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Apple Computer’s Best Kept Little Secret

January 12, 2009 1 comment

From this week’s Written Road post:

Are you looking to jump into video, audio, or photography editing, but you don’t have the time or money for a private instructor or a college course? Well, if you live by an Apple Store (even an international one), Apple has a program for you. It’s called One-to-One, and it includes one hour of instruction every week for an entire year. The best part: it’s only $100, so if you use all 52 hours, you’re paying about $2 a lesson. You can only go half the time? Okay, well then it’s $4. Once a month? Now you’re shelling out a mammoth $8.30 for each class. Seems like a good investment to me.

The classes cover anything and everything Apple: topics as basic as iMovie or as complex as Final Cut Pro. For journalists looking to expand their digital know-how, this is truly a golden opportunity.

Categories: Advice, Written Road

From Intern To Editor: How One Young Journalist Beat The Odds And Landed A Job

December 11, 2008 1 comment

New Written Road Piece:

Sometimes these days it’s easy to forget there are success stories in journalism. Like say for instance the story of Backpacker Magazine assistant editor Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan. Elisabeth started out as an intern with the magazine and quickly made a strong impression. When an associate editor decided to move on, Elisabeth applied for the job and eventually landed it. I asked Elisabeth, who I first met while working as an Intern at Backpacker myself, if she wouldn’t mind sharing some of her thoughts with Written Road readers and how as emerging writers we could position ourselves for success.

WR: Staring out after J-School how did you land your Internship so quickly?

Elisabeth: It was a magic combination of preparation and luck: I started pushing for the internship early, did my homework during my interviews, and was available to move out to Colorado when they needed their new intern to start. My first contact with Backpacker was through an interview with a recruiter on campus—it was about six months before I graduated, but I wanted to get my name on their radar. We also had a grad-school assignment to interview someone with our “dream job,” so I called editor-in-chief Jon Dorn. After I finished interviewing him, he sprung a surprise interview on me, but it must have gone well—he offered me the internship in June, and I started in September.

WR: While working as an Intern you played an integral role in designing and producing a new back page for the magazine. I remember senior editors were really impressed with the execution and value you brought to the magazine. How did you go about it and what did you learn about making yourself stand out?

Elisabeth: It was an awesome opportunity to be part of the section’s development from the start—since we hadn’t done it before, everything was on the table. As far as making myself stand out, I just tried to work really hard on it—putting in the time to crunch numbers, draw up spreadsheets, and double-check all the facts paid off.

WR: When you heard there was an assistant editor position opening up how did you go about applying?

Elisabeth: The day my predecessor announced he was moving on, I asked for a quick meeting with Jon. He knew exactly why I was there (he kicked off the conversation by saying, “Don’t be nervous.”)–but I just asked what I could do to be considered for the position. He had me write up a detailed critique of the front of the book, then I completed an editing test before my official interview.

WR: What did you learn from the application process, and what advice would you give writers going into a round of interviews?

Elisabeth: Two main things stand out. One, it’s absolutely essential to know the magazine inside and out. I had a huge advantage because I’d been working at Backpacker for about 8 months before I interviewed—but you’ve got to get the last two years’ worth of issues and study them before you talk to anyone. Two, don’t be afraid to be critical. Any editor worth anything wants to constantly improve the magazine, so come to the table with ideas about what could be better, and back them up.

WR: Now that you’re an editor, how did the internship help you?

Elisabeth: It was excellent—I’d already learned how the office was run, how edit meetings worked, and I had personal relationships with all of the senior editors here. An internship is like editing with training wheels—you get to be a part of how things work and can still ask lots and lots of questions (I still do that, though!).

WR: What advice could you give folks looking to start out as writers?

Elisabeth: Read everything you can get your hands on—even magazines that wouldn’t ordinarily interest you. Take note of what works, and what doesn’t. Keep a list of story ideas and add to it constantly. And take advantage of informational interviews—pull out the masthead of a magazine you’d like to pitch and contact whoever edits the section you’re eyeing. Ask for a brief interview about the job and how he/she got there—it’s useful, informal, and helps you build valuable relationships with the people who will be deciding whether or not to hire you.

WR: You get paid to write, but I’m sure there was a time when you were asked to write for free, or next to nothing. What do you think about writers looking to start out writing for free to get clips?

Elisabeth: It’s tough, but it’s also part of the game. When you’re just starting out, clips are gold—get as many as you possibly can. They’ll help launch you into paying gigs, and you’ll improve your reporting and writing skills just by doing them.

WR: Finally, lots of Written Road readers are looking to break into the national magazine market. What advice would you give them when approaching editors with story ideas?

Elisabeth: This sounds so obvious, but it’s crazy how many people don’t do this: Read the magazine! First of all, see what kinds of stories we publish. Secondly, make sure we haven’t already done it. Even if a writer’s first idea doesn’t work, I’m a million times more likely to work with him/her to develop something that does if he/she shows a familiarity with the magazine.

