Journalism Training Blog

Multimedia, editing and social networking for journalists

My new toy: a digital HD video camera

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After having so much fun making videos at the Maynard Institute’s 2009 Multimedia Editing Program in Reno, I told myself I wanted to get a camera and keep practicing. Finally, more than a year later, I bought a camera. I decided to go with a cheap digital HD camera, the Kodak PlaySport.

I went to Best Buy yesterday armed with a $100 gift card. I was planning to buy a Flip video camera. After talking to a sales guy, I was convinced to go with the Kodak. It was cheaper (yeah, even cheaper than the Flip!), waterproof and able to shoot underwater, and it takes stills in addition to video. The $149.99 price tag was just too tempting.

I looked at some reviews of the camera when I got home. They were largely positive. The negatives: the still photos aren’t super high quality (no problem for me, because usually I’m shooting with a smartphone and posting on Facebook) and the videos aren’t as high-quality if shot with less light. It turns out the first video I shot was in a very low light room, and it wasn’t too bad.

I haven’t had much time to fool around with this camera yet, but it was easy enough to figure out right out of the box and start shooting immediately. Anyway, here’s my first video — nothing fancy and totally unedited. Enjoy!


Written by vgriffey

October 15, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Real problems in real stories

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I finished a worksheet today based on corrections made in some recent stories during the editing process. Stay tuned for answers.

Please correct the following (just the ones that need correcting):

1. President Barak Obama

2. Federal Aviation Authority

3. This worksheet answers the question, What will we do about all these errors?

4. Oakland school district spokesman Troy Flynn

5. Transportation Safety Administration

6. Johannes Mehserle, who was 27 at the time of Oscar Grant’s shooting

7. Oh, s—, oh God, I shot him.

8. She moved towards the door.

9. The report will be finalized Thursday.

10. She was working on earning her GED.

11. Visit the Web site for more information.

12. The fire occurred at the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Glen Park Road.

13. Police are looking for the suspect, who has not been identified.

14. New testimony could lesson the impact of previous testimony.

Written by vgriffey

June 18, 2010 at 7:38 pm

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Assure, ensure and insure

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From “Woe is I” by Patricia T. O’Conner:

assure/ensure/insure. All three have their roots in a Latin word for “safe” or “secure.” In American English, to assure is to instill confidence or certainty. As for ensure and insure, both can mean to make certain of something, but only insure is used in the commercial sense (to issue or take out insurance). “I assure you,” said the grieving widow, “I ensured he was insured to the hilt.”


1. The object of assure is a person or people (or maybe your pet or another animate object, if you’re really into personifying it).

2. Use ensure if substituting guarantee would not change the meaning.

3. In AP style, we use insure only in references to insurance.


1. Let me (assure/ensure/insure) you that you’ll have a great time doing these exercises.

2. The company won’t (assure/ensure/insure) me because of my pre-existing condition.

3. Can you (assure/ensure/insure) I’ll make it to the airport on time if I take BART?

4. I (assured/ensured/insured) him that I’d (assured/ensured/insured) the car.

5. It was reassuring when she (assured/ensured/insured) me that the company would (assure/ensure/insure) me.

6. I (assured/ensured/insured) Pebbles that I would come home to give her a walk.

7. I (assured/ensured/insured) that I would be able to give Pebbles a walk.

8. I didn’t know at the time that she already had (assured/ensured/insured) I’d have a table at the restaurant.

Thanks to Henry for suggesting that I post my worksheet here. I’ll be posting the answers to the exercises at a later time, after I’ve shared this worksheet with my reporters.

Written by vgriffey

June 17, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Editing — fact checking

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Merrill Perlman, former director of copy desks at The New York Times, gave us some great strategies for editing.

Here are some things that should set off alarm bells while you’re editing:

