1 It's Not Your Father's Oldsmobile or Why and How to Write and Shoot for the Web By Dr. Anthony R. Curtis Mass Communication Department University of North Carolina at Pembroke
2 2 New Media journalism is not your father s Oldsmobile Back in the day 1988 to be exact a General Motors advertising campaign tried to reinvent the dying Oldsmobile automobile line for younger drivers. The slogan, This is not your father s Oldsmobile, declared that year's model to be not the staid old cruiser of the past, but something new and stylish that would appeal to younger buyers. It implied the older models were outdated and were being redefined. Mass media have been redefining themselves for years. The older models newspapers, magazines, television and radio are becoming outdated. The new kid on the block, the World Wide Web, is not your father's Oldsmobile. So how did that GM ad campaign turn out? GM needed to pep up sales, which had peaked in Unfortunately, Olds became formerly the oldest surviving car brand in the U.S. in 2004 when GM gave up and pulled the plug on the line. With nearly 300 million Americans using the Internet, and the number growing every day, it's important to remember that the Web isn t television, radio, newspaper or magazine. Rather, it s all of those and more converged into a whole new form of interactive media that publishers and broadcasters are using to expand, promote and even replace traditional news and entertainment content. Like GM s Oldsmobile, some traditional media owners have pulled the plug on passé products. Where have all the flowers gone? It s safe to say that all newspaper and magazine publishers and radio and TV broadcast companies and cable networks have sites on the Internet. Most publications and programs tie into the Internet with read-more-about-it sites delivering text with streaming video, audio and graphics. In addition, traditional readers, viewers and listeners are directed to check media Web sites for excerpts from articles, chapters, books, speeches, court testimony and all kinds of other public documents and video and audio clips. Readers and viewers can read additional in-depth material about a news story or the main players involved. They can chat with the reporters and newscasters, react to a story by sending messages, vote in an online poll, and participate in the newsgathering process by suggesting ideas for other stories and becoming citizen journalists.
3 3 Communicators needed Such interactivity underscores the need for good writers, because all of the information from newspaper copy and broadcast script to the Web site story is written. In published research and in conference presentations, publishers and television news directors always emphasize good writing as the key skill they seek. Major newspapers and television networks deliver increasingly sophisticated and multilayered Web specials featuring original content tailored to Internet audiences, thus blurring the boundary between newspaper or television news and online journalism. The Associated Press, once mainly for newspapers, now provides newsroom technology, audio, and video to print media as well as broadcast media outlets around the world. Gannett Company, based in Arlington, Virginia, is the nation s largest newspaper company, but it also has TV stations and cable TV systems in several states. All of its media outlets have news web sites. The television network news divisions, as well as cable and satellite broadcasters, have expanded their activities dramatically in digital media services online. For example, A.H. Belo Corporation in Dallas began as a newspaper publishing company in the mid-1800s. Today, it is a multimedia conglomerate that owns newspapers, television stations and a Texas regional cable news channel, which provides news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They all have news web sites. Newspaper reporters are deeply involved in the websites and the cablecast. This convergence of media technologies obviously affects news personnel. In such an environment, writers no longer think of themselves as strictly newspaper, television, magazine or radio people. Rather, writers today take a multimedia approach and think of themselves as broad-based communication practitioners. The ability to write well is the key skill one needs in a multimedia environment, whether that writing is strictly with words or also involves video and audio. Storytelling What makes a good news story on the Web? Writing copy for the Web differs from writing for print and broadcast media. Attracting readers to a Web page and holding them requires a very different approach from drawing them into a newspaper story, magazine article or telecast.
