Learn video editing

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By John Strauss

Growing online news readership and revenue isn’t easy, but it’s getting less complicated than before. Multimedia is a great example. People watch videos online, but our early efforts to create this content and make money off it failed to deliver.

Spot-on Video Editing
What: A how-to workshop with digital news guru John Strauss on the basics of shooting video and editing and presenting it using low- or no-cost tools
When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 19
Where: Art & Journalism Building, Ball State University, Muncie
Cost: $30 by April 22 and $45 after that date. Lunch will be provided.
Registration and information: Look for the brochure mailed to your newsroom or click here for more information and to download a form.

I speak from experience. I was one of Gannett Co.’s first “mojo’s” or mobile journalists – print reporters trained by Gannett’s best television minds to go into the field with broadcast-quality gear and bring home slick, TV-style packages.

They meant well, and the idea seemed to make sense: People want video; we have the gear and the websites – now get out there and do it.

But that never quite worked.

TV-style narrated packages are relatively expensive to produce in manpower terms. And most newsrooms simply have other priorities, especially for their reporters.

It’s hard to pin it down in hours because every story is different, but shooting an in-depth story can easily take two or three hours – and the same amount of time for a non-specialist to edit it.

Add those together, and you’re spending easily half your time on this part of the story.

In practice, my newsroom and others realized they didn’t have that kind of time.

As an experiment, I tried filing breaking news, text stories and video packages from a state fair.

It was great fun as an experiment, but half a dozen videos and 15,000 words later (over 10 days) I realized this was taking 12 hours a day to produce. That’s fine as a test but hardly sustainable in normal daily beats.

Worse yet, while the fair coverage overall attracted a good number of page views, most of our routine videos for other stories did far less well.

Instead, here’s what’s been proven to work well in online video:

• Compelling pictures: There’s a reason those dancing squirrels and cute cats are so popular on YouTube, not to mention the horrendous crashes and other captured calamity that earn hundreds of thousands of page views.

• Breaking news: Even less-thrilling pictures can earn a click from readers if we really care about the topic. The mayor announcing she’s decided not to run for re-election; a person’s story of surviving a big fire or crash. Timeliness is critical here.

• Regular updates: Video is a habit (like all our online offerings). We have to train online readers to expect us to have the latest and to believe in the bargain we make with them: If we offer video, there’s a reason. They’ll get what they expect. Skip the dull meeting video. Don’t ask readers to click on boring content, or you’ll eventually train them to stay away.

In practice, this means rethinking how readers consume video.

While TV-style shows work in some markets, they’re not for everybody. And while large metro papers may produce beautiful “photographer-as-artist” pieces that showcase striking pictures and the highest quality editing, that’s not feasible for most newsrooms.

So what do the rest of us do?

We need to focus on light video, and an “everybody carries” philosophy.

That means as many small cameras as possible in the field, producing video that can be quickly edited on basic programs that come with most computers – Windows Moviemaker and iMovie for Mac products, for example.

Light video is the material produced by small point-and-shoot cameras that can produce high-definition video but still cost less than $200.

Price is a moving target, by the way. If technology is disrupting our business model, at least it’s making our tools cheaper all the time.

Even better, these high-definition cameras are small enough to carry on a belt or in a purse. That means they’re always at the ready – when news breaks or when we’re otherwise occupied but spot an opportunity.

And even better: When a sales executive is on a call and sees a visual opportunity for an online ad.

This light gear – and the nearly free tools to edit those video files – can be picked up and learned quickly. Our workflow can be adjusted to take advantage of them without killing productivity.

It’s all possible, but it starts with a bit of training first.

That’s what we’re doing at Ball State with members of the Hoosier State Press Association in May. Join us, and let’s win this fight to keep and grow our online and print audiences.

John Strauss teaches journalism at Ball State University and serves as adviser to the student-run Daily News. He’s a former AP correspondent and editor who worked at The Indianapolis Star as a digital-news and multimedia editor.