By Kelli B. Grant May 17, 2013
So your editor wants you to do some video reporting. Uh-oh.
If your main duty is writing, the impulse to say “no” can be pretty strong when asked to report for a video or make a live television appearance to talk about your story. But don’t dismiss such opportunities lightly.
With the emergence of web video, even traditionally print enterprises are adding live streaming shows and other video elements. Limiting yourself to one medium can make it difficult to hunt for a new job, or even keep and thrive in the one you have now. Take it from me. My journalism degree was in print, but now I spend part of every workday in front of a camera.
The good news for video-phobes is that you’re not going it alone. If the bosses want you to wade into video, odds are good that you’ll have some help, like training sessions or a producer or video editor to handle the production.
Here are some tips to get more comfortable with video.
There are plenty of times when having a little video know-how translates into better stories. You can capture quick sound bites from experts, shoot product demos at a trade show, and generate short clips from events you witness on your own.
Equip your smartphone. You can shoot decent video with an iPhone or other smartphone. Buy a tripod and phone mount (roughly $25 total) to ensure your shot is steady and your phone secure, and you’ll have the freedom to be in front of the camera as well as behind it. Get an attachable microphone that can be clipped to your lapel or a source’s (another $25 or so) to improve the sound. Download and get familiar with apps like Tout or Dropbox. The former can help you publish short videos; the latter makes it easier to send footage back to the newsroom.
Practice shooting. Video players are wider than they are tall, which means your footage should be, too. Hold your phone horizontally, with the home button on the right. Keep clips short — say, 10-20 seconds if you’re collecting background images (like an item at a tech show) or one question per clip if you’re interviewing a source. Smaller files transmit faster, and you’ll need that speed when you’re in the field, relying on the variable strength of a wireless signal. Don’t zoom or pan. Just stick with a steady shot; it’s easier to get good footage. And always shoot more clips than you think you need.
Write a video-ready script. It’s different than writing for print or the web. Keep sentences short and simple. You only have one chance to get your point across because no one is going to re-watch your video if they’re unsure what you meant. There are logistical reasons, too. Long, complex sentences can make you run out of breath. They’re also tougher to remember when you’re on camera. Read what you’ve written out loud to make sure it sounds natural. Time it. In most cases, the script shouldn’t run more than a minute.
Get excited. It’s easy to come across as flat and unenthused on video. You should sound like you’re having a conversation with the viewer, not like you’re reading from a script. You don’t need Jim Cramer-like energy, but you should kick it up a notch. Use your hands as you talk if that feels natural, emphasize your words, and smile when appropriate.
Anyone who has ever watched The Daily Show lampoon a television reporter knows how intimidating it can be to appear on live TV or video to talk about something you wrote. But if you do the right prep, it doesn’t have to be so scary.
Take advantage of the pre-segment interview. Producers and anchors generally aren’t out to surprise you with gotcha questions you can’t answer. They’re asking you on to showcase you as an expert. They want you to look good. So pay attention to the questions a producer asks when you’re making arrangements to appear on a show. You’ll get a lot of detail about the direction the interview, and maybe even a detailed rundown of the questions. The producer might ask you to send over a few talking points. In that case, you can essentially tell them what you want to be asked.
Prep your points. Whether you have a list of possible questions or not, come up with a list of three to five points about your story that you would like to make. As with video reporting, keep your responses short and simple. You don’t want to get bogged down in details that might be hard for viewers to keep up with — or for you to remember!
Dress the part. Dress professionally, head to toe. The day you show up in jeans or wearing beat-up shoes is inevitably the day the interview will take place with you sitting on a couch where your whole ensemble is visible. Ask in advance if makeup and hair service will be provided. If they are, take advantage. The bright lights can make you look washed out and very shiny. (Guys, a little powder won’t kill you.) But always show up looking TV-ready. Schedules don’t always run smoothly, and you may not have much time in the chair.
Accept Murphy’s Law. Sometimes, things go wrong. But it’s not the end of the world. In my very first live television appearance, my earpiece popped out partway through. I grabbed it — admittedly, not gracefully — popped it back in my ear and kept going. If an anchor asks you something you don’t know, it’s perfectly acceptable to say something along the lines of, “I don’t know/I’m not sure/I’m not prepared to talk about that today/That wasn’t the focus of my article, but I can tell you…” and then add in one of your prepared points that fits. Keep your cool, and you’ll still come across like a video pro.
Kelli B. Grant has accepted a job as a writer on the enterprise team at CNBC.com. She is currently the senior consumer reporter at MarketWatch.com and a contributor to The Wall Street Journal. She has written about personal finance for publications including Real Simple, Good Housekeeping and Family Circle.
This entry was posted on Friday, May 17th, 2013 at 3:48 am. It is filed under Skills and Tradecraft and tagged with business journalism, consumer, journalism, television, video. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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