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Citizen Journalism 101: Capturing Award-Winning Video

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First-place best news video, Iowa Newspaper Association (2011)

      In the 21st-century newsroom, one of the most important skills any journalist can exhibit is the ability to shoot and edit one’s own video reports. Even the “old dogs” are being forced to learn this “new trick,” with mixed results.

      We’re going to pretend you already have equipment and video-editing software that will work for the job. So, let’s look at the basics: what goes into a good video news report.

Third-place best news video, Iowa Newspaper Association (2010)

The Story

      Like any good news article, you need a story to tell. In fact, you would likely construct your video news report in the same general format as if you were writing the story. The easiest way to do that is to record your interview.

      One important tip, particularly for those who give their subjects verbal cues in the middle of interviews: keep your mouth shut. This can be a difficult habit to break; one way to do that would be to switch from verbal to non-verbal cues, such as simple head nods.

Second-place best news video, Iowa Newspaper Association (2010)

Eye-Catching ‘B’ Roll

      The “B” roll is the extra footage that videographers use to help visualize the story, and it usually runs with narration from the subject or the reporter. When shooting video for a web-based format, there usually isn’t going to be a “reporter” to narrate, but using the audio from your interview is helpful.

      If you can capture video of the key elements the subject is talking about, particularly video that demonstrates exactly what the subject is talking about, you have perfect “B” roll material. In some cases, especially when reporting on an event, almost any extra footage will work for your “B” roll.

First-place best news video, Iowa Newspaper Association (2010)

Narrow Topic

       The traditional news video is never less than 90 seconds, nor more than three minutes, in length. So, you need to keep the interview sharply focused; this is best done by asking questions that allow for more than simple “yes” or “no” answers, but do not lend themselves to producing soliloquies from your subjects.

      If possible, you will want to use some “ambient audio” — sound that was recorded along with the “B” roll video — in the course of the report, so you want to keep the subject’s talking time limited to less than two minutes. This is always easier said than done, and really only becomes a finely honed skill with lots and lots of practice.

Fully Informative

      Remember that the source may not always provide the information that is most useful to your audience. Sometimes, it is up to you, as the reporter, to give the audience what it needs. This can be done through the use of information graphics.

      You can build information graphics using photo-editing or pagination software. Most video editing programs allow you to upload JPEG files as still images for your videos. This can be useful if the audience needs to see key information in a visual format during the report.

      One of the biggest offenses I see in news video is when someone is talking and the audience has no clue who that person is. News banners that give that information are very easy to add to your video reports, even with the cheapest video editing software on the market.

      Keeping these key tips in mind as you produce your news video will go a long way. And, it will make you a well-rounded 21st-century journalist.

      Next week, we will delve into the nuts and bolts of libel law.


Written by bfranklinjournalism

April 27, 2011 at 4:37 am

Citizen Journalism 101: Alternative storytelling forms

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      As the old saying goes, there’s certainly more than one way to skin a cat; especially if that cat is producing a news article.

      The tried-and-true method of newswriting is called the “inverted pyramid” style. It was developed by correspondents covering the Civil War. Both sides were sabotaging telegram wires in an effort to prevent news from getting back to their opponents after key battles.

      So, in an effort to get the most important information conveyed quickly, correspondents would send the most important information first, the least important information last. That way, if the cables were cut, hopefully the key information made it back to the newspaper.

      Today, the inverted pyramid style is easiest for editors who may need to pare down a story to make it fit the limited news hole space. While this format is good for conveying the facts most quickly, it can lack flare — those little details that make a story more compelling — which makes it a weak format for features writing.

      In those cases, the tried-and-true format is prose, or long-form writing. Like the standard composition essay, prose has an introduction, an informative body, and a wrap-it-up conclusion. In general, most prose-format features are narratives written in chronological order.

      These two formats have been the mainstay of American journalism since its founding, but in an increasingly fast-paced world, the need for more information faster has led to the development of other formats. We call these formats “short form writing.”

      One of the masters of short form is Tim Harrower, the man who literally wrote “the book” on newspaper design. The following are but a few of the methods he instructs professional journalists to use when looking for alternative means of storytelling.

