Song Spinner: Braiden Sunshine

I met Braiden Sunshine a few years ago when his band Madison Red performed on The Day’s Live Lunch Break music series, and have run into him a few times since then, performing around the area, and in his chorus class at Lyme-Old Lyme High School.

Braiden has achieved a bit of fame after appearing on NBC’s The Voice, and is now embarking on his own music career, releasing his first single “Reality.” He sat down recently with Rick Koster and me to tell us the story of how the song came to him in the middle of the night.

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Lessons in preparation

There is a cliche about proper preparation preventing poor performance, and it’s entirely true. I usually like to use this space to highlight things I’ve done well, but this time I’m going to share two video shoots that could have gone better.

The first was a simple high school softball game. Even when I’m just there to shoot highlights, I try to know about the teams and the key players in advance. If there’s a player we might do a feature on at some point, I try to focus on them. Or, if there is an interesting context to the game, knowing that can help frame the video as more of a story than just a recap of the game action.

After the game, I asked the reporter if the starting pitcher and relief pitcher were sisters. She told me yes, and that she had written about the younger sister’s struggle with bone cancer. It was pretty remarkable that she was playing varsity softball at all. She came in to relieve her sister for the win, but I had only one shot of her pitching. Had I known her story, I would have changed my approach. Fortunately, the teams are playing again in an annual cancer benefit game, so I have a chance to do the story the right way.

The week before, I was in Rhode Island to shoot fish stocking for a part of a longer story on the Pawcatuck River. I wanted to get an underwater view of the fish, so I brought a GoPro on a long pole. The problem was they were not stocking with nets, as I had seen in the past. Instead, they backed the truck down a boat launch and opened the tank, releasing 750 fish in less than a minute. I didn’t have a way to get close to where the fish were going in the water. I stuck the GoPro in the water from a dock nearby, and got lucky that a few fish swam past the lens. (20 seconds into the video below)

I should have asked how they were doing the stocking. Had I known, I could have come up with some waders and a way to sit the GoPro on the ramp underwater. I had planned to go back again, but it turns out they won’t be doing any more herring stocking this year.

In both cases, had I asked a few questions before the assignments, the videos would have turned out much better than they did.

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Periscope in a news workflow

There has been a lot of excitement out there about live streaming videos apps Periscope and Meerkat. At The Day, we do a weekly live streaming music show called Live Lunch Break and live streaming basketball and football games, but these are more produced and streamed through Livestream. We as a newsroom wondered if it made sense to add these streaming apps to the toolbox our journalists have.

We already have two full-time videographers, four still photographers who are equipped to shoot video, and a handful of reporters who shoot short videos through the Tout app on their phones. The simplicity of live streaming with the tap of one button in an app and the ability to easily promote your broadcast and interact with viewers made us try out Periscope on two occasions this week.

On Tuesday, a group of New London residents went to City Hall to protest a proposed tax hike. We sent a reporter, photographer and videographer. With the reporter streaming via Periscope and the other two trying to shoot as well, there was a lot of getting in each other’s way at the small protest. The lesson here is if you are going to deploy multiple people all trying to shoot for the same publication, there needs to be some coordination of the effort.

On Friday, the Westerly Morris Men did their annual May Day dance on the Connecticut College green. I’ve done video stories in the past, so this time I figured I would try streaming via Periscope for something different. My plan was to download the video afterward and upload an edit to Tout. The problem I discovered was that even when I was shooting horizontal, the Periscope app saved the file to my camera roll as a vertical (see above). Another issue is the quality of the recording. The file is saved at a relatively low resolution (320×568) and with a lot of compression (486 kbps). So if you want to upload the stream to a service like YouTube for on-demand viewing, you’re going to get a low quality video that you have to rotate in another program like Final Cut in order to view it horizontally. Vertical video is fine when it’s confined to a mobile app, but the standard for video players is horizontal.

I tested out Meerkat’s quality this morning, and it’s not much better (360×640 pixels, 534 kbps).

News websites amass viewers over time, so a video that can be viewed on demand is going to be of a lot more value than one that is streamed live and then not archived. Add to this the fact that the live stream is confined to the app and not available to be embedded on a website, and it seems Meerkat and Periscope are more novelties than useful tools for journalism.

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