10 Takeaways from Three Days of Hands-On Video Training at Poynter Institute

One of the best parts of this workshop have been the breaking news events, exercises designed to get out using the gear and gathering elements that we then have to edit with a short turnaround.
One of the best parts of this workshop is the opportunity to do breaking news events, exercises designed to get us out using the gear and gathering elements that we then have to edit with a short turnaround.



St. Petersburg, Fla.– I Can’t Believe that Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the final day of our “Hands-On Video Training” here at the nation’s leading news and media training spot, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

Fortunately, I get to hang out for three more days as dozens of fellow journalism educators will be joining us for Teachapalooza 2016 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  This is the SIXTH edition of this gathering of those preparing the next generation of journalists.

But,  as we begin to work on our final projects tomorrow,  I had to take time and do some initial reflection on some of the things I’ve picked up since starting out on Monday morning…

As much as I’ve been tweeting about this outstanding workshop, for every tweet I’ve sent, there were 4 or 5 other points I logged in one of the two notepads I’ve been writing in this week.

The best way to process all that I’ve heard is to write, think, ask questions, write more and reflect.     That’s what I’ve been doing all week.     There were some over-arching questions that prompted me to do this intensive training:

  • How does this change my teaching as I start my 15th year at the University of Alabama?
  • How should this change our curricular approach to video instruction in our brand new Department of Journalism and Creative Media?
  • On what topics do I need to go and do further reading/study/investigation?
  • How do I put what I’ve learned into action IMMEDIATELY upon return to Tuscaloosa next week?
  • What’s my two-week plan? (before end of June)   My two-month plan (before Fall Semester begins)?   My six-month plan (before I actually teach this in Spring 2017 semester)?   My one-year plan (by next year this time)? 


If I were to summarize all that I’ve learned so far this week, it would be presented in the following LIST OF 10:

  1.  The Spirit of David Gilkey is Alive and WellIMG_1756
    Before arriving at Poynter this week, I never knew the late David Gilkey, who was killed last weekend as he worked in the Middle East.  Not only did Al Tompkins begin our workshop with a tribute to him, but today Eric Seals kicked his DYNAMITE PRESENTATION with one who was clearly dynamite.     In a weird way,  David’s spirit was present in the training room today as his work ethic was clearly evident in his co-workers like Eric.    If David could have been here at Poynter, I believe he would have been impressed by the way both Al Tompkins and Eric Seals presented the craft for which he, like so many other journalists, gave his own life.
Eric Seals traveled to the Middle East with David Gilkey. I can't imagine how tough this week has been for him, coming here to Poynter only a day after learning of the death of his co-worker.
Eric Seals traveled to the Middle East with David Gilkey. I can’t imagine how tough this week has been for him, coming here to Poynter only a day after learning of the death of his co-worker.


2.  If Eric Can Do This, So Can I


One of many things I heard today that blew me away– Eric Seals, the top-notch videographer from The Detroit Free Press has only been doing this thing called video since 2008.   I’ve been out of the daily news business for longer than that (Since 2000) and shooting video on my own (without a photographer) for most of my 14+ years of teaching.  Long gone are the days of field producing with a reporter and a videographer (as I did for much of my TV career)   If Eric can master this craft, so can I.    I have just as much will and drive to do this as he does.    It’s not just about learning how to be a better video storyteller so that I can teach it, it’s about doing the storytelling because it’s what I love to do.


3. Technical Know-How is only PART of the Skill set

I came into this workshop thinking 90% of my time would be spent on software and equipment training.   I still have a lot to learn about my own low-end camera, not to mention the capabilities of a high-end video camera.   And, I honestly have steered clear of the video editing software that has a steeper learning curve.

But after the first day of this workshop, I quickly realized, the button-pushing and the technical knowledge won’t get you very far if you’re going to be REALLY good at video storytelling.


