'We video reporters were warned of the loss of dignity'

A C-list celebrity is swaying uncontrollably, bobbing in and out of the viewfinder like a human pendulum.

Equipped with only a notepad this sort of hyperactive tick during a ritual showbiz interview may not register with the journalist. But the singer’s musings are destined for a video report on the Manchester Evening News website and his uneasy relationship with sound and movement is going to produce less than becoming footage.

A tactful word with the hovering PR girl and the swaying is cut down to a gentle shuffle. White balance is adjusted, sound levels corrected, the shot composed so the grin dominates the frame. I press RECORD. There is a whirr, a buzz, then the camera screen flickers and dies.

My colleagues and I (there are five MEN journalists who are now accredited video journalists) were warned about the inevitable loss of dignity during our training last year. Camera work is up-close and personal, involving tussles for the best positions at press conferences and chasing villains emerging from court.

Despite covering the basics of camera work and online editing during a three-week course at the Press Association’s HQ at Howden, no-one was under the illusion we had suddenly become all-in-one producers, editors and cameramen, but we were up for making a stab at it.

Faster broadband speeds and web users more forgiving of the not-quite-TV standard mean stories featuring in the MEN can find a new life on the internet. The gruesome reality of Wigan’s pie-eating contest can now be conveyed in a way not possible with words alone.

Despite initial fears that this new editorial toy would be used with such abandon that we would soon be handing in our notices (reinforced by a few 15-hour shifts), the workload implications of video has gradually been understood by journalists and editors alike.

Picking up equipment, getting the relevant shots, setting up interviews, writing and filing a story for the paper, downloading footage, editing it on computer and uploading it onto the paper’s website can take a whole day or sometimes longer.

To a print journalist, the process is undeniably awkward but does yield interesting experiences, such as running through the streets of Moss Side with a tripod and camera bag in tow in search of a 500-strong procession of black police officers was one such occasion, recording the up-close sounds of battering rams during police drugs raids another. Ex-Corrie Julie Goodyear’s display of how to exit a giant birthday cake was also memorable.

There is no question that producing a video will take you out of your ‘day job’of finding and reporting news. Sending journalists out with a camera will reduce their ability to contribute to that day’s paper and editors must be prepared to take the hit.

Additionally, not every reporter will want to trade in their notepad for a camera or have an aptitude for filming (And why should we? It is, after all, a completely different discipline).

At the MEN, video-trained journalists have been supported with packages from by our sister TV station Channel M, which has greatly reduced the number of web packages produced to a manageable one or two a week. So far, this balance seems to be working out.

Back then to the C-lister. Without a back-up battery or a charger to run the camera from a wall socket, I close the camera’s viewfinder making sure no-one can see the lifeless screen and pretend to press the relevant buttons.

Sometimes it takes a while to get used to a new way of doing things. For the time being, there’s no point disappointing my subject.

‘OK,’I smile. ‘We’re rolling.”

Yakub Qureshi is education correspondent for MEN. He now makes sure his camera is fully charged.

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