Six things to ‘forget’ to make better video

Image by jsawkins on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

There is a lot of remarkable online video out there but surprisingly little of it is the effort of journalists or media professionals.

I have a theory that this is because traditionally trained journalists have a huge disadvantage over what you might call amateurs: more often than not we’ve been taught how to make television. Once you’ve learned these rules it is incredibly hard to unlearn them.

If you come from a traditional journalism background you will probably have been taught to make television news. Even if you’re schooled in print you’ll lean towards the mannerism of the idiot box.

But I think if you want to make remarkable, meaningful online video that connects with an audience, and conveys meaning effectively, then we need to unlearn some things.

Six things to “forget” to make better video

1. You tell the story. In television the reporter tells the story, usually in long voice over narration and pieces to camera. In (good) online video the subject tells their story, in their own words. You are just a conduit. If your ego can’t handle that, go work in television.

2. Video = interviews+b-roll. When asked to do a video story, many think straight to “who am I going to interview?”, get that done and then film some extra shots to float over the top. It doesn’t have to always be this way. The Boston Globe have forgotten this rule and produced this wonderful series of ‘Primary Moments’ following the Republican campaign trail. Each one is mere seconds long, but gets what video does best: showing us things we don’t normally see.

3. The audience will watch anything. People watching television tend to be sitting on comfy sofas with a dinner tray on their lap. Another channel is an argument with the family and a reach for the remote control away. In online video, your viewer’s mouse is already in their hand – and the statistics show that 20 percent of viewers (on average) drop off after just 10 seconds. That means that if your video gets one-million hits, 200,000 of them didn’t see past the first 10 seconds.

4. Interviews & panel discussions are interesting. These things are actually boring, especially on the web. Question Time has David Dimbleby, several well known faces, a Steadicam and 10 tonnes of lighting equipment to make it look good. Your organisation’s annual conference does not.

5. Cutaways are vital. These are the shots that we float over the top of our interviews, often to hide an edit we’ve made. A hallmark of television news, but with all other aspects of the internet, online viewers demand transparency. So be honest about your edits and don’t try to hide them.

6. News is best delivered by a journalist staring down the barrel of the lens. The newsreader is a dreadful hangover from radio that not even television can shake off. News is best delivered not by telling us, but by showing us what’s happening in the world – you know, with pictures and stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I envy the 16-year-old YouTube film makers and the ordinary people who can just go out with a camera and make films without any predisposed ideas about what video is supposed to look like. They can just focus on making the pictures tell the story, which is what video ought to be about.

Adam Westbrook is a multimedia journalist, blogger and lecturer who has spoken on integrated storytelling at previous news:rewired events.

At news:rewired – media in motion on 3 February there will be an entire session dedicated to the topic of online video journalism, hearing from key figures in the industry about how to be innovative in web video. The panel will feature Christian Heilmann of Mozilla Popcorn, Josh de la Mare, editor of video at the Financial Times, John Domokos, video producer at the Guardian and David Dunkley Gyimah, video journalist, academic and consultant. See the full agenda here.

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