Posted on January 3, 2010
Thoughts about video editing software
One of the ongoing challenges in teaching journalism nowadays concerns the choice of software for video editing. I’m going to pump out a brief overview here and hope that lots of people will weigh in with their own experiences and suggestions. The more the merrier!
First, an outline of the programs that generally dominate the conversation in most j-schools:
- iMovie (free)
- Windows Movie Maker (free)
- Final Cut Pro or Studio or Express (three different price tags)
- Anything else
Second, let me note that those who teach students aiming at television news jobs have a different list (although you’ll find the Final Cut products on that list too). Here I’m looking at the broader population of all journalism students, who might end up anywhere at all (especially online) — not necessarily in TV.
iMovie or Windows Movie Maker (WMM)
These two free programs solve a lot of problems simply because they are free, stable, and very easy to use (and to teach). However, they can also create problems because in many j-schools, some percentage of your students will have “the other one.” I think it’s a waste of the instructor’s time (and class time) to teach both, so pick the one that fits the computers in your lab. Be prepared for frustration from the students who don’t want to come to the lab on campus to do their assigned work.
Is iMovie better than WMM? I don’t think so. (I use both.) The two are decidedly different, but both will get the job done. Both have very limited capacity but do allow you to trim clips, insert cutaways, layer a second track of audio, and adjust audio volume. You can add titles and end credits easily in both. Both offer a plethora of cheesy transitions (don’t be tempted). WMM has a more traditional timeline interface. iMovie hides the timeline tracks, but you can access them via the Precision Editor (via a menu option).
A huge problem with WMM is that more and more point-and-shoot cameras save video in the MOV format, and WMM will not open MOV files. These must be converted to AVI or WMV first. Some degradation may result.
iMovie supports lots more cameras and formats (read all about it), including MPEG-4, AVCHD and H.264.
Another problem with WMM is that it has slight, annoying differences on Vista (and presumably Windows 7) vs. the previous versions of Windows. Most students can figure these out, but some get stuck and need help.
Final Cut Pro or Studio or Express
These are Apple/Mac only (unless you use an emulator, which I would not recommend). Studio includes Pro, plus a lot of other stuff. Express is like an entry-level version of Pro, but Apple has made our lives hell by making it impossible to move projects back and forth between Pro and Express. That little detail is often blissfully ignored by people who say, “Let’s buy Pro for our lab, and the students can buy Express for their MacBooks.” A road to disaster! (You can open a FCE project in FCP, but after a project has been saved in FCP, it will not open in FCE.)
Check Final Cut higher education prices at the Apple Store (search for Final Cut there). We’re talking about roughly $900 vs. $200 — nothing to sneeze at!
Now, if I had six or 10 or 15 weeks to teach Final Cut to students, that would be great. But I’m teaching an omnibus multimedia journalism course, and we have four weeks — four — to learn to shoot and edit and get it online. Don’t underestimate the learning curve of a high-end piece of software. As a colleague of mine quipped recently, most people have a simple hammer around the house — not many people go out and buy a nail gun.
It would be wonderful if every journalism student graduated with proficiency in Final Cut Pro. But the teaching resources required are not trivial.
Anything else (other editing software)
There are free Web 2.0 (all online) options for video editing (see list), and there are many other commercial packages such as Adobe Premiere and Sony Vegas and whatever little doodle-dabble came with your HP or Dell, or with your video camera. And there’s Avid and who knows what all at the high end.
What I would caution you against is allowing students to use just anything they choose. When you teach video editing, you want to get certain basics across — for the sake of storytelling — and novices find it easier to follow along if everyone in the room is clicking the same buttons. In other words, variation in software will get in the way of what you really need to teach, which is cutting together sequences, laying in the audio, lining things up neatly, adding titles and credits and lower-thirds, and exporting the file in a decent-quality format for uploading or whatever.
And for goodness’ sake — telling the story! Don’t forget, that’s what we really need to teach them.
For tutorials and other video editing links, see the Journalists’ Toolkit video section.