Out of the three modules in my Journalism and PR course this year, two are based on practical activities, rather than theoretical. My Thursdays consist of a two-hour workshop for the Professional Craft Skills module. In case you are wondering the same thing I was when I first found out its name , are we learning how to craft something? , the answer is : not quite. This is an introductory module into Broadcast Journalism (both TV and radio), whose aim is to teach us a different skill every week, which we have to put into practice for the following week, by going ‘out and about’ in Bristol.
As a more theoretical study material, we are using ‘The Broadcast Journalism Handbook’, by Gary Hudson and Sarah Rowlands, and I must admit, it’s a great book. The chapters are quite lengthy (about 25-30) pages, but it’s written in a light and understandable and , at the same time, informative way. The authors provide accurate examples when introducing a new key term, and they also have this little paragraphs or quotes on the margins, which more often than not, are quite humorous. (you can see an example below)
About three weeks ago, we were introduced to the filming process and how a video camera works. In our first session, our technical instructor explained and showed what are the main components of a camera, how to set up a tripod, how to focus and do a white balance. You might think it’s pretty straight forward, but for somebody who has never handled a video camera (and I dare say a pretty expensive one), I felt a bit out of my element. I’ve always felt more comfortable on the print side of journalism and whenever I’d see a live transmission or coverage on the street, the reporter always has a cameraman with her/him, so I figured I shouldn’t worry too much. Nevertheless, I am really glad to be able to learn these things, because as a journalist, especially a trainee one, you might not always be able to get a cameraman with you or he might grow annoyed if you lack a piece of white paper for the white balance (as we’ve been told).
After carefully following the instructions, we managed to set up our cameras in groups of four. We did an exercise in class and we were told we had until next week to go out and interview someone on a topic of our choice, but it had to be a current affair or something that was being covered in the news. I chose to interview one of my lecturers on the topic of the Bristol Mayoral election, which is coming up on November 15th. The night before , I spent a good amount of time researching my topic, writing down key elements and preparing my three questions. We were aiming to obtain a five-minute interview, set in advance with the interviewee, which would ultimately be cut to a 20 second soundbite.
When the day of my interview came, I felt very worried and anxious to get it over with , but I wanted it to be as close to perfect as I could get it, even if it was my first time interviewing somebody . My lecturer was very reassuring and kindly pointed out the good things I did during the one hour interview, such as my good choice of location (outdoors – when you can have natural light in an interview, go for it), my framing (medium close-up) and the fact that I allowed some time (about five seconds) after each question, so that when I needed to cut my soundbite, it wouldn’t sound jumpy. Apart from the actual interview, we had to get three cutaways, which are separate shots from different angles, used to help tell the story about the interviewee. I chose a wide shot of me and my lecturer, a close-up of his hands and an over the shoulder shot. The last one is very tricky, because you have to pay special attention in order to not ‘cross the line’. This means the viewer should stay with you on the same side of the cutaway as he did when you were actually interviewing.
All in all, it was a good first experience. I played the role of the reporter, and one of my coursemates was the cameraman. The only downside of the interview was that it took us far too much time to set up our equipment for the ten minutes the actual interview part lasted. Setting up the tripod at the right level, adjusting the camera, focusing and probably the most important of all, doing a white balance , kind of blur into one when you have twenty tiny, alarming buttons in front of you and you are afraid to push the wrong one. On the plus side, it took us only thirty minutes to set up later on that day, when we switched roles and it was my coursemate’s turn to interview!
This week’s assignment is to film a piece to camera for a real news story, so I will keep you updated on that!