Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What if Santa brought you $20k for video for your paper's web team?

$20k sounds like a lot but that's really only enough for one decent video kit. To put it in perspective, just the lens for a TV camera costs that much.

Here's how I'd prioritize: Audio first. Unless your current audio recorders are top end, get good recorders like the Marantz (which will hold up in pool use) -- $500 to $600 each with flash cards and mics. One for everyone on Santa's list. You can do amazing things with still pictures and crummy video if the sound is good.

And get good microphones for however many video kits you end up with -- spend at least $500 each on good shotguns, and another $600 each on wireless mics -- and don't forget to budget for the cables, mounts and windscreens -- they add up fast. Every cent you spend on audio is worth it.

Ok, that takes care of the most important stuff. Now for the edit stations. Yes, edit stations, plural. Seriously. We have people literally standing in line for our edit bays. One person doing one story is going to tie up an edit station all day. You'll need more than one. You don't really need super duper high end computers, but you do need a lot of storage -- at least a terabyte of external firewire or SATA drive space (NOT usb) in addition to what's in the computer. Dual 20" monitors are better than one 24" and is about the same price (unless you're on a PC and need to buy a video card, too.) Very important: you really, really want good studio monitor speakers and an enclosed room for your edit bay. (Your co-workers will kill you after you've played the same sound bite 20 times, trying to get the right cut point.) Headphones suck, but they're necessary (because they won't give you your own room, even though you really really need it) and you need a bunch of Sony MDR7506 'phones at $100 each... one for each recorder, camera, and edit bay. You'll also need a video playback deck -- which is over $2k by itself -- and a separate TV monitor and speakers for the deck. Don't forget software -- in addition to editing software, you'll need compression software plus a bunch of plug-ins -- those add up, too. You'll also need a digital-analog converter so you can capture footage from somebody's vhs tape of an alligator eating the neighborhood cats.

Ok, you're out of money and you haven't got any video cameras.... well, there's always next year.

You need cameras that have both external microphone inputs - with volume control - and headphone jacks so you can listen as you record. I can't emphasize enough how important the audio is. There aren't many camcorders out there anymore in the budget category that do this. A couple of our people are trying to get by with Panasonic GS300's (I think) that don't have headphone monitoring. It's killing them. The good cheap cameras, like the Canon Optura 50 and the Panasonic GS400, have been discontinued.

Most any camera that has good audio features is over $2k. The cheapest HD, the Canon XHA1, is $3700 for body alone, then add $150-each batteries, case, rain cover, etc, plus the mics. Those little digital cameras you mentioned have plenty of resolution for the web, but they don't have audio controls. Did I mention how important good audio is? Plus they shake so much your viewers will get motion sick watching. Maybe the Panasonic DVC7? They're around $1k but I've never used one. And you'll need a decent tripod -- at least $400.

Beware of the hard drive-based cameras and the digital cameras -- most record in proprietary formats that you can't edit easily. Check the specs carefully to make sure the files from your cameras can be edited directly in your edit program of choice. You'll die a thousand deaths while spending hours trying to convert .xyz video from some digital camera that was SUPPOSED to save you time, but won't. Tape rules. It's its own built-in archive.

A light is a great thing for interviews and one Lowel Pro Light - with a dimmer - can make a world of difference to your end product.

B&H Photo Video has a huge catalog and decent prices and a shopping cart that stays up for a while, so you can do lots of virtual shopping.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Many Gannett photographers are having to learn video for the Gannett Information Center. Gannett's move to this across all their papers is going to cause a tusnami in the newspaper world.

Here's the CEO's memo (reproduced on Poynter) about it: Poynter

There's a very active posting on about what the Gannett changeover means to photographers ... see SportsShooter

Here's Steve Fox's blog on Gannett's change and crowdsourcing:

And here's Jack Lail's list of links about the Information Center:

And here's an E&P article quoting various Gannett papers' leaders: E&P

And finally, here's a newspaper video explaining how it works at the Appleton, Wisconsin Post-Crescent: Real to Reel

Friday, November 24, 2006

The turmoil in newspapers is matched by the turmoil in advertising. An interesting story on Poynter by Rick Edmonds talks about how ad agencies are scrambling to meet changing consumer habits:

Advertising change will affect us more than anything else. Put on those seatbelts!


The New York Times is beta testing a way to get the "paper" over the internet using a Microsoft program. See NYTimes Firstlook

This looks similar to Adobe's Digital Editions:

These multimedia pdf readers will rock our world when good electronic books, maybe with OLED screens, become available. I think this approach, which allows us to "publish" pages electronically with advertising like our current newsprint product, will be the future for newspapers.


Gannett is changing all 89 of their local newsrooms to 24/7 online operations.
See this E&P story: info center


The Washington Post is tossing their newsroom into a blender to try to get a new media staff out of the result. See this E&P story: Post restructure

The New York Times is moving in the same direction: Jill Abramson, managing editor, says this in her 'Talk to the Newsroom' blog entry: "We've had to make some sacrifices and postpone some hiring, and currently we are working on a project that will result in efficiencies across our different platforms, including, the largest newspaper Web site, and the International Herald Tribune. Integrating our news operations across platforms not only makes budgetary sense, but also journalistic sense. It is about managing our news assets smartly for the future."


Again from E&P, a very interesting story on a Columbia University discussion on the prognosis of old media: old media . The Wall Street Journal Online's Bill Grueskin is paraphrased thusly: "The revenue importance of unique page visits has forced editors to change the way they produce stories. A reader will not click on twenty stories, he said, but they might click on twenty pictures. "

Yeah, baby -- we photogs will be running the show soon!


Here's a story from Digital Content Producer about the San Jose Mercury News' photo site. It says the site had 100,000 visitors "last month":


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Steady, there!

Across the country newspapers are trying to do video with no budgets. A consumer handycam, Windows Movie Maker or iMovie, and a whole bunch of extra work on the staff photogs, and suddenly the Podunk News has gone Hollywood.

But the video produced is shaky in more ways than one. You need support.

But that's another topic -- I'm talking about camera support here.

As for tripods, you get what you pay for. One of the cheapest fluid head tripods with leveling is the Libec LS22 and it's around $400. I bought one and it's the best you'll get for $400, but I don't recommend it. You really need to spend more than that to get smooth movement. You might have to be satisfied with a decent still tripod and give up on pans while shooting if your budget is less than that. Bogen/Manfrotto has a really inexpensive video head, the 700RC2, which will go on any tripod and is sorta smooth. It's a friction head (even though they call it a fluid head) and is probably the best for under $100 if you already have a decent tripod to put it on. It won't give you leveling, though, and it doesn't stay smooth in daily use.

To get the kind of movement you see on TV, you need to spend upwards of $1500 on a tripod.

Happy Holiday

Ok, gang -- I know we newspaper people are in the throes of the Christmas frenzy, with huge papers to fill for the next month. The busiest time of year for a newspaper photog -- sports out the wazoo, community activities to cover; holiday food shoots; santas and elves; spot news to cover as ice and clogged chimneys create mayhem for you poor suckers up north..... etc. etc. etc......

I'm here to gloat.

The news hole on the web is the same now as it was in July. Our web traffic drops way down on weekends and holidays. I'm taking Thanksgiving off. Never thought I'd see the day.

At least there's some advantage to this newspaper 2.0 stuff.....