The practical side of point-and-shoot for reporters

On the Yahoo! Group for newspaper video people, Seth Gitner reports that he just bought four Panasonic PV-GS180 video cameras for reporters to use. It looks like a great camera and I’m happy to know about, especially since it has an external mic jack.

I have my doubts about reporters using these though.

Reporters spend most of their time thinking about getting all the right information to put enough words together to tell a coherent story. They have a notepad and a pen and busy hands. They must get the story. Video is, and should be, a secondary concern. I want reporters shooting video as often as possible, but they still need to be reporters first. I want them to think web first, but whether for the web or print, they need to get the story.

Once you give them a bulky camera with a tripod and mic to set up, you’ve just given them a burden.

The reason point-and-shoot works so well for reporters is the camera is small, so they can easily hold it and a notebook and take notes. It fits easily in a purse or clips comfortably to a belt, so they can carry it with them always. There is no extra equipment to set up and take down, so they can whip out the camera, get a quick shot, and move on.

The PV-GS180 looks like great alternatives for news organizations not yet ready to spring for a $4,000-near-pro-grade camera, but want something for story-form video. However, when I think of reporters shooting video as part of their daily routine, P&S, I think, is the ticket. Quick, easy, simple.

In fairness to Seth, he probably has in mind a different kind of video than what I’m talking about, but since he did mention getting these cameras for reporters to use, I wanted to take the opportunity to hit on a virtue of P&S that I don’t think I’ve covered before. I mention Seth mainly to credit him for bringing the PV-GS180 to our attention.

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21 thoughts on “The practical side of point-and-shoot for reporters

  1. I can see where you’re coming from about the camera being an extra burden. I have enough trouble getting reporters to remember to bring a tiny audio recorder — a device that many already use when gathering research for their print stories.

    But if you want to publish high quality video (and reporters are the logical ones to record the video because they’re the ones following the story), you have to invest in higher quality cameras. And then try to change the culture in the newsroom to realize that reporting on a story can take many forms.

    I think you’re still thinking in a print-centric way here. Why can’t gathering the facts involve using the recorder rather than a pad of paper? Why does video have to be a secondary concern?

  2. HA — I don’t think anybody has ever accused me of thinking in a print centric way!

    I suspect you may be new to this blog, so … There’s a wealth of posts here on this topic, if you use the search box, you’ll see two things pretty clearly — I’m not thinking in a print centric way, and I’m not talking about wanting “high quality” video.

  3. Howard, I definitely didn’t mean to offend. Just reacting to your assertion that “Video is, and should be, a secondary concern.”

    And I’m also interested in continuing the conversation on this thought-provoking topic. :) Your blog is great, and I’ll spend time looking through your older posts.

    Regarding the high quality — I was assuming that Seth is interested in a video product that can’t be achieved using the point & shoot, but isn’t as the $4,000 piece of equipment. Maybe it’s better labeled as “medium quality”?

  4. And I’m not meaning to be flip :-) Just saying …

    It’s probably inadequate language to say “secondary concern,” but I don’t know how to say it any better.

    I think online reporting/writing should be different for the web, but I think there will always be value, so long as there is value in professional journalism, in getting the story and getting it right. That should be the first concern whether print or online, whether it involves video or not.  And I’m not talking about those situations where you send a reporter out specifically to cover a story for video, but where they are gathering video assets in the normal course of their reportorial day.

    Also, think of P&S as the gateway drug to get print reporters to think about more about the web. Because it’s easy, because they’ll find it fun (and I’ve seen this happen, so this isn’t just theory), they’ll do it often. This gets them more involved in the web and more interested.

    I’m beginning with the premise that most reporters aren’t shooting video and don’t want to be bothered with it. Start slow, start easy and work up the ladder of quality and involvement.

    If you read the archives, especially the comments on some of the posts, you’ll see that Seth and I have a fundamental philosophical difference on the quality issue.

  5. Wow! Thanks for helping my mission Howard! I want to be known for being a proponent of high quality storytelling, over gobs of crappy video that looks like it is played through a kaleidoscope.

    You’ve heard my arguments before and — Melissa please check out the old posts — Howard and I have been going at this for a while now — Melissa you know how I like to stand my ground on issues ;)

    anyways Howard — think about our TimesCast product a minute. Don’t you think that getting any bit of video would specifically help that product?

    We can’t use crappy video in the TimesCast — there is just no way that I can get away with that — our users complain if the video is crappy — I have a product that is published 5 days a week — we need gear that will withstand the test of time and produce high quality video.


  6. But saying I’m advocating crappy video is a complete misstatement of position …

    Sorry, Seth … but this can’t be reduced to a black and white issue.

  7. sorry about my misuse of the word “crap” I should have said

    “over gobs of video that looks like it is played through a kaleidoscope, and therefore looks like crap”

    I need the quality of a 3 chip camera that’s all and I think newspapers should keep that as a base.

    As we all start figuring out this video thing we need gear that is suited for quality “broadcasting” .

    I am sorry if I offended you.

  8. But that is still a total misstatement of the quality that comes from P&S. You’re defining terms and characterizing things to suit your argument rather than dealing with the real facts of the situation. Or so it seems to me.

    I’ve long had this sneaking suspicion that people who argue against taking a practical approach to video are really more concerned about making sure nobody takes away their ability to have employers buy them the best toys. It isn’t about quality. It’s about gear acquisition. Here, you almost make that argument for me. I mean, what would your bosses say if they realized that to get good enough video, you didn’t need to have all that high-end stuff, that they could save thousands of dollars and/or outfit more reporters for video by purchasing lower end equipment?

    You didn’t offend me. I just don’t get why you like to mischaracterize my position. I’m certainly not going to let stand unchallenged any accusation that I’m not 100 percent behind quality.