  • Coincidence: Anything in a story that makes you say, “What a coincidence.” One time I was editing a crime story and one suspect’s last name was the same as another’s first name. It turns out it was right, but it definitely was enough of a coincidence that I asked about it.
  • Internal inconsistency: A community event takes place in East Oakland, but everyone quoted in the story is from West Oakland.
  • Repetition: A person’s last name is the same as the street he lives on — John MacArthur on MacArthur Boulevard. The same numerals are used in different numbers — the city will shut down for 14 days to save $1.4 million dollars.
  • Superlatives and modifiers: Longest bridge, best school, most diverse, etc. If you’re not sure, it’s better to fudge it a bit — one of the longest, among the most diverse, etc.
  • Foreign languages: Recognize patterns and see what doesn’t fit in to those. For example, a double vowel in a name that’s supposed to be German. Usually, a long vowel in German is represented as a vowel followed by an h, while some other Germanic languages more commonly use double vowels (think Wahlberg vs. Waalberg). Or (thanks to Nate Tabak for this one) someone from Slovakia whose name ends in -ic, which is a suffix more commonly associated with Bosnian/Serbian/Croation/Slovenian names.
  • What is corrected a lot? Know your publication’s common errors and corrections, as well as those you often miss/make.
  • Errors often travel in pairs: If you see something to check, check related things too. For example, if you’re checking the spelling of someone’s name, check his title as well.
  • I’ll add  weasel words: These are words like more, many, some, few, often, likely and seems. When too many of them are used, you have to ask yourself whether your story is actually saying anything. Here’s the Jack Shafer piece from Slate that criticizes the use of such words in a New York Times article.

Always check these things:

  • Names
  • Addresses, Web sites, phone numbers: Not just the ones we’re actually refering people to. Merrill brought up a good example — perhaps a story makes a joking reference, like “It’s not as if she’s working for” Well, what if it turns out that’s a porn Web site? (No, it’s not. I just checked.)
  • Dates: Historical dates, but also keep an eye out for inconsistencies, like (as I write this in 2009) a story that says someone born in 1995 had his license suspended after a drunken driving conviction.
  • Numbers: Do they add up, and do they make sense?

So now that you’re attempting to check out so many things, how do you do it? Here are some more tips from Merrill:

  • Search what you know, not what you don’t. If you’re checking the spelling of a name, don’t type the name into Google. Search for related things that will bring you to the right answer, like the company the person works for and his title.
  • Get more than one source whenever you can.
  • Sometimes search engines will correct your incorrect entry. For example, if you type “Katherine Hepburn” into Google, it will come back with “Did you mean: Katharine Hepburn.” But the results will include the “Katherine” spelling, so make sure to choose the most reliable sources.
  • Don’t forget about books — almanacs, atlases, encyclopedias, phone books, etc.
  • Don’t bet your publication’s reputation on the Wikipedia’s accuracy. Here’s why.
  • Check a fact with the reporter before changing it. For example, a story calls someone a vice president of a company, but the company Web site calls the person an assistant vice president. A company’s Web site may not reflect the person’s recent promotion, but maybe your reporter knows about it.
  • Tell your colleagues about mistakes you find on the Web and in your own publication. That way, your colleagues won’t continue to check facts on a Web site that has incorrect information. And your colleagues will be alerted to incorrect information that’s run in your publication, so no one will repeat the mistake.

Written by vgriffey

July 24, 2009 at 8:54 pm

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Welcome to my new blog

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I’ve imported all the posts and comments from my Maynard blog. I’ve haven’t figured out yet how to embed videos, slide shows, etc. on this blog. Perhaps it’s not possible, or perhaps there’s just some trick to it that I don’t know. So in some of the posts from the Maynard blog, there are now links to multimedia stuff that was embedded in the Maynard posts. I’m giving this another shot and trying to embed my latest video here:

Well, it appears to be working now. I guess I’ll go back and try to embed the stuff in the earlier posts. But I’ll do that later. For now, it’s bedtime. Enjoy the video, and let me know what you think.

Written by vgriffey

July 6, 2009 at 6:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Writing Web headlines

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Sounds like a boring headline, right? But for the Web, it’s fine. It tells you exactly what this post is about. Cleverness doesn’t count for Web headlines.

Gil Asakawa, manager of audience development for MediaNews Group Interactive, joined us Monday morning to talk to us about search engine optimization. All that means is making your story and headline something search engines like Google will notice.

Why Google’s attention is important:

  • Most people don’t browse the Web. They go online and search for something.
  • Most users never see a newspaper’s home page and won’t see stories in the order that editor’s choose.
  • Traffic comes from search engines, news aggregators and social networking sites.

Google notices the title bar (that’s the set of words at the top of your browser window), the URL (the Web address), the headline and the lede of the story. Ideally, the words people are typing into search engines will show up in those places. Of those four things, the headline is the most important, and it’s also the easiest place to put those search engine-friendly words.