Categories: Written Road

New Media Skills: Creating Video Part 3 – Sweat The Small Stuff

December 4, 2008 Leave a comment

This week’s Written Road Post

So what separates the pros from first-timers? Often, it’s just a few boneheaded mistakes that keep amateur videographers from producing quality clips. When I spoke to New York Times video journalist Erik Olsen last week, I got some insight into a few of those stumbling blocks. As you’re preparing to produce your first video here are some of the details that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Sound
“People rely on the camera’s microphone,” Erik told me during our interview. I’d be lying if I said I’d never made this mistake, so his words definitely resonated. “It can mean the difference between a good and bad video.” The lesson: your camera’s onboard microphone doesn’t cut the mustard.

I hate to tell you that there’s something else you have to buy, but take the time to research and invest in a separate microphone that provides professional quality audio. There are literally hundreds of options out there, and some really great articles helping you navigate the spider web of options. I’m currently testing two different microphones next week while shooting some video for Bicycling.com and don’t want to just recommend something I haven’t used, so when I know the pros and cons I’ll post my results and let you know.

Tripods
It sounds pretty intuitive, but Erik couldn’t stress this point enough: “Put your camera on a tripod.” Sure the Blair Witch-style of shooting is intriguing, but for most video a shaky picture will just be annoying and ruin a potentially good shot. Tripods allow you to create smooth and fluid panning shots, and to conduct interviews that are steady-framed and not distracting because of camera movement.

When purchasing a tripod keep the following things in mind:

· The cheaper the tripod, the less stable it will be. Typically, cheaper tripods work for flat surfaces, but the moment they are put on uneven ground they have a hard time keeping the camera steady.
· The lighter the tripod, the higher the price. This usually pertains to carbon fiber tripods, which can skyrocket into the $500+ range. Of course, the exception to this rule are the uber-cheap tripods which might be light, but will have a hard time holding up in the elements.
· The heads on tripods can make or break a shot. If you plan on doing a lot of panning, make sure you get a head that supports this use.
· Finally, if you travel a lot, consider a monopod, or micropod. These are lightweight, versatile, mobile, and easy to pack.

Keep your equipment safe
Be sure to protect your investment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped a camera (both film and video) only to find that a well-padded camera bag saved my butt. I would strongly recommend either a Lowepro bag, or a waterproof, bombproof, Fort Knox pelican case. I use both: the Lowpro for everyday use and the pelican for traveling or rafting trips. Typically, both run around $100. This might seem steep at first, but making sure your equipment is safe, and in the same place every time, is key to successful video.

Six Essential Multimedia Blogs

November 20, 2008 Leave a comment

New Written Road Post

Part three of how to create video without losing your shirt is coming next week. (I didn’t have time to finish the microphone reviews I was hoping to include) So this week I’m passing along a few blogs I would recommend adding to your RSS reader. Of course this is only a partial list, so if you have any another suggestions please feel free to leave a comment.

10,000 Words
10,000 Words is written by Mark S. Luckie, a print journalist who discovered his hobby of multimedia and his love for journalism could be combined to great effect. 10,000 Words gives journalists and web aficionados practical tips on how to best incorporate multimedia into their work. The site also culls the web for up and coming or underused technologies that enhance journalism.

Digital Photography School
Written by Darren Rowse, Digital Photography School is a website with simple tips to help digital camera owners get the most out of their cameras. The posts are phenomenal and the content top notch. If you have a digital camera this is like taking multiple photography classes at once.

E-Media Tidbits
Poynter’s Amy Gahran edits a solid daily blog pointing to some of the best multimedia on the web.

MediaShift
A great reference for how media is shifting online and changing society and culture.

Teaching Online Journalism
Written by Mindy McAdams who is a professor of journalism at the University of Florida, this blog is a key resource for new websites, SEO information, and what students are being taught in new media courses.

Online Journalism Blog
Great blog commenting on online journalism, interactive storytelling, publishing and all things internet. I consistently check out this blog when something catches my eye to see if any analysis has been posted.

New Media Skills: Creating Video Part 2 – Video Editing Programs

November 13, 2008 Leave a comment

New Written Road Post:

Though it’s overwhelming—and often impossible—to keep pace with the innovations in multimedia technology, the good news is that whether you understand them or not, these innovations level the playing field between consumers and professionals. This is the case with video cameras, and it’s also the case with the video editing software you’ll need to produce multimedia clips.

Each of the programs I’ve outlined below really deserve they’re own blog post, but since I’m working in this medium, a few hundred words will have to do. As always, I’m happy to respond to follow-up questions via E-mail or the comments field below.

