For the first four weeks of the M.S. program at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, all students participate in bootcamp - a month-long intensive that works to familarize students with the basic techniques and theories used in photo, video and audio reporting.
Throughout this bootcamp we participated in two distinct sections: photo/video and audio. In each section we were assigned relatively short exercises meant to introduce us to basic software and hardware techniques.
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August 12, 2016 - Photo/Video Scavenger Hunt: On the morning of August 12, professor Anastasia Taylor-Lind asked reporting section #14 to split into groups of four students and complete the below scavenger hunt in a given location - our group was assigned Times Square.
- 1) Live tweet an event, scene or observation
- 2) Create a short VoxPop video for Instagram. Ask the question: 'What keeps you up at night?'
- 3) Create a public Facebook live stream of a light-hearted event.
- 4) Periscope a live report with a team member as a correspondant.
- 5) Get a Twitter reply from someone with more than 50,000 followers.
- 6) Create a Snapchat story with at least 15 snaps.
- 7) Post an Instagram profile of someone you have met.
- 8) Create a Twitter list for your location and share it.
- 9) Post a photo from your location with a caption to Instagram.
- 10) Create a Storify featuring all these elements.
Alas, me, Pia Peterson (#cjs17), Kirsten Watson (#cjs17) and Sara Sekine (#cjs17) embarked upon our scavenger hunt. Please click here to view Storify created later that evening.
-When live tweeting, start with a tweet that establishes the start of the event, and end with a concluding tweet.
-Instagram captions can be long, and in some cases, it is okay to be more descriptive than you would be on Twitter or Snapchat.
-When editing on the go, take the time to listen to the recorded audio through headphones, via a smartphone's speakers and via the computer speakers to ensure that your viewers can access your story through their chosen medium.
-Try to find a temporary editor - somebody who is willing to glance over the piece at least once and check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes.
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August 16, 2016 - Photo/Video Profile Exercise: On the morning of August 16, professor Anastasia Taylor-Lind asked reporting section #14 to go into the city and take the portraits of at least two strangers with an attached quote and caption. With such leeway I chose to ask individuals in Harlem, New York: "Do you know anybody who suffers from mental illness? If so, what would you like them to know?"
Their answers, when considered together, revealed the vast spectrum of understanding surrounding mental illness, and the underlying compassion in each answer was inspiring and encouraging.
Please click on any of the photos below to view the corresponding caption and quotation. Please note that the caption and quotation cannot be viewed in a new window and you will be momentarily redirected to a new page. All photos were taken using an iPhone 6s and published with the aid of the Snapseed photo editing app.
-When approaching strangers it is better to ask a specific question from the beginning - people appear to be more comfortable answering a particular question than being asked to fill space after a vague prompt.
-Most people don't love having their picture taken. In this case it helped to hand them a business card where they could see the final result and theoretically contact me if there were any glaring issues.
-Despite mental health being a relatively personal subject, people were fairly comfortable speaking about it. Thus, I was reassured that I needn't be afraid to ask "deeper" questions to strangers!
-Never over-edit (like I did in Ed's picture above).
-Strive to maintain a consistency between the photos (for instance, all but one of my photos are full body shots).
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August 19, 2016 - Photo/Video 'Odd Jobs' Exercise: For our final photo/video exercise, professor Anastasia Taylor-Lind asked reporting section #14 to create a 1-minute, Instagram-compatible video profile of someone in New York City with an 'odd job'.
Lucky for me, my Aunt's brother and his partner use the services of Robin Sternberg, a veterinary technician who often administers in-home dialysis to cats and dogs.
Robin invited me to follow her to the homes of two patients on the morning of August 18. Throughout the morning I used my iPhone 6s, a tripod and Shure MV88 iOS Digital Stereo Condenser Microphone to film throughout the day.
I then used Final Cut Pro X to compile the video and audio into a final product, which can be viewed below.
-Make sure that the audio is not too low in the final product!
-Keep your subject mic'd up throughout the day. Robin told me various anecdotes throughout the morning that could have been used in the video, but I did not have her mic'd up during that 'down time' (i.e. travel time, coffee breaks, etcetera).
-Strive to get a few unique, artistic shots while also shooting enough coverage so as to allow for an interesting and artistic final product.