Fast Facts

      Sometimes, the Joe Friday method — just the facts, ma’am — is the best way to get as many details and facts in your reader’s hands as possible. This is usually a sidebar to a short article or information graphic (more on those in a moment).

      Usually, a simple rundown of the “Five W’s & H” will suffice.


      As opposed to a long-form feature story, sometimes it’s better to simply give us the key details about a person’s history. This is useful when trying to condense a whole bunch of candidates running for office into a short amount of space.


      Why try to get flowery when all you’re trying to convey is a list of people, places, or objects? Give us a short header to identify what the list is, and then give us the list. It’s compact, but it delivers all of the information the reader wants.


      Slightly different than a list, a checklist is a rundown of key steps the reader should follow to accomplish something. Or, it can provide a slightly more detailed list of items necessary to complete a task, or to be prepared for an event.

By the Numbers

      Almost everything has numbers that can be associated with it. Some numbers are more important — or more interesting — than others. From smallest to largest, providing a rundown of key numbers associated with the main topic can be useful to the “stat rats” out there.


      Even 15 years ago, journalism instructors taught students that question-and-answer format was “cheating.” But, frankly, it is the best way to keep a subject’s quotes in full and complete context for the reader.

      Magazines have been using this format for decades, and newspapers are finally starting to follow suit. In the Digital Age, there are far more interesting things you can do with an interview and the Q&A format.


      A lot of people like to be challenged when they read. So, test their knowledge on the subject material with a short, simple quiz. Multiple choice is the most common format, but fill-in-the-blank works, too.

      The quiz format is most useful when there a lot of misperceptions about a particular topic, or when the topic is “new” or “unusual” to your audience. And, it adds a layer of entertainment value to the news item.

Information Graphics

      Information graphics, or “infographics,” are the one format in which all forms of media have most quickly adapted. It follows the old adage, “I can show you better than I can tell you.” This form of storytelling began developing with the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and soon became a requirement for all major news events.

      There are many different kinds of infographics, though. This category includes maps, charts, tables, diagrams, annotated schematics, and timelines. The goal is to provide the most amount of information in as little space and as quickly as possible.

      Usually, no single format will suffice for short form journalism. A mixture of two or three, in a well-packaged format will work best. And, it’s always helpful to have solid graphics to work with.

      Next week: Photography is just as important as good writing skills in a fast-paced media environment. Next time, we’ll look at key tips to get a great photo to go along with your story.

Written by bfranklinjournalism

April 6, 2011 at 10:00 am

Citizen Journalism 101: Building Your Own Media Outlet

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   So, you’ve tried to engage your local media outlet about becoming more connected with its community, and your concerns have fallen on deaf ears. Or, your community doesn’t have a media outlet to call its own.

   What do you do?

   Well, if you have the time, you can establish your own media outlet to cover your community. And, depending upon several factors, including the amount of time you can devote to the project and what monetary resources you have at your disposal, you can put together a pretty extensive little media empire all on your own.

   The 21st Century has certainly opened the door for citizens to become more involved. And, the goal of this installment is to show you just how easily it can be accomplished.

Step One: Choose your medium/media

   There are several ways you can convey your message to the world: print, audio, video, or Internet. Which one you choose will dictate: 1) the type of platform you will need, 2) the type of equipment you need to purchase, and 3) the way in which you need to promote your outlet to get the community to embrace your efforts.

Step Two-A: If you choose print media…

   Although very large daily newspapers have taken a hit in recent years — largely because of their lack of engagement with their communities — the small, weekly, community newspaper has been relatively unscathed by the supposed “demise” of the newspaper. In fact, the only thing that seems to be getting in the way of newspapers at all is the government’s interference in small, main street businesses, which constitute the bulk of the advertising revenue for smaller papers.

   If you decide to launch a newspaper, there are several other factors to keep in mind: 1) do you have a solid advertising support network available? 2) who will print your product, and have you factored that cost into your business plan? 3) do you have the resources to pull together a team of citizen journalists to provide a wealth of news copy?

