Smartphone video reports – the dirty reality

Having learned my reporting skills as a print journalist, before the internet got big, I have been trying for years to bolt on some video skills to take account of the new realities of news.

This can be an expensive and time-consuming process – which means my output of video reports has been far less than it might have been in the years since I left salaried work at Reuters.

My voluntary redundancy package included some retraining money, half of which I spent on a made-to-measure video training put together by a mate of mine. I learnt how to shoot video on a DV camera, including the basics of recording sound, framing shots, and so on, as well as editing it all together into a short video film which I put up on Youtube in September 2006. There were many steps involved getting from the story idea to the publication – all of which slowed the process and decreased the chances of it ever getting done.

I’ve done a few more reports in the years since though far fewer than I would have liked given the constraints of time and equipment.

So far, so straight forward

While researching Fraudcast News, my book about reframing democracy and journalism, I came across visionOntv and their radical news-making project. I met its main personnel at the 2011 Rebellious Media conference in London, when I did their mobile phone training.

It was a revelation – shooting no-edit video reports according to a set template – maximising the chances of the report getting done and getting out there and cutting out many of the resource-sapping steps of the conventional route. There are certainly compromises involved in terms of video quality and sound. Being no-edit means the reporter has to concentrate on holding the smartphone steady and doing rapid pans between shots. The one-shot template ensures some basic standards though, increasing the chances of a report being useful to an audience and getting out there super fast.

The next step up is to go for longer reports, up to three minutes, using a slightly more involved template that visionOntv are working up now. The main additions are that two people are required – one filming, the other doing the interviewing – and that the smartphone be equipped with the necessary add-ons to record decent-quality interview sound.

I was recently a guinea pig for shooting one of these, the result being what you see at the top of this post. It involves a series of the five standard shots – 1) opening to camera, 2) over interviewer shoulder to interviewee, 3) close-up interviewee, 4) close-up interviewer and, 5) two-shot interviewer/interviewee. To go between shots, the camera operator needs to “whip pan”, moving smoothly but rapidly from one to the other with the minimum of overrun.

My effort was OK but nothing fantastic. There is too much LH space with the interviewee, I should have got more full-on face views of both parties, the camera was wobbling alot, and the background could have been better. Other than that, bring on the Oscars.

The beauty of smartphone reports is that if it’s rubbish – you just do it again.