Thinking about the future of local journalism

Recently I had a chance to interview three smart people about the future of local journalism:

  • Josh Stearns, director of journalism and sustainability at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, who is studying six digital startups in New Jersey and New York. (You can see my full interview with Stearns by clicking here.)
  • Meg Heckman, a University of New Hampshire journalism professor whose master’s thesis at Northeastern University was on the role of women at digital startups — and why women are more likely to be involved in hyperlocal sites than in larger national projects.
  • Tim Coco, the president and general manager of WHAV Radio in Haverhill, a mostly online community station (it also has a weak AM signal) for which Coco is seeking a low-power FM license.

I don’t get to make videos that often, but I wanted to scrape some of the rust off my skills for the benefit of my graduate students, who are currently making their own videos. My philosophy is that every journalist needs to know how to make a decent video with the tools at hand — in my case, an iPhone 5S, a portable tripod that I bought five years ago for less than $20, and iMovie ’11, also known as iMovie 9. (The newer iMovie 10 strikes me as slow and kludgy, but maybe I just need a faster computer.)

The one luxury I indulged in was a Røde lapel mic (known in the trade as a lav mic), which I bought for well under $100 just before I started this project. It made a huge difference — the audio is of far better quality, with much less interference from outside noise, than in previous videos I’ve made.

What I should have done, but didn’t, was use a better app than Apple’s built-in Camera so that I could lock in brightness and contrast. That way I could have avoided the sudden shifts from dark to light and back that mar my interview with Stearns.

Still, it’s useful to know that you can shoot a decent video without spending many hundreds of dollars on a professional camera and Final Cut Pro. I think there’s a tendency at journalism schools to believe that we’re selling our students short if they don’t get to use the latest and greatest technology. And yes, they should have a chance to use the good stuff. But they also need to know that many news organizations, especially smaller ones, expect their journalists to make do with what’s available.

Analyzing the Senate debate — and iMovie ’09


Following last night’s Massachusetts Senate debate on wbztv.com and wbz.com, I sat down with the moderator, political analyst Jon Keller, to get his thoughts on the debate and on the fine art of keeping such events on track.

My purpose, which Keller was generous enough to indulge, was to get some good news footage for my first experiment with iMovie ’09.

The basics are ridiculously easy. Inserting B-roll via iMovie’s cutaway command almost feels like cheating — you just drag and drop, and the software takes care of the rest. I had gotten to be relatively facile with iMovie 6, but B-roll on ’09 is much simpler and faster.

After separating the audio from the video, I was also able to start with Keller talking during the opening screen. But because iMovie ’09 lacks the precision timing of iMovie 6, I had to guess where to cut the video. It’s sheer luck that the audio and video are in reasonably good sync at the beginning of the piece.

Another annoyance: there doesn’t seem to be any way to add titles to B-roll photos and video. I tried to drop them in where they would make the most sense and where people’s identities would be obvious from the context. But that’s not always going to be good enough. Unless there’s a way to do it that I haven’t discovered, it’s a step down from iMovie 6.

The new iMovie really shines when it comes to uploading to YouTube — it handles the process automatically. No more futzing around with settings to see what looks best.

Overall, iMovie ’09 is a quantum leap over the wretched iMovie ’08, and I’m looking forward to working with it with my students next semester. I still like iMovie 6. But since it’s no longer available, I’m glad Apple has finally beaten its successor into reasonably good shape.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Keller’s characteristically sharp analysis.