Video Journalism

Web site of professor Chris Shumway, Grady College of Journalism, University of Georgia

Writing to Video

Think Visually…in advance
Good video journalists understand the power of images. They are able to “think in scenes,” as Randy Covington, a former TV journalist, puts it. This requires the ability to imagine the potential visual elements of a story before setting up the camera. You should develop a shooting plan before going out to shoot a story. It might be a detailed shot list or a rough storyboard you sketch on the way to the story location. Either way, think about the visual possibilities and consider how you will record those images while working on a tight deadline. You’ll be able to work much more efficiently if you have a good shooting plan.

The Eyes Have It
The storytelling process also requires you to make clear links between your video and your audio. When writing narration, you must make sure that what the audience hears is closely related to what they see. This is a critical skill. If there is not a clear, coherent link between your words and your video, the audience’s eyes will compete with their ears. Their senses will be in conflict and research shows that the eyes will usually win, meaning the audience will retain visual information but won’t remember important verbal information in the story. You don’t want all your hard work to go to waste, so make sure you carefully watch your b-roll before writing your script, and carefully connect your words to your images. The simple rule is: See it, Say it. Use your b-roll to show the audience what’s happening and use your narration to describe the action and add context.

Here’s a story from Boyd Huppert, one of the best storytellers in the business. He works for KARE-TV in Minneapolis. Watch the story carefully and pay close attention to Huppert’s voice track. Notice how clear and concise he is. He also uses lots of natural sound between sentences — almost as a way of punctuating a phrase. He’ll even pause mid-sentence to allow a short “pop” of natural sound, then continue the sentence. This is not an easy way to write news stories. Huppert has perfected his craft over many years, working hard to showcase the best video and audio elements. There are many memorable moments in the story, and some small surprises, too.

Here’s a story from NBC 7 in San Diego. Notice that the reporter reveals a surprise midway through the story? It’s really the big surprise in the story. By the way: the reporter was working solo on this PKG. He shot, wrote, and edited it. As you watch, listen to his words carefully and see how they specifically reference the video. Note also the abundant use of natural sound.

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