When deciding which video equipment to buy, there are three production stages to consider: ingest, edit and output.
For the ingest – capturing raw materials – there are several cameras on the market, but I prefer the Sony HVR-A1U, just for its simplicity. I’ve recommended it to several newspapers. Firstly, it’s small and concealable (weighs less than 3lb and can go in a coat pocket), so you don’t shout ‘Hello, I’m a news person”. It has quality high-definition on par with many other pro cameras and it has very good XLR sound as part of the unit. It’s relatively cheap, at about £1,500-£1,700, but it’s broadcast quality – I have friends who shoot on it for CNN and Sky.
Once you have got your camera, a mistake a lot of the newspapers make is they go and buy very big, chunky tripods. Don’t do that – it will weigh your journalists down and completely destroy the whole point of being nimble.
You could almost get away with just a camera, but there might be a few extra things you’ll need, such as headphones, an extra microphone or perhaps an aerial mic. The whole basic kit should set you back about £2,500.
As for editing systems, there are many options. A lot of newspapers use the cheapest editing equipment, but they use it with PCs and the cheapest equipment doesn’t like to be used with PCs as it crashes. Also, you’re not giving your staff that much room for self-development if you give them basic equipment. If you get Avid, the market-leading editing software, it might cost a little bit more, but your staff can grow with it and do more. I use Final Cut; Premier is pretty good too.
The whole idea of being a nimble journalist is being able to both shoot and edit – so having a laptop is very important, and it needs to have an external hard drive. The going rate is about £1 per gigabyte (1,000 megabytes) so a 100gb drive will cost about £100.
Then it’s a case of how you get the edited material out. If you are a newspaper just starting out in video, putting it on your website and on YouTube should be enough.
But if you are aiming to become a serious contender, you’ll probably want to work with one of the many online video players in the market such as Brightcove – used by the Telegraph titles – which do much of the hard work for you. You’ll still need to know how to compress your files and make them come out right, which can be a huge difficulty.
You need to have some understanding of a video’s dimensions, its compression, its data rate, the data rate of the sound and the speed of download. If it’s more than 50 megabytes, you are making your viewers’ internet connections work very hard. There’s no optimum size, but if it’s around 20mb, it will stream fairly well. You can hit 30, but once it gets over 40, viewers will struggle.
The key is something called double compression: bringing something down a bit and a bit more.
I would encourage journalists, wherever possible, to get their head around Flash – the computer graphics program. The Flash template has effectively become the norm for a lot of companies that want to add more features to their video. A lot of newspapers outsource this work to the tech department or an outside company.
As for training, the norm is about five or six days to learn the basics and two days doing what I call ‘aggressive’videojournalism – the bit where you bring together multimedia journalism and create packages.
Even with the training, you still need to know the basics – the framing, the composition, the bog-standard where-do-I-put-my-camera stuff. It’s the foundation that drives news anywhere. When you miss them out, that’s when people hit problems.