Part of my job is training newspaper journalists to shoot video and put it online.
It has become clear pretty quickly that use of big cameras mounted on tripods recording to tape has become the preserve of specialists of one sort or another. They are mostly used by photographers or members of the reporting staff who have absorbed the duty into their role, such as digital editors.
This has been due to the time consuming nature of shooting and processing video in this way. It’s a premium offering producing high quality content but it takes time and expertise. For different reasons journalists don’t tend to boast about having a lot of either of those commodities.
When the ordinary front line hack is producing video I usually see them doing it with mini-camcorders and smartphones. In this regard the smartphones suffer from being phones – sometimes the reporter that needs the phone is not the one who needs to shoot video.
Mini-camcorders are simple, turn them on, press the red button and you’re recording. It doesn’t make a fool of you when you try to use it and that’s an important consideration when you are trying to change the working culture of people who usually express themselves by typing.
Getting decent sound quality is an issue. Trying to record interviews with even modest background noise produces messy audio by the time it is uploaded and being played out of a web based video player.
The only mini-camcorder I have found that allows you to plug a microphone in it is the Kodak Zi8. Kodak has gone down the tubes now but there is existing stock out there in the marketplace upwards of £80.
A little handheld mike adds massively to the quality of audio in an interview. Stick the camcorder on a tripod too. Even the steadiest hand starts to shake after a minute.
Smartphones come back into their own here. You can plug a microphone into them in the 3.5mm handsfree jack. You can buy vice grips that allow you to mount them on tripods too.
So we’re talking about camcorders being the rush tool and smartphones being what you use for the interview perhaps. It all depends what you need to get out of a situation.
Unsurprisingly there is not a lot of kit to go round and the buying decisions are not as straightforward as purchasing a stills camera for the office.
But if I was a reporter I would want my own solution. Many would baulk at effectively subsidising their employer in that manner but for me the potential benefits of having something I was comfortable shooting video on whoever I was working for outweighs the issue of principle.
Sky reporters use I-phones. I got a Samsung SIII for my birthday. It shoots great video. These are expensive now but there are many cheaper options that would shoot perfectly adequate video for the web.
The value of web video is always its content. Production values come a very poor second best.
A smartphone is a useful all round tool for a journalist anyway, don’t wait for your employer to get you one.
The home screen from mine is pictured above. The apps allow me to shoot stills and video with more bells and whistles than I could ever need.
But I have geek genes in me and I also carry a Samsung mini-camcorder with a nice big red button for when stuff happens and it’s that I usually reach for when stuff does happen.
It’s more robust than my phone and the battery lasts longer.
Probably the ideal solution is for offices to buy mini-camcorders and the company to do some kind of deal that allows its staff to buy smartphones cheap.
Whatever happens reporters need to get to the stage where a video camera is not just for Christmas and ten or twenty second clips are routinely uploading with stories.