to write VO/SOTs and urges reporters to take out a camera and learn to use it. “You want to be able to do everything,” Herbst says. “I learned it before I had to.”

Something else Herbst has learned: how to do interviews when working alone. “Have a person lean on something so they’re not moving around a lot and you can step away from the camera.” She also frames interviews differently so she can cut back and forth between them. “You don’t have to add [cutaway] shots, and it takes a whole chunk of edit time out.”

You can see both techniques at work in this story:

Herbst isn’t just skilled at telling stories, she’s a master at finding them, too. As a self-described “people person,” she’s always asking what’s going on. “On a VO/SOT, hand our your card,” she advises. “You don’t have to shoot a great story on the VO/SOT but you might get another story.” Herbst also finds stories on bulletin boards in coffee shops, in small newspapers, and during conversations in bars with random people. It’s simple, she says: “Be nice, be a human being, be interested.”

One more piece of advice from Herbst about working alone: Take care of yourself.  When you’re alone, you don’t have anyone to talk to, or vent at or to give you a hug at the end of a tough day. Covering the Aurora theater shooting, Herbst was exposed to massive amounts of pain and grieving. “I had no idea how that would affect me,” she says. Her suggestion: “Talk to people who have been through same thing. Do something for yourself even though people say you don’t have time. Keep yourself sane.”

Originally published at NewsLab