How Gannett trains video shooters

With all the talk about Gannett’s so-called Information Centers, there’s been a lot of curiosity about what kind of training is provided to help the Gannett newsrooms change over. Yesterday I got to see one day of Gannett’s video training for reporters. I enjoyed it a lot — especially their classy gear! Take a look at the list:

Gannett Video Equipment List

  • Video camera: Sony HDV-A1U
  • Camera light kit: Lowel To Go 95 Kit
  • On-camera light: Sony HVL-20DMA
  • Camera batteries (pack of 2) : Sony 2NPQM91D/B
  • Tripod: Sony VCT870RM
  • Tripod adapter: HC1-SHIM-MOD
  • Battery charger: Sony ACSQ950B
  • Firestore drive: Firestore 40 GB
  • Camera bag: Porta Brace DVO-1U
  • DVcam tapes: Costco, Best Buy
  • Wireless microphone kit: Sony UWPC1/6668 or UWPC1/6264
  • Lav microphone kit: Sony ECM 66B
  • Stick mic: Electro Voice 635N/D-B
  • Headphones: Any
  • 6-foot mic cable: Marker Tek
  • 25-foot mic cable: Marker Tek
  • 6-pin-to-4-pin Firewire cable: Wal-Mart or Radio Shack
  • Mic stand (table stand): Radio Shack
  • Editing software: Avid Xpress Pro V. 5.7
  • Digital [editing] deck: Sony HVRM25U
  • AA batteries: Any
  • Firestore drive (60 GB): Firestore ASYF116201LF

Including the edit deck (which runs about $3,000, street), the full kit costs Gannett about $8,000. They’re getting some volume discounts, of course. This comes from Anne Saul, Gannett News Systems Editor, who is part of the three-person training team.

Update (Oct. 13): Anne just took a second look at this blog post and realized there is a flaw in the list above. Here is what she wrote to me:

Early on, we were recommending the 40 gb drive, but found that they didn’t work with Avid, so we switched to the 60 gb version. Guess I just forgot to remove the 40 gb model from the list. Not every shooter gets one; in fact, we are holding off purchasing any more until we look at the new models. Plus they aren’t needed for everyone — primarily the folks who are shooting breaking news and need to get it edited and on the Web quickly (no ingesting time). Also the tape deck is not for each journalist. There’s usually one per newspaper. Larger newsrooms might have a couple.

Tom Costello told us that a while ago, Gannett his newspaper estimated that it costs $15,000 to equip each photojournalist, including software and a laptop computer. So when they totaled up $8,000 for video, it didn’t look so outrageous.

Tom’s the chief photographer at the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey. He and Glenn Hartong, multimedia producer at The Cincinnati Enquirer, ran the hands-on portion of the training yesterday at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute. The usual pair of trainers (two TV journalists from Gannett) were on vacation, but Tom and Glenn seemed like they’d been doing this all their lives.

The Diversity Institute participants received a somewhat abbreviated version of the Gannett training — two days instead of the normal three and a half. (This was because their workshop runs only five days.) Anne said that in the normal training, the two hands-on coaches train 32 journalists, divided into teams of four. This group of 21 was divided into teams of three, and I would say that probably works better. I’ll post some photos in a day or two, and I think you’ll see how three people can really get a chance to try everything.

I got to witness a full day of gear training and shooting. Today the participants will get their Avid editing training, but I’ll miss all that.

I’ve handled and even used several kinds of video cameras, but the additional gear that Gannett lays out was mostly new to me — and it was really cool! The audio module on top of the camera was awesome, allowing complete control over two separate audio inputs simultaneously. The remote control on the tripod allows one-touch zooming. And the light kit! I’ve never worked with a light kit, and this nifty portable unit really was sweet, with a compact umbrella and an ultra-lightweight stand. Used properly, it made an amazing difference in the participants’ interviews inside the building. People looked so natural, it was as if they were there in the room with us when we viewed the raw footage at the end of the day.