Tips for writing Web headlines:

  • Write a headline that makes sense without the context of the story. The art head for a feature story will not work when standing alone on the Web.
  • Avoid puns. Being straightforward is more important.
  • Put the most important words at the beginning of the headline.
  • Use names, not descriptions, for famous people. For example, “Schwarzenegger” is better than “governor.”
  • If a person in the story is known widely by a certain description, use that. For example, early headlines on the birth of octuplets might have read, “Woman gives birth to eight children.” Later, after her name became well-known, “Nadya Suleman” could be used in a headline. After everyone starting calling her “Octomom,” that became a preferred headline word. Why? Because that’s how people would search online for a story about her.
  • Use company names rather than descriptions.
  • Use city names (or other geographical information). But don’t use city nicknames, like “Big Apple” for New York City. People don’t usually search that way. Some common city abbreviations are OK (e.g. NYC and LA). Also consider using locally known geographical names, like “East Bay.” If your readers (or those you’re trying to attract to your Web site) use it, that’s fine. It’s also good for building local readership, which in turn is good for attracting local online advertisers (those local advertisers don’t care how many views you get from across the country or from other countries).
  • Use city names with sports teams.
  • Use columnists’ names in headlines. (e.g. Newhouse: This headline is for a column)
  • Wondering which keyword to use? Try typing your options into this search and see which one gets more hits.

Other considerations:

  • Hard-news ledes do better than feature ledes. That doesn’t mean you can’t run a feature story on the Web. Just make sure you’re balancing your feature lede with a straightforward headline that uses keywords.
  • Google searches the tops of stories, so the more keywords there are up there, the better your story will do.
  • Stories that are posted first get picked up first, so it’s a good idea to file something quick and short, then update.
  • When there’s enough news to merit it, file a new story. That gives you new a chance for Google recognition.
  • More references to location get your story ranked higher.
  • Post briefs and letters and separately rather than as packages. That way they’ll be indexed individually and have a better chance for higher rankings.

Videos and other multimedia:

  • Search engines won’t see text embedded in Flash players. So have text and headlines independent of your videos.
  • Search engines can read captions that are independent of photos, but they can’t read text that is embedded within graphics.
  • Embedding a video in an article allows search engines to index the video.

Linking is good:

  • Search engines give you more weight for incoming AND outgoing links.
  • Linking to other sites is good.
  • Use keywords in links rather than “click here.”

Written by vgriffey

July 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm

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It’s still about the stories

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Last week, Mark Hiland, senior director of digital operations for The Arizona Republic/, talked to us about telling the best story in the best way. We spent our time going over a few multimedia options: slide shows, videos and Flash packages.

When deciding whether a story needs a multimedia element and which kind of multimedia to use, consider these questions:

  1. How much time do you have? How long will it take to produce?
  2. What are your resources in terms of people, equipment, programs, etc.?
  3. What is the shelf life of the project, and is that shelf life worth the time it will take to produce?
  4. What opportunities will users have to control what they are seeing, hearing, etc.?

Slide shows are often a quick, easy option. One person can create and edit a slide show. The shelf life varies depending on the subject, and users find them easy to use and somewhat interactive. Only use sound if it is compelling.

Videos are more time consuming (for good videos, consider planning, shooting and editing time). Extensive training may be required, and equipment varies from Flip cameras to expensive professional cameras, mics, lights, etc. The shelf life varies, and interactivity is pretty limited.

Flash projects are very time consuming, so they should have a long shelf life to warrant the time put into creating them. Considerable staff hours and resources will be needed. These projects can require text, photos, video and graphics, and they are as interactive as you make them.

With time, resources, shelf life and interactivity in mind, choose the medium that will tell your story in the best way. Always keep your story in mind! That’s the whole point, after all.

Tips for shooting great video:

  • Shoot sequences of shots. About 25 percent of your shots should be wide, 25 percent should be medium, 25 percent should be tight, and 25 percent should be even tighter. For each shot you’re getting, get all four types of shots.
  • Hold each shot for 10-15 seconds — this will help in the editing process.
  • Don’t zoom or pan. This doesn’t work online — it often stops the video from playing and annoys the viewer.
  • Be aware of lighting.
  • Shoot cutaways — these are transition shots. Find related shots away from the focal point of your video. That way, if you want to show a person in his house and then in his car, you’ll have a transition shot to put in the middle.
  • Prepare a shot list before you shoot. Plan for opening and closing shots, cutaways, sequences, natural sound. Do the interview first, then you can map out your story and make sure to get all the shots you need.

Tips for interviewing:

  • Plan for it by researching the topic. Don’t leave your readers/viewers with unanswered questions.
  • Ask open-ended questions. (Tell me about …, describe for me …, why, how)
  • Keep questions short and concise.
  • Don’t editorialize or use leading questions.
  • Pause between an answer and the next question (this will help during editing).

Here’s a video I shot over the weekend after receiving all of these tips. I’d love to hear your feedback:

Written by vgriffey

July 1, 2009 at 1:10 pm

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