Video journalism/Constructing Vision

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If you understand the process of editing, its visual languages and its grammar, then filming (video recording) and script writing should become more efficient, creative and thorough. A filming that is informed by a knowledge of editing will more likely provide a variety of shots and angles so the editor (perhaps you also) may work effectively. Understanding editing brings about a more organised approach to the whole process.

The audio tracks stand a higher chance of containing clean sound and the sequence of shots available on tape are likely to contain a variety of useful material from the crucial story-telling wide establishing shots, to the mid shots and close ups. Shots should be steady, well framed and should be free of amateurish zooms, pans and unstable jerky recording. This is preferable to leaving the editor with the nightmare of having no material that will tell the story.

Some poor editors have been forced to cut a documentary with studio voice-over (no field interviews) while they’ve had to apply slow motion to all the footage because there was no useable material at real time – every minute was full of zooming and panning that was jerky and amateurish.

These rules apply to scriptwriters as much as they do to those who work in the field with the camera. Scriptwriters must understand the nature of production and the levels of production that can be achieved within certain budgets. There is no use scripting a sequence that involves complex shots that cost the earth, when there is no way you can pay for it. There is no use scripting in helicopter or crane mounted shots while the production is being done on a humble freelance current affairs budget.

Editing[edit | edit source]

News story telling

You might recall the typical news story structure that we outlined in Writing for Pictures, in the last topic’s notes. Every time you plan and script your TV news story, or even longer more complicated current affairs stories, you should consider that simple narrative structure, that in summary, looks like this:

First Stage, the Intro or Lead provides an Orientation: sets the scene, introduces the principle event/s and characters, places them in a context.

Second Stage – Complicating Action: introduces some challenge, danger, change or disruption which threatens the lives, safety or happiness of the characters presented in the Orientation. The second stage is underpinning and explaining, even giving the lead context.

Third Stage – Resolution: the steps taken by the primary protagonist(s) to resist the threat or resolve the problem presented in the ‘Complicating Action’.

Fourth and Final Stage – the Coda: wraps up the action, indicates that the complicating action has been finally overcome and everything in resolved and concluded within the story, the audience should be left feeling that there was complete information (in the context of the short (one and a half minute) news story.

The lead[edit | edit source]

The crucial and first factor to consider when planning the one to two minute video news story, is the Lead or Intro. To supply the best impact the Intro must convey a significant amount of information in a short space. In many cases the Intro – or possibly the Intro in combination with the second section, with its descriptive pictures, provides a complete summary or synopsis of the events in the story. This heavy informational load must be carried by a minimum of words, usually no more than 20 to 25 words for the typical video story, with just over a hundred words for the whole story. Rather, instead of words, the pictures should tell the story. Therefore, maximising impact with well sequenced pictures is critical to success in editing.

The pictures must be sequenced so that they show in vision (and more) what is being said in the voice-over. Filling the Intro with just the right amount of detail is where the most skill is needed. Too little specific content makes an intro vague; too much is bewildering.

The scriptwriter, and the editor, have to ensure that the intro is precise enough to refer to a unique happening, but the precision must not be long and boring. The Lead (Intro) should not try to achieve too much, rather it should be focussed and not necessarily adhering to the old rule that the intro should try to answer the questions Who? Why? What? Where? When? How?

The intro must concentrate on the through line, on one news idea, and this can only be constructed with available and good pictures.

The typical journalist training often compares the News Story to ‘an inverted pyramid’. In print journalism in particular, the information at the top of the pyramid – the lead – is the most important. As the reader goes deeper in the story, the value and dramatic nature of the information decreases.

There are many reservations about the validity of comparing the TV News Story to an ‘inverted pyramid’, but it is, perhaps, useful as a reminder of the informational dominance of the opening section - the Intro. It certainly doesn’t apply in video news that the body of the typical News Story can be said to have a steady, regular decrease in informational importance as suggested in the ‘inverted pyramid’ model.

But the upturned pyramid or triangle, with its base – the broadest part of the figure – at the top is a useful reminder of the dominance of the Intro, of the way it both summarises and establishes the news angle of the report, and this must be told in both pictures and words.

The Lead, or Intro, provides the up-front information, the ‘point of maximum impact’ and so it prepares the viewer for a similar process throughout the remainder of the story.

