Ever had the idea you wanted to be a video news reporter? Got a smartphone with a video camera? Yes? Congratulations, here’s your chance to be a citizen journalist.
For a couple of hundred bucks, you have a compact video recorder and maybe even an editing studio that fits in the palm of your hand. Not only can you shoot high-definition (HD) video and record sound, you can upload and share videos, or stream live video news to people around the globe.
Citizen journalism is a growing force all over the world. It’s even been a factor in dramatic political and social change. The phenomenon has forced the established media outlets to make room for citizen journalism within their organizations. It’s changing the way they report news to better fit the style and audiences of Internet giants like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
WHAT YOU NEED TO TAKE PART IN CITIZEN JOURNALISM
There are three basic ingredients of citizen journalism.
1. A level of interest and commitment.
2. Equipment to capture and edit video news.
3. The ability to get the story online at video upload sites.
Is your interest in citizen journalism a casual impulse, or are you more serious? Maybe the random coincidence of unexpectedly finding yourself in the midst of a significant event is enough motivation. If you’re able to capture it on your smartphone and then post that bit of video news online (it might even go viral) you’ve made a contribution. You can still be an important part of citizen journalism. On the other hand, if you have a more dedicated, purposeful motivation behind citizen journalism, there are additional considerations to take into account.
Can you document and tell a story with pictures and sound? Do you know how to present information so people clearly grasp the meaning? Did you vet your video news? If you need to improve any of these skills, there are resources that can help. Nearly all the major, professional news organizations also have citizen journalism programs, with tips from pros on how to develop those skills.
Your personal safety can also be a concern. Many of the most important news stories happen in dangerous situations, from the powerful forces of nature, to human disputes, conflict or even war. If you find yourself in any of these situations your security and wellbeing should be the first priority.
VIDEO CAMERAS FOR CITIZEN JOURNALISM
With video becoming the “Lingua Franca” of the Internet, the most essential tool for capturing video news is of course the camera. There are three main categories of video cameras. HD resolution is 1920x1080p and that’s typically the standard.
1. Smartphones: Perfect for the casual user and even for an aspiring citizen journalist. Some have built-in editing features, but inexpensive Apps are available. The beauty is that you can upload and share videos directly from the phone through a Wi-Fi or data connection. A great start for beginners.
Image quality is getting better, but the tiny image sensor and poor quality lenses shackle smartphones. Add-on lens attachments can help. Smartphones can be fragile, but there are many sturdy cases to help protect it from the elements or even being dropped. If you’re adding a lens, be sure the case allows it to fit properly. Cost: Free to a few hundred dollars, depending on cell phone service provider.
2. Pocket cameras: A few years ago, these small, dedicated video cameras were going to take the world by storm (think: Flip video camera). When smartphones made their push into video, the pocket camera nearly disappeared. However, there are exceptions. Some are built to be shockproof and waterproof. These ruggedized features can be the difference between keeping or losing precious video under demanding circumstances.
There’s no way to connect with the Internet like you can with a smartphone. Instead, to load the video, you need to connect the camera to the computer via USB. Pocket cameras are sometimes incorrectly lumped in with camcorders in reviews and comparisons. Cost: $100 – $300.
3. Camcorders: These have been around for years, going back to analog VHS tape. Today’s HD camcorders record to solid-state memory cards. Video quality is considerably better than smartphones or pocket cameras. Camcorders have superior optical lenses so they can cover the action with more flexibility. They often use larger image sensors that capture more light, yielding better quality. Those that have 3-chip sensors (individual red, blue, and green) are typically the best. To transfer the video captured with the camcorder it must be connected directly, or a memory card inserted into a computer to access video upload sites. Cost: $200 – $2,000 for consumer grade.
SIMPLE TIPS FOR SHOOTING GOOD VIDEO
Regardless of the video camera, basic shooting techniques apply to all devices. If you find yourself capturing something that happens at night with bright lights you can apply many video shooting tips for capturing fireworks. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when capturing video news.
1. Hold it steady: Shaky video is difficult to watch and distracts viewers from the story.
2. Keep the sun at your back: If the situation permits. Video cameras, like your eyes, don’t work well staring into bright sunlight.
3. Resist the urge to ZOOM: Just because your video recoding device has a zoom feature, it doesn’t mean it’s good. Digital zoom results in especially poor quality and this is typically the type of zoom found on smartphones. If you want to use the zoom feature be sure it’s an optical zoom. More importantly, you can miss important action that would have been captured with a wide shot.
4. Record good sound: Easier said than done. It depends on your equipment, distance, crowd noise, wind and so on. External microphones can greatly improve your sound. Many types, each designed for specific acoustic situations are available. For news events, a directional or ‘shotgun’ microphone is a good choice. Mini-versions can even be fitted to smartphones.
Oh, unless it’s critical for the story to provide a real-time description of what you are shooting, please, keep your own voice out of it. Let the event ‘speak’ for itself.
5. Bring extra batteries and memory cards: You really don’t want the camera to die, or run out of storage when “the” big event happens.
EDITING YOUR VIDEO NEWS
This can run the gamut of doing nothing at all to the raw video, to full-blown editing with cutting, effects, sound tracks, etc. Some simple editing can be done on smartphones. If you’re creating a more sophisticated video, you’ll need to transfer the video into a computer and use video editing software.
Keep in mind that most of the video upload sites have online editing features to trim and rearrange clips, add titles, sound and more. Generally, alter the video as little as possible from its original file format and resolution. That maintains quality and will help your video upload easily.
ADDING YOUR VIDEO NEWS TO CITIZEN JOURNALISM SITES
Once the video is ready it’s time to share it. This can be the simplest part, but there are technical requirements the video must meet. Each upload service has it’s own specifications for file formats, codecs, bitrates and resolution. Uploads of files that are up to 600MB or more are allowed on some sites.
Much of this boils down to the math of compression bitrates and image resolution, which all relate directly to quality and resulting running time of the video. YouTube’s guidelines are typical, although some sites use lower bitrates for HD. Coming in 2013, a new compression standard, H.265, or High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) will cut the bitrate and storage needs for the same amount of high quality video as H.264 (the most used codec on the Internet) in half.
To upload the video, simply visit the site, log-in, select the file(s), and up it goes. It’s a pretty standard procedure across most video upload sites. Although, some like CNN’s iReport want a headline, a description and even have a place to enter tags and location information.
LIVE VIDEO STREAMING BECOMES MORE ACCESSIBLE
Live streaming is just that – video that’s happening right now, in real-time. While capturing an event, you’re sharing live, raw, unedited video directly online. Live streaming is becoming more accessible to citizen journalists. Established news organizations have long seen the value in someone who is at an event as it is happening, in the moment.
There are some technical differences between video uploaded conventionally and streamed. Using video and audio bitrates as a measure, streaming is roughly half the quality. This doesn’t mean your streaming video will look bad. It just means video uploaded in the usual manner will be better.
CITIZEN JOURNALISM DEPENDS ON, BUT ISN’T JUST TECHNOLOGY
With so many smartphones, nearly anyone can now send live video from the scene of a breaking news story. Does that make everyone a citizen journalist?
In a certain sense, yes it does. But for citizen journalism to achieve respectability and acceptance, it must attend to the same ‘Who, What, Why, When, and Where’ questions that are the foundation for professional journalists.
Have you ever used a smartphone or camcorder to capture a real, live news event? Did you share it on the Internet? Do you know citizen journalism when you see it television or online? Let us know in the comments below.