In today's world of digital communication, more stories are being brought to light by citizen journalists. They are the ones with a keen eye for a story, an insatiable curiosity, and the audacity to bring overlooked issues to the public's attention. Using the tools now increasingly available to a wider range of people, journalists without the backing of a media empire can get to the heart of stories people want to hear. If you've ever thought about joining the ranks of video journalists, you're in the right place. This guide will take you through the steps to become a video journalist and give you an inside look at the tools, techniques, and ethical considerations of the trade.
Seeking out stories
Firstly, let's talk about finding stories. As a novice journalist, focus on local interest stories. These are often hidden gems waiting to be uncovered. Keep an ear to the ground and engage with the local community. Don't be afraid to ask questions and dig deeper. After all, journalism is as much about asking the right questions as it is about finding answers. Every town, city or even village has its stories, and these are often passed over by legacy media either because they are considered to be too small or because they don’t rub well with the outlet’s editorial line. Nonetheless, stories that start small can become big, and it is an instinct for this kind of feature that sets the best journalists apart.
Picking your angle
Secondly, you need to decide the angle of your story. This might be covering an underrepresented community, investigating a hidden issue, or perhaps reporting on a local sports team making waves on a national level. The angle you choose will shape your narrative and determine the language you use. While it is generally seen as a bad idea to let your bias shape a story, there will inevitably be some cases where the framing of a report is obvious from the beginning - someone dumping toxic chemicals in rivers or embezzling public funds obviously isn’t going to be given the “halo” edit.
The next step involves the tools of the trade. Good mobility is essential, so ensure you have a reliable mode of transportation, whether you have a car and can drive, or know someone who can join you on your reporting missions.. A quality laptop is indispensable for note-taking and report writing on the move. As for capturing footage, smartphones with good cameras have become a staple.
However, consider investing in more specialized equipment as well, including a more stable, powerful video camera that can be mounted on a tripod or your shoulder. A keyhole camera can offer undercover perspectives, while a drone camera, like the Mavic 3 Pro Cine, can provide stunning aerial shots and views inaccessible to human camera operators.
Now, let's talk about the legal aspects. It's important to know the limits of what you can and can't do as a journalist. Ignoring the law in pursuit of a story can have serious consequences and could jeopardize your reputation and your work's credibility. Certain locations may require permits for filming, and while undercover filming can be essential, it's crucial to understand when and where it's legally permissible. Obtaining press accreditation is a worthy investment that could open doors for you. Additionally, having a companion accompany you can help safeguard you and your footage against potential intimidation or harassment.
The above is important: there is a concept of citizen journalists who don’t play by the rules, but get results. That concept comes mostly from TV drama; in reality, breaking the law and therefore jeopardizing the whole story makes you more or less toxic to the kind of platforms you’ll need to keep on your side if you want to make a long-term success of your journalism. By all means, you can surf very close to the edge of the law, but going over the line and breaking it is not something that is going to earn you respect.
The next crucial aspect is editing your story. In video journalism, you might end up with hours of raw footage for a piece that only lasts a few minutes. Initially, aim for concise, punchy reports. As you build a name for yourself, you can venture into longer, more in-depth pieces and even stories that have multiple parts to them. Initially, though, you’ll want to just keep the salient details and cut to the chase. When people look at videos online they can see how long a video will last, and not many will click on a half-hour video from someone they don’t already know and trust. Don't hesitate to collaborate with someone skilled in video editing and even web developing, particularly in your early days.
Throughout this process, keep in mind that the essence of journalism is to create stories that engage and inform your audience. Whether it's a controversial issue, a heartwarming moment, or a feel-good local story about an up-and-coming band or sports team, there needs to be a hook that grabs your viewers' attention. So by all means you can cover a topic that is close to your heart, but just make sure that you can find a way of putting it close to other people’s, too. If you are going it alone and putting your videos up on YouTube or a similar platform, you’ll need to think of engaging video titles that make people click.
Becoming a video journalist is a journey of learning, exploration, and, above all, storytelling. It's about chasing stories that matter, capturing them with tools at your disposal, and bringing them to life for an audience which may, to begin with, be very sparing in the time that they allow your videos to run. In the end, the power of video journalism lies in its ability to shine a light on the untold stories, giving a voice to the voiceless and fostering a more informed and engaged community. Knowing how to do this is a skill in itself. If you can find this skill in you, and pair it with the skills and knowledge above, then you can become an excellent video journalist.
M.E.L. is an attorney and small business entrepreneur whose mission is to help professionals conquer the workaday world with style and poise.
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