Category Archives: experimental

A ‘Quik’ reminder about the importance of science

I went to Glasgow Science Museum yesterday to catch up with former BBC weather forecaster, Heather ‘the weather’ Reid. I spent the whole day there, captured some footage and did some experimenting in my down time. Editing vids on my phone is a god way to kill time waiting for a late plane home.

Things I focussed on:

Packing light

The aim was to take as little as possible. I ditched a larger tripod in favour of a mini Joby one (which I didn’t use in the end, I went for handheld). I packed spare battery charger packs (paranoid about losing power, but I only used one), a lapel mic and extension cable (lapel mic is essential anyway but the museum was very noisy so I still got background stuff. The extension cable means people aren’t tethered to your mobile phone so much and can get a bit more distance during interviews), and two mobiles – my 16 GB iPhone 5S which is my regular phone and a 64GB iPhone 6S which I used for video and photography. Oh, and an iPad Mini for checking emails and doing some ‘other’ work while I was there. I prefer a bigger screen for typing.

Throw in a notepad, purse and a few girly essentials and I was good to go.

Below is an interactive list of most of the kit I carry with me, including prices and links.

Editing and apps

This time I had a play with the Quik app. This allows you to pull in clips and images, trim them, reorder them, add music and text, and then finish with a cool effect or style which you can customise to an extent. The effects are great and look really professional but it often does some strange things to your clips and images, for example, the images I use at the end of the video are a bit jittery and I can’t do much about it (other than not use them). Trying another effect would stop this but is likely to do something strange to another part of the video so a bit of trial and error is required.

What I learned

A few things… that you can travel light and capture and publish some awesome stuff on your phone. That wondering around shooting video, even on a phone, requires a bit of confidence. I got stared at a bit. And I avoided capturing people in my clips (save for the two speedy bikers in the time-lapse bridge clip) as most of them were children and I didn’t want to mess around getting permissions and signing forms. You also need decent wifi to be able to publish even little videos to social platforms. Perhaps I need to look into carrying a mobile internet hot spot-type thing?

One of the downsides of all this is that, a day later, I still feel a bit dizzy. I spent most of the morning walking around, and then all afternoon looking down at my mobile phone. Add two flights in the same day and it seems to have offset my natural equilibrium and I feel a bit seasick today. Wonder if that happens to anyone else?

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On talking to a video camera (it’s a learning curve)

Mac and video recording kit

Where I’ve been working today – in the chaos of the homestead.

Today, after a super inspiring session Skype interview with the lovely Jennifer D Begg (who filmed herself while Skyping me) I did a ‘put myself in front of the camera and talk’ thing.

Oh, and it was very uncomfortable. The face for radio doesn’t help but I came across lots of hurdles. You’ll find the video I’m referring to here and below is what I learned along the way. So you can learn too.

Positioning: what’s behind you when you press record?

When I first set up, behind me were two kids’ bibs, some empty wine bottles and a pile of washing up. Not very professional. So I positioned my screen and myself to give a nice clean background (the white space also allows for room to put subtitles, graphics etc in later if I so desired). If I was doing a video chat on the perils of being a parent, however, I would have left the bibs and washing up in. Make your background appropriate to your content.

Nice and bright is best

With this said and done, I looked a bit dark on screen. So I flicked on the lights and brightened myself up with tonnes of eye bag cream to hide the dark circles and some red lippy. Bright colours always work well on camera so if you can wear something bright it’ll make a difference.

Dry mouth? Pass the water

That lip smacking sound you can hear? The really irritating one? My mouth was dry and a glass of water would have sorted it right out. Or possibly some editing. Always play your recordings back to make sure you’re happy – unexpected noises can sneak their way in without you realising.

Scripted: Remembering what to say

It’s hard to read a script and look at the camera at the same time and eyes darting all over the shop probably isn’t the effect you’re aiming for. So, I popped my script on an online posr it note at the top of my screen (as close to the camera as possible) and attempted to scroll my way through it. A few attempts later and I felt comfortable with what I was saying, but… it was a bit formal.

Trying something different

I then thought I’d take my own advice – this is something I always say when interviewing other people: “If you fluff a  line, don’t panic and stop, just take a breath, correct yourself and keep going.” This is important if you want a single batch of video footage (easier for editing, rather than slotting two together) and sometimes, the odd slur keeps it real (again, this depends on your content and audience).

In this video I decided to be more informal and explain how hard it is to record yourself before launching into my script and be honest about my flickery eye movements and pauses to scroll. I also stumble on my words, but I just keep going. This is what makes me a real person, unpolished, imperfect and me. Once again, it depends on audience but sometimes the off hiccup gives a video authenticity and that ‘in the moment’ feel.

