Videojournalism brain dump: Some advice I’ve picked up over the past few years

Poynter College Fellows win again, this time on video. Seriously, that e-mail group is inspiring me. And, yes, I was asked directly. I don’t just randomly spout off like this. Ok, not THIS much. Thanks #pcf09 kids.

This is in response to a request for advice on teaching a video workshop for high school journalists [Update: to clarify, they already have some video recording and editing experience]. One earlier point I made in the thread was about Web vs. TV. And with that...

Ok, so in general, mostly big-picture tips for videojournalism. Quick follow-up, I shouldn’t have said “Web video” before. I consider this advice more in the non-traditional broadcast style because “Web video” should scale to mobile, TV, Hulu, iPhones, pocket watches (wait, what?), whatever (h/t Chuck Fadely re scaling).

I’m biased toward a documentary-style videojournalism, so here it goes:

  • The story rules. If it’s all pretty pictures, make me a slideshow.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shorter = better. But there’s no rule for length. It should be as long (really, as short) as it needs 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…
  • 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…
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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…
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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…
  • You may only have one chance to get everything you need. Don’t take anything for granted in terms of interviews and b-roll.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • There’s no formula.
  • 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • How’s that audio? Just checking.
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • There’s no magic. It’s not something you’re born with. It’s almost all skills you can learn with practice.
  • You’re doing an important job. Keep at it and kick butt.

Non-attributed parts were learned along the way on my own or by some combination of by lessons from professors Rich Beckman and Jim Virga and professionals (check out their stuff online): Chuck Fadely, Travis Fox, Brent McDonald, Garrett Hubbard, Ricardo Lopez and other people I’ve seen speak. Also from articles and blog posts. Just trying to give proper credit.

Speaking of Travis, some great advice: Ten Golden Rules of Video Journalism.

And great resources:

  • NewsVideographer (plus anything in her blogroll)
  • Newspaper Video
  • Documentaries are great sources of inspiration [we watched parts of several in Jim’s class]
  • And, of course, video journalism on news sites (NYT, WaPo, MediaStorm and the like)

That got a little out of hand again. Sorry. I wasn’t trying to be comprehensive, so there may be some points left out.

Everyone: What would you add/subtract/take the square root of?

Good luck, sir.

PS. Yeah, I’ll probably blog this one too. You guys are good, inspiring me to write!

Same question: What would you add/subtract/take the square root of?

Update: I’ve made some minor grammatical changes.

Update 2: People in the e-mail thread have added great insights, such as understanding video for different platforms at a conceptual level, how to plan, how to improvise, etc. Interviewing is huge too. After doing videojournalism for a about two years, I can say without a doubt it has made me a much better interviewer (and listener) after being primarily a text-based reporter for the five years prior.

June 18 at noon EDT: Poynter live chat about avoiding social media overload

UPDATE: The chat is now embedded below.

Yet another CoverItLive blog! Yes, on Thursday at 1 p.m. EDT I will help lead a Poynter live chat about avoiding social media overload (during my lunch break):

How Do I Help Students Handle Information Overload on Social Media Sites?

The URL is simple and easy to remember (and tweet!), so please share the link with others!

Also, please come ready with questions and/or ready to help answer others’ questions.

If you are not able to follow the chat live, you can submit questions beforehand by commenting below or contacting me on Twitter.

I’ll be co-leading the discussion with Poynter’s Sara Quinn, a visual journalism faculty member who oversees the Poynter College Fellowship, which I attended in late May.

Speaking of cool Poynter people…

Mallary Tenore invited me to help with this chat, and I thank her for the opportunity. She’s awesome. If you don’t read her blog or follow her, you should.

I’d also like to thank Ellyn Angelotti, Poynter’s interactivity editor, who you should also follow.

Some background: While at #pcf09, some other fellows and I joined a live chat led by Emily Ingram. Ellyn said if I pitched a good idea, I could lead one too. I mentioned the topic of effectively using various social networks, which soon became this topic. Voila!

