Get it right the first time

Because MMJs are always under the time crunch - ALWAYS - it's tempting to try to cut corners. But the fact of the matter is, it's faster to go slowly and do it right the first time, rather than hurry and risk having to do it over a second time.

 NASA recruiting poster.

NASA recruiting poster.

Today's story was about a new advertising campaign NASA unveiled to try to get average folks to sign up to fly 30 million miles to Mars. I found a researcher at UC Berkeley who was willing to participate. As I set up the interview in the office anteroom, I realized the framing wasn't quite right. It was close, but easily could have been better. The extra three minutes it took to re-frame the shot was worth the effort. The viewers would never know because they'd only see the finished product, but still, a reporter's job is to do the best job possible in the time allowed.

After setting up the interview for the second time, I noticed the audio (by listening through the headphones) had a faint hiss in the background. Again, good enough, but room for improvement. I checked the batteries - they were OK. I then had the interview subject take the wireless microphone transmitter out of his pocket. That did the trick, and now we were ready to go. Another few minutes lost, but the result was a better story for the viewer. Lesson re-learned: it doesn't get any better when you begin editing. What you record is what you get. Get it right the first time.

Before finding the cooperative Berkeley researcher, I had the misfortune of trying to work with some public relations folks at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. I had called them first, thinking NASA Ames would be able to talk about the NASA advertising campaign and the NASA Mars mission. I didn't get a call back from the public relations folks so I decided to drive an hour from San Francisco to Ames, sure in my belief that these folks would want to talk about their own program. Wrong. When I finally arrived to the Ames Visitors Center (90 minutes later because of traffic), I called the public relations office again: "Hi Simon, I was just getting ready to call you back." Yeah, right. The public relations folks, whose job it is to promote NASA Ames and facilitate media coverage, said today's time frame wasn't going to work and I'd have to find someone else.

Reporters have to get used to this, despite the extreme frustration it causes. Reporters don't always take what public relations people say at face value because our allegiance is to the public, not the companies they represent. But what's difficult for reporters to understand is why public relations professionals, whose allegiance is presumably to their employers, would pass up an opportunity to engage the media and present their message to a wider audience.

 iPhone 6, flexible tripod, harness.

iPhone 6, flexible tripod, harness.

So I left Ames and drove to Berkeley and it all worked out in the end. In fact, it worked out pretty well. I got the chance to use my iPhone as a second camera in the interview. With a flexible tripod and an iPhone harness, the second angle on the interview added professional polish to the story. There is some extra work required: because the iPhone audio isn't any good, you have to sync up the iPhone video to the main camera audio. It's a breeze in non-linear editing.

 

 The iPhone second-camera setup.

The iPhone second-camera setup.

This is another opportunity to be transparent with the interview subject. I told him flat out what I was doing. "I'm experimenting with using my iPhone as a second camera to get extra angles in the interview. Even though I'm here by myself, this allows me to replicate the work of a production team on a multi-camera shoot.." As you'll find usually happens, the interview subject was just fine with whatever the professional journalist wanted to do. Keep in mind the people you're talking to are the experts at something else and trust you to make them look good.

 A screen shot of the interview angle shot with the iPhone 6.

A screen shot of the interview angle shot with the iPhone 6.

I'm convinced TV reporters should use video in their social media posts, rather than solely rely on text. Video is what we do in TV, and being able to take the viewer to the scene in a creative way is helpful in building a brand that keeps viewers coming back. Even though the story was about Mars, the my video Tweet still made a connection to where I was in an engaging way.

Takeaways:

  1. Do it right the first time. It doesn't get better when you get back to the station. "If you didn't get it, you didn't get it."
  2. Be prepared to deal with public relations people who don't want to deal with the public (the media). It's frustrating, but the viewers don't care what problems the reporter has during the day. Keep pushing to get what you need.
  3. Incorporate smart phones in your video gathering process. The HD cameras in them can help add professional polish to the story.
  4. Engage with your background and be creative in shooting social media videos. They help make a connection to your followers and will keep them coming back to you.