Telling Stories With Video

Though expensive equipment and training can improve the quality of video and audio, the most important ingredient is the story. Innovation in digital video opened up endless possibilities for everyday people to tell stories and share them on platforms like YouTube. This changed the business of television because viewers are now willing to watch shaky cell phone video.

The expectation for production quality generally decreases as the expectation for quantity goes up. This does not mean sloppy work will be acceptable because the competition is also increasing.

You must be better and faster than media professionals in the past.

What does this mean for you?

  1. You will likely not get a week to shoot and craft a compelling 1-minute 30-second video.
  2. You will be required to turn more stories in less time. Oftentimes several stories in one day.
  3. You will also likely have to do it all by yourself. That means you’re now a:
    • photographer
    • videographer
    • writer
    • reporter
    • editor
    • social media expert
    • producer
    • web producer

No matter what your professional goals are, you must embrace and learn all of these skills. It will make storytelling more fulfilling, and also ensure you’re more likely to get and keep a job.

TV terms to know:
  • One-man band
  • VJ (video journalist)
  • Backpack journalist
  • MMJ (multi-media journalist)

These are all terms used for a professional who works as a reporter, videographer and editor all at once.

Visual journalism is about telling compelling stories that connect an audience with subjects, people and issues

Examples of different types of visual storytelling:
Uploaded on Jul 5, 2007 David Pogue of The New York Times ditches his old cellphone for the iPhone in this sing-a-long sequel.

Technology columnist David Pogue is featured in ch. 8 of your readings as an example of a storyteller who uses extensive production to get his message across. You can see this video took a lot of time to plan, shoot and edit.

Meanwhile, Walter Mossberg shows us how viewers forgive the production quality because they are getting used to video that looks like it was shot from a webcam.

Published on Jan 30, 2013 The BlackBerry has been reinvented to join the mix of today’s touch smart phones. Walt Mossberg gives us his take on the new BlackBerry OS, and five important things you should know about RIM’s new phones. (Photo: Research In Motion)

You can see he uses a pre-produced open and b-roll. There is also a Wall Street Journal bug or watermark in the right bottom corner. He also uses sounds that go along with his lower thirds to list his advice. But overall, the production is clearly much more simple than Pogue’s video.

How to shoot faster and better

Plan ahead

Think about what you are about to shoot before you begin. Imagine which shots could help you tell your stories and plan differently depending on the gear you’re using.

  • Example: If you’re doing a story on a guy who rides dirtbikes. Bring a gopro and some gaffers tape so you can tape a camera on a bike and get a creative angle.
  • Example: If you’re doing a story on a swimmer bring a waterproof camera to get shots underwater.
  • Example: If you’re shooting outside on a windy day, bring a fluffy windscreen for your microphone to eliminate the sound wind makes when it hits your mic.
  • Example: If you’re featuring a location, put your camera on your dash and record the drive there as the establishing shot.

If you get a job at a TV station, your employer may provide some of this equipment already. However, don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers because many people who work in TV also own different gadgets that they’d be happy to loan you.


Visual sketch of the story to plan your shots

  • A-roll: interviews and demonstrations
  • B-roll: environmental footage added after the a-roll is laid down on a timeline

Mix your shots

Build a five-shot sequence


  1. Wide/Establishing
  2. Medium shot
  3. Close-up
  4. Extreme close-up
  5. Over-the-shoulder (OTS)

There are several examples in your book. Poynter also posted an in-depth breakdown of five-shot sequences and examples on how to vary shots.


When creating a package (abbreviated as “pkg” in newsrooms) you will need to understand voice-overs. You cannot always control everything that you get out of an interview. That’s where voice-overs come in.

After you conduct your interview, pick the best sound bites that:

  • Express emotion. Like tears, laughter, sadness, regret, etc.
  • Tell a story. There needs to be a beginning, middle and end.
  • Reveal some aspect of the person you’re interviewing. Viewers are drawn to the person in a story more than the facts, so get personal.
  • Say something you can’t with voice over. A witness, friend, relative, etc. has a different viewpoint than you do as the reporter. The story is personal for them so pick the sound bites that don’t just give you a timeline of the story. Pick a sound bite that gives you context and depth.

After you put your sound bites in the order you think tells the best story, fill in the blanks with voice-over. Write your script around the sound bites to give the story whatever element is missing from the sound bites alone. Tell a story with your script.

Watch and learn

One of the best ways to learn how to be a visual storyteller is to watch other people’s work and learn from them. Perhaps you’ll see things you want to try, or things you want to avoid.

I suggest the Facebook group StoryTellers.

Here’s an example of a package shared on StoryTellers:

Your book lists these suggestions:

Published by JeanetteAbrahamsen

I am an instructional designer and TV news instructor at the University of South Florida. My passion for innovating learning led me to pursue my PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Instructional Technology. I love creating media to enhance eLearning and foster online engagement. I teach students to create multimedia stories for broadcast, web and social media platforms. I lead the Florida Focus class where students produce daily news shows that air on Tampa's PBS station. My reporting classes collaborated with Tampa's NPR station to produce award-winning stories. I am an Emmy Award-winning journalist. I produced thousands of hours of TV news in some of America's largest media markets at Tampa's NBC station, San Diego's ABC station and the San Diego Union-Tribune. I also produced immersive 360-degree virtual tours at the University of South Florida and reported for Hashtag Our Stories.

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