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.

Advertisements
Read more "Periscope in a news workflow"

When is it ok to use music in a news video?

When I was first learning video storytelling, and when I was first teaching it to my co-workers, I would have told you it is never a good idea to use music in your news video. I was a stickler for natural sound, and adding music is fraught with ethical and legal issues that are better avoided. Both of these are still true for me, but I have softened my stance somewhat for some types of videos. My rule used to be only include music that was part of the natural sound and relevant to the story. This piece about a composer and a high school choir made use of music in a natural sound context.

I think the reason so many people want to include music when they are learning video storytelling is that musical scores are so ubiquitous in the film and television that we watch. A movie scene without its score can seem dry, as evidenced by this scene from Star Wars that someone removed the musical score from.

Music sets the tone for movie scenes, even when you don’t notice that it’s there. In fact, the type of music used can completely change our perception of the scene we are watching. A YouTube user added three different musical scores to a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean, giving it three completely different feels.

You could see how this could be a problem in a journalistic context. Heavy-handed use of music in a journalistic piece risks adding a mood that wasn’t there, or telling the viewers how they should feel instead of allowing them to experience the story on their own. Copyright is the other reason to avoid adding a musical soundtrack. There is no rule of fair use that allows you to use a certain amount of a song. Musical compositions and recordings are copyrighted materials, and you need to pay the rights holder for the right to use them.

I still think that for straightforward news pieces, like the kind of video you would see on a television newscast, you should avoid adding music. But for more feature-type pieces, I’ve been taking more inspiration from documentaries and from radio storytelling like This American Life. The video at the top was shot in about an hour, with an interview and a few drawings done just for me. We had almost no natural sound, so I wanted some subtle music to add some pace and feel. I used a track from some friends of the reporter who were nice enough to let us use it for free. This, I feel, is the best way around the issue of copyright: find a musician you know or who is local to you and work out an agreement. This also avoids another issue that I see from time to time with royalty-free music.

There are many royalty-free music sources out there, the easiest of which is the folder of music that comes installed with Apple software like GarageBand or SoundTrack Pro. If you work with these enough, you will start to notice them in PowerPoint presentations, low-budget advertisements, and other online videos. A composer named Kevin McLeod has a great royalty-free music site, but I’ve even started to recognize some of his pieces in multiple places around the web.

The best option, in my opinion, is to find someone who can compose a simple musical score for you. There are lots of musical hobbyists out there, and there is probably even someone in your own newsroom who plays the guitar or piano. Rick Koster, The Day’s arts writer, used to be a bass player in a band, and he has played acoustic guitar to score several of my video projects. Below are two longer historical pieces that were based mostly on interviews, with no natural sound footage.

The most recent piece was a story about migrating swallows that blended poetry and music.

Adding music means a significant increase in production time, so you need to make sure that the end result will be worth it. If you’re going to use a royalty-free piece, it can mean hours looking for the right piece. If someone is going to compose a piece for you, they need the time to see your video and compose something, and then you need to record it. Music also adds another layer of complexity to the sound mixing process. The great thing about the online publishing space is it allows for more creativity in storytelling, including the use of music. Creators just need to make good choices in selecting music, because a bad selection will stand out as heavy-handed, and can be worse than no music at all.

Read more "When is it ok to use music in a news video?"

Kayaking to see the seals – and trying to shoot video at the same time

It was already a week past the first day of spring, but it didn’t feel like it at nine in the morning on Esker Point Beach in Groton. The grass and sand were covered with a fresh layer of snow, and the parking lot was so slick with ice that I almost fell getting out of the car. The kayaks being unloaded from the car next to me seemed just a bit out of place.

I’ve always been a fair weather paddler. A few summer camp canoe trips in the wind and rain, but I’d never been out on the water when the air was below freezing. I remember one spring regatta on my college sailing team when it snowed, but it’s a lot easier to stay dry sailing a dinghy near shore than it is sitting in a kayak in open water. Fishers Island sound is not exactly the middle of the ocean, but the wind can whip up some chop out there.

I was on the beach at the behest of my colleague Steve Fagin, who writes an outdoors blog for The Day. We had collaborated in the past on a few videos, including one about making maple syrup, and he took me out in his tandem kayak when I was filming the migrating swallows on the Connecticut River. This time he wanted to take me to see the seals who spend the winter in the waters around Fishers Island. After several attempts when the weather or the tide or our schedules would not cooperate, we finally settled on a day when everyone could make it, the weather was beautiful, and the tide was low in the late morning. For four of us, it was going to be a fun excursion. For me, it was also going to be a day of work, trying to put together a coherent video despite several challenges:

Challenge #1: Staying warm. I realized when I arrived that my sailing spray suit was not the best choice, as some of out fellow paddlers donned drysuits and thick neoprene gloves. I wore sailing gloves with neoprene backs and leather palms. My hands were wet almost the minute we hit the water, and shortly after that my fingers were numb. Steve let me borrow a pair of expedition weight mittens when we got to Fishers Island. They weren’t waterproof, but they kept my hand far warmer than the other gloves. Also, I was wearing medium weight wool socks and Chuck Taylors, while everyone else wore neoprene booties. My feet were numb by the time we arrived back on shore. If there is a next time, I’m not going out without a drysuit or at least a wetsuit.

Challenge #2: Shooting and paddling. I was in the front of the tandem with Steve, so I didn’t technically have to paddle at all, but I would have felt bad if I had been a useless weight in the bow of the boat for the entire trip. So I alternated between shooting and paddling. When I went back to edit, I saw times where I wished I had shot a little more.

