Wednesday, June 6, 2007

They call me MISTER tripod

Hillman Curtis predicts in his book “On Creating Short Films for the Web” that video will take over from Flash as the main tool for driving on-line media.

Curtis was one of the developers of Flash and one of the top web designers, doing little sites like Yahoo!

I didn’t learn Flash. Maybe I should learn video. I am, after all, a storyteller, a reporter, so I should at least become familiar with something that just might take over my world as I know it.

I’m not a total stranger. My first job back in high school was working as an intern at a television station, where a very talented photographer named Ed Fillmer taught me the basics of film. Yes, it was film then: 16 mm with big cans like Hollywood. You had to set everything manually and didn’t know what you had until you developed it. You cut it with a razor blade and taped scenes together. Makes the drag-and-drop of video editing seem like a breeze.

Now, all these years later, I can recall what Ed told me when I was 16: shoot a wide establishing shot, then move in for details. Shoot plenty of “b-roll” for cutaways in editing, so you won’t get jerky ”jump cuts.”

It’s coming back to me, albeit slower with age..

There are arguments all over our industry about whether reporters should shoot video. I don’t think anything bad is going to happen because I pick up a video camera. And I am picking up the camera. I’m shooting video to augment stories: to hear the pain in the crime victim’s voice and to capture a scene that is much better seen than told.

Getting started was easy. I cover courts. In Wichita, the courtrooms allow video pools – one camera, everyone else hooks in. Dennis Decker, chief videographer, for KWCH-TV sat down one rainy afternoon and showed me what I needed to hook my “toy camera” – the Canon Elura 85 that is still our newspapers only video camera of the moment, into an XLR audio input and a BNC video input, so I could link up to the court pool. I didn’t even have to shoot it. Someone else did.

Now plenty of people will tell you that “talking heads” aren’t good video, but I direct them to Court TV’s web site, which survives on people clamoring to view talking-head testimony from trials. They even sell a premium service, where people pay to watch testimony from trials.

Rule No. 3 of multimedia reporting: If it’s compelling, people will click on it. Just make sure it's compelling

Plus, you can provide a minute of court testimony or excerpts from a compelling interview, while TV can only do a few seconds.

I started collecting video, then editing excerpts. Then I started trying to shoot and edit some stand-alone stories.

Then one day, Court TV called Katie, our content producer, asking for permission to air one of my videos. It was the first time our newspaper had been asked for video from a television network. By the way, that wasn’t one I’d gotten from a TV pool. That was a clip I’d shot myself.

This week, on the Yahoo! Newspaper Video group, links are flying with proof that reporter’s can do video.

To get started, get some tips on shooting video. Then go to BBC’s “Good Shooting Guide.”

Don’t have a camera? Cyndy Green will tell you what to look for in one under $500.

One final tip: use a tripod. The people in photo will make fun of you. Some at my newspaper even have called nicknamed me “Tripod.” Say what they want, my video doesn't have the shakes.

Don’t have a tripod? Make one from a tennis ball. I’m not kidding. Best link all week, I promise.


  1. Following on from the tennis ball idea. I carry one of these. Clamps to anything car windows, tables, books, dashboards...

  2. This looks great. Our photo department has one similar that they say they've even used on a roller coaster. And the price seems very reasonable. I had an editor tell me, "You're not going to get reporters to carry tripods." But they need them and this is the kind of gadget reporters wouldn't balk at carrying. I'm getting one.