For Apple Computers:

iMovie 08 
Packaged in the iLife Suite $79 (Preloaded on new Apple Computers)

The Good: Compatible with most cameras and video file types. Also, its interface works seamlessly with iPhoto and iTunes for quick importing of other media. Projects can be exported directly to YouTube, iWeb, iDvd and a variety of video formats.

The Bad: Limited transition and audio editing capabilities may become restricting rather quickly. While its user-friendly, the interface is not standard within the video-editing world and it’s missing some editing staples that can be very handy. (IE: There is no timeline for edited video, just a series of thumbnails)

Overall Value: Ideal for novice editors and simple projects that don’t require much editing beyond a few select transitions and title sequences. If you are looking to learn non-linear editing at a low cost this is the ideal program for you.

Final Cut Express $199

The Good: Professional-level software, Final Cut Express looks and feels the same as its more expensive brother Final Cut Studio. It provides unlimited transition options, video filters, audio editing options and title sequences, so you’re less likely to get stuck in a creative box. Even better, there are many online resources(including video tutorials) that can coach you through using the software.

The Bad: Unlike iMovie, some video cameras and file types will not work without an added codec. The learning curve for this program can be steep and its more advanced options can be tricky to learn. Some features, including advanced audio editing, 3D graphic design, and advanced exporting are not available.

Overall Value: The workhouse of online video editing, Final Cut Express is a very powerful, yet well-priced editing system utilized by many newspapers and magazines. I would highly recommend this system if you have an Apple and are serious about getting a job producing multimedia.

For PC Users:

Windows Movie Maker $0

The Good: Free and easy to use, this program offers simple editing tools including fades, titles, and exporting options.

The Bad: Most users will find this program to be too simple and limiting. Unlike iMovie, which has some pro-level features built in, Windows Movie Maker is a very stripped down entry-level program. Think Word Pad vs. Microsoft Word, or Paint vs. Photoshop.

Overall Value: Perfect for first time editors, this free program is a great way to learn about non-linear editing. If you do decide to use it though, remember there are a limited amount of transitions and editing capabilities, which may be frustrating at times.

Pinnacle Studio Ultimate 129.99

The Good:
 Relatively cheap compared to Final Cut Express, but still extremely powerful. Lot’s of new features including: Color correction, HD compatibility, and straight to DVD exporting.

The Bad: As with Final Cut Express, the learning curve is steep, it’s a bit limiting in motion and 3D effects, and some cameras/video files may require an added codec.

Overall Value: Pinnacle’s flagship editing program, I would highly recommend this as an alternative to Final Cut Express for PC users. A good selection of video transitions, audio options, and exporting options make this an appropriate setup for someone who has a PC and doesn’t want to spend more than $150 to edit video.

Looking to edit video the same way Hollywood pros do? Then consider Final Cut Studio 2 ($1,299) andAdobe Premier ($799). Both systems are professional grade and come with everything short of your own personal genius. If you’re really serious about editing they might be worth looking into, but since I started this series off with “How to Create Video Without Losing your Shirt,” it’s not the most economical option out there.

New Media Skills: Creating Video Without Losing Your Shirt – Part 1

November 7, 2008 1 comment

New Written Road Column 

Today I toured a million-dollar video production studio and once again have come to the conclusion that producing video can justifiably seem complicated to most people. Like sell-your-first-born-and-mortgage-the-house complicated. As I left the dark wonderland my head was spinning with the thought (and the cost) of it all. That is, until I remembered my own equipment–the stuff that costs a fraction as much and has landed me jobs at national magazines–and then I felt at ease, but still poor.

When getting into video production it’s important to remember that keeping things simple is okay. Every editor is different, but most just want high-quality clips that provide serviceable information and evergreen value to the website. I constantly talk to writers who are apprehensive about video, and usually by the end of the conversation they can’t wait to start experimenting on their own. The fact is, as a writer you may already have the intuitive skills you need to execute an editorial vision in video; all you’re probably lacking is the technical how-to.

Since video is much more complicated than audio slideshows, I feel it would be a disservice to just gloss over the big themes and ask you to figure stuff out on your own. So I’m breaking the topic up into three posts: cameras, editing programs, and accessories. In the future, I’ll explore different editorial concepts behind video direction, but I really feel that the main barrier for most people is the how-to element. If you have any direct questions please leave them in the comments sections below, or feel free to send me a direct email at timshisler [at] gmail [dot] com.

Video Cameras:

Type “buying a video camera” into Google and the resources are endless. Cameras range from a few hundred bucks to upwards of a hundred thousand dollars, and with multiple methods for actually recording video, every model is different. But don’t let that deter you: the options are empowering, and as a travel journalist finding the right camera is the most important avenue to success.