4.   Expect Technical Glitches
Even at this workshop,  the Poynter staff had some challenges with capability between cameras and software.  They regrouped and reset quickly.  It’s one of those things we want to avoid as instructors.  But, the hiccups will happen.  It’s the nature of the type of work that we do.  Software companies are now releasing updates constantly to the point where they don’t want or won’t allow you to purchase one time and be done.    It’s more important to anticipate the glitches this brings and know how to regroup when they happen.

I had a memory problem with my own laptop today– that required a phone call back to the office and my IT person to help me troubleshoot.   My own computer resources need an upgrade.   But, that’s a story for another day.

Al Tompkins has been here at The Poynter Institute for more than 10 years. He's about the release the third edition of his book Aim for the Heart: A guide for TV Producers and Reporters.
Al Tompkins has been here at The Poynter Institute for more than 10 years. He’s about to release the third edition of his book Aim for the Heart: A guide for TV Producers and Reporters.

5.   Don’t Firehose the Scene
Never thought about video capture this way.  But, so often when we turn on our camera, we start shooting and shooting and shooting footage, quickly moving from point A to Point B and Point C without THINKING about whether we have enough of what we need and WHY we are shooting a particular aspect of the story that way.  This concept of “fire hosing” is a good way to help us to remember to avoid panning and zooming.


6.  Motivated Movement is a Key to Successful Video

Another memorable line from this week– “MOVEMENT MUST HAVE A MOTIVATION”  This came from Al Tompkins, who reminded us to zoom with our feet while also unpacking the difference between the optical zoom and the other kind of zoom that happens when we physically move closer (instead of using our device or equipment)


7. Good Video is Like Good Cooking
Eric Seals used a cooking metaphor in his presentation on “How to Approach, think and Stay Focused with Video Storytelling.”   From shopping for a story to likening the preparation of that story to baking a cake,  he carried this very meticulous, thoughtful process through from Beginning to End.

8. I Have To be My Own Visual Advocate

And the video instruction doesn’t stop with just shooting and editing.   Eric Seals spent a good bit of his time today showing us how he engages with the audience for his work through various platforms on social media.  And, he’s constantly learning more from others in a way that will improve his work product.   “Don’t tell me my strength, show me my weakness,” Seals reminded us of this famous bit of advice as he shared his strategy for soliciting feedback from some of the best in this storytelling arena and using that network to improve his work.

9. Adobe Premiere is Not So Scary

I have to admit, I had to go back into iMovie, my major editing platform for the last 10 or more years today for a little bit of pre-video editing.  But, I no longer feel like Adobe Premiere Pro is THAT DIFFICULT.   There is a learning curve.   But,  this workshop through repetition has helped to address the curve just a bit.    Tomorrow on Day 4, we will be editing our third project on the platform.   And, I think I’ll get to work on the software even more between now and Sunday.   Like any other software, you get better at it the more you use it.

If I could edit a piece EVERY WEEK for the rest of the summer, I believe I could be pretty comfortable using this software platform. More importantly, I could help my students feel more comfortable in this interface and the other software programs in the Adobe Creative Cloud.


10.  Learn the Basics, THEN Spend the Money

Besides the great advice and insight of Al Tompkins and Eric Seals, I will definitely miss shooting on my Canon XF 305.   It’s a $4,000 camera– way of my out-of-pocket price range.    But,  I’m believing that if I can learn to do better with the basics with the video I’m shooting with my $300.00 SONY HD Handycam, the higher end camera is in reach.   This workshop was not about the pricey gadgets that videographers use.  It was about mastering the basics of good storytelling, developing habits that produce journalistic products that connect with viewers’ emotions and challenging oneself to try something new.     The money will come.    So often people say I need to buy a camera or outfit a new lab.   They find the money, but don’t have the trained personnel or the people willing to learn how to use the equipment.   I’m hopeful the money is out there to get a new camera.  In the meantime, I’ll use my HANDY Cam and develop the habits needed to produce great stories.

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