Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

On being a VJ for the New York Times

Posted in 6x6 series, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 10, 2010

The NY Times’ excellent Lens Blog (a must for all photo & visual journalists) has a nice piece with one of their own video journalists.

Brent Macdonald is one of nearly a dozen full time VJs at the paper (they’re supported by more freelancers too) who shoot, edit, sculpt a narrative, script and voice their own material. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in video journalism – here are a few choice cuts from Brent:

On kit:

 I ended up in Idaho, with a Hi-Def camera, a tripod, travel cases, three microphones, three compact lights, two light stands, clamps, cables, a laptop computer and, of course, a pair of comfortable shoes.

On audio:

Capturing good sound is often as important as recording dazzling pictures. Viewers tend to forgive an interview that’s poorly framed or lighted, as long as the audio is clean. But a beautifully shot interview with scratchy or distorted audio? Forget it. Nothing will drive a viewer out of a video quicker than bad audio.

On the “shoot-to-edit” ratio:

But it is usually preferable to have too much than too little. On the one hand, the less footage you have, the less time it takes to sift through and edit. On the other hand, if you limit your shots, you risk missing something that could become important during the edit …For VJs, there are no second chances.

On creating a narrative:

Much of the storytelling happens after the shoot, when you sketch the narrative arc, knowing now what material you have to work with. Generally speaking, stories that make for captivating Web video have a strong visual and emotional payoff.

Want more?

Visual Editor’s man Robb Montgomery’s just put together a list of the five most basic things for first time video journalists to remember.

And there’s loads of stuff on this blog, including a 6×6 Video chapter and more.

“Online video is not TV”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 26, 2009

OK for many of you reading the title of this post the response will be ‘duh’.  And I think I’d already clocked there’s a big difference between TV video content and online content.

But until I watched a neat video by Visual Editor Robb Montgomery it had never been spelt out to me.

It’s a great video partly because it’s part-travelogue of one of my favourite cities, Paris, but mostly because Robb spells four narratives for online video – essentially four rules for Video Journalism:

01. the visual narrative: “the sequence of shots which tell a story

02. the audio narrative: “interviews, natural sound, scripted pieces

03. the graphics narrative: “titles and motion graphics

04. the social narrative: “the ability to comment, to rank, to group, to friend to embed, all the interactive part of video that makes the digial video experience so compelling.

Now the first three are hallmarks of television. When we learn the grammar of television, we learn to shoot sequences, to build sound and to add graphics.

But the fourth narrative, is really a fourth dimension which gives online video an awesome power – despite the “amateur” criticism so often labelled at it.  In fact Robb’s video is titled “audio is the most important multimedia to get right” Agreed: crappy sound is what gives much VJing it’s amateur title these days.

But Robb is  right: online video is not TV. It’s so much more than TV.As soon as we all realise that the faster it’s potential can be realised.