The first important thing to keep in mind is high definition cameras, otherwise known as HD, are now priced at less than a thousand dollars. Just a few years ago they were priced in the thousands and only large studios, or trust-fund babies could afford them. The reason you should purchase an HD model is because everything you shoot has value down the road, and if it’s not in HD, there is a good chance in five years you won’t be able to use it. (Note: Not that it won’t work, but non-HD quality will be noticed if it’s ever edited into HD footage.)

The second important factor in camera choice is how a particular camera records the footage you shoot.

Mini DV

The industry standard a few years back, these cameras use micro cassettes to record video. The upside is that your work is archived on the cassettes and you never run out of space on the camera. The downside, however, is you have to keep buying and lugging around multiple cassette tapes. This format has been more or less ditched by the newer cameras which record on flash-based media and internal hard drives. Based on new developments with Apple, and the decision to eliminate firewire ports from their computers, I would recommend refraining from purchasing one of these cameras unless they are the higher-end pro models.

Hard Disk Camcorders

Many of today’s cameras come with built in hard drives. With these cameras, you don’t need a memory card, or a tape, but just the camera itself. For instance, the Canon Vixia HF10 has a built in 16 gigabyte drive that can record roughly 4 hours of HD video. The hard drive means no loose tapes, but also means you will need a computer nearby to download the video should you run out of space. I’ve used the Canon in multiple situations and never had a problem with the hard drive filling up, but I’ve also been conscious about how much footage is on the camera at any given time.

Flash Memory

Just like point-and-shoot digital cameras, these cameras record to SD or compact flash cards. Since flash media now costs next to nothing, the cameras offer a good solution to travelers looking to travel light and leave the computer at home. I recently shot a video in Moab, Utah, with one of these cameras and the fact that I only carried around a handful of plastic cards meant I wasn’t weighed down and could keep up (or try to) with my talent.

When looking at video cameras the other important things to consider are:

· Can I manually adjust the picture?

· How long does the standard battery last?

· Is this small enough for me to use while traveling, yet large enough to feel comfortable in my hand?

For some specific recommendations, check out this article in November’s Conde Nast Traveler and CNET’s buyers guide. I’ve personally used the Canon Vixia HF10 and love it. If you are in the market for a new camera I would highly recommend giving it a spin. The other choice, the Sony HDR-CX12 is also a solid model, which some reviewers have preferred over the Canon. Either way, it is important to remember that when deciding on technology everyone has an opinion, and though it’s important to take them into account, the camera that fits best in your hand, offers the features you desire, and fits your price point is ultimately the best value.

New Media Skills: How To Create Audio Slideshows

October 30, 2008 1 comment

New Written Road Column 

The blood continues to flow among print journalists this week, but that just makes our opportunities to build skill sets even more important. We can react to the change in our medium by throwing our hands up in the air or we can act by setting ourselves up for the next wave of media opportunities. In my next few posts, I’m going to overview a handful of new media skill sets that may seem beyond reach, but are actually a lot easier to learn and master than you may think. One of my personal favorites, and a useful one for reporters and photographers alike is the audio slideshow.

How to Create Audio Slideshows:

It is no secret that photojournalists are becoming more valuable if they can produce audio along with their photography. Some of the nation’s largest papers are featuring stunning slideshows, intertwining eye-catching photography with NPR quality audio and usually accompanying it with a print-based article.

But how do they do it? The answer is more simple than you think.

Have a computer? Digital camera? Audio recorder? Perfect — now you just need $70 and you’re in business.

When creating slideshows the typical workflow is:

1) Capture photography and audio

2) Download media to your computer

3) Edit audio track

4) Import audio track into a photo-editing program and edit the slideshow

5) Export the slideshow and post it on the web.

The two following programs provide easy-to-use functionality, while keeping costs to a minimum.

Audio Editing:
First download Audacity and import your raw audio tracks into the program. Once the tracks are imported you can instantly begin refining, tweaking, and merging tracks together. Once the track is complete, simply export the track to your computer. The program is free, compatible for both Mac and PC, and works with .wav and .mp3 files, though a special plugin (downloadable from the site) may be necessary.

Photo Editing:
Spend $69.99 and download Soundslides — a powerful, yet easy-to-use editing program created by a multimedia pioneer. After importing the audio track form Audacity, import your photos and start switching around the sequence, adding titles, customizing player settings, and even adding basic motion to the photographs. Exporting can be done either as a .mov video file (Mac only at the moment) or a .swf flash file (both Mac and PC) which is ready to be uploaded directly a website. (Uploading can be tricky if you’re not a web guru so make sure to check out Soundslides upload tips)

Need some examples? Check out MediaStorm.com, the New York Times Multimedia page, and Poynter Institute’s powerful blog post: Creating Multimedia: A Novice Shows The Way.

Next week I’ll talk about video editing and how you can get started for under a few hundred bucks. And of course if you have experiences, tricks, or comments please feel free to add them below.