While it might easily be concluded, in viewing tabloid television news, maximum impact openings are not designed to tantalise. Rather they seek to capture the viewer’s attention, not through suspense, but by overwhelming them with the gravity of the story. Once viewers are captured in this way, they can be relied on to interact, question and continue to engage with the news story’s development. By winning over the viewer like this, the story teller no longer has to take total responsibility for structuring the story’s development. They can assume that the audience will be engaged and hence continue to interpret actively, the flow of information as the story unfolds.

In news, as opposed to the longer current affairs and documentary structure, suspense and the slow sequential build-up are impossible. Slow introduction, preamble and backgrounding is also impossible in news. The video news task is to capture viewers in one informational hit, engaging them with the gravity and overwhelming newsworthiness of the information.

Like radio journalism, video news gives a sense of immediacy, of providing its audience with the ‘freshest’ most up-to-the-minute information with pictures. With its use of ‘actuality’ (pictures and sound), video journalism now has the ability to construct a sense of real-world context. It gives the viewers a sense of direct and unmediated experience of the events being reported.

A report which begins with the pictures of flashes in the dark of night while accompanied by the sound of gunfire and the clamour of the battle field, provides the audience with a sense of actually being there, of dealing directly with reality rather than simply with what some reporter says has happened. If the pictures did not carry the clear and identifiable sound, they might not be recognisable as battlefield pictures at all.

Similarly, the video ‘grab’ – the recorded comment – or taped interview are intrinsically more ‘credible’, more suggestive of the direct witnessing of reality than are the quotations of print journalism. This ‘actuality’ is vulnerable to manipulation, to ‘creative’ editing and to being used out of context. And the selection of one background sound or one ‘grab’ ahead of others is a creative process by which the journalist constructs a sense of reality rather than reflecting it.

For this reason, surveys of mass media audiences frequently find that television is regarded as significantly more powerful, ‘credible’ and ‘reliable’ than print journalism. The use of pictures gives witness by way of ‘actuality’ inscribes TV journalism with a sense of authenticity and accuracy.

TV documentary and current affairs[edit | edit source]

Despite television journalism’s implied truthful, unproblematic and disinterested position; dramatic shaping is as endemic to documentary, news and current affairs as it is to most forms of television. Within the text, the viewer witnesses a sequence of elements through conflict to resolution, tension and release.

Through this sequencing, ideological discourses are incorporated into the text. In mainstream news and current affairs, these discourses are conversational, natural, conventional, comfortable, familiar and accessible. The viewer sees the transformation and argument as transparent, obvious, intelligible and natural.

In this sense, the shaping of narrative for dramatic effect from the point of camera to that of editing gives credence to regarding even the most factual documentaries as being fictional in form.

Video news and current affairs involves a presentation of argument, of a position coded for audiences through style of camera, framing, editing, voice-over, rhythm and soundtrack. ‘This militates against knowledge, not because of ‘bias’ or the supposition or demotion of alternative viewpoints, but because what is concealed is the notion of the text as a site for construction of meanings which should be considered and analysed in relation to the position, interests and intentions of their producers’. [Len Masterman. Media Education: Theoretical Issues and Practical Possibilities’ Metro. 1993. P. 60.]

The camera operator decides whether camera movements should be violent or peaceful. They make these decisions in response to their taste and judgement. They shoot to convey strong and meaningful messages to the audience so that the audience is kept interested in staying with the program.

This is a rich area for research, because sponsorship and advertising, fund production and product placement - all drive networks. Journalists and directors decide the spin on the story, they determine what questions should be asked and to what extent and depth. To what extent does all this negate objectivity?

Experimental editing — practice underpinned by theory[edit | edit source]

Experimental edits, different edit grammars, different cuts and rhythm help determine how the raw segments might best come to life in sequence.

Rather than comply with the usual demands of scholarship I want to remain sketchy and open – ’brooding’ is the word that keeps coming to mind at the moment. An interestingly feminine term for thought. Perhaps at the end of brooding–a very inward kind of process-something emerges into the world. But if so, the thing is likely to get up on its wobbly legs and run off in any direction . . . And soon start hatching out its own new schemes. [Susan Dermody. The Subjective Voice in Documentary The Pressure of the Unconscious upon the Image. in Fields of Vision, Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology, and Photography. Leslie Devereaux and Roger Hillman - editors. University of California Press. 1995. 292.]

Developing a story telling by experimental video editing on a computer based non linear editing system, involves sequencing the raw segments of image and sound so that the best narrative emerges. This is best done on low cost equipment that affords you the luxury, of time to spare at little to no cost. Always back up your work on a couple of external drives.

Bill Nichols and others have shown the blurred boundaries between a scientifically accounted reality (news, reportage) and a filmic, fictional and represented reality, like a police thriller. While news must be impartial in the edit, no special effects, realities in other mass-media products like documentaries oscillate between fact and fiction, between actual and constructed. Realities or perspectives can be changed through re-editing. They will then address members of audiences differently. Filmmakers, more than journalists, are obliged to create evocative sequences with highly stylised editing. This sometimes changes the structure and form of the raw material, but is necessary in film making terms.

And what emerges in all of the films I would see as engaging partly or wholly with this mode is a ‘voice’ in the film that addresses the inner voice of the viewer. And that helps to release the imagery from a strictly referential function, to the point where a line is crossed and we are reading the image and sound track from the perspective of the unconscious. [Susan Dermody. The Subjective Voice in Documentary The Pressure of the Unconscious upon the Image. in Fields of Vision, Essays in Film Studies, Visual Anthropology, and Photography. Leslie Devereaux and Roger Hillman - editors. University of California Press. 1995. 292.]
These voices – such as those of the television anchor people and reporters – are attached to bodies that represent not personal witness, but institutional authority in anthropomorphic form.
This privileging of the world faces a crisis with every edit. With each cut the opportunity exists to re inscribe the filmmaker’s presence rather than excise it. Each cut opens the gap between human agency and cinematic evidence only to anneal it again through continued exclusion. Documentary convention upholds the expectation of presence, of an ethic of witnessing, of a situated view, and yet exercises the bodily evidence of presence. [Nichols, Bill. Axiographics in Representing reality. - Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Indiana University Press. 1991. 90.]

The universal inner voice of viewers must be sought in filmmaking and firstly, the journalist director must establish the identity and characteristics of their audience (market). They must also be sure to keep in mind the genre the edit is constructing. If the piece is a one minute news story, then the edit must abide by those conventions, as set out in part, in the Script Template and available in this Learning Schedule. The editing process must include and anticipate the appropriate screen codes and conventions and in tern find the audience inner voice appropriate at the time of the film’s release. Therefore at this juncture you must, with active deconstruction, watch television programmes of the form that you are intending to make.

Vlogging[edit | edit source]

The following text by Leigh Blackall

So what is vlogging? Well, I don't want to limit this to text – so how about we start by watching my little video I just made: What is Vlogging.

You can probably tell by the quality of my video that it took me all of 15 minutes to make.. including recording, compressing and uploading. Ironically it will take me about an hour to prepare the supporting text!

And that's the beauty of Internet video these days. Thanks to services like Youtube and many others, you and I and everyone are able to publish video at next to no cost, in hardly any time, and with very little technical ability. That's a media revolution right there! With so many of us taking advantage of this opportunity, there is A LOT of video out there. With so much video, the chances of each of us finding something that is interesting, useful or unique becomes very likely, so we are now a lot more ready to forget about questions of quality because we have rediscovered what it means for a video to be interesting, useful or unique. That's another revolution right there! We've learned to accept that it's the content of the video that matters, regardless of the image quality and cost of production (although it's even better if the quality of the picture and audio is as best as it can be too). Even TV news is less interested in "broadcast quality" images, and seem quite happy using footage from Youtube at 320×240 compressed and at 15 frames per second. So the barrier of entry is now low on all fronts – access, cost and expectations.

If you want more to think about on this, I'd highly recommend Michael Wesch's presentation to the Library of Congress: An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube

Ok, what about vlogging?

Vlogging combines the words video and blogging. Readers here should by now know what a blog is, but in case you're new to it – here's my attempt to explain a big thing: A blog is a website that is regularly updated with new content by the same author/s. Each new addition of content is called a blog-post or post and appears at the top with old content moving down the blog. A blog provides readers with subscription features that alert them when posts are added. Most blogs today include options for readers to add comments as a way of encouraging discussion and feedback with the blog author/s. Many journalists and social commentators use blogs, as do some teachers and politicians.

A video-blog or vlog then, is simply a blog that uses video as its primary media in each post.

Ok, so now you know what a vlog is, and maybe some of you want to set one up. Well, that's easy and wont cost you a cent! (Except for something of your monthly Internet charges that is).

First step is to create an account on Youtube. It doesn't have to be Youtube, there are other video publishing services, but let's keep it simple.

Your next step is to post your first video to your Youtube account. There are 3 ways:

  1. Upload a video you have from your computer
  2. Record a video directly onto Youtube by way of your webcam
  3. Record a video with your mobile phone and send it to your Youtube account via its own email address.

Youtube has great help videos for learning how to do any of these things, and more.

That's it! You have created your first post to your Youtube vlog. Other people can access your vlog by going to

Some people take vlogging further by setting up a blog on a service like Blogger, and then either linking their Youtube video into their blog, or uploading a video directly into their blog with Blogger's video upload features.

If you want people to be able to download your videos so they can play them off the Internet, or so you can turn your vlog into a podcast, then you'll have to use a different service than Youtube. I use It offers you all the features of Youtube (less the popularity) plus some significant extras, such as file download, and cross posting your video to other sites like the Internet Archive.

So there you have it. Take the time to watch the help videos. Its a great way to learn. If you want to find out all there is to know about vlogging, then the Wikipedia article is a great place to start.

Video editing software[edit | edit source]

Desktop editing[edit | edit source]

  • Microsoft Windows: Windows Movie Maker
  • Apple Macintosh: iMovie
  • Linux: OpenShot Video Editor

Mobile phone editors[edit | edit source]

The so-called generation of mobile phones called Smart Phones, often come with basic in-built video editors which can edit together multiple clips and upload to sites like Youtube. Applications (Apps) such as these are always being developed, so a Google search might be a good way to research current best options if you have one of these phones and you're not satisfied with the editor that came with it.

Collaborative webbased video editing[edit | edit source]

The following text from Leigh Blackall

Web based image, audio and video editing has been making quiet but significant progress over the years. Web based editing means every day punters like you and I can edit directly on the website where we store our media - rather than having to carry around (or even own) a computer, or worry about running software on a computer. With nothing but a portable recorder like a phone, we are free to wonder the streets uploading pictures as we go, and then jumping into a cafe or onto a friends computer to edit the media straight through a standard web browser with broadband internet connection.

For example, I upload photos to Flickr and video to Youtube directly from my phone. I just snap a shot, or take a few seconds of video, and send the media up by a special email address that both Flickr and Youtube provide to your account with them. A while back Flickr quietly added web based image editing for touch ups, basic editing or even for getting post productive. Its as simple as clicking the "edit" button above your image on Flickr and then start adjusting brightness and contrast, adding colour and text, cropping and rotating.. I've been thinking to use it to create titles to add to my videos when I get around to editing them web side as well!

Speaking of which, Kaltura - now there's a promising bit of web based video editing software. Not only does it offer reasonably stable editing, it enables collaboration as well! I primarily use Kaltura as it is on the Wikieducator web site, although there are a range of other websites using Kaltura to offer web based and collaborative video editing.

When you are looking at a Kaltura player/editor (very easy to add one to a page on Wikieducator btw), you have two options: "add to this video", and "edit this video". Pretty self explanatory hey. When you click "add to this video", you have the options to add video from Youtube, photos from Flickr, and audio from CCMixter, among others. This is pretty handy seeing as I already load footage via the phone to Youtube and Flickr - not to mention the possibility of creating fancy titles and image effects on Flickr as well.. Its nice to be able to continue loading and storing on other sites, and then feed them into Kaltura when needed. (There's quite a lot of possibility in this approach to multi media, not to mention just a little bit more security in backup). When the "clips" are all feed over to your Kaltura editor/player, you're ready to get to work editing on its basic (but not too basic) editor. Other's can come in on your edits too, making Kaltura a web based video editor with collaborative potential as well.. I don't play too well with others, so I can't say much about that - always open to the chance to co-edit though :)

There's one downside to Kaltura sadly. We're still waiting for the obvious feature that enables downloading a finished video for playing offline. Unfortunately this is not offered yet so we're left with online viewing only.

Video file formats[edit | edit source]

The following text from Leigh Blackall

Video file formats are a real nightmare! And after 10 years of amateur video production, I still don't have a clear understanding on how they work. So what I am about to tell you is what works for me, considering I try to produce video that works for many.

Sites like Youtube - or specifically the Flash Video that Youtube relies on, have helped solve this compatibility problem for viewing video on the Internet, but its still a problem for those who like to download and perhaps even edit videos offline.

What format should I use?[edit | edit source]

Here are my 3 rules of thumb - that work for me:

  1. The master copy of your digital video should be in AVI set to play at 25 frames per second, displaying a size of 720x576 pixels.
  2. Use this master AVI to export Internet ready versions in MP4, WMV and Ogg Theora, all set to play at no less than 12.5 frames per second, displaying at 320x240 pixels.
  3. Upload the MP4 to your preferred video publishing service (eg Youtube or and that service will convert your video to the Flash Video format for reliable playback on all computers.

Why AVI as the master format?[edit | edit source]

Because it is an old, long used format that is generally reliable on the widest range of computer software and players. As the Wikipedia entry for AVI says: "...the age of the AVI format, being widely supported on a vast range of operating systems and devices, and the availability of video editing and playback software ... help keep the AVI file format popular amongst amateur videographers."

Why the 3 export formats?[edit | edit source]

Video for the Internet needs to be a small file size, but not so small that it makes it unwatchable. An MP4 at 320x240 pixels gets good file compression and can play on Windows, Macintosh and Linux, not to mention most portable devices. A WMV gets very good compression, and is reliably played on Windows based computers. And Ogg Theora also gets good compression, but is the only non-commercial, open standard video format that plays on Linux, and that is accepted by Wikipedia and other free and open source initiatives - who tend to have longer term, commercial free, sustainability in mind. If you offer people the choice of these 3 formats, you have all bases covered nicely.

How do you get video into all those formats?[edit | edit source]

There are a few free to use video converters you can use. These applications can take just about any video format and convert it into any other format. I use SuperC, largely because it was one of the first to become available, and it can do so much in the one application. Its not always easy to use, so sometimes I prefer simpler tools such as Videora iPod converter, or Pazera Video Converters. Alternatively, you can upload your video to and they will convert your video on their website for you.

More information on encoding can be found on the Wikipedia entries for each format.

How to format your video[edit | edit source]

The following text from Leigh Blackall

How to get your video from a master format AVI, into an MP4, WMV and Ogg Theora.

If you can achieve and publish all of these 3 formats then you are a mighty fine video blogger. You will be providing your viewers with maximum access and reuse options - such as the kids at Warrington Primary who only use free software. If you don't go these extra few yards, well.. not everyone will notice (least of all the schools that only teach kids how to expensive commercial software) and you will be selling yourself short, setting a poor production standard, rendering yourself an average, careless video blogger without true regard for your viewers and remixers.. you're not that sort of person are you :)

So, are you ready set the standard!? Here is how you get your video into all 3 formats, and make them available online:

Upload to

That's it! That's all you have to do. will take your video and turn it into Mp4, Ogg Theora, and even a Flash Video (FLV) and animated Gif preview just for good measure! They'll keep it there for eva, serving it day after day, year after year. Darn they're good! has been accepting anyone's media and making it available online for free since 1996. Its amazing what they have there now! (NZ Archives take notice - you too could be this great some day).

Ok, so if anyone's been paying attention you will have noticed this is not quite as I said it should be. Where's that pesky WMV? didn't create that for us did they? No they didn't. They know WMV is not a very useful format, so you'll have to create it yourself to keep your Windows people happy.

So.. if you're using Window's Movie Maker then creating a WMV is easy for you. Simply select the option for exporting WMV and upload it to and sit back and wait, you'll soon have your WMV, with an MP4 and an Ogg Theora sitting right there next to it. (Keep your AVI master to yourself for backup - it would take far too long to upload anyway).

But if you're not using Window's Movie Maker and you don't have video editing software with a WMV export option (such as iMovie or a Linux based editor like Kino) then you're in trouble. You might not be able to easily create a WMV. No matter I suppose, Windows can play the MP4 version, and for this reason you'll soon come to see that WMV is not a very useful format anyway. So just upload what you have to and be happy with the MP4, Ogg, and FLV.

There are ways to make WMV from Mac and Linux.. but that would be going beyond my word count (and know how). My main purpose today was to show you the wonderful, and to mention that if you have a account, you can upload to Blip and have Blip send a copy through to for you automatically. Its a nice little backup feature.