TNTJ December: Brand yourself and join the conversation

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that this post is also part of my series, Tips from a J-Student. Red the first post, Picking up skills and contacts at a professional workshop.

(This post originally appeared on the Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists blog ring in response to December’s topic, How have you built your online brand?)

How have I built my online brand? Like many who responded to this month’s topic, some of my online branding has been unintentional.

But I’ll freely admit that there are several steps I’ve taken with my online brand in mind. What follows includes a mix a both:

Web presence

  • If you want to go way back, the first time I put my name on the Web came in middle school when I made a Hometown at AOL site (Hometown was shut down awhile back).
  • I later created a more formal personal site, first on FreeWebs in fall 2004. Next, I built an HTML site created in (cringe) Word and designed with (double cringe) frames for a non-journalism class project in fall 2006. No surprise, I took that one down. Then came a clean and simple HTML/CSS site I hand-coded for an online journalism class project in spring 2008.
  • I bought my domain,, in early fall 2008.
  • I set up a blog, first on Blogger in November 2007 and then moved it to a self-hosted WordPress site on WebFaction in August 2008. The blogging engine doesn’t inherently help your brand, but using WordPress over Blogger has two distinct advantages. For one, I think people respect WordPress more. Second, it shows you are more blog-savvy, especially if you purchase hosting and set it up on your own. Finally, give your blog a unique name (mine is The Linchpen) and a clear tagline (mine is “A blog about online journalism and journalism education).
  • Your blog and/or personal site should have a few key things: an about page with a brief biography, a resume, work samples (writing, video, whatever) and a way for a visitor to contact you.
  • Don’t forget microblogging! Do not underestimate the power of Twitter. Seriously. I have 10 times more followers on Twitter than I have RSS and e-mail subscribers on my blog (I track those stats with Feedburner). I also use Twitter and find it more more useful than “normal” blogging. My online brand is enhanced because I offer updates on my journalism-related activities, provide various insights, share links (including links to new blog posts), contribute to discussions, answer questions and offer assistance when people have problems.
  • Flickr, YouTube,, Vimeo and other social media. In short, I’m on too many. Tip: don’t drive yourself crazy trying to do everything. Focus on what you enoy and what works best for you. After initially driving myself a little crazy, I found a good balance last spring and I’ve adapted that balance since then based on my interests, etc.
  • Wired Journalists and other journalism-related Ning groups. If you’re not on Wired Journalists, that should be one of the first things you do after reading this post.
  • Publish2 – This network is at least a triple threat: create a profile to promote you and your experience, post links to your clips and blog posts and share general links (you can also save them to and post to Twitter by checking two boxes with Publish2’s nifty browser tool). They also have this really cool contest, “I am the future of journalism,” where they are offering the winner a job (shameless plug: vote for my entry!).
  • Link to people because they are likely reciprocate, depending on the circumstances. The more people mention or link to you, the better.

From blogging to joining Wired Journalists, a huge part of building your brand is joining the conversation. Why be a shadow of a person when you can give yourself a face, a voice and an identity. And make friends!