Challenge #3: Keeping camera gear dry. What I really needed was a waterproof housing, or at least a splash bag. This would have allowed me to shoot with a professional camera. Since we don’t have anything like that, and I wasn’t going to risk killing $5,000 of electronics, my options were limited. I packed an old Canon HV20 in a dry bag that I kept under my spray skirt. I only pulled this out when we saw the seals. The rest of the footage is shot with a pair of GoPros. I clamped one onto the shaft of my paddle, and hung the other around my neck on a lanyard. These would give me the waterproof protection, but the lenses are too wide to capture a seal unless its swimming alongside the boat.

Challenge #4: Finding the seals. We went to a rocky beach on Fishers Island where Steve thought he had seen the seals before. We didn’t see any. After hiking around for a few minutes, we got back in the boats and paddled west, where we finally encountered about a dozen seals.

Challenge #5: Steady video from a kayak. The waves were not very big, but shooting handheld with a small lightweight camera and zooming in on a distant object is hard enough on dry land. Add in a little pitching and rolling and it can be impossible to even keep the subject in the frame. I did my best to hold steady, and picked the few usable shots for the above video. Sorry if it makes anyone seasick.

Read more "Kayaking to see the seals – and trying to shoot video at the same time"

Making three cameras look like six

Song Spinner is an occasional series that I produce for The Day with music writer Rick Koster. The concept is simple – shoot a musical performance, interview the songwriter, combine the two pieces. The problem with being a one-man-band video journalist and shooting a musical performance for editing is it’s difficult to get the variety of shots necessary to have an edit every three to five seconds. These pieces are about the music and the story behind the song, but in order to keep the viewer visually interested it’s best not to linger on a single shot for too long.

To get around this, I started bringing multiple cameras to these shoots, first two, and then adding a third. Almost every time we shot one of these, the musician or band asked to do a second take. I realized that I could use this second take as a chance to switch up camera angles and double the number of angles I have to edit from.

Usually, the performers have been happier with the second take, so I use the first take for a lot of the close-ups: hands strumming guitars, isolated camera on the drummer, etc. I also keep an eye out for details that I want to catch the second tie around with an eye toward where I will make the edits: the guitar player’s foot on the pedal board right before the solo, or the place where the bass starts in the opening of the song.

For this shoot, I used a Sony EX1R, a Sony PMW 200, and a GoPro Hero 4. The GoPro is nice because it can fit into small places, like right next to a drum kit, and also because it is wide enough to get the whole band in a small room.

Synching up the video clips during the edit can be tricky. We chose to make these live performances, instead of lip-synching to a playback track the way you would do in a music video. It just seems more authentic that way. But because it’s live, the tempos of the two takes are almost never exactly the same. It’s not too hard to synch up the three cameras from an individual take. I either clap at the start of the recording to imitate a film slate, or use something like the waveform of the drumbeat to synch clips on the timeline. You could also use software like PluralEyes.

I synch the two takes separately, and then determine which one I will use for the audio track. I then start matching up the other take to the chosen audio track. This involves cutting the clips every measure or two to get them in synch with the others. This leaves gaps on the timeline, but having six angles to choose from makes it easy to cover the gaps. When I get to choosing which angles to use when, there is always a little bit of sliding left and right on the timeline to get the vocals and drum beats to match exactly. The result is a video that looks like it was shot with six cameras, but requires bringing far less gear along.

Read more "Making three cameras look like six"

Competition from citizen journalists (or why I’m shooting with my camera and an iPhone at the same time)

Now that everyone has a smartphone and video sharing has become so popular, journalists face competition from more than just other news outlets. A high school basketball game this week illustrated this point quite nicely. It used to be that when I covered a game, I would just produce a highlights package and post it to or site when I was done editing, usually 2-3 hours after the game. I started experimenting with posting a shorter clip immediately after the game, and found that these short clips often receive more views than the edited package.

While posting the raw clip is much faster, it still takes me a little bit of time. I have to shoot post-game interviews, go back to my car, import the clip from my camera to my laptop, compress and upload. When Wednesday’s game ended with a buzzer beater, I first tweeted a link to a buzzer beater by the same player from exactly one year ago.

Once the video of this year’s buzzer beater was uploaded, I tweeted the link.

I noticed that someone in the crowd had tweeted their own video 20 minutes earlier.

We have a similar number of followers, but his post, by virtue of being first, had twice as many retweets and favorites. At least one other person tweeted out their own video, and there could be others that I didn’t see.

Now Twitter engagements are not our only measure of success. The tweets are really a way to drive traffic to our site and promote the stories and highlights that no one else has. We offer a quality of coverage that people can’t find anywhere else, but it doesn’t hurt to be first.

With that in mind, I went to Friday’s playoff game between Ledyard and Hillhouse prepared to be first. There is no way to get video off my Sony video camera as quickly as a smartphone can publish to the web, so I mounted by iPhone on the cold shoe on the front of the camera. Ledyard had the ball with the game tied and time running out, so I started recording on both cameras. A buzzer beater attempt was blocked, and the game went to overtime, but I got the video posted via Tout and tweeted it before the new period started.https://twitter.com/phuoppi/status/576542891117527040
At the end of the overtime period, Ledyard was trailing by one and had a chance to win it at the buzzer. The shot missed, but I used the same workflow as above to get the video on Tout and Twitter right away.

Had he made the shot, I’m sure the video would have been shared around the local basketball community a lot more than it was, but at least I have a solution for future buzzer beaters.

Read more "Competition from citizen journalists (or why I’m shooting with my camera and an iPhone at the same time)"