    Do you really expect to outfit every reporter in the newsroom, and get them to carry, 3 chip cameras? Really?

    Here’s a little quote for you from Berkeley’s multimedia education site:

    If you’re going to be using the video for a Web site, you can probably get by with a 1-chip camera. The video served up on the Internet right now is still pretty low quality, mainly because it must be compressed so it transmits more quickly. So whatever quality you might gain initially from using a 3-chip rather than a 1-chip camera will be mostly lost when you later have to compress the video for use on the Web.

    It’s a complete waste of budget dollars to spend on 3-chip cameras merely to have 3-chip cameras. While we need to do everything we, as an industry, can to improve the quality of our videos as far as audio, framing, lighting, etc. (the substance and content of the video), aiming at broadcast quality as a technical/equipment matter is not even worth considering. There is no way to deliver that quality, and there is no audience demand for it.

  9. Howard — let’s agree to disagree on this — you are not changing my mind and I am not changing yours —

    My company trusts me enough to purchase gear to push the envelope with our multimedia storytelling.

    This is something that I think we are doing a good job at.

    If you think that getting small P&S camera’s for everyone in your newspaper chain will be a good idea then go ahead and run with it, for us here in Roanoke at this point in time I’d like to teach my newsroom about high quality gear and high quality multimedia storytelling.

    People call me all of the time from other papers asking about gear — I say don’t go below the 3Chip, that’s my stance and I am going to stick with it.

  10. I hate to wade into the tussle here, but I’m a little bit skeptical about the need for high quality video that is being argued for in this space, simply because today I was showing a video from to my web journalism class, and this video: does not look AT ALL like high-quality. It might have started out at high quality, but the final output looks very poor – YouTube quality.

    I have a tremendous amount of respect for what is doing, but I would love for some clarification on where that quality is going to, since it didn’t show up in the video linked above.

  11. Bryan,

    We use a bandwidth sniffer that is most definitely not perfect. At times the bw sniffer is “tricked” into thinking that you have a bad connection therefore giving you the 56kbps version of the video instead of the 512kbps.

    I did this video myself and just watched it and it is fine — even on my wireless download at home on my cable modem.

    Quite often in university settings and large newspapers when I show the video as a guest speaker – I get quite embarrassed myself — and get the 56kbps version.

    Our sniffer is not a perfect solution but may I ask who has a “perfect” delivery method of video? Between streaming costs and bandwidth costs – I think all newspapers are in the same boat we are all trying to find the best way to serve video content.

    So to answer your question . . . the reason for the bad video quality delivered to — you the user — is not the 3CCD quality but the method of delivery.

    Feel free to call me anytime I am always open to discussing our multimedia efforts here at The Roanoke Times/ .


  12. Seth,

    thanks for the explanation. I will definitely share that with my students on Tuesday.

    Perhaps a way for the end user to select high or low bandwidth versions would be helpful, or a link to the higher quality version with an explanation of some sorts.

    I suppose I was having the same sort of problem when I tried to show the TimesCast to the class. I eventually gave up and downloaded the mp4, which I’ll show to the class Tuesday. Although I note that the commercials all ran through fine. :-)

  13. the commercials are 15secs each — with a very small download that would not leave the user worrying about the massive high quality download —

    a choice for the user to download a high or low version is on the upgrade list. thx.

  14. I’m kinda late to this conversation, but I’ll throw my two cents in.

    We’ve gone with P&S big time in Bakersfield and for one major reason — it fits in a pocket/purse and the quality is good enough for now.

    A year from now our video might not be good enough. But I will argue this: You could put well-shot video from our P&S agaist well-shot video from a 3CCD camera and an online viewer right now ain’t gonna care about the difference.

    The problem right now is compression rates. That’s the limiting factor when it comes to online video. We have two Canon XL2s but once you crunch the footage it doesn’t look that much different from the stuff from our Casio P&S. Maybe our audio isn’t as good as Seth’s stuff, but I doubt most online video consumers are clicking away because of that — unless we’ve got really bad audio (which we have trained our reporters to avoid.)

    In the future maybe it’s a different game. We might all need to have HD-ready cameras with movie-style audio recording.

    But right now I’ll put a P&S camera against a camcorder and I bet the real difference will be content, NOT video/audio quality.

    And when it comes to getting the greatest variety of content, you gotta get the cameras in as many hands as possible. And that means more than just photographers and a few reporters who have time to lug lots of equipment around.

    Give those reporters something they can put in their pocket and give them the training needed to get video that you can use.

    And then when the bandwidth allows you to improve your quality, you will have built a tradition of video storytelling and giving them tripods and lav mics won’t be that big if a deal. Heck, we just recently started sending out monopods with our P&S and our reporters didn’t bat an eye.

    When we start handing out 3CCD cameras (and tripods), they probably won’t twitch either.

    But I’m not gonna do that (if I have a say) until there is a serious NEED.

  15. I will go ahead and point out that while the main Roanoke Times newsroom prepares to train its reporters on the very nice cameras next week, a new Web product coming next month from Times-World is working with inferior equipment (Sony Handycam HDD). Our only hope is that our staff and target audience, consisting primarily of college students, will actually mistake our video for GoobTube and will appreciate its crappy-ness.

  16. For $230 you can get a pocket camera at Target that has a Leica lens, takes Quicktime natively at 640×480 AND take 6 MP still frames. It’s a great reporter’s camera. I know – I have been testing and using it in field reporting conditions around the world for eight months.

    A few sample videos can be seen here:

    It’s not designed to produce everything. This kit is for everyday stuff – you will still want to have teams and better equipment to go out on your bigger stories.

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