4 4 The Web is interactive and multitasking is everywhere at hand. Users make active choices as they scroll, navigate, link, engage, share, post, copy, paste, send. When we surf the Web, we don t display the same patience as we might when looking through a newspaper or magazine. Like most media consumers, Web users are looking for information that is important and useful to them. However, they don t like to linger on a Web page unless it seems to guarantee delivery of what they want immediately. Web readers scan quickly, skimming text, allowing at most five seconds to make a decision about whether to stay or go. The process Writing news for any medium involves planning, gathering, organizing, writing and rewriting. However, writing news for the World Wide Web requires a different approach to planning and crafting a story, particularly when nonlinear elements are included. The term nonlinear refers to Web page hypertext in which links allow a reader to choose to proceed in a nonchronological (non-sequential, non-linear) order by clicking to jump around within the text or by clicking to leave the page to continue reading text on some other Web page. Here is an eight-step process for online newswriting: 1. Plan the story and define the focus 2. Gather information 3. Organize, outline, layout, and storyboard 4. Write the short elements a headline a teaser a brief of fewer than 21 lines a paragraph on how the story will affect readers 5. Plan visual, multimedia and interactive elements 6. Deconstruct the story and add non-linear elements 7. Write the story 8. Rewrite the story Planning a story and defining its focus Planning at large online media sites involves a team, usually composed of a writer, editor, and technical staff such as a multimedia specialist. At smaller sites, one or two persons may have to wear all of those hats.
5 5 The planning process begins with a list of the stories to be covered. At some media outlets it is handwritten on a wall-mounted whiteboard or on a tablet during a planning meeting. At others, the list is prepared in a word processing document. Things to consider: Does the story lend itself to links to separate Web pages? Should background material be presented as a timeline instead of text? Should audio, video, and multimedia accompany the story? Does the story lend itself to reader discussion questions? What other visual elements such as still photos, maps, charts or diagrams does the story need? What people are needed? Web editors, designers, artists, multimedia specialists? Eventually, two people team up usually a writer and a Web producer to work on the project. The writer reads any incoming wire stories, locally generated news reports, and other available information feeds. The producer searches for multimedia elements, scours the Internet for related links. and consults with a third person, the multimedia designer Storyboarding A storyboard is a sketch of how to organize a web story and a list of its contents. It helps you: Define the parameters of a story within available resources and time Organize and focus a story Figure out what medium to use for each part of the story To weave their stories, writers must organize, outline, layout or storyboard their information content. For online storytelling, the familiar writer s term outline is replaced by the visually oriented film and television term storyboarding. Illustrated is a sample seven-page website storyboard by Amacord A storyboard is a diagram, something like a flow chart or an organizational chart used in businesses. The storyboard is an important step in online writing. Each piece of the story, including text, audio and visual elements, is represented by a box or panel. The complete set of panels forming a storyboard shows the sequence of events.
6 Related Web pages for backgrounders and other elements all are part of the storyboard. Dividing a story into its subtopics helps create a storyboard. In turn, the storyboard helps everyone working on the story to envision how the parts will hang together when presented as a complete story. The storyboard does not have to be a work of art. It can be hand drawn. The idea is to give the page production team working on the story enough information so each member can develop her or his portion of the final product. How to Do a Rough Storyboard A multimedia story is a combination of video, text, still photos, audio, graphics and interactivity presented in a nonlinear format in which the information in each medium is complementary, not redundant. Your storyboard should be put together with all those elements in mind. The first job is conceiving the nonlinear elements. Divide the story into its logical, nonlinear parts, such as: a lead or nut paragraph, addressing why the story is important profiles of the main person, place or event of the story the situation the process or how something works pros and cons the history of the event or situation other related issues raised by the story A nut graph is a paragraph that explains the news value of a story. It will help if you avoid linear thinking Instead of thinking first part, second part, third part, fourth part, think this part, that part, another part, and yet another part. The story s home page has a headline, a nut graph, a visual such as a central photograph, video or slide show, and links to other subtopic parts of the story. Deciding on multimedia content Divide the contents of the story among the media -- video, still photos, audio, graphics and text. Make some decisions: 1. What parts of the story work best in video? Video is best to depict action or to hear and see a person central to the story. 6