Cutting corners: to edit or not to edit

This one-take wonder, errors and all, reduces the need for editing. Some vids will always need some editing but some don’t. And when time is short, cut corners and get on with it. All I did for this one is add a crossfade at the start and end and change the thumbnail (the images that displays when you first see the video) to one where my mouth wasn’t hanging open. Not only did I cerate the video I was asked to as part of an MA assignment, I’ve also learned something and turned it into a blog post. Win win.

And there you have it. The best way to create good videos is to practice, over and over. We will all make mistakes and that’s part of the learning curve so don’t be afraid to experiment and play them back – no one need ever see then!

Communities of practice: critical evaluation

When I began to explore the world of video and audio it was easy to hark back to my print journalism days and strike a comparison between the two. At first, I was keen to avoid doing that; to embrace the new. But in fact, the principles of journalism apply whatever the medium, it’s just the approach and production that’s different. I actually found having print experience to compare and contrast to the production of online audio and video helped embed my newfound knowledge and gave me more to offer the communities of practice.

Throughout my exploration of online video and audio, I’ve learned a lot, not least that good quality sound is essential. Adam Westbrook and Christian Payne lead by example in their fields, but what’s also clear is this: there are no hard and fast rules. There’s great scope for flexibility and creativity and no such thing as a ‘paint by numbers’ approach to multimedia journalism.

The community is in agreement on several principles: good quality sound is vital, be prepared, have a Plan B, and to be clear about the story you’re trying to tell and who you’re trying to tell it to. Most everything else is flexible and practitioners won’t agree; each will have their own preferences when approaching online video and audio.

I’ve also found that just as citizen journalism was, at first, shunned and later embraced as a valued source of news, video and audio reporting using ‘everyman’ technology such as smartphones is just as capable of reporting a news story (Sky news reportage of London riots, for example) despite efforts to retain professional production standards. There are vast numbers of tools to be used but the advice is to focus on sound quality as most ‘everyday’ video cameras can record at high quality.

Blogging

What’s been of most use for me is to follow those who blog about their work; to follow their learnings, take note of the things they’ve tried and tested, and ask questions.

As I embarked on this project to delve into communities of practice around video and audio journalism, I have endeavored to ‘blog as I go’ and record my learnings. This has helped my blog stats considerably and since starting the assignment I’ve increased hits, followers, subscriptions and comments, as well as gained new follows to my associated @journonest Twitter account.

For the first time I used the relatively new reblog feature on WordPress to embed blog posts by others onto my own, as well as recording my own learnings via blog posts. At first it seemed lazy but the reblog feature proved a useful way to pool relevant content together in one place, while giving the original author credit.

As well as reflecting on my own learnings I created a ‘Tips for Tuesday’ weekly post in which I share a new list of useful resources and this is something I’d like to continue; to be a regular feature of my site.

Social media

I focused on experts in the field on Twitter to follow and learn from. I used the online aggregator Paper.li to create a Twitter newspaper called Multimedia Mag to pull together tweets around multimedia, specifically focusing on journalism, audio and video. This attracted a lot of retweets and highlighted some interesting and relevant content although I had to play with the settings to avoid pulling in content in foreign languages, and some content is slightly off topic or too advertising-led, which reduces the appeal.

I created Twitter lists, one for audio, one for video, to aggregate tweets by the people I identified as experts and also subscribed to other relevant Twitter lists, one created by a former MA Online Journalism student.

And I used Twitter to ask questions of the community, including recommendations for tools and editing programmes to use.

While I did tweet links to my blog posts (set to auto tweet as I post) and other useful links, and got retweets, I should have been more proactive in asking for feedback on my own work and could have done more to encourage distribution and interactivity around the communities of practice. With that said, I am a beginner and my support network in this field will grow as I develop my skills and have more to offer. For example, a retweet by @Documentally helped me get more hits to my content on this particular day but comments/discussion around the topic would be something to aim for in the future.

I neglected to use other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, finding Twitter to be the easiest/best for my needs, but these are channels I’d like to explore in the future.

Subscriptions and links

I also subscribed to sites such as Finding the Frame, MediaStorm, Media Bistro, Adam Westbrook’s blog and others (see Tips for Tuesday) to catch up on latest multimedia news and advice via Google Reader or newsletters direct to my inbox.

And I kept a record of interesting and relevant posts by bookmarking them in Delicious under video and audio tags. I also found online tutorials and tookits really useful, including this Audacity tutorial by Mindy McAdams.