-As mentioned in the first photo/video exercise, try to find a temporary editor to catch blatant mistakes. For instance, a temporary editor may have told me: The text cannot always be viewed as placed due to color overlaps, and the uploaded YouTube file is more than 2 minutes long, more than half of which is just a blank screen.
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August 23, 2016 - Audio VoxPop Exercise: On the afternoon of August 23, professor Sam Sanders asked reporting section #14 to use the lunch break to interview as many people as possible using a handheld voice recorder, microphone and headphones. Similar to the August 16 photo/video exercise, we were given free rein to ask whatever question we liked.
Knowing we were ultimately going to create a 1-minute VoxPop (Vox Populi is Latin for "voice of the people") using Adobe Audition with the interviews, I decided to ask a question that would result in a short and consistent yet meaningful answer.
I asked passerbys "When was the last time you said 'I love you'?"
Below you can view the script for the final VoxPop as well as listen to the VoxPop itself.
All audio was recorded using a Philips Voice Tracer DVT 5500 and the then-latest version of Adobe Audition.
"I LOVE YOU"
HOST INTRO: (not included in audio above): I love you. Three simple words, but how often we say them varies from person to person and place to place. On a Tuesday afternoon in New York City reporter Alex Siegman asked: “When was the last time you said ‘I love you’?”
SIEGMAN 1: When was the last time I said I love you?
((SOUND: Peter Johnson laughs ))
((SOUND: Sadat Oerin emits pensive ‘um’))
NI 1: Oh, I don’t remember. It’s long time ago. Long time ago.
((SOUND: Semmi emits pensive ‘um’))
SUN 1: Oh, this morning.
OERIN 1: I don’t remember but, uh.
JOHNSON 1: Probably yesterday.
SAUNDERS 1: Last night.
SIEGMAN 2: And to whom?
OERIN 2: I’ve had a girlfriend for a while, so.
JOHNSON 2: My daughter.
SAUNDERS 2: To my son.
SUN 2: To my son.
SEMMI 1: To my mom.
SIEGMAN 3: Any occasion, or?
JOHNSON 3: We normally say that to each other.
SUN 3: I always say that when, before I leave the house.
SEMMI 2: No, just a phone call.
ARENAS 1: I say it to my cat every day, (laughs). Does that qualify as a…
-Mic your subject as close as possible! Get right in their face. As Sam Sanders said, if you aren't in at least one awkward position while recording, you aren't getting the best audio.
-Make sure that your ambient noise does not overpower your actualities.
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August 29, 2016 - Audio Profile Exercise: For this exercise, professor Sam Sanders charged the class with creating a 3-minute audio profile on an interesting individual.
I had met D.E. Cayard a few days prior to the below interview while canvassing Harlem for general research for another class, and when I read that the profile must be conducted about an interesting individual, I immediately thought of Cayard - listen below and you will see why!
HOST INTRO (not included in audio above): On a Friday afternoon in late August, Columbia University’s Alex Siegman met with D.E. Cayard, an artist and fixture in the Harlem community. Cayard makes a living selling his own paintings, and works year-round, weather permitting, to create and share his work.
SIEGMAN 1: How are you?
CAYARD 1: Not bad, good to see you again.
SIEGMAN 2: When I meet Cayard, he is sitting in a tattered rolling chair amidst a dozen tropical plants and fifty-or-so of his own paintings on the corner of 128th street and Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. These chairs, paintings, plants and a small folding table serve as his base of operations.
CAYARD 2: Some people call me at times an ambassador of culture, of Harlem, to the
world…and I love Harlem and I love people, I love people from all over the world,
SIEGMAN 3: Unofficial cultural ambassador, that is. Son of a foreign diplomat, Cayard has travelled the world collecting various forms of art and culture, bringing them home to Harlem. Now, Cayard works to share Harlem’s culture with the world, painting iconic Harlem landmarks and selling them to tourists to bring home to their native countries.
CAYARD 3: When you get tourists to smile or laugh you know these people came from
far, take their time and spend their money you know they want a good laugh, they
want a good smile, they want something that really makes them feel good so they can
tell others wherever they come from.
SIEGMAN 4: We talk for a few minutes about the time Cayard