7 7 2. What works best in still photographs? Stills can create a particular mood or emphasize a strong emotion or important point in a story. Stills often are very dramatic and don't pass by as quickly as video. Stills used with audio highlight emotions. Panoramic 360-degree still photos immerse a reader in the location. 3. Does audio work best with video or with still photos? Good audio with video is critical. Bad audio detracts from video and from the drama of still photos. Good audio makes them seem more intense and real. 4. What part of the story works best in graphics? Graphics go where cameras can't, into human bodies or Deep Space, for instance. Animated graphics show how things work. Sometimes graphics can be a story's primary illustration. 5. Does the story need a map? Satellite images and geographic information systems (GIS) are important tools. Interactive GIS personalize a story by letting readers pinpoint where things are. 6. What part of the story should be text? It can describe the history of a story, a process, or a first-person account. 7. Make the information in each of these media complementary, not redundant. Some overlap is okay. Source: Multimedia Storytelling, Knight Digital Media Center, University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication Make it interactive Interactivity gives a reader both input into and control of a story. Web users expect to find interactive elements at a website. You make a story nonlinear by letting the reader choose which elements of a story to view in which order. Here are some examples of interactivity on the Web: A blog that allows readers to post comments in response to an article. A wiki edited collaboratively by a team of people. A podcast forwarding a page to a user. A YouTube video or Flickr photo enhancing a story. Links to online content sharing sites like Digg. Interactive games through which readers construct their own stories. After breaking a story down to content and media, reassemble it on a storyboard.
8 8 Sketch it On paper, draw roughly the way the main story page will look with its elements. Head Nut graph Links Navigation or menu Multimedia elements Do the same for any other pages for subtopics. What is the main element on each page? What other information should be included? What video, audio, pictures or graphics would be used? A rough storyboard doesn't have to be perfect art. It's only a sketch used as a guide. You can change it as you work on the story. Storyboarding helps you: find holes in your story identify the resources of equipment and assistance you may need modify the story to adjust to your resources. You can practice storyboarding by finding a newspaper feature story and sketching a storyboard of its elements, including any multimedia possibilities that occur to you, and how it might be broken up into a nonlinear Web presentation. Reporting Reporters covering stories today do what they always did and now even more. These days, print reporters take audio and video recorders and laptop or tablet computers when they cover a news event. After all, today s newspaper web sites offer video and sound bites. Gathering information Reporting for the Web involves gathering information for both brief and in-depth stories. If the text of a speech or a list of persons is available at a news event, a reporter should receive it as a computer file so the full text or complete list can be posted on the Web.
9 A follow-up story can be posted quickly on the Web, without the story having to wait for the next print edition or on-air broadcast. That means, after completing a story, a reporter plans immediately to gather information to update the story or carry out the next step in reporting the story. Web news sites constantly update themselves 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Their readers find the degree of immediacy previously available to listeners back in the day when radio stations regularly covered news. Today s print and broadcast media Web news sites are quite competitive. Today s Web site needs a continuously functioning rewrite desk like those used by newspapers when they published editions throughout the day. Newspaper and magazine writing is for the eye. Radio and television writing is for the ear. Web writing is for both the eye and the ear. This leads broadcast reporters to write copy for the Web in newspaper style, rather than in their traditional more-conversational broadcast newswriting style. 