As a final observation: When I walked in yesterday morning and saw this mountain of gear laid out on the participants’ desks in the morning, I thought: “No way! They can’t teach reporters to use all this stuff in one day!”

But they did. And even though the participants were getting a bit glassy-eyed by noon, when they got to go out and shoot, they did great. They shot one little “fake” story for about 45 minutes. Then they came back, popped in a fresh tape, and went out to shoot a real story. The hope is that these will be posted online within a week. I hope so — when I saw their raw takes yesterday at 5 p.m., I was really impressed.

13 Comments on “How Gannett trains video shooters

  1. Hey Mindy,

    Can you detail the actual training? Like if I were in one of those teams, what would I go through in a morning session? I’m trying to structure a similar training time with my paper’s reporters and editors.

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  3. Nick, it’s a little hard to describe, because the “what you do with it” was woven through the exploration of the hardware. So while Tom talked about how the audio module works, and how you adjust levels on the touch screen, he was also explaining how you decide when to use the wireless lavalier — and what natural sound is.

    While he showed them how to use the tripod, he explained the advantages of rock-steady shots. Then he taught them how to use the cool remote zoom on the tripod handle and discussed when to zoom — then pan and tilt — all in the context of “now we are attaching the camera to the tripod” and “here are the parts of the tripod.”

    In one sense, they spent three and a half hours doing nothing but learning which buttons to push. But that’s only half of the instruction that was happening, because each button was associated with how you use the functions in the field.

    In that sense it is VERY different from the Rosenblum instruction, where you get almost no gear instruction (and almost no gear), but a lot more end-product to look at, while you’re hearing about techniques used to get it.

    After the long gear session, when the teams go out and shoot, the two trainers run around and observe them, giving pointers and help as needed.

  4. Ok. Yeah. That makes sense. We will use some sort of professional guidance, but it’s always nice to know how others do it.

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  6. Nick — one other thing. I’ve heard Chet Rhodes of (and others) say this many times, and Anne said it too: The value of standardizing on the gear used by all your reporters is HUGE. When you train them on the specific camera, and everyone uses the same camera, you eliminate all kinds of wasted time and frustration. The same is true for microphones, editing software, etc.

  7. Do you have a link to the syllabus for this course? Or can you post it?

  8. There was no syllabus, just a printed schedule for the week. It began Sunday night with a talk by Steve Yelvington of Morris Communications.

    Monday morning: Mark Briggs, of Journalism 2.0, and Al Tompkins, of Poynter.

    Monday afternoon: John Seigenthaler, more from Al, and Amy Esiman, who teaches at American University.

    Monday evening: Matt Waite, of the St. Pete Times.

    Tuesday morning: More from Amy, then a story exercise, and at lunch, two journalist bloggers spoke.

    Tuesday afternoon: Me, doing audio.

    Wednesday morning: Ray Wong, who teaches at Middle Tennessee State, told them about photo stories.

    Wednesday afternoon: Me again, Soundslides.

    Thursday, all day: Video shooting.

    Friday, all day: Video editing. And Chet Rhodes from in the evening, after dinner.

    It was an awesome program. Kate Kennedy, of the Diversity Institute, put it together.

  9. 2 firestores and a $3K deck for each VJ?

    Thats over $5K in equipment – half of which negates the need for the other half

    a firestore with each cam and a deck for the newsroom to share would cut the budget in half.

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  11. Peter: I asked about that, and Anne Saul said there are NOT as many decks as cameras in any of their newsrooms! I did not ask about the Firestore drives, but I have to guess there are fewer of those, too. I’m not sure why two are on the list.

    She said the camera kit, with lights, mics and tripod, runs them about $6,000 — after bulk discounts. Still kind of hefty.

    I have a sweet little portable Sony deck (GV-D1000) that cost about $1,000. Obviously, these Firestores and the $3,000 deck are far beyond that.

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