An estimated 2 million digital cameras will be given as gifts this holiday season, which means it will take just a few days to unleash a corresponding number of amateur experimental videos of dubious quality to appear online. Many of these will be barely watchable by anyone besides the "stars" and the "director."
After a while, the newly gifted will seek to add depth, producing something that resembles journalism. This improves video quality, even as it represents another re-definition of the profession, something that further destabilizes the livelihood of those who would be reporters.
In this case, the good news outweighs the bad. The ability to post an online news video of your own creation is a demonstration of press freedom, in its purest form. You can report what you see without interference, as long as it is true.
Amateur clips connect people to each other through images, of themselves or what amuses them. For instance, a cute animal scene will cheer up anyone who takes the time to watch. But the difference between a silly cat clip and a moderately worthwhile ground-level homemade news video is simple: News is based on an event. News reporting, in its simplest form, gives the public an accurate idea of what happened in a particular time and place. And with everything happening in your neighborhood, there is something next door that is worth reporting.
There are some entry requirements. You need to learn how to use a camera, editing software and upload techniques. This only requires practice, and many of us can draw on an instinctual ability to recognize quality video borne from a lifetime of watching movies and TV. To make it even easier, both Windows and Mac include basic, timeline-oriented programs that can be learned in an hour — at least well enough to stitch four related 30-second interviews together. Which is really all you need.
Otherwise, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind in preparation of such a video to make it seem a bit more like news:
Keep it short. Every camera newbie seeks to create an epic account of their viewpoint, explained in detail. They must get it out of their system one way or another, but once it comes time to dabble in news they need to understand one clear truth: No one will watch anything longer than two minutes, unless it includes celebrities or naked people. Some stories just won't fit, such as coverage of a Norm Dicks town meeting. But a red light should flash in your head when crossing the two-minute mark, and you'd better have a good reason for crossing it.
Take small bites. What makes the two-minute limit livable is the idea that you don't need to tell the whole story. Instead, you go for atmosphere. Take the viewer to the location, using the people on hand to explain the situation and why they should care about the issue. If your movie strikes a chord, the viewer can go online to learn more.
Don't clutter visuals. There are all kinds of cool toys available, which you should avoid. Keep away from transitions, effects, or titles (aside from identifying sources). Simplicity is the key. Many viewers will watch on tiny, low-resolution screens, so you need to keep the visuals broad. Subtleties are lost. One cool trick worth using is the voice-over, which always works underneath a quick 360-degree shot; just to set the scene.
Don't clutter audio. In like manner, you want the audio to be clear and comprehensible. Voice-overs are a neat trick, where you run interview audio below scenic footage, but fancy doesn't fly. Playback systems vary, so you need to avoid any surround-sound nonsense. Skip any clever musical flourishes, where the lyrics of a particular pop song supplements the point. You don't want to bombard the viewer with distractions that obscure understanding. And oh, yeah, there's that copyright thing.
Extra bonus tip: Resist the amateur video makers' tendency to position themselves as part of the story. Rather, the best news videos are those where the reporter stays out of the way and lets viewers make up their own minds. Let people talk openly and honestly, and present their quotes in context and without editorializing. You don't have to cast stones at anyone when they are perfectly willing to do it to themselves. One example is the acquitted Kitsap County medical pot patient who asked for his dope back.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!