Here’s a short anecdote that I’d like to share.

A student asked Professor Biddle what seemed like a simple and harmless question.

“Which editing system do I need to edit with?” the student asked.

Professor Biddle shot back with this reply: “The editing system needs YOU. Software doesn’t edit by itself.”

Yes! I exclaimed when I heard this story. Editing software and hardware are only tools and, like all tools, they are worthless unless used by a skilled craftsperson. Likewise, simply learning how to do tricks with software doesn’t make you a good editor. So the important thing is to learn how to tell a story first, then become proficient with software so you can effectively use the software to craft a compelling story.

Now that we’ve got that settled, another common question is, “Now that I’m developing my storytelling skills, which editing systems should I learn?” The short answer, according to Walter Biscardi of Biscardi Creative Media in Atlanta, is: “Any of them.” Why? Because there isn’t any single perfect editing system. And a lot depends your skill level, the kind of projects you’re working on and the type of environment you work in. If you end up working professionally in journalism (at a TV station, broadcast or cable network, or other type of multimedia newsroom) you’ll have to use whatever editing software the company uses, so it helps to gain some familiarity with the major NLE systems. The big three across the video/TV/film industries are: Avid, Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro. Biscardi offers a good summary of all three, highlighting major strengths and weaknesses. A lot of TV news stations also use the Grass Valley editing software called Edius.

We rely primarily on Adobe Premiere Pro simply because it’s the most accessible. It’s installed — as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud — in our student newsroom and other Grady College computer labs.

No matter which editing system you use, it’s crucial that you heed the advice of Adam Epstein, an editor with the SNL film unit. His post is required reading for all Video Journalism students!

I’d like to add a few more words about one item on Epstein’s list — the first item: Work Clean. It’s one of the things I (and my colleague James Biddle) keep banging on about.

Here’s the short version: You’ve got to have a system, a process, some way of keeping the project organized. And this system should be standardized within the production unit whether it be a newsroom, post house, or boutique one-man-band basement company.

“…nothing lets you know whether or not someone is a real, dyed in the wool pro faster than seeing how they manage a project. Make it so anyone can walk in, look at what you’ve done, and immediately know what’s going on. Being truly organized might not sound like the sexiest aspect of a creative process, but to my mind, precision and simplicity in the midst of manic situations is beautiful.” – Adam Epstein, SNL editor

Thinking about workflow and project management (managing the media files, to be more specific) is more important than ever. Back in the old days of film and videotape editing, the technology imposed it’s own discipline on editors. Destructive film editing or tape based editing forced you to think long and hard about when and where to cut before you actually made a cut. It was like writing a script with a typewriter. Digital, non-linear editing gives us random access to clips and the ability to do all kinds of crazy experiments in the timeline. You can always undo a mistake, or create a new sequence. It’s like writing a script with word processing software, where you can copy and paste paragraphs and easily rearrange the story, saving multiple drafts of the script.

Way back when, you also had actual physical media (tapes and film reels) to label and store, which made it a little harder to lose important footage. Not any more — not in the file-based world. In our classes, you record media on inexpensive memory cards. So now you have a bunch (maybe hundreds) of video files on a card, which you can easily import directly into most non-linear editing systems. Or — as we advise — copy the files to your hard drive, then import them into the editing project. However, if you don’t have an organized system for copying and importing those files, you could be in a mess of trouble later in the project, like when it’s time to actually deliver the assignment. If you’re also in the habit of randomly moving files around on your drive, or moving them back and forth between a lab computer and your hard drive, you’re asking for a heap of trouble.

So, if the technology doesn’t discipline you, guess what? You must impose the discipline upon yourself. That means developing and following a clean workflow, which includes a logical method for organizing all the files that are part of an editing project. You have project files, media files, graphic files, audio files, and many other little digital bits that go into a video. You need a system for managing all those files and you need to stick to it.

Professor Biddle and I strongly advocate the “Master Folder” system that we demonstrate in class and actually use ourselves. This is especially useful when editing with Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro, which allow you to put media files just about anywhere. They also track media files by file path rather than using a database system like Avid’s editing software. The Master Folder system is workflow-driven and intuitive. When working with a partner on a project, you should both follow the system. That way either of you can take the editor’s chair at any time and finish the project. Same thing does for any big (or small) newsroom. When working in Grady Newsource, you can and should follow the Master Folder system, or some close approximation. It can be utilized at each workstation in the newsroom and/or on your own hard drive. If everyone in the newsroom follows the same system, you’ll be much less likely to lose important files. It’ll be easier for another student to jump in and finish editing a story when you have to get set up for your live shot, or run to the anchor desk. There’s already enough chaos in a newsroom. Don’t add to it by working messy and refusing to follow a standardized workflow.