Sunday, October 31, 2010

iPod touch video recording: A lesson for broadcast news?

The Newslab blog recently posted about the differences between "professional" video shot with TV crews and video created with mobile devices. Judging by the tone of the article, CNN and others are experimenting with such tools, but are doing so in a very cautious manner. It prompted me to leave a comment, in which I said:
I recently started using a 4th generation iPod touch (I bought the 32GB model on Amazon for $280), which has a decent video camera built in, to shoot simple clips/interviews. [This] blog post demonstrates what I was able to produce:

Note that the only editing I did on the interview consisted of trimming the ends off the clip, an ability which is included in the iPod's camera application. From within the app, I uploaded it to YouTube, and then switched to my laptop to embed the YouTube clip on my blog post. A few days ago, I bought a $4 app in Apple's mobile app store called "ReelDirector" that lets me mix clips, add titles, switch transitions, and even add music.

With the cheap price and high level of functionality on these devices, there's no excuse for trying out mobile video. Is it pro quality? Of course not. But it's certainly enough to do newsgathering and interviews on the fly. And, the gear fits in your pocket and can be operated by the journalist -- no need for expensive cameras, extra crew, and extra overhead to get the story out.

It's apparent that there is still a lot of resistance in the broadcast news industry to using cheap mobile devices, laptop cameras, as well as any production process that's not "pro." In the mid-1990s, I worked in a TV newsroom, and know the prevailing attitude among many broadcast journalists (and crews) is a near obsession over making sure only the best-looking people and best-looking footage appear on screen. At the time, our reporter/cameraman teams would spend three or four hours every morning shooting tape and setting up interviews, and the remainder of the day editing down the footage and doing voice-overs. The result? One or two 2-minute clips per team per day.

Long after I had transitioned to online, the Flip video camera came out, and was a hit. Until the Flip, consumer video cameras from Sony and JVC tended to have complicated user interfaces designed by Japanese engineers. The Flip did away with 90% of the UI clutter, and had just five buttons, a flash drive to store 60 minutes of video, and a flip-out USB plug to transfer video files to PCs. It was also very cheap -- just $125 dollars. I enthusiastically began using one for reviews and interviews, and evangelized it to everyone in the Computerworld newsroom. This was in 2007. However, the weak point with the Flip was the lack of good editing software, which forced us to turn to professional video staff for more complex editing tasks. Never mind the information or images captured by the Flip -- there was more than a little skepticism from the pro video people about the jerky, poorly lit footage, tinny audio, and the fact that there were compatibility issues with the expensive AVID editing suites they used.

Now, the Flip looks positively ancient compared to the iPod touch with its simple editing tools and wireless uploading. The iPhone and the iTouch have the potential to turn many online text-based journalists -- and even people who have never worked in a newsroom or been trained as journalists -- into effective online video journalists.

The professional broadcast community may not get it right now, but they will get the message soon enough when lots of quality work is performed by jackknife journalists and amateur producers, and audiences make it clear that expensive modes of production are not a prerequisite for their attention.

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