Why is Video Hard? Five Shots and Patterns

This month’s Carnival of Journalism host is Andrew Pergam, who asks What is the role of online video in the newsroom of the future?

I answer with a question: Why is learning (and teaching) video so hard for journalists?

I’ve taught new media journalism for over a decade and trained correspondents with news organizations (Wall Street Journal, Reuters, et al.) all over the world.

Without exception, the weakest part of training journalists old and new is understanding visual literacy while alone, shooting in the field. We can train them before they go out in the field, and coach them after. But video storytelling is technical, complicated and all too often, a lone act while shooting.

The journalist is solo and overwhelmed by all the other duties of reporting. And increasingly news organizations are asking journalists to capture video, without the right training to get it done.

It should be no surprise then, the majority of footage that comes back is shaky and unusable in the edit room, and the visual skills of journalists rarely get better without a lot more determined training.

We don’t train journalists well in video, and we need to do it better.

But there is a solution and it’s through “video patterns.”

One of the most famous, and useful of these, is Michael Rosenblum’s “five shot” method that he developed training journalists from the NY Times to the BBC. It’s actually something he’s preached since the late 1990s, and those who are fortunate enough to learn it get an insight into shooting better video, immediately.

I’ve successfully used this in the classroom to teach visual literacy, because it hones in immediately on what’s important. The five shot method always prescribes these, shot in this exact order (my handout here):

  1. A closeup on the hands of a subject – showing WHAT is happening
  2. A closeup on the face – WHO is doing it
  3. A wide shot – WHERE its happening
  4. An over the shoulder shot (OTS) – linking together the previous three concepts
  5. An unusual, or side/low shot – providing story-specific context

Five shot sequence (Andrew Lih)

Rosenblum stresses that this provides usable footage every time, and this sequence always cuts together logically in the editing room. He’s right.

And it has an Atkins Diet effect — it convinces otherwise despondent journalists that they can indeed do effective video, and that it’s more hard science than unattainable art in getting stories done well.

WSJ multimedia reporter Lam Vo and I have used this to help train professional journalists in the field. I’ve used this in the classroom at USC Annenberg to give folks the starting point for video literacy. Journalists using this have said it’s helped provide an immediate “game plan,” directing them towards good shots and techniques, and reducing training time in the field. (It doesn’t hurt that the first two shots will always be useful B-roll, which can be a savior in the editing room.)

But the method is important not because this particular pattern is a universal story sequence, but because it compels journalists to learn visual literacy by doing, to form good habits, and to understand video is a closeup medium.

By mastering the 5 shot method, they learn:

  • Closeups
  • Logical sequences
  • Respecting the line of action
  • Getting effective B-roll
  • Editing solutions

So where do we go from the 5 shot?

We can build on the experience of 5 shot to go on to more “patterns” as a way to rapidly gain experience in a visual storytelling. The 5 shot does not handcuff journalists to a particular sequence. It leads them to more possibilities.

At the new USC Annenberg Innovation Lab, I’m looking into how to incorporate patterns into the video shooting process through apps for mobile devices. Instead of a paper 5 shot checklist in one hand and a camera in the other, why not integrate them together into one? Imagine an iPhone or iPad interface that provides a storyboard of the 5 shots that guides the videojournalist through this shot sequence. Visual algorithms can give hints and warnings about how well a shot is framed, or if a shot is shaky (ala iPhone’s motion sensor), or if the lighting is correct.

iPad mockup of the five shot method (Andrew Lih)

In this way, the camera is no longer just a capture device, but an instructional device, providing direction and feedback to the operator to learn visual literacy by “doing.”

Instead of learning video shooting from a textbook, or even an e-textbook, such a device is actually an e-workbook, transforming the iPhone or iPad into an integrated capture/learning device. And imagine if we go beyond the 5 shot, to allow many other patterns to be loaded into the e-workbook, providing more visual patterns and tropes to be taught.