Events

Due to a number of factors, one being a lack of relevant events in my area, I wasn’t able to mingle with other members of the multimedia community as easily as my full time equivalent BCU students in Birmingham. However, I have signed up to a locally established MK WordPress group, MK tweetup group and at the end of the month I’ll be attending The Guardian’s Open Weekend including their session on ‘How to make a video’ as well as MK Hacks’ Day in May.

Interviewing the professionals

Without the ability to attend events I did want to catch up, face to face, with experts in the field. I interviewed Tracy Buchanan, a multimedia editor with The Open University’s Open Media Unit about her roll at work and how she’s used video to help promote the other part of her professional life as a recently published author. Character is an important part of journalism and promotion and Tracy felt it was easier to give readers a slice of her personality via online video.

I exchanged emails with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, who shared some useful links via Delicious and I researched his more open approach to mobile and multimedia journalism which was in sharp contrast to the views of others, for example radio journalist Caroline Beaven who believes good audio needs planning. I’ve also commissioned Christian to do some video with me for my day job, in which I’ll spend the best part of three days with him creating and editing footage.

I spent an afternoon with Roger Stotesbury from Jump Off The Screen video production company in Milton Keynes who gave me a great insight into his work, and offered some useful tips, especially focusing on giving the interviewee control to make them feel more comfortable in front of the camera. Roger showed me his new studio and equipment and has invited me to sit in on some editing projects in the future. I also learned a lesson about drinking coffee while recording an interview.

Fellow MA student and video journalist Franzi Baehrle wrote a guest blog post for me on how she began her career in Germany and the valuable lessons she’s learned along the way and I’ve been an active contributor to her own blog, debating over best practice and mistakes we’ve made and learned from.

I found that listening to other people – and about the mistakes they made when they started out – helped my learning; it’s refreshing to know everyone, even seasoned professionals, make mistakes and move on. They all offered advice on putting interviwees at ease, what equipment to use and different styles: Documentally on the power of unplanned audio, Roger on where to position your interviwee for effect and Tracy on using the right style of video for the right audience.

Forums

Apart from what I refer to as technical forums offered by the creators/owners of editing tools such as Audacity I found it a) difficult to find relevant forums to contribute to and b) struggled to contribute because of my limited knowledge. As a beginner, I felt it best to learn by trial and error and research, rather than posing questions ‘for the sake of it’ on forums. These forums were also highly technical and not a place beginners can easily contribute. I found it easier to learn by looking at other people’s content and commenting, rather than through forums. For example, listening to this podcast I learned how to include links within your audio, a feature I previously wasn’t aware of.

Reading

As well as reading books on the practicalities of audio and video journalism, and ‘how to’ guides both in print and online, supported by blog posts from experts such as Adam Westbrook, I managed to find a hard copy of a video guide produced by The Guardian in 2008 as I cleared out my office drawers. This offered a wealth of informative articles around creating newsy videos and is something I’ll hang onto for future reference. And I posted an image – for variety – on my blog to suggest useful reading resources for other newbie multimedia journalists.

Comments

I endeavored to share my own experiences and opinions on other sites by commenting where I had something to add; either a differing opinion or experience, praise or feedback to help others improve and this often led to discussion. This is something I’d like to do more of – more opinions make for a rounded picture, and every new comment on a blog is a new contact in the field.

Experimentation

If I have any chance of becoming a successful multimedia journalist I have to try things. I started by recording an AudioBoo talking about why I’ve chosen to do this MA, to get used to being recorded (and found it strange to be the one talking rather than asking the questions).

I produced other podcasts, an audio slideshow and a video using a variety of equipment and software to compare the differences and find what I’m most comfortable with (I’m not sure yet!). My experimentations included use of the following: iPhone, Kodak Zi8, AudioBoo, Audacity, Final Cut Express, iMovie, YouTube, Soundcloud and the iPhone Recorder Pro app. What I need to do more of is focus on audio (by investing in a microphone) and try using a tripod to avoid shaky hand syndrome and to have one less thing to concentrate on (it’s easier to focus on the interviewee when you don’t have a camera in your hand).

Immersing myself into the world of online video and audio is just the start of this learning curve for me and I’ve realised that good multimedia journalism often takes research, preparation, strong narrative and pacing. For the most part my appraoch, to date, has been the ‘quick and dirty’ one, to capture unscripted, unedited footage to save time. With this in mind I’m looking forward to trying a more methodical approach, which brings me to…

Assignment 2: Specialist portfolio

For the second assignment this semester I intend to create a series of podcasts off the back of the Cybher conference which celebrates women bloggers. I plan to research and interview both those who are speaking at the event and those who are attending as delegates in order to find some human interest stories and promote what connects them: the blogosphere, and how it’s impacted their lives. I plan to record my research on a Tumblr blog as I go and embed the podcasts on a web page to invite comment and the sharing of stories by the blogging community.