9 Writing Good writing is the key to success on the Web. Writers who can create clear, concise sentences and use language effectively are always in demand. Good writing means simple, clear, accurate, coherent, grammatically correct sentences. The ability to produce quality writing quickly is important. Writing is increasingly multi-dimensional with layers of information incorporating audio, video, graphics and links to sites on the Web. Writing for the eye Web news copy is written for the eye to be read in much the same way as if it were a story printed in a newspaper or magazine, unlike television and radio copy, which is written for the ear. Story thread What it s not A news story thread is not the same as a story arc, which in an entertainment television show is a continuing storyline that unfolds over many episodes. A thread in a discussion online involves a series of postings and replies creating a conversation amidst many unrelated postings. By reading the related messages in a thread in a linear fashion, one after the other, you can see how the discussion has evolved while ignoring other discussions on the same message board. Meanwhile people start new threads around you all the time by posting messages that are not replies to earlier messages. What it is Readers of non-linear news stories on a Web page have the choice of moving down through a story sequentially, one paragraph after another, or clicking links
10 to jump up and down the page, or clicking links to jump away to other pages. The reader who jumps away to read additional information elsewhere then can return to the main news story. Who cares? The story will not be worth the effort if it doesn t connect with someone who cares about the people, places or events. As the storyteller, you must explain why anyone should care. Plan first Whether you are writing a text story, accumulating a photo gallery, preparing to edit a video, or collecting natural sound, you must have a plan of action before you start writing and editing. Your work won t go along efficiently and smoothly if you don t have an outline, a map to the finished product. List the crucial details. Checkmark the most important parts. Show how the pieces connect. Draft an outline. Sketch a storyboard for your Web story. Let the storyboard diagram the relationships between story elements. 10 TIP: the storyboard doesn't have to be fancy. Just scribble a blueprint of your story on paper. Take those steps and the end result will be most effective. Everybody s in a hurry Web readers scan quickly, allowing at most five seconds to make a decision about whether to read on. Five seconds is not a long time. A few words go a long way Keep the story short. Those hurried Web readers don t like to scroll down very far. Try to hold your story under 600 words. Where to begin? First, understand the overall story. Dissect it. What is its linear heart? What main information elements compose the story? Are there any similarities or relationships among the pieces of information? Group those similar elements. Determine the story thread. Suppose you were going to tell the story to your family. Where would you start?
11 11 To capture the reader s interest and get the point across, start with the best part and keep the rest of the story simple and easy to understand. Keep it basic. Use plain language. Craft the story with words we all use and understand. Use 50-cent words, not five-dollar words. Include who, what, where, when, why and how. It must be true and fair. Make it real The story has to feel real to the reader. Emotion is a powerful way to connect with any reader s imagination. In fact, it helps us understand one another. True and fair As you write true and fair copy, contemplate how you are bringing together a variety of words, sounds and images to express the range of emotions surrounding the story. Pace yourself As the writing develops, you will want your Web readers to be able to keep up, to want to know what happens next. Anecdotes and quotes You can pace the development of the story with narrative, anecdotes and quotes, and creatively edited stills, natural sound and video clips. Clear and concise You must write clear and concise copy that is eye-catching, attention-getting, reader grabbing. Give us the action Start your story fast with no slow windup. Get right into the action. Avoid wimpy opening phrases. Using is can make a sentence weak. Replace the to be verb forms with action verbs. Change passive voice to active voice. Use simple active verbs. If you get stuck in a passive sentence simply ask yourself, "Who does what to whom?" Too many prepositions can suck the action out of a sentence. Dump the excess prepositions and use a strong active verb to make a sentence direct. Remember, it s not your father s Oldsmobile Here are the traditional elements used to organize an old-fashioned linear story: Headline Reveals in brief what the story is about. Lead a block of one or two sentences at the beginning of an article that invites the reader into the story. Nut graph a paragraph that reveals the news peg or significance of the story. It has been called the "so what" paragraph because it explains the reason the story is being written.