It has the potential to revolutionize how we learn and shoot video, opening up video storytelling to journalists and crowdsourcing efforts.

See related Carnival of Journalism posts by Michael Rosenblum and Lam Vo.

I’ll be talking about this project at the Journalism Interactive conference at the University of Maryland, in October. Andrew can be reached at andrew at andrewlih.com.

Choosing a Content Management System in 2011

Technology is changing so rapidly that choosing what new media tools to teach in J-school is no easy task. This is even tougher with publishing software, where a whole semester’s work hinges on selecting the correct content management system. It used to be that raw HTML, Dreamweaver and FTP were the only tools you needed, but everything has changed with the advent of many top notch open source content management systems.

So the question is, what CMS should I teach in the journalism classroom?

I’ve used the “big three” of Drupal, WordPress and Joomla in the classroom setting and each one has its positives. My brief take: the more you think you need to “graduate” from WordPress to something more sophisticated, it keeps getting better and more impressive. Drupal’s best for its community plumbing and customization, while Joomla has sophisticated and mature front-page layout features. Decide which one’s the most important for your project.

At the University of Southern California, for beginning and advanced classes, I’ve stuck with WordPress for most projects, with many of the plugins and themes suitable for most tasks. This is not to say Drupal and Joomla don’t have their appropriate roles, but WordPress is the Willys Jeep of the CMS world — you keep finding it does more and more things well.

But for those who want to dive deeper, there are lots of reasons to consider Drupal and Joomla:

Usability. From an administration viewpoint, WordPress has practically obviated the need for FTP and requiring shell/command line access for maintenance and customization. This is no small feat, as this makes training much easier, while keeping systems more secure. Don’t underestimate the headache in having to teach folks FTP and UNIX basics.

Scalability. Joomla and Drupal were built from the ground up with the ability to gracefully degrade their performance. That is, if the load on a server gets too much, they can automatically shut off intensive features so visitors can at least read the site quickly. If you think that you may need this capability, take a long look at these two.

Community plumbing. This is where Drupal shines, in that it’s a flexible system for building community-oriented features, like collaborative filtering, and even e-commerce. With little effort, you can create policies that allow your audience to each have their own blog streams and allow folks to collaboratively rank content up/down. Think DailyKOS or Digg. In 2004, I taught a class with Dan Gillmor and used Drupal to have get students to create a community blog site to gather contributions from the community. Only Drupal could have done it so easily.

Layout and Customization. Joomla has some nice “front page” features right out of the box. I used it in a 2005 project where students covered the WTO Ministerial conference in Hong Kong. You could reshuffle and re-rank stories quickly that re-flowed the front page 3-column layout in a snap.

User roles and workflow. Joomla and Drupal have better support for “workflow” and multiple user roles if you need to have a draft-review-publish cycle with different type of editors. (In recent years, though, WordPress MU and other extensions have made WordPress similarly capable in this area).

Themes and extensions. It’s hard to out-do WordPress in this area which has perhaps *too* many to choose from. Drupal sports a number of firms that specialize in customization and programming. In terms of numbers, Joomla is more popular that Drupal though there are many high-end, high-profile sites out there that help boost Drupal’s profile beyond the raw numbers.

We are spoiled for choice and that’s a good thing. Eager to hear how other schools have used these CMS’es.

[This post originally appeared as a response to the ONA Educators group on Facebook.]

WORKSHOP: Video for Reporters (Hong Kong)

This Saturday in Hong Kong, I’m running a workshop with Lam Vo, award-winning reporter of the Wall Street Journal, on video storytelling for reporters on the go.

This builds on a session earlier this year on “Backpack Journalism” we did with the Asian American Journalists Association. The goal: in three hours, we turn any newbie into an effective video storyteller who can start creating pieces right away.

Video for Reporters, with Andrew Lih and Lam Vo

Feel free to pass this along to any reporters or editors in Hong Kong who are interested, as slots are filling up.