Work, associations and affiliations

  • The Miami Hurricane – Having your name attached to known news organization is helpful. Having your name and a leadership position attached to a known news organization is very helpful. Apparently, I did such a good job ingraining online that I was the editor in chief that some people still think I am (that honor belongs to Matthew Bunch* this year). I was the face of The Hurricane and you should be a face for your organization.
  • The Miami Herald – The earliest memory I have of my name appearing on a Google search result came when I participated in the Herald’s “Teen Speaks” program during my junior and senior years of high school. Since then, I’ve freelanced for the community news section in summer 2005 and worked as a metro intern (writing and video) in summer 2008. Same deal here; your name + their name = good for your brand. I’ve also interned for the South Florida Sun Sentinel and Forum Publishing Group.
  • CoPress – I am the community manager and a core team member, so I am one of the most public faces for the organization. Being a part of and leader with a first-of-its-kind, innovative, foward-thinking organization can’t be a bad thing. Similar to what I do on Twitter, I’m offering insights, advice and joining a conversation, in addition to be part of a group that aims to help collge news sites.
  • Tomorrow’s News, Tomorrow’s Journalists – Yeah, that’s this group! w00t. You can show off your blog smarts, promote yourself and cross-promote your blog. Another instance of being associated with a know brand or a brand larger than yourself (particularly something related to what you want to do – journalism) is very helpful.
  • Online News Association – I can only deduce that my role as student group leader resulted from the online presence, brand and reputation I had established beforehand. Having this role only helps add to my online brand. It’s yet another example of associating with a big-name, professional organization.
  • Society of Professional Journalists – This year I’m the University of Miami chapter president. That doesn’t really help build up my online brand. Entering contests does. This makes it possible to win awards, which gets your name on a nice press release (2005 and 2007), is always good. It’s especially when those press releases are posted on major news sites like Yahoo and Reuters.
  • Capitalize on associations – Example: “Miami Herald internship” is the second most popular keyword people use to find my blog (The most popular keyword is “greg linch.” I know that because I use Google Analytics). Two students found my blog last summer during my internship and asked for advice about applying. Besides showing your not a cut-throat shark, giving advice and helping people adds to your reputation and, therefore, your brand.

Overall, it’s been about five years since I’ve had what I consider an active online presence. I will continue to build my online brand, passively and actively, as time goes on because this is not a task that’s every really completed.

So, what should you do?

Search for your name on Google. Consider where you are online and where you’d like to be. Set goals. Brand yourself and join the conversation.

Good luck! Feel free to contact me with any questions.

*Related to Matthew Bunch’s site, I created his portfolio site for a Web production class assignment – free of charge. Considering this post and that experience, I think it’s significant because it shows how helping your peers can contribute to your brand as a good person – not selfishly guarding your brand. Also, it shows I can make an HTML/CSS site from scratch.

How we did it: Moving The Miami Hurricane from College Publisher to WordPress

This post also appears on the Innovation in College Media blog.

The question we’ve heard most often since launching the new is, “How did you do it?” Below, Webmaster Brian Schlansky offers a comprehensive explanation of the process, from setting up our own Web server to installing WordPress to importing our College Publisher archives.

For more background, check out these posts:


Greg Linch
Editor at Large for Online and Multimedia
Former Editor in Chief (fall 2007 to spring 2008)
The Miami Hurricane

To contact me, visit or e-mail greglinch[at]

Continue reading How we did it: Moving The Miami Hurricane from College Publisher to WordPress

Advice for bloggers, part one: Reader stats

I started blogging in November to discuss online journalism, journalism education and other related topics.

Since mid-January, I’ve also been using the blog to fulfill an online journalism class requirement because everyone in class is required to maintain a blog.

Professor Sam Terilli, who spoke to my class Thursday about law and the Internet (see related video), brought up a point that one of my classmates, Josh Newman, mentioned on his blog Friday:

“[Terilli asked] the question that, I think, made most of my classmates (including myself, excluding Greg Linch) squirm a little. ‘How many people read your blogs?’ …Silence.”

Josh goes on to mention Google Analytics. This is a great service, but it’s only one way to measure how many readers you have.

I subscribe to all of my classmates’ blogs via Google Reader and would recommend that they utilize FeedBurner, an earlier suggestion (How to…use FeedBurner) that the class has been using, to keep track of their subscribers.

FeedBurner is great for adding an e-mail subscription widget, something our professor required, but that should only be a preliminary step.

Explore the different tabs in FeedBurner, specifically “Publicize” and “Analyze” — the latter of which shows you how many RSS subscribers you have. The number of subscribers is also available on the “My Feeds” page.

There’s a lot that can be said about the question of increasing blog traffic and readers, so I decided to divide my thoughts into shorter posts.

Stay tuned…

UPDATE, March 23: I clarified above that not all journalism students are required to blog — only the ones in the CNJ 442 Online Journalism class.

Other School of Communication students have their on personal blogs and may blog through the SoC’s Web site.

Also, I should have mentioned SiteMeter as another option for blog/site analytics.