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Experimenting with audio slideshows (and a tribute to my dog)

My first attempt at an audio slideshow saw me accidentally creating my dog’s epitaph, probably because I used track seven off this album as it shares the same name as my nearly two-year-old cocker spaniel. So, thankful that my furry friend is very much alive, I changed the music to something more jolly and came up with this:

Okay, so it’s rushed and rough around the edges but for the purposes of experimentation, successful. I used iMovie on the Mac which I found to be an intuitive tool. I found my way around the functionality with ease and it allowed me to do all the things I wanted, including easy cropping and positioning of images, the length of time images appeared and it was simple to add titles, rolling credits and music.

What I learned:

  • iMove is great for beginners, intuitive and the more you experiment the more you’ll discover you can do
  • Low quality images won’t go unnoticed. I used a few here and it’s really obvious so stick to good quality and your slideshow will look much sharper
  • You can time your images to the beats of the music, which works well and creates more impact but takes some time to master
  • It’s dead easy to export your finished file which I then chose to upload to YouTube and embed on this blog
  • A sequence of images to music (or an interview or one-person narrative) can be a powerful combination. My initial attempt with the track, Ralphie, bought tears to my eyes (yes, quite possibly, I need to get a grip)

I’d definitely be keen to try audio slideshows in the future; on a personal level I prefer watching a slideshow over a video but I can’t quite put my finger on why.

The Guardian has a great collection of audio slideshows and here’s one on a dog theme, to compare to mine.

For other great examples of audio slideshows check out these by MA Online journalism students: Hedy Korbee’s about the history of a school (I love the creaking door at the start) and this one by Sihlangu Tshuma about a man who makes his home on an allotment in a suburb of Birmingham.

The Garden of Eden from sihlangu on Vimeo.

 

 

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Be prepared and don’t be afraid to implement a Plan B

The boy scouts may have coined the phrase “be prepared” but it’s certainly one that applies to journalists too. Harking back to my newspaper days, as long as I had a stack of biros in my pocket, a notepad to hand and honed shorthand, I was good to go. Multimedia journalism takes a little more prep.

If you’re doing video or audio you need to think about kit – have you got the right/best equipment for the job, do you need a tripod, a microphone, extra batteries, access to power points? Will you have access to light, will it be noisy, will you have room to capture the shots you want? And even when you’ve loaded up with everything you think you need, something can still go wrong.

As Roger Stotesbury, of Jump Off The Screen, said to me, you can call back and get an additional quote if you need one, but when making videos if you don’t capture what you need on the day, there’s no going back.

This quote by American motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar is a personal favourite of mine:

“Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes. Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting; in the trying, not the triumph.”

So, yes, be as prepared as you can but don’t fret if Plan A doesn’t quite come off. Plan B is better than no plan at all. Take, for example, the time my colleague managed to record an interview on her mobile phone… sideways. Yes, sideways! It’s that common mistake we’ve no doubt all done in which we turn the camera to get a wider shot and forget that the lens doesn’t swivel with it. The result? Unusable footage. Panic not though, strip the audio off and use it as an audio interview instead, and that’s what we did with the sideways lady and it worked just fine. Phew!

There are other things you can do when a video or audio interview goes wrong too, such as transcribing what you’ve got and writing it up. If you take some pictures you’ll always have a picture story to fall back on. Absolute worst case scenario? It’ll make a cracking reflective blog post after the event!

Another example (can you tell I’ve embarked on a steep learning curve here?) is when equipment fails you and you need to pull a Plan B out of the bag. I’d gone along to one of The Open University’s degree ceremonies to capture some video interviews with graduating pilots from the Royal Navy, looking very dapper in their uniforms. I’d cleverly – or so I thought – deleted everyting off the Kodak Zi8 the night before so I knew I had room to film. But the camera screamed “full” at me about 30 seconds into the first interview. Panic. I tried again. Nothing.

“The most useful tool for you as a journalist is often the smartphone in your handbag or pocket,” says Sarah Marshall. And she’s so right. I whipped out the iPhone, took some photos and pulled up the AudioBoo app. Hoorah! AudioBoo saved the day and I managed to create some usable interviews. No, they weren’t on video as I’d planned and wanted, but it hadn’t been a wasted trip. Much relief!

Nothing in life runs smoothly and journalism is just the same, so aim to do your best and pat yourself on the back when you manage to salvage a near disaster. In fact, if you’ve had any near misses, feel free to share them and make me feel better :0)

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