Video for Reporters: Adding the Visual Dimension
Date: Saturday, July 16, 2011
Time: 10am – 1pm

Venue: Global Lounge, G/F Swire Building, The University of Hong Kong
Fee: HK $200 (or HK $100 for AAJA members, FCC members and JMSC alumni)
Instructors: Andrew Lih, University of Southern California and Lam Vo, Wall Street Journal
Registration and payment can be made online:

In the digital age, reporters are increasingly asked to construct video and multimedia stories on top of their print work. How can one become an effective visual journalist while navigating this new work load? Learn how to manage reporting in the field with this quick introduction to visual storytelling using simple and professional equipment. Instructors Andrew Lih and Lam Vo, have worked with reporters and students in the US and Asia on quick, effective strategies for visual storytelling.

1. Overview of visual storytelling
2. Why video: examples and case studies
3. Live demo: shooting a video story in five steps
4. Transfer and management of media
5. Strategies and checklists for the field
6. Practical tips on gear and kits

Who Should Attend:
Experienced reporters, but beginners in video. Even those with some video experience but looking for streamlining and becoming more efficient will find the session useful.

Attendees will understand the basics of visual literacy and be able to effectively shoot, report and script short videos stories using the BBC Five Shot method. Takeaways include a field checklist of how to produce these stories in the field.

What to Bring:
Attendees are encouraged to bring any existing audio-visual equipment and kits (amateur or professional) for advice and hints on how to use them.

What Hath Wikipedia Wrought?

At Wikisym 2010, I delivered the closing keynote to a great set of academics and researchers from around the world.

It was also the first public venue where I described a new project I’m starting called WikiFactCheck, which attempts to bring the culture of reliable sources, verifiability and citations set by Wikipedia to the task of fact checking news outlets and sources. This will start with focusing on the US “Sunday Morning talk show” circuit, a cause taken up prominently by Jay Rosen and projects such as PolitiFact and Meet The Facts. But the effort can be extended to other domains, such as political debates, speeches and briefings, and I look forward to seeing the brainstorming around this.

See the following for the complete presentation, and feel free to visit the wiki above and contribute your ideas. I will be giving a brief talk at AEJMC in Denver, Colorado about the WikiFactCheck project.

Grand Canyon Pay Phone

Curiously enough, in the last day more people have inquired about my using a pay phone from the Grand Canyon to do a public radio interview than about the fate of Wikipedia.

The background: I got a call from LA’s public radio station KCRW on Thursday asking if I could participate in discussion about Wikipedia’s pending changes feature. This was while I was on a five day getaway, and just a few hours before driving into the cell phone blackout void known as northern Arizona. Everything from Fredonia (near the Utah border) down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty much a cell phone black hole for AT&T, and I suspect pretty much every carrier. Also, radio producers crave land lines for their reliability and general quality over mobiles.

Locals confirmed there was no telecom whatsoever (wired or wireless) between where I was at Jacob Lake (a small outpost/lodge) and the precious pay phones run by the National Park Service 44 miles away. I had to cover that distance in an hour, half of which I could go 70 mph, but the rest a curvy and hilly affair that featured deer and cow crossing warnings.

View Grand Canyon North in a larger map

Driving slightly on the edge of responsibility, I made that distance in roughly 50 minutes. We pulled into the parking lot of the Grand Lodge, grabbed any staff member I could find and asked if they had pay phones that could receive calls. They didn’t know, but pointed to a bank of phone booths.

It was 20 minutes to show time, and I didn’t know how I’d get on air.

AT&T, to their credit, had at the very least a weak circle of cell coverage around the lodge, but it would have been awful for radio broadcasting.

I went into the phone booth, noted the 928 area code number on the pay phone, dialed it from my cell phone and voila — it rang. I texted the number to the KCRW producer, and 15 minutes later, there was a ringback and I was on the radio show.

