This article is part of our online coverage of reporting on COVID-19. To see more resources, click here.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaped a new normal in journalism today. Reporters around the world have adapted to cover the global health crisis from all different angles, and often from the confines of their homes. When out in the field, journalists are taking extra measures to ensure their well-being, and that of their interview subjects.
As this new reality sets in for the rest of 2020 (at least), what does this mean for video journalism, in particular? How should newsrooms adjust their video strategies? What creative approaches and tools can video journalists adopt to produce compelling content?
We gathered insights from four expert multimedia journalists, including Bill Shepherd, a mobile and video journalism trainer at Billshepherdmedia.com, and a production editor at The Guardian and The Observer; Léo Hamelin, a senior producer at Blue Chalk Media and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School; Nacho Corbella, creative director at Ripple Effect Images; and Nuno Vargas, a design, innovation and product strategist.
Here’s what they told us:
IJNet: How should newsrooms adjust their video strategies during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?
Shepherd: There is an old saying, “the best camera is the one you always have with you.” Most of our colleagues carry their smartphone all the time, which allows them to do three things: record audio, shoot a video interview, or even shoot a diary piece to camera. They can even edit their video on their smartphone using one of the many mobile editing apps, like Adobe Rush.
Adobe Rush is my preferred editing app – it allows me to easily edit cut-away shots, add text captions, logos and banners and upload to Adobe Premiere Pro, which is my preferred desktop video application. Moreover, FiLMiC Pro is a wonderful app for both Android and iOS. This allows me to shoot video with more control rather than simply using the built-in camera app, because I can then monitor the audio whilst recording, which I cannot do with the built-in camera app. This app also allows me to manually set a focus point and a separate aperture point too, so great for shooting in lowlight.
I also use Ferrite Recording Studio, which is another great iOS audio app that was created with journalists in mind. It allows me to record and edit sound so it's great for audio recording and it might also be a good choice for journalists recording sound for podcasts if they haven't got their own sound recorder.
Hamelin: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced all of us to be more flexible and adapt to new work realities:
- Stay safe: It's important that newsrooms create a new habit of assessing risk for a story as well as provide journalists with the necessary equipment. In this climate, it should be more than a commitment to their journalists — it's a responsibility to their sources.
- Work remotely: When possible, journalists and video journalists should avoid going out, and [instead] work remotely. Our industry has adapted really fast and we've seen a lot of journalists reporting from home, whether they're a TV station or an online magazine. Online tools to record interviews remotely are accessible to all. Newsrooms should create guidelines for interviewees, [including] how best to record themselves during an interview [and] how to record user-generated content to create a more complete video.
- Provide equipment and standardize best practices: When creating video content in teams, newsrooms should also think of providing the necessary equipment to their staff, and create simple guidelines for best practices in editing as a remote team. It's not straightforward, but being organized and [having] standards such as naming conventions are key. The same goes for equipment: create a safe environment for contactless pick-ups, sanitizing and storing gear.
- Check in with your staff and with your sources: What I've heard from people in newsrooms around the world is: be especially aware that your co-workers, colleagues and peers are in good mental health. It's new for a lot of us to be covering a pandemic, which entails reporting on grief and loss, too. It's important that everyone has access to tools to protect the sources they're talking to (medical workers, families of victims) as well as themselves.
Corbella: The key is to inform. Right now, the emergency seems to be a little bit under control — but it's not under control. It's just that we don't have the same urgency as before.
The key is to decipher exactly which part of the COVID crisis we can inform about. If your newsroom hasn't been focusing on mental health, now is the time to do it. We're suffering greater rates of depression. A lot of people have been [working] from home. We're dealing with having kids in our house all the time, with no support.
We can inform. We can create articles. We can create video. We can carry stories that touch on this premise.
Vargas: Focus on the video products you do that are fast to produce and bring high impact. If you have a specialist that works well on a two-minute video explainer, go with it.
Bring something different to the table. Users are scared and overwhelmed with information. Don’t be like the rest: find what you’re original at and make it your unique “selling point.”
Don’t try to be everywhere, focus on one specific platform — the one you’ve been stronger at — and focus your production on that format. Use it on the rest but focus on only one.
What is one creative thing newsrooms could consider doing with video today, during COVID-19?
Shepherd: It starts at the very top, [with] the editor. It's important that editors are reaching out and staying in touch with everyone within the newsroom. The ideal video strategy solution would be to hold a weekly or biweekly video conference call where staff can simply log on from home and listen to the conference. It's important for editors to be inclusive, so that includes everyone who works within the newsroom — not just the senior editors, but the reporters, picture editors, photographers, video producers, subeditors, researchers and even the administrators and technical and support staff, too.
It's going to need a massive team effort to get through the COVID-19 pandemic so try to always be inclusive because everyone's job role is essential to the future of the organization.
Hamelin: Now is the time to be creative. Now is the time to try things. Standards are shifting. There's space for something different and there's an understanding from our audience that we will create something different, because COVID-19 is a globalized experience.
I think we need to re-discover a lot of the great tools for visual storytelling. Each newsroom is different, but I think we could all agree that investing in motion graphics is pretty high up on the list. They're adaptable to your brand and identity, but they're also a fantastic tool to create interesting original content, from branding a series of videos to illustrating audio and creating full-on explainers.
Corbella: The key for me is the way you cover and tell stories. What would you do to tell the same story? This is a very repetitive story in many ways. So, what tools can you add? Do you think motion graphics will be important? Do you think the data presented in a compelling, fun way will be more important?
I'm a big proponent of new technologies. But it all depends on the size of your newsroom. The key is to let everyone produce [content], since everyone is eager to learn and do more. Start being a little more critical and providing more support and feedback to those people producing content these days.
Vargas: If it’s just one thing, go with user-generated content (UGC) and make it yours. With social distancing and all the traveling limitations, UGC will get you stories and themes from places you cannot access and might not be aware of.
Go social discovering online and find user-generated content that’s going strong on specific topics that intersect, or can be part of your beat, and curate and aggregate it. Gather four to five videos and make a story about it. Use the topic and do your own story. With the due author permissions, there’s a world of content waiting to be presented through your outlet’s lens.
Bill Shepherd, Léo Hamelin, Nacho Corbella and Nuno Vargas all served as mentors on the ICFJ-Facebook Europe Video Accelerator Program.
The interviews in this article were edited for clarity and length.