Blog v Blog: Video Journalism tips of one blogger scrutinised by another

29 03 2011

By Richard Dodwell 

Blogger Greg Linch has a few tips on how to be a video journalist. Here we scrutinise each of his claims – to see which are the most valid and applicable in relation to the online digital revolution.

From Greg Linch’s blog, our responses are in bold:

  • The story rules. If it’s all pretty pictures, make me a slideshow.

True. But what about motion capture?

  • You’re making a video — not taking a video (h/t Kenny Irby, who really brought it home). It’s not yours. You’re just helping the person or people tell their story or stories (h/t Rich Beckman).

Yes, but make sure to fact-check the story to avoid libel or images which are an inaccurate portrait of events.

  • Lexicon is important (h/t Kenny). Just like with making vs. taking, you’re not shooting, killing, chopping anything. And you’re not a shooter. Words matter. You’re better than that.

You are when you a journalist employed by a news organisation. Be careful not to include anything irrelevant.

  • Video for Web can’t suck just because it’s online. As Rich says, it should be better because it’s primarily being viewed at a smaller size, which enhances your sense of imperfections. But it can also be viewed full-screen, on TV, etc.

Yes, but for youtube purposes or fast-news don’t worry yourself that your video isn’t HD. The BBC/Sky News have run very poor quality video in the past captured on mobile phones. This is because it is first-hand footage.

  • Shorter = better. But there’s no rule for length. It should be as long (really, as short) as it needs to be.

It should be however long you want it to be.

  • You’re not doing soundbites — you need to ask subjects questions so you have them telling as complete a story as possible [Update: As Eric noted in the comments, and I almost included here the first time, this includes making sure you have full sentences. Also, I’ll add that you need to the proper context. How? Awesome questions.], which leads to…

True – context is everything.

  • Avoid narration (way too many people use it as a crutch, both on Web and TV). It should be your absolute last resort. Only reason to use it, I think, is if the story suffers without it. Also, somewhat related…

This may be important, particularly for extended documentary footage… but in relation to online video this does not matter as much.

  • Ditch standups. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to hear you. I’m watching your video because I care about the subject — not you. Sorry.

This is a dodgy remark. Your experience as the reporter may also be vital to the piece… particularly if something has happened to you off-camera, but in context of the visuals.

  • On that note, I don’t really want to see them talking either. More so if it’s just them sitting in a chair, in a boring office, with their boring talking head. The less talking head, the better. If I only see a talking head once, I’m happy.

This is a rather naive analogy. Talking heads might be saying something interesting – just make sure they are relevant and important to the piece. Otherwise omit.

  • Get it in the field, the first time (h/t Jim Virga). Yes, technology allows you to clean up sound and color correct video, but it’s still not going to be as good, it can be very time consuming and it’s lazy [field work]. In that vein…

If you are in a developing country and your resources are limited, then endless editing is probably out of your remit. Raw footage can be powerful – but you may need to perfect your camera/directorial skills first. See Practical Tips for more information on how to shoot video.

  • There’s a saying that audio is 70 percent of video (h/t Miami Herald vjs). Most people are more forgiving if the visuals aren’t great, but if the audio sucks, they’re probably saying see ya. I can’t emphasize audio enough.

This is true and I have found this personally when creating a 7 minute film. Audio with appropriate footage can really bring a video piece to life.

  • Headphones. Always. It shouldn’t even need to be on here. And they’re not your be-all-end-all. The audio meter to see levels is your bestest friend in the whole wide world.

Headphones if you have time. If you are witnessing a shoot-out in the Bahrain protests then you probably won’t have time.

  • Have the eye of a photojournalist making pictures when you aim the camera.


  • Get tons of b-roll. There’s an 80:20 “rule,” which basically means get a lot more footage than you need. Which ties into…

100% correct. We at World VJ cannot emphasise this enough.

  • You may only have one chance to get everything you need. Don’t take anything for granted in terms of interviews and b-roll.

Again, very important.

  • No canned shots or b-roll. If you ask someone to repeat something they’ve done or do something they plan to do, you’re making stuff up. Sorry. Not good journalism. Any re-enactments, simulations, etc. should, first, be avoided at all costs and, if you must, be clearly disclosed.

True, but don’t hesitate to ask someone to clarify something that you have either misheard or they have not said clearly on camera.

  • Record mostly in the range of medium and tight, but be sure to get establishing (wide) shots.


  • Record sequences.


  • Story. Just wanted to make sure you remembered.

We have.

  • There’s no formula.

But planning doesn’t go amiss.

  • Try interesting angles and approaches (h/t Mike Schmidt). Break outside the “safe” zone (h/t Jim). If it doesn’t work, don’t use it. If it does, cool.

Yes but only if you are certain you have enough conventional footage in case it all goes horribly wrong.

  • Your goal should be to use as few (ideally, no) automatic settings as possible (go manual with exposure, white balance, sound and focus) once you’re comfortable with the gear (h/t Jim). I want you to say, “This is my camera. There are many like it, but this one is mine.” You need to explore all the buttons and menus and settings. You need to be able to troubleshoot any problem that you could possibly troubleshoot. When you’re a professional, you can’t make excuses (h/t Jim Virga). No one will want to work with you. If it’s really beyond your control, then it might not be your fault, but you still don’t have what you need. (This is more a problem on deadline.)

On an exercise at City University my team found that the automatic setting on the camera caused sporadic blurring of the subjects in shot throughout the film. This was undetectable when played back on the tiny screen of a camera, but on a big screen is unavoidable and potentially annoying.

  • Just because you can create a video full of narrative, doesn’t mean you should. Sometimes, you just need to let the pictures do the talking. If the video can show it better than a person can describe, just leave that out.

Doesn’t this contradict your idea that every piece of video has to be a story? Every story has a narrative.

  • There is no perfect video. It can never really be finished (h/t Jim Virga). You need to accept and embrace that it can always be better. That’s why it’s so important to knock out as much as you can as early as you can. The more time you have to edit and re-edit and re-edit again, the more time you have to get feedback, the more time you have to sleep on it, etc., the better.

We at World VJ encourage optimism in order to better your technique.

  • How’s that audio? Just checking.

Fine, thanks.

  • Send it to everyone who’s opinion you value or can give you constructive feedback. That’s good for several reasons; namely, it’ll will make you better and it will help get your work/name out there.

This is true, but be weary of biased feedback from friends or those who would naturally support the material. I.e. I recently showed a piece of video journalism I made to a homeless charity and they thought it was fantastic (the film was about homelessness)

  • Show your video to the subjects. If they have e-mail, send them the link. If they don’t, go to them with your computer. Again, it’s not for you. It’s for them and your viewers. (h/t Rich)

This is good practice. Especially when building contacts.

  • There’s no magic. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s almost all skills you can learn with practice.

But if you find you are naturally gifted in this area – go for it.

  • You’re doing an important job. Keep at it and kick butt.

World VJ couldn’t agree more.





2 responses

29 03 2011

Fascinating read!

30 03 2011
7 tips for video journalism success « World VJ

[…] Blog v Blog: Video Journalism tips of one blogger scrutinised by another ( […]

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