Doing KCRW To The Point interview

Phone booth, Grand Canyon North

It worked. And after a spirited discussion on Wikipedia, I took twenty paces and had this beautiful view from the lodge.

20 Paces Away, in Lodge

Another twenty paces, and I had this panorama.

20 More Paces away

As I told Warren Olney on the show: “Never underestimate the value of a landline,” especially in Northern Arizona.

Wikipedia Debate on KCRW

On Friday, I was on Los Angeles KCRW’s To The Point radio show talking about Wikipedia’s latest “Pending Changes” move and what it means for the encyclopedia’s future. Joining me were Julia Angwin of the WSJ, William Beutler who writes The Wikipedian blog, and Lee Siegel cultural critic.

The short story: pending changes for English Wikipedia is a modified version for a what has been known as “flagged revisions.” The latter is a technical feature where not all edits to Wikipedia show up immediately, and requires a more experienced user (autoconfirmed, administrator, or otherwise) to approve an edit before it is displayed to the “public” of casual, not-logged-in users. This has already been turned on for all of German Wikipedia for over a year now with considerable success on their side. However, de.wikipedia.org is also a different beast with much more stringent standards (dare I say, academic bent) for articles. While English Wikipedia has over 3 million articles, German has just over 1 million. As a collective, the German Wikipedians have decided not to include the reams of virtual pages dedicated to contemporary pop culture, borderline celebrity and the minutiae about science fiction characters you see in English Wikipedia. For the German speakers, flagged revisions works for them, as it has upped their quality to engage with governmental and academic institutions. The English Wikipedia does not have such a sterling reputation, though folks like Liam Wyatt, Wikipedian in Residence at the British Museum, are starting to change this.

English Wikipedians, being a more diverse and rancorous bunch, could not come to consensus on a big sweeping move like flagged revisions. Instead, a smaller two month trial was approved which will allow certain articles to be treated in the “flagged revisions” way. Originally called “flagged protection” and perhaps too confusing for outsiders, it was relabeled “pending changes.” In the trial period, no more than 2000 articles will be designated to use the feature, and the results will be evaluated.

In brief: my view is that the characterization of “pending changes” is relative. Julia Angwin, who I think is a great tech journalist, is of the opinion it represents an overall more closing-off of Wikipedia, and the move is an affirmation of a more conventional process that created traditional encyclopedias. On the other hand, folks like Jimmy Wales have regarded this as opening up — instead of having articles locked completely using full-protection, or to limit editing to existing registered and “aged” users by semi-protection, pending changes gives a way for anyone and everyone to participate, even if those edits are not completely viewable until later. Relative to full protection, it’s more open. Relative to the Wild West wiki way, it’s more closed. It will be interesting to watch this experiment in action, even if folks involved don’t know exactly how to measure success or failure.

In addition to talking about the new feature, there is a rather vigorous debate between Beutler and myself with Mr. Siegel.

You can listen to the show at KCRW’s site.

Crowds, Collaboration, Content and Curation Remaking the News

Here’s my presentation at Columbia Business School’s Transitioned Media conference where I talk about “The Wikipedia Revolution:Crowds, Collaboration, Content and Curation Remaking the News.”

Transitioned Media

The new concept I’m introducing is a new way to look at content and curation, and this graphic attempts to distinguish between roles done by the mainstream media outlets/government, and the “crowd” at large. Hope to followup with a post soon with more details.

Understanding Content and Curation

Understanding Content and Curation

SXSW 2010 Day 1

Great blue sky weather greets attendees today coming to Austin, TX for South by Southwest 2010. The interactive, film and music festival has gained the reputation for being the most interesting conference around for creative folks of all stripes.

Ties and suits are frowned upon here, while Chuck Taylor sneakers, scruffy beards and muted T-shirts rule the scene. Attendees find any electrical outlet they can, plop themselves on the ground, open what is typically an aluminum Mac laptop and start searching away:

Where’s the best party? What’s the next interesting session? Where’s the best party? Who’s at what bar? Did I mention, where’s the best party?