   If, after considering these questions, you still proceed with the print medium, there are a number of free resources available to aid in the production of the newspaper. We’ll cover that next week. But, you will still need to purchase a few pieces of equipment, including: 1) a laptop computer with plenty of memory and wifi capability, 2) a digital SLR camera with video capture capability and high-speed lenses, and 3) a digital audio recorder.

How To Make a Radio Station from Free Radio on Vimeo.

Step Two-B: If you choose radio…

   It’s still possible to start up your own radio station. Low-power FM radio stations were authorized by Congress almost a decade ago, much to the chagrin of major radio conglomerates that said authorizing the use of these stations by non-profit local groups would somehow damage the airwaves.

   The FCC was asked to investigate these claims, and found LPFM stations were actually good for the public. So, last December, Congress passed the Local Community Radio Act — and President Obama signed it into law about a month later — so, it appears commercial-free radio over the airwaves is here to stay.

   To be honest, radio is not my area of expertise, but you can go here for some good ideas on getting your own LPFM station going. The Prometheus Project is a little political in its ambitions, but that’s not to say it doesn’t provide good ideas for starting a local media outlet.
Step Two-C: If you choose television…

   Developing your own local access television station is perhaps the most difficult medium to get started in, largely because television is the most regulated medium in the United States due to FCC licensing. Low-power television stations do remain an option, though.

   With a good business plan and a well thought-out niche audience, as well as a solid network of advertising supporters, it’s very much possible to get a station off the ground. Again, television is not an area of expertise for me, but again, this website will provide you with the information you need to get a good start.

Step Two-D: The Internet platform and convergence

   Personally, I believe the best option is the Internet, if you’re going to launch from Square One. It allows the best of all the other media — print, audio, and video — in one platform. Professional journalists call this “convergence.”

   Citizen journalists should call it common sense.

   Best of all, it takes very little financial investment to build a full-fledged media conglomerate. The software and platforms are available largely for free, and the only equipment you need are the laptop and digital SLR camera you would purchase if launching a print product (see above).

   The best way to start is with a blog, which allows you to report on local news, and to comment on the national and international news of the day. Over time, a blog can be augmented to include audio and video posting, live broadcasting, and distribution and circulation of e-edition print products.

   The best platform for blogging, by far, is WordPress. And, I don’t recommend it because it’s the platform I’m using for this material. Rather, I’m distributing this information on a WordPress site because I recommend it.

   Use of the publishing functions on WordPress is well documented, which makes it a great way for first-time bloggers to get started. It also is very easily augmented with other forms of media, like YouTube for video, Flikr for photo galleries, and UStream and CoverItLive for live blogging (print, audio, and video).

   Linking via RSS (Really Simple Syndication), you can quickly establish a mobile presence with Facebook and Twitter without creating a unique mobile platform. And, using Issuu, you can create “e-edition” versions of print publications for your audience to share with others, without transmitting electronically.

Step Three: Develop your content

   Referring back to our previous lessons on the topic of citizen journalism, it’s important to have content on your news outlet that will engage your community, your readership (or viewership, or listenership). The content you write needs to meet the community’s need to know: “What does it mean to me?”

   The first duty of any journalism outlet is to serve as the eyes and ears of its people, to stand in their stead at public meetings to ensure the people’s business is done in accordance with the law. We will delve into that area in future installments.

Step Four: Build your audience

   The goal, ultimately, of any media outlet is to reach the largest audience possible. For-profit media outlets use their audiences to attract advertisers, which pay the bulk of their expenses. Non-profit or hobby media outlets still want to reach the largest possible audience for the purpose of advancing their messages.

   In general terms, quality content will attract a strong audience. This is done by adhering to the core principles of journalism — or, better stated, the Cowboy Code we previously mentioned — to establish that the media outlet will not cut corners and is interested mainly in serving its community.

   Engaging in social media as a means to connect with your community works, as does getting out into the community and meeting people face-to-face. When you have built a personal rapport with your community, it will engage with your media outlet far more easily and effectively.

   It is important to be fully engaged as you look to expand your media outlet through convergence. This is something else we will tackle in the coming weeks.

Written by bfranklinjournalism

March 9, 2011 at 10:00 am