12 12 Body the bulk of the story information. It educates, entertains, or even emotionally ties the reader to the subject of the article. Where appropriate, paragraphs of background information should be placed high in the story to enhance reader understanding. Sprinkle direct quotations, observations and additional background throughout the story. The story thread connects the lead, body and conclusion. Use transitions to connect paragraphs to keep the reader from being jarred by the writing. Conclusion Stories can trail off like a hard news story or they can be concluded with a climax. End the story with a part of the thread. Often, a feature ends where the lead started, with a single person or event. The ending will wrap up the story and come back to the lead, often with a quotation or a surprising climax. A climactic ending sometimes is referred to as a kicker. Now, here s how to write and organize your non-linear story today for the Web: Headline This element is read first so tell exactly what the story is about. Click-n-go readers might base their decision on these few words. Summary lead This familiar type of beginning to a story should immediately reveal the context and key facts. Body This is the bulk of the story information. Keep it short, clear and concise. Conclusion Wrap up the story and tie it back to the lead, often with a quote, a surprising climax or a kicker. At-a-glance heads Heads and subheads guide a reader through a story and serve to break up blocks of text for eye-appeal. Keep subheads simple at onethree words. Make then boldface and a size larger than the associated text. Clear language Be colorful and concise in short, simple sentences. Avoid joining two sentences with conjunctions. Short paragraphs Large blocks of text will scare away Web readers. Short paragraphs encourage people to continue reading. They make copy more readable. Make all paragraphs one, two or three sentences long and vary the length of paragraphs throughout the text. Write one thought per paragraph. Inverted pyramid Organize your story to entice a reader to stay and read the whole piece. Remember, the attention span is short in Web reading. Usability studies suggest that the hard news, inverted-pyramid organization of a news story works well for those who land on a page, scan the lead rapidly, and then jump to some other Web page. The inverted pyramid is the most widely preferred journalist s format for story organization in which the most important information comes first. How to: AP Style Follow the rules of the Associated Press Stylebook, the standard reference source for reporters and editors on word usage, libel, numbers, titles, capitalization and commonly used words and phrases. Highlight keywords Readers are likely to find your story by typing key words into a search engine. Highlighting keywords in your story is a form of search
13 13 engine optimization. When they get to your page they will look around quickly for those keywords. Highlight your keywords so they can be seen easily, but don t overdo it. A bold word every four paragraphs or so should be enough. Chunks Write in chunks of information that can be split into logical subtopics and related nonlinear parts. If stories parts are presented on different Web pages, treat each chunk as a separate story like a sidebar. Restate the context in each. Bullet lists Use bulleted lists to help the reader scan the page. Multimedia Include relevant still photos, video, audio and graphics. Hyperlinks A hyperlink is a portion of text or an image on a Web page that is linked to information elsewhere on the same page or on a different page. A user clicks a hyperlink to jump to the new information. You also can use a hyperlink to cause a file to be retrieved, a sound or video file to play, or a new blank message to open. Hyperlinks make news stories non-linear. Superficially, a news story on the Web may appear at first glance to be a traditional linear story. However, consider this The story can be written in chunks with links to other Web pages. The story can be one screen with links to internal sub-topics down the page. Rewriting There s a difference between editing and rewriting. In editing, you polish your piece. In rewriting you reshape and prune the piece. You may eliminate, add or change words, sentences and paragraphs. You re-evaluate, re-tool, re-word sentences and paragraphs to make them and the entire story stronger. Remember, while a website seems to have unlimited space, its readers have limited attention spans. Check the mechanics of your writing. That includes punctuation, grammar, spelling, and choices of nouns, pronouns, verbs, articles, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, periods, colons, semicolons, commas, question marks, apostrophes, hyphens, dashes, ellipses, etc. Use the spelling checker, grammar checker and thesaurus. Mechanical errors amidst your words will make it confusing and harder for a reader to follow. To proofread, print your story and read the hard copy. Cut extra words, conjunctions and unnecessary adjectives. Count the lines in your story. For instance, suppose the computer displays 30 lines of text. Use that as a guide for placing subheads about every lines or every third paragraph. Scan the story. Does your eye focus on topical subheads or other points of entry? If not, create them. Check endings and transitions to new screens. Does the story lure readers to continue on?
14 Quality writing is never out of style Because the online environment is fragmented, expansive and fast-moving, the transitions, active verbs, compelling quotes, and colorful descriptions and anecdotes you write are very important in making readers want to follow your story. Accuracy Check your facts. Don t publish incorrect information. Attribute all facts to valid sources. Remember it s easy on the Web for your readers to check up on you. 14 Visuals Not all parts of a news story are text. Images, photos, drawings, paintings, charts, graphs, and multimedia elements, such as audio and video clips, also tell the story. Don't go gee-whiz nuts. That is, don't use technology just for the sake of technology. Any technology used must further your storytelling. Anything that doesn't do that is just noise that interrupts communication. A visual environment Obviously, the Web is a very visual environment. Mix visuals with your text to attract and hold the reader s interest. Create lists Check your story for content that lends itself to breaking out into lists. Use lists to highlight data, quotes and other key information. Use bullets or a very light tint block behind a list. They will draw the reader s attention and indicate that the list is a supplement to the main text. Pull quotes Find the very best quote or two in your story and bring them out to be featured as graphic elements. Make their font larger and a different color surrounded by white space. Consider a thin hairline rule above and below the pull-quote. Create sidebars An anecdote from your story or a descriptive passage from your text could be excerpted and highlighted as a sidebar. It will need a head of its own, of course, and should be a complete mini-story within itself. Caption your graphics You want graphic elements such as photos, charts, graphs and tables. There s an opportunity to reduce the length of the main text by transferring information into the captions for graphics. Because readers are drawn to graphics, this important caption information is more likely to be read. Jump long stories If a story has to be long, you may want to jump it to a second page. Since scrolling down a single page can be boring, interested readers probably would prefer to click through to find the rest of the story. Make the second page look like the first page by duplicating the style and graphic elements. Make it interactive Amplify, expand, explicate, enlarge, develop and even strengthen your story by providing a rich assortment of links to informative text, photos, videos and
15 15 audio on other pages on the website and to other websites. Readers appreciate your thoroughness and will return to your story after leaping off to other information. Link keywords and not entire sentences, and make it clear where the link points. Still photography Here's how to take great photos for a Web news story: Plan first Whether you are shooting to illustrate a story or are accumulating photos for a Web gallery, you must have a plan of action. Consider the shots you will want. Sketch a storyboard for the Web story before you start shooting. Write a script if you are shooting a narrative. Vary your shots. Different angles will tell a more complete story. Things will go efficiently and smoothly if you have a plan, a map to the finished product. The end result will be most effective. Shoot a bunch Capture as many images as you can. It's always better to shoot more photographs than you think you will need. Sometimes, photographs shot on impulse turn out better than planned shots. Rule of Thirds Resist the impulse to place the subject in the center of the photo frame. Instead, follow the photographer s Rule of Thirds. The composition will be more compelling if you imagine the scene you're going to photograph as if there were lines dissecting the frame into three sections, horizontally and vertically -- like a tic-tac-toe board. Place the subject of the photo off-center at one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical lines. The viewer will be able to see the environment around the subject and the subject will seem to have room to move in the frame. Using the Rule of Thirds will add interest to the overall photograph. Look at the background As you frame the photograph in the viewfinder or on the monitor screen, avoid background distractions. Often, plain backgrounds look best. Be careful that subjects don't have trees, utility poles or other objects seeming to stick out of their heads. Frame the shot When composing a photograph, move around to position foreground elements in the scene, such as leafy tree branches, to create a frame around the subject within the photograph. Framing draws the viewer s eye to the subject and adds depth, which makes the photo more interesting. Move in close The best photos often are simple compositions. Get in close to capture the subject s unique nature, beauty, emotion or intimacy. No matter what story you are telling on the Web, be sure to mix in close-ups.
16 16 Good outdoor lighting Think about the quality of the natural light illuminating your pictures. That golden light in the afternoon and early evening is more flattering than midday harsh daylight. Keep the Sun at your back. White poster board makes a good light reflector. You also can use a metallic-coated cardboard reflector, or some other shiny thing that will bounce light, to make use of the light available on the site. On the other hand, a dark poster board can be used to block harsh sunlight. If the light level is low you will need to support your camera. Brace the camera For the best image, hold the camera steady. A tripod is an obvious answer for a quality shot. Alternatively, try placing the camera on some stabilizing solid object or prop it with your elbows to steady the camera. a ledge or step a windowsill or a car window frame a chair back or a wall a car fender or roof a sandbag or extra firm pillow a book bag or camera bag any support that will hold the camera steady as you press the shutter release. Understand flash lighting Use a tripod and flash when the light in the environment is low. Or experiment with some of these techniques: Try using the flash with a slower shutter speed. Try taking the flash off of the camera and don t point it directly at the subject. Try bouncing the flash off a wall or the ceiling. What s the mark of a good flash photograph? You won t be able to tell if the photographer used a flash. Videography Here's how to shoot captivating video for a Web news story: Plan first When you are shooting video to accompany a Web story, you must have a plan of action. Think about the clips you will want. Things will go efficiently and smoothly if you have a plan, a map to the finished product. Sketch a storyboard for the Web story before you start shooting. The end result will be most captivating. Foreground, background As you set up the shot on the monitor, see what s likely to be moving. Move around to position elements in the scene. Be aware. Rule of Thirds Resist the impulse to place the subject in the center of the photo frame. A subject directly in the middle of a shot will seem wooden and stiff. Sometimes called the Golden Cut by videographers, the Rule of Thirds helps frame shots in a more engaging, natural way. The video imagery will be more compelling if
17 17 you think of the scene you're shooting as if there were imaginary lines dissecting the frame into three sections, horizontally and vertically -- like a tic-tac-toe board. Using the Rule of Thirds, you anticipate your subject's movement and allow for some background information in the frame. Place the subject off-center at one of the intersections of the imaginary horizontal and vertical lines. The viewer will be able to see the environment around the subject and the subject will have room to move in the frame. The Rule of Thirds will add interest to the video imagery. Good lighting Shoot in well-lit environments. Use daylight whenever possible. Avoid fluorescent lights if at all possible. The color that fluorescents add to a scene is ugly. If you're in a poorly lit area, move the subject outdoors or to a better-lit place. Steady the camera Tripods are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and a worthwhile investment. Use one. It will steady your video camera shoots, which is of the highest importance. In an emergency, place the camera on some stabilizing solid object. Just keep that camera steady. Shoot more than enough The more video you shoot, the better. Be sure to record lots of B-roll to add dimension and secondary footage to the story. B-roll gives a video package a fluid look and helps with cutaways. Hold the shot If you keep shooting for at least seven seconds, even if you don t think you will need that much video, you ensure having plenty of usable material. Avoid getting crazy Video clips simply are better when they use static shots, which make the video look more clean and professional. As best you can, avoid pans, dissolves and zooms. If you must use a pan, make it tight and quick. Overusing dissolves suggests to viewers there wasn't enough material to make the story work. Batteries, tapes, notebooks, pens, food Carry an extra battery. What would you do in the field if a camera battery goes dead in the middle of a story? Use a spare battery while recharging the other. Also, carry extra memory cards or tapes, a notebook and pen, and a quick snack. Sound Here's how to record compelling audio for a Web news story: Plan first When recording sound to accompany a Web story, you must have a plan of action. Think about what you will want to hear. Things will go efficiently and smoothly if you have a plan, a map to the finished product. Sketch a storyboard for the Web story before you start recording. The end result will be most appealing. Don't forget sound Viewers will miss an important element of the story if you don't have sound with your video. The more natural sound background sound you can record, the better. Whether you re covering a music festival, political rally, antiques show, sports match or some other event, one way to collect natural sound during an
18 event is to point the camera, still shooting, at the ground for a few minutes. Later, when you're editing, you can use that sound as a bed for background. Stick microphones For the best possible sound, portable recorders need an external microphone, not the built-in mic. That means a stick microphone is good to have. An omnidirectional microphone picks up sounds from all directions. Directional mics pick up sound from a certain direction and deemphasize sounds from other directions. Hold that mic Hold the microphone firmly at its base and six inches away from the interviewee's mouth. The louder the noises in the surrounding area, the closer you should hold it to the interviewee s mouth. If your arm tires during a long interview, ask your subject to pause while you switch to the other arm. Always handle the microphone yourself. Wear headphones Human beings unconsciously filter out background noise when listening, while a recording microphone hears it all unfiltered. A mic will pick up and record the whisper of the wind, the rustle of leaves, the rumble of nearby traffic. For that reason, always wear headphones when recording so you will hear everything the microphone hears. Blocking sound A recorder can capture a lot of unwanted sound. Use anything you can think of to block unwanted sounds -- a wall, a blanket, a drape, a windscreen. You could use your body to block wind or noise by standing in front of the interviewee. If an outdoor noise is too loud, try sitting inside a car to conduct an interview. Keep quiet Audio equipment is sensitive, so reduce talking and the noise of others working around you. Don t cough, sneeze, laugh or respond to your subject with a sound. Editing for clarity Editing audio helps you tell a story in the clear and concise words of an expert on a subject or someone involved in an event. Cuts must be brief and compelling. Don t use an actuality that repeats exactly what you say. Instead, read a scripted lead-in to a sound bite, and then play the cut. Editing will let you have compelling and clear clips. 18 Web pages Here are some design do s and don ts for a good homepage: Technical points When you have your own website you have total control over its content and the look and feel of the presentation. A homepage should be simple. Most people don t want to see a silly design dancing all over the page. Every page should load fast. Readers/viewers think of themselves as busy so they want to see your page quickly without a long wait. They will give you only a very few seconds as they decide whether to stick with your site or not.
19 19 Don t have an intro page where the viewer is asked to click a button to get to the main website. Design elements Make the design of your pages consistent. Your homepage should display an attention-getting image. Your homepage should not have music. Don t use Flash on your site. It will load slowly and search engines can t index it. While Flash may seem to offer a Wow factor, let your content speak for itself. Put copyright and contact information at the bottom of each page. Include , mailing address, phone number and and/or other important contact information. This builds credibility for you in the mind of your reader/viewer. Navigation All pages of your website should be easy to navigate. Don t create a mystery as to where to go next on the site. Make your navigation buttons and text links easy to find by placing them at the same place on each page. Use text links and graphic-button links. Arrange navigation buttons and text links in order of importance, not just in a haphazard pattern. Content Keep it simple. Keep text short and easy to scan. Write short sentences and short paragraphs. Use bullet lists. Pull out important information from the text into boxes and eye-catching tidbits. Boldface some key words, but don t overdo it or viewers will ignore them. Currency Keep information current. Out-of-date information will send a user away quickly. Continually add new, fresh content to your side so repeat visitors will be induced to stay. Don t be only a warehouse, be a boutique. Try out new ideas for writing and photography. If you don t try different angles, your site won t seem intriguing, exciting, captivating, interesting. Search engine optimization SEO is a necessity if you don t want to become lost in the Web wilderness. Under what search terms would you like to be listed? Include those terms in your hidden metadata and in the visible copy on the page. Use text links so search engines can index your pages. If you use only graphicbutton links, search engines won t be able to find your other pages.
20 20 The more keyword-rich text you have on a page, the more a search engine will find for its index of your site. Don t use Flash. Search engines can t index it. Search engines look for activity. It shows your website is living and relevant. Update your site weekly or more frequently. Resources Websites useful to online journalists SOCIAL NETWORKS BLOG SITES MICROBLOGGING SITES CITIZEN JOURNALISM CITIZEN JOURNALISM (continued) PHOTO SHARING VIDEO SHARING SITES MACHINIMA SITES
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