Some reflections before things get fully underway:

This Sunday I’ll be giving a talk on Wikipedia, one year after I launched my book at SXSW 2009 (The Wikipedia Revolution). The title: Can Wikipedia Survive Popular Success and Community Decline? Not exactly the most optimistic topic, but it’s a necessary look at the significant statistical shift in contributor numbers, and perhaps introduces a new phase of Wikipedia’s existence.

Even though the SXSW sessions haven’t started yet, there are some interesting trends just from people-watching:

  • This year is the coming of age for Digital SLR HD video. The number of “rigs” being carried around SXSW is pretty impressive: Canon EOS 5DMkII full frame and EOS 7D crop frame video systems are prevalent, often with external audio recorders to capture better audio than the auto-level input allows on the camera. I’m eager to hear from filmmakers at SXSW how much DSLR HD video is changing their industry. Just think, for less than $3,000 you can get a jaw-dropping 1080/24p quality video. In the past, you would have to start in the five figures to get access to the same type of lenses at that resolution. This is a rather interesting twist in the DSLR wars — for a while it seemed Nikon finally had found its edge over Canon, by creating better professional gear at reasonable price points (ie. D300). But with my experience at last week’s Venice, CA, Philip Bloom meetup which paraded an amazing array of Canon video gear setups, I’m convinced long term Canon’s experience in video (and Nikon’s lack of it) will lead Canon’s comeback punch in this area. It could very well be why Canon dominates again.
  • There’s a more commercial feel this year. Pepsi, Chevy and AOL are taking up the premier spots in the lobby area where attendees tend to hang. Not bad on its own, but Chevy’s displaced the legendary LEGO Pit! What used to be front and center, entertaining kids and adults alike, is now a lounge with leather seats and power plugs. Each day the Lego Pit used to be the meeting point for folks to go to dinner. No longer. SXSW has always been about play — last year there were spontaneous fusillades of elastic foam finger rockets in the hallways. I hope it keeps that character. The LEGO Pit has been spotted elsewhere, but not nearly as central to the “freeway” of SXSW.

    Lego Pit always a crowd pleaser at SXSW

    Lego Pit always a crowd pleaser at SXSW. It's been moved to lower traffic location.

  • FourSquare maturity. The location-based, game-themed social networking service is now fully entrenched as a way to find out where the good parties are. Many bars and hotels here show over 100 “other” people there, and you can get an instant readout as to how long lines are at the popular places. CNET’s Buzz Out Loud calls FourSquare old news at SXSW, with last year being the big splash. Other mainstream outlets are just catching on. Gowalla is making a play in this space too, and I’ve seen more than a few references to it by users here.
  • Badges at SXSW now carry a QR code (2D matrix code) so you can quick scan someone’s badge with an iPhone or Android app and it will save it to your my.SXSW list of folks you met. So you should be able to do away with business cards, says SXSW. In theory, at least. It scores a FAIL since it uses a service called DUB in between, and requires a user to enter a username/password to my.SXSW before it works. Most people will likely just give up because it’s too much of a hassle. I did. Not a good user experience to present a blank white screen with username/password. As I told CNET’s Dan Terdiman, at least some basic user info should show up to spark that “Aha!” factor to convince you it’s worth your while. I predict the abandonment rate will be quite high, and few will use the QR scanning feature. The tactility of business cards, especially among creative types, still has resonance.

    Example of a QR code on the badges of SXSW attendees

    Example of a QR code on the badges of SXSW attendees

That’s just from walking around before the conference starts.

More to come as the day goes on.

Ron Livingston, growth, and Wikipedia

Today’s Wall Street Journal Speakeasy blog has a piece about Ron Livingston’s lawyers filing a lawsuit against an anonymous Internet user, in an attempt to identify who’s been editing his Wikipedia article to add rumors that he’s gay. The best legal description I’ve found is at the Copyrights & Campaigns blog:

The complaint includes claims for libel, false light, and violations of Livingston’s statutory and common-law right of publicity, and seeks actual and punitive damages. Presumably Livingston will seek discovery (IP and email addresses and other identifying information) from Wikipedia and Facebook, which they hope will identify the poster. Livingston can then name the individual in the complaint, and proceed against him. Section 230 won’t protect the individual; it only shields the service (i.e., Wikipedia or Facebook) that hosted the material.

The suit is here, as Coupleguys, Inc. vs. John Doe.

In being interviewed by the reporter of the piece, I explained the Streisand effect to him. He mentioned this phenomenon of Livingston trying to combat edits that he’s gay but perhaps bringing more attention to this rumor in the process. The sticky situation about Livingston’s lawsuit (at least according to LGBT groups) is whether calling someone gay is actually “maliciously altering” his article.

My comments about the case pertained instead to the sticky issue of people notable enough to be in Wikiepdia, but not enough to have legions of watchdogs.

According to Andrew Lih, author of “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World’s Greatest Encyclopedia” (Hyperion), inaccuracy or vandalism problems are difficult to stop for people who are “notable but not extremely famous,” a category Livingston, best known for his roles in “Office Space”and “Sex and the City,” falls into. Lih, a registered Wikipedia editor and one of 1,000 administrators who oversee the site [his wife is also a reporter for the Journal], said Madonna’s Wikipedia page may have dozens of people watching out for abuse, whereas someone like Livingston rarely receives that kind of attention.

This is roughly the same dynamic that led to the Seigenthaler case, where a fairly notable journalist didn’t have throngs of passionate folks looking out for his article.

And perhaps that’s my worry about a smaller user community than was here in 2007. As the number of articles increase, are there enough watchdogs to keep article quality high, or are other technical measures (flagged revisions, semi-protection, et al.) needed for maintaining quality?

Erik Zachte and Erik Moeller of the WMF blogged recently that contrary to other studies, the core “active editors” has remained stable of late.

On the English Wikipedia, the peak number of active editors (5 edits per month) was 54,510 in March 2007. After a more significant decline by about 25%, it has been stable over the last year at a level of approximately 40,000

Is it enough for that community to have the same numbers, year on year, when that same period saw a growth of over 500,000 articles?

I cannot say that I know, but it is something that gives me pause.

Wikimedia response

The Wikimedia Foundation has responded to the recent press attention started by the WSJ piece about Wikipedia participation on the decline.

The main takeaway from chief data analyst Erik Zachte and deputy director Erik Moeller is that the decline has happened since March 2007, but the number of participants seems to have stabilized at around 40,000 making at least 5 edits a month. (The English language Wikipedia seems to have a slight downward trend over the last two years, but this may not be statistically significant)

This is in contrast with researcher Dr. Felipe Ortega’s numbers, where he measures a participant as someone with at least one edit, which would of course make for a much more jittery number. He calculated a departure of 49,000 editors. His stats aren’t wrong, but is the interpretation of them right? This brings up the question — what does it mean to “depart” Wikipedia?

There is a Missing Wikipedians page that has been maintained for many years now, to document people who haven’t been seen for a while. It’s often a big guess as to whether people are dormant, coming back, or long gone. Wikipedians typically do not depart with a definitive reason or declaration of their disillusionment.

Even with a stable number of “active” contributors, what does this mean as the number of articles keeps growing past 3 million? Journalist Jennifer 8 Lee of the NY Times asked me in Twitter, is the ratio of editors per article important, or is editors per number of edits?

How do bots, and other technical features such as semi-protection and autoconfirming editors aid in relieving human editors from the drudgery of vandal fighting, and augment editors’ ability to add useful editorial content? The role of bots is tough to measure, but merits more research. With roughly 2 edits per second in the English Wikipedia, human efforts alone cannot keep up with the traffic. It is possible the technical systems implemented during the decline since 2007 have compensated for the community decline. There’s lots for further study here.