Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Print journalists can’t tell a story in pictures. They’re too wordy. That’s the view of many broadcast journalists.

I’ve never believed it, but haven’t until now had the direct evidence to refute it.

This week at PMA, where the 12 postgrads are in week four of their fast-track diploma course in magazine journalism, we’ve just introduced video reporting.

It’s a new element of the syllabus, brought in partly because the magazine industry – like newspapers – has embraced the web and is experimenting with video reporting and podcasting on its websites. Also because PMA is aiming for NCTJ accreditation and is trialling the new Magazine Journalism syllabus that I’ve written for the NCTJ.

So, as if they didn’t have enough to contend with – having been bombarded with news writing, features, subbing, headline writing and flat planning over the past three and a half weeks, I announce this afternoon we are going to make some movies.

The students are a great bunch – smart, savvy, confident and up for any new challenge you care to throw at them. So they were enthusiastic. I was nervous. This was an experiment, and I had little idea how it would go.

I’ve also been trialling an online journalism qualification for newspaper journalists and there has been some fierce debate among some in the industry about how much training is needed to master this new skill.

There is also a debate about the quality of video reporting that we should aim for. Some feel it should be up to TV quality. My view is that, because magazines and newspapers are creating a new hybrid of print and video – sometimes using video as an adjunct to a print report – and publishing it on a screen just a couple of inches square, different standards should apply. Some might say these standards are too low – I say they are appropriate for the online medium

So, it’s early days, but here’s how these 12 students got on.

We gave them one short afternoon. I told them we’d like them to go out in pairs with a camera, and film a vox pop. I gave them a rough brief to make it something to fit in with the magazine that they are creating as part of their course – a B2B title aimed at those who work in the tourism industry within the M25 area, which they have titled Attract London.

We had six groups to share two cameras – straightforward Handycams . They took it in turns to go out and find half a dozen interviewees around the training centre - in Camden - and come back to edit their footage into a coherent package.

They also had a half hour talk on the basics of filming a report – including getting a range of interviewees in terms of age, sex and race; avoiding filming them all from the same side; how to frame their picture; and the importance of getting footage for an establishing shot and other material to be used when you want to edit and need to cut away from the interviewee.

As each pair returned they were shown how to upload their footage – using i-movies in this case. The film uploaded in handy chunks corresponded to each clip they had shot– turn the camera off and you end a clip. Once uploaded they had a grid containing each clip, and could look at each, chop out the bit they wanted from each interview, and drag and drop them to create a storyline.

They quickly identified the good talkers and isolated the sound bites they wanted.

Most had good establishing footage and cut-away shots. As they ran through their material they quickly saw how to organise things: how to tell their story in pictures and sound.

They found out how to marry the speech track of their report with the pictures they wanted; some choosing to start with a piece to camera, others taking their introduction and laying it under their establishing shot. For most it was clear which interviewee should come first, and several had a great ending.

In one afternoon, they had created their first video reports. They were by no means perfect, but the mistakes they made were obvious to them and could easily be rectified.

So what did I learn this afternoon? It was that these bright young people had an instinct for telling stories in pictures – acquired no doubt through a lifetime of watching television. They barely had to think about it.

It bodes will for the Online Journalism qualifications we are trialling. Here is concrete evidence that print journalists can take very quickly to video reporting.

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