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Telling Stories Through Video Journalism

ImageA journalist with a video camera is really no different from one with a pen and paper. No matter what the medium, you're telling a story. The tools you use are different, but the technique is largely the same.

First of all, remember the inverted pyramid. When telling the story, you're moving from the most specific to the most general (the rationale for which, in the days of newspapers, was that an editor could cut for length and not have to worry about losing important details). You begin your story with the lead - or "lede," to use the industry specific spelling - the general summation of the story's topic and the hook to draw the reader/viewer in.

This is where tools of videography and pen-and-paper begin to diverge in terms of effect. What could a lead be in a video? It could be a talking head saying something interesting. It could also be an image, interesting for a variety of reasons at once. It could simply be striking, spectacular. Or it could ask questions, pose intriguing scenarios in the viewers' head, compelling him/her to keep watching to learn the answers.

Never underestimate the power of B-roll in video journalism. Essentially it's anything other than a talking-head interview or a host directly addressing the camera. It's footage of the subject in action - the chemist at his workbench or the artist at his easel. It's what you're looking at while the talking head is talking off-camera. Make sure it matches the sound bites - if the chef is talking about his own particular recipe for souffle, don't cut in a shot of the bar. 

Keep in mind the rules of thumb in coverage: try to get a wide, a medium and a close-up shot of every action. Generally, I try to get several different angles, in order to mine the most B-Roll out of any particular action. You'll usually find yourself getting more close-ups, because that's where you're capturing details.

One dimension you're given more freedom to explore by contemporary portable technology is camera movement. Light-weight cameras, inexpensive fluid-head tripods, gliders and jib-arms - even aerial drones - give you the raw material to create a truly operatic shot flow in the editing room. 

And it is like composing a piece of music, in a way. The action and momentum within the image, combined with the camera movement and its contribution to the overall flow of images you're creating is a very musical way of thinking, in my opinion. Instead of sound, the medium is imagery.

If you get enough experience telling stories visually, you'll get an innate sense of the way imagery, music and sound bites combine to provide maximum story impact. On the way to learning the technique and finding your voice, look out for useful analogues - like music, or poetry - to compare the art of filmmaking to - be it documentary or narrative. The juxtaposition will no doubt yield useful insights that will help you find your own way of thinking about telling stories visually. 

And that's a very important consideration. Because, after all, anyone can enroll in film school or run up his credit card buying the latest must-have gadget, but ultimately the commodity you're selling is yourself, your voice. Your best bet is to make that voice as unique and personal as possible.