Ten tips for newspaper video journalists

Becoming a video journalist has not always been a natural career path for a regional reporter – but nevertheless nearly a year on here I am, and the video camera is starting to feel like a natural extension of my arm.

Like any other job in a regional newspaper, working with video is no easy task – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is no point in signing up to this sort of project without taking it seriously, particularly when critics are looking for evidence that it’s all just a fad.

The message I am trying to get across is that I am like any journalist in the newsroom – except I have a bigger bag of tricks and my output goes online instead of in the paper.

Typically, the hours have been irregular and long – no change there then, and with Shropshire being the UK’s biggest inland county, there is a lot of travelling – no getting away with just a phone call now.

It is natural, of course, to be proud of your efforts when the main paper starts to acknowledge your work. But herein lies the nub of the issue. If you scoop the newspaper – get ready to live with the consequences!

Video journalists are still a long way down the food chain, and the best way to reach the very bottom is to annoy the news editor or editor. Badger them relentlessly by all means, but remember they are producing a flagship product still read by hundreds of thousands of readers every night and are the centre of the whole operation.

Without the help of the newsdesk, being a video journalist is a very lonely job.

James Shaw’s 10 tips for regional video journalists:

  • Never scoop the paper and remember the newsroom is your best friend. The food chain can become much longer if you do not respect that fact.
  • Know your patch – as with written journalists, video journalists can benefit hugely from just a little local knowledge. Following the suicide of Wellington man Kevin Whitrick over the internet, I seemed to be in a race with the Central and Midlands Today crews to find his house. My experience as a taxi driver in Telford allowed me to narrow down the options way before the main TV crews arrived.
  • Be accurate – just like in other parts of the newspaper, there is NO excuse for an inaccurate story.
  • Look after your equipment and make sure batteries are charged before a job.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. Today’s Sony Z1 cameras are, on the surface, just a step up from consumer-level options and give plenty of space to try different things.
  • Have high production values – always try to use a tripod, and if a shot doesn’t quite seem right, film it again until you are totally happy. Just because it is for the web, there is no reason why you should have to edit with wobbly shots and bad sound.
  • Learn from the professionals and if there is a regional TV crew on your patch, keep an eye out for how they set up shots. They may be filming for TV, but many of their techniques will work online.
  • Be careful when using ‘presenters”, as TV stations spend a LOT of money on perfecting their nightly news bulletins. It is not an easy thing to replicate.
  • Again, an obvious piece of advice – do your research. A notepad is useless if you do not know who you are talking to, or why. This is the same for video journalists.
  • Have fun – despite the long hours, being a journalist is a job that you need to enjoy, and having a video camera in your hand shouldn’t change that.

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