Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What to do when your boss hands you a flip cam

It’s going to happen eventually, if it hasn’t already. Newsrooms are going to start handing out flip cameras to reporters.

It doesn’t have to be an actual Flip cam. Hopefully, it will be a Kodak Zi8 or something else with an audio input, where you can connect a microphone and get decent sound.

There will be snickers from some in what was formerly known as the photo department. People will expect you to fail, because you’re a reporter.

Prepare to blow them away.

See, as reporters, we know how to interview people, get good quotes, take them and put them together in stories. For years, we used audio recorders. Now, we can use these small video recorders. The one thing you can do is killer interviews. That already puts you ahead.

We’ve been over the basics before, but brush up on them. It would help if you have a friend in the photo department. They’ve been through the painful transitions. They should empathize.

I have received encouragement, support and valuable advice from our photo/ video department – the people who really know what they’re doing. They like that I can do some of this on my own. It lessens their workload in a time of dwindling staffs.

Really, I bug the hell out of them for advice. They can attest just how much of a pain in the butt I am. But they also take the time to answer my lame questions, even when they’re crazy busy. I’ve even had a couple of photogs come to me and say, “show me how you did that.”

But in many newsrooms, I’m hearing of reporters getting handed these video cams, then being sent out with no training. Terrible.

Here are a few tips I’ve learned that can make the difference in giving you confidence and competence with video reporting:

  • The camera fits in your pocket. Carry it with you everywhere. In case news breaks, you can whip it out and capture it. This will also guarantee news won’t break out around you. Meanwhile, you can finish the following steps.
  • If your editors are smart enough to buy a camera with an audeo input, hit them up for a microphone, too. You can buy an “L” bracket to attach it all, and it still won’t be that much bigger than a notebook. You can get a whole outfit for less than $200.
  • Just as you read great writers to get inspiration for writing well, find great videos to watch.
  • Watch as many documentaries as your Netflix queue will hold. Even if someone else will be editing the final product, you’ll know what kinds of shots work to go with the interview of your main subjects.
  • Don’t have Netflix? Watch “Independent Lens” or “Frontline” on PBS. By seeing how it’s done right, and you’ll get pick up some techniques you could use. Ira Glass of “This American Life” says when we start learning a new skill our level of expertise is never up to our level of good taste. But if we know what good looks like, we can strive for that. Oh, and listen to “This American Life” to learn how to put together interviews into great stories that aren’t text.
  • Can’t take pretty pictures like your photo counterparts? Use the stills that the photog on the assignment got – but who often doesn’t have time to do the video. You can help with that. I did that on this breaking news story.
  • Mine your archives or the AP photos your news org pays for to get good illustrations for B-roll. See if your interviewee has family pictures or other stills you can use. Take some stills on your flip cam. Crime scene photos that are used in court can be great, too.
  • Subscribe to this group. Yes, you’ll hear a lot of moaning about how bad it is to give reporters video cameras. But occasionally, you’ll see a post about technique or workload, which will help you. And frequently you’ll see great examples of how it’s supposed to be done and what you should be aiming for in your own work. You can also post your videos and get feedback from real pros.

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