I have been thinking a lot about the move that print journalist are making across to video. Although the debate around the politics of the move seems loudest, preparing a training course for print journo’s producing video for their websites got me thinking about the practical issues.
Here are some of the issues. It’s a work in progress and may be esoteric but I hope to build on it over the coming weeks.
The value of wordsUPDATE – Vin Ray makes a very similar point to this in his excellent book The Television News Handbook. Which I flicked through after writing this post – UPDATE
In an exercise with a group of print journalists, I gave out some background information for a story with a view to writing a first draft of a script and producing a shot list. I suggested that they could try and write it as they would for the paper and then write the script so we could compare the approach.
The stories came out, on average at between 3-400 words. The script, I told them, should be a minute – around 150 words. This caused horror. We were wasting 200 words.
We shouldn’t forget that words are a print journalist’s primary means of expression. We often lose sight of that in the accuracy, clarity and brevity driven ethos of the newsroom where the tight-writer is top of the class. We emphasise the concept of filling space, counting letters and words to make sure we don’t bust a headline. But the reality is that, if the information is there, space will be made for the longer piece.
In TV, even if the information is there, we still have finite amount of time, less on the web, and it isn’t likely to be 400 words worth. That makes script writing practice a vital issue. Not for the tone or the style, but to ease the pain of restricting the use of one of a print journalists most treasured tools.
The value of pictures
If we take away the words then we have to fill the gaps with pictures. The move to video means that print journalists should be thinking more about pictures, a job usually left to a photographer. But using a camera is almost like journalistic kryptonite. It reduces the most hardened of hacks to a jelly. Photographers are less fazed by the kit, once they locate the buttons, but talk to a photographer about scripting a news story from scratch and they visibly blanch.
The technical limitations of web video mean that movement in the frame like zooms and pans are a bad idea. Better to frame good static shots and cut in movement in the edit suite. Here the photographer’s eye becomes valuable. All that needs to be developed is how the images work in sequence.
Some of the best results I see from journalists new to video are produced in conjunction with a photographer and I think that in a developing newsroom, training and mentoring should concentrate on that kind of pairing. It isn’t just about letting the photographer pass on their experience with composing shots and the journalist help in developing the script and the story. It should be a true collaboration.
This may be one that’s more for the UK, but it is a practical issue none the less.
Most print journalists will have shorthand of at least 100wpm. That makes for some pretty fast note taking. During the exercise above, I noticed that many of the participants were taking notes in shorthand. Some even wrote their scripts in shorthand. The result was like watching people work in a second language. Even practical things like counting the words in a script to check timing took longer.
More to follow.