What’s new is old is new again…

I remember when CNN started up in the 70s. Friend of mine (a camerawoman) came up to me one day and said, “There’s this guy from CNN who said he’d make me a star!” She was smiling and I laughed. A cameraman a star? Seemed like a podunk idea…going nowhere fast. But THAT sure didn’t happen. CNN went on to become a worldwide organization.

Well what’s old is new again. Michael Rosenblum, the alleged “father of videojournalism”, is starting up a new network. (I say “alleged” in a friendly spirit…although he didn’t create the role or coin the term, he has most definitely promoted the concept.)

Here’s what’s out: it look as if this dream of his will be based in Nashville, where he is looking for staff. It appears contributors will be based on the VJ model. Beyond that…well we all get to wait together. Been having fun speculating with friends about where this is headed (and where it might head), and while ideas abound, real facts are kind of hard to nail down.

What I will say is, I hope it breathes some fresh air into a career that is sadly lacking at times. While there are some truly great cameramen and VJs out there and some stations and organizations that truly support them, they are in the minority. If Rosenblum is willing to pay a living wage to get the best, I wish him and his cause the best. If he is willing to support quality and ethical storytelling, go for it! There is a need for something beyond the bland flash that passes for news and visual storytelling today…dare we hope this is it?

(Transparency: along with probably thousands of others, I’ve tossed my resume into the pile headed Rosenblum’s way. With caveats of course. He has his standards and may reject me. Ditto my side re my requirements. Being retired does have its perks.)

Call of the open road…

Retirement isn’t what it is cracked up to be. I’ve had what would amount to a regular summer off for a teacher and have been busier than any other summer.

Volunteering to set up a website for an organization my husband belongs to. 48 Hour Film Project. My first post-retirement gig. Cleaning corners of the house that haven’t seen light since we moved in fifteen years ago. Training my replacement (would you believe the head of the Socials Studies department at my high school?) in the basics of video. Finishing up all of those little projects left over at the end of school. And more.

All of this so I wouldn’t feel guilty when the open road called again…as it has. Wednesday I answer that call, heading into the Old West by going east to Wyoming.

And I’ll have company…veteran VJ Kathy Newell will accompany me before heading off to her newest gig in one of California’s many wine regions.

If you live along that open road, give us a shout and we might just drop in (if you offer us story ideas and a chance to sit down and chew the bacon).

I’ve got a couple of little potential VJs sitting up in the north corner of the state, waiting for their great auntie-in-law to turn up and turn them on to what good photography is. They’ve got the first part right – they love to shoot. Now they just have to learn the rest of it – and keep that love going.

So sit back and relax and listen…you might just hear the old van wheezing by with a couple of dreamers looking for the truth. On the road again…

The next generation…

Interesting…as newspaper VJs move towards more complex and larger camcorders, broadcast is downsizing to smaller, more mobile cameras.

In the beginning newspaper photogs were learning video – all about motion and audio. How what they had been shooting their entire lives had to be rethought once they stopped aiming for a moment in time and instead were aiming for a sequence and telling a story with flow of motion and sound. Video is more complex – more akin to weaving elements together than stopping time.

As they got better at their new craft, these new VJs, OMB, backpackers got better and better gear…and some of their gear is even redefining standards for moviemaking, not just news (think 5D here).

The opposite has been going on over on the broadcast side. The one man band has always been part of TV news…kind of the poor cousin. OMBs were used by the smaller stations or even larger stations in their outlying bureaus.

Mike Rosenblaum (among others) broke the collar of shame, re-coined the craft as Videojournalist and rightfully set things straight…VJs can be masters of vision. On my side of the coast KRON in San Francisco raised them to star status – and buddy Stanley Roberts showed that even the toughest glare-you-down street shooter could masterfully craft stories all on his lonesome.

Now the camera is following the craft. In a much earlier post (which I’m still looking for) I asked why TV stations weren’t allowing their VJs the freedom of smaller cameras (Stanley by the way does use a compact size Sony).

Earlier this week a major player in broadcasting announced that it was ramping up use of prosumer cameras by its staff.

Hearst Corporation’s Next Generation Newsroom Project portends a major shift in thinking for television news room. Beginning with three stations in 2009, moving on to six this year with six more projected to come on board next year, JVC GY-HM100 cameras are marching into the hands of camera crews.

These crews (according to Hearst) will NOT replace, but rather will augment the traditional broadcast newscrew…aiming at the Internet audience rather than the (again, traditional) front of the tube group.

The good – overburdened crews get a respite for their backs…and hopefully this move will continue so eventually all crews get the more portable cameras. Laptops to edit…this camera natively imports to both Adobe Premier and Final Cut. Hearst is going the PC route with Dell laptops and Premier (which is dual platform by the way). The camera is a three-chipper with 1/4 inch CCDs and has both XLR and mini-jack audio inputs. Best yet, it shoots to SD cards (don’t know if you have to use the nearly $300 SDHC cards or can get by with less expensive ones).

The bad: one little line buried in the end of the press release:

…the GY-HM100 is the ideal camcorder for the Next Generation Newsroom Project, because it is a full-featured professional camcorder that records to inexpensive SDHC solid-state media, yet it is not intimidating to non-technical personnel.

Yeah…those three words at the end. Non. Technical. Personnel. Hmmm….reporters? Interns?

(Thanks to b-roll for the heads up.)

Book feedback summarized (keep it coming)…

Still open to suggestions regarding the Videojournalism textbook for high schools. See post immediately below for the overview and table of contents. Read and let me know what is missing or you don’t need.

Here’s a summary of feedback so far from teachers and co-authors, plus some re-thinking on my part.

Can we just begin with the gear section?
I would guess many teachers would rather cut to the chase and focus on teaching writing, shooting, editing and not begin with history/law/ethics.
No – in fact we may expand that section. This is a book introducing students to videojournalism. A very big part of VJ is ethics, knowledge of history and law, albeit an overview. Ethics is the heart and soul of journalism. Knowledge of rights protects journalists. History helps you understand why things are done a certain way.
We will (in the teacher’s PowerPoints) change the order in which you have to teach. I understand that getting gear into student hands as soon as possible is a great way to excite them about the class and its possibilities….but these lessons have to be in there early so students know what they can/cannot do.

Christine Stricker wants more on scriptwriting. Me too…I admit it is an area I struggle with. I’ve developed some short lessons and templates (and suggest LOTS of practice) to help. We’ll include fact sheets and raw video with interviews to assist in that area.

The suggested “do’s” and “don’ts” brought up something we’d used in the past – giving good and bad examples. We will try to incorporate as many of those as possible into the book (both in text and video examples).

One of our original considerations/now a firm decision is to include a DVD with raw video, examples and in the teacher edition PowerPoint lesson plans with video embedded to drive home points/he.p students visualize lessons.
The questions is – would that help? Would teachers prefer completed examples or perhaps also raw video files that students can view and log and then write their own scripts and edit?
Also in teacher edition – national standards? A guide to tie in with your state standards? Interested? Let us know.

Angela – thanks for the mention in your blog. I welcome professional input, but the book is meant to be a basic beginner book for high school students. Please please send me your input…but I need to keep this focused on my target audience. (I do want input on the newsroom flow though…what works/what doesn’t…how a video story progresses through a newsroom and onto the web.)

We are also trying to avoid being product specific as much as possible. Technology is changing so rapidly that we can’t get into how to use one camera/program to shoot/edit. By the time we go to print, it will have changed.

Lisa touched on something we will include – a resources chapter with recommended websites/links/etc. The best way to stay current is to use the Internet as much as possible.

Which brings up another point. What FORMAT would this work best in?
Larry keeps returning to the idea of a binder or spiral-bound book so that material can be changed easily. Then book would be a workbook – a consumable.
Is there a preference for such a book or is the traditional bound book preferable? You let us know. (I kind of lean towards Larry’s idea. He is the practical one.)

So keep emailing/adding comments.

One fun thing I’ve learned – I contacted my district curriculum person about using the book in binders for a trial run next term (Spring 08) and was told it needed to be approved by the curriculum committee. Apparently what I use as teacher-generated materials in class is different when I put it in a binder (and mention it is a precursor to a book).

Note to myself 10/01/08
Ya know…this makes a good notebook (as I’m about to head out the door to pick up a van load of students for a field trip to Caples Lake).
Question: Where did I put the chapter on converting video to files and types of files and getting it on the Internet?
Answer: in the back of my brain of course. Mentally told myself we need something in that area and then forgot to note down. This should be the final chapter – almost. Once you’ve exported to the correct file format – then what?
Well, I’m always prepping my gear the minute I’m through using it…mentally preparing for the next story. Actively looking for the next story. It never ends.

Need your input on textbook…

For the past couple of years I’ve been casually working on my “book.” (Yeah Lens…I know. Every journalist has a book inside him – and that’s where it should stay.)

This whole thing began more than five years ago when Larry Nance and I sat down and tried to design a workbook for a class we wanted to put on at our local community college. It has morphed, been field tested, and is expanding to a point where I don’t think we can call it a workbook any more. Now Larry and I are both VERY experienced (read aging) and need to finish our epic within our life spans…and Kathy Newell has hopped on board to help out.

What WAS a workbook about video production in general is now (nearly) a textbook focusing on videojournalism aimed at high schools (maybe a bit higher/maybe a bit lower). It is a combination of hands-on exercises, lessons, and a bit of ethics, history, and law thrown in.

What I need now is some input from you teachers (and learners) out there. Here is (tentatively) what’s in the book, by chapter. YOU tell me what isn’t in there that you want/need.

Controlling Chaos
Objectives
The New Paradigm
Where We’ve Been
- One Minute History of Journalism
- Photojournalism
-A Slice in Time/history of broadcast cameramen
What’s the Law?
- First Amendment
- Hazelwood, Tinker, and Bong Hits 4 Jesus
- Open Forum v. Class
Beyond Law: Ethics
- Overview
- Professional Codes of Ethics
- Scenarios
What changes and what doesn’t (gear vs. process)
Gear
- Tape
- Other media
- Camera(s)
- Tripods
- Mikes
- Lights
- Other accessories
Composition
- Rule of Thirds
- Weighing In On Light and Dark
- Strong Foregrounds
Light
– The Color of Light
– The Hand Trick
– Natural Light
– Supplemental Lights
– Light Experiment
– Light Summary
Audio
– Audio as an Equal Partner
– Mikes
– Nats
– Miking an Interview or Standup
– Listen and Monitor
– Shooting/editing tips to save bad audio
– Highs and Hazards of Music
Shooting
– Procedures
– Basic shots
– Axis Rule
– Sequencing
– Patterns
– Angles
– In-camera editing
– Shooting ratios
– Interview Framing
Shooting Interviews
– Implied consent
– Conducting an interview
– Checklist for interviews
Boring But Gotta Be Done: Logging Tape
Producing Order from Chaos: Writing the Script
- Storytelling
- Beginning/Middle/End
- Hit Audience with Strongest First
- Objective Voice
- VJ Voice
Narration
– Reading narration properly
Editing
– Overview and Media Management
– Editing video
– Editing Sound
– Adding Titles
– Narration
– B-roll
– Covering an Interview
– Using Stills (and Freeze Frames)
Assignments
– Basic shots
– Interview
– Simple assignment
– Field story
– Research PowerPoint
– Data Collection
Forms
Terms and definitions
Resources
Handouts
Basic Camera Diagram/parts
Basic Tripod Diagram/parts

Right now I’m down to the hard stuff (for me)…stuff VJs do every day, but is hard to define – hard to tie down. I’ve been able, through this blog, to analyze a lot of what I did in broadcast news…except the writing. Even production is easier. But it is coming together. I wish I could remember who said that writing cannot be taught – it must be learned. At the time I saw that quote, I felt the same way about shooting and editing.

Tomorrow I meet with my two co-authors/collaborators. We’ll discuss what needs to be done to finish up, what illustrations we’ll need and how to go about acquiring them, how we will publish and distribute.

But we’re keeping our ears open for your input – what do YOU need/want in a textbook. Let us know.

Morning musings 9/16/08…

Mexicanos, viva Mexico! Mexican independence from Spain is celebrated today. And no, don’t correct me by saying that Cinco de Mayo is the day. The fight to regain their country began in 1810 on the 16th of September. The new government took power in 1821 after more than ten years of fighting.

But those pesky Europeans weren’t to be kept away that easily…they came back in force (Spaniards, British and French) to collect debts (and land if they could grab it). Cinco de Mayo celebrates a victory against the French forces, which did not accept warrants guaranteeing eventual repayment.

Enough history for now. I’ve been collecting ideas and scraps of newspaper (yeah…I am one of those) that have tickled my mind. It’s time to bring them out for exposure and discussion. If the first segment dithers on, here’s what will crawl across your retina this morning:
*remedial classes for entering college freshmen
*support my favorite author
*a weighty issue regarding VJ gear

“College spend billions to prep freshmen.” That’s a headline in my local rag over an AP story. Now there’s a story worthy of any high school paper…and it can be localized easily. Students graduating from high schools with high grades who need to take remedial courses. Who’s at fault for students not learning? First off – I heartily commend the colleges for refusing to lower their standards. If a student can’t hack it, they should not take full college fare. Remedial classes help them catch up.

Now the snipe hunt begins. Let’s blame the high school teachers – they were the last to have hands on and pass these kids. Oops…but the high school teachers say they’re getting kids out of middle schools who are unprepared. And the finger-pointing goes all the way down the path, including uninvolved parents and society in general.

Take a look around at your school or school district. Find out how many of your local college-bound students hit the hard wall of reality and have to take remedial courses just to understand and pass those regular classes. Is grade inflation at the high school level to blame…poor teaching…poor communication of what colleges expect? Let me know when you get the story.

Ever diverging and crossing paths. 1974 – I land my first job as a TV news photog and get the night shift and reporter Joann Lee. One intense year for both of us in the trenches…she with at least two or three more months on the job than me. We developed the kind of bond that can last a life-time, based on our unique status as only cameraWOman and Asian in our jobs at that time in the Northern California region.

In Sunday’s SF Chronicle (9/14/08) there’s a review of her second book, written in a style she excels at – the interview. “Asian Americans in the Twenty-First Century.” Haven’t read it yet, but will always support my local (or very distance yet close) author.

Head scratcher: why are TV stations converting photogs to VJs and hiring new folks as VJs and MAKING THEM DO THE SAME DAMN JOB THEY DO ALREADY? Plus, of course, more. Got this from perusing numerous job sites.

Newspapers have it right to some extent. Videojournalism is all about being portable and being able to shoot and produce on your own.

Broadcasters are sending their crew (or is it person now?) out with the live truck, the twenty or thirty pound camera with heavy tripod, light kit. The works. Why?

In the 1970s a cameraman shot with a reporter…sometimes they were lucky and had a sound person. With live trucks came engineers (bless them).

Well some smartie figures out that cameramen could run live trucks. Ouch. Job pressure and danger increased…all that running back and forth between live shot and truck. One station (KXTV) lost a fine photojournalist – Dick Terry when in the rush between truck and shot he fell and impaled a stake through his eye. Trooper that he was, he did the live shot and THEN went on for medical care. He didn’t make it.

Now the job of reporting and shooting and editing and running the live truck all fall on one person.

Come on – just give us (well, really your employees) a break. Quit living in a world where you have to impress folks with the size and cost of your gear and look at quality and weight and portability. You may be surprised at the results. Happy people work harder.

Oh – and rethink that live truck policy too.

Uh-oh. 6:25am and time to skedaddle to school. But before I go – why the heck am I getting so many hits for folks looking up “three daughters” online? Baffling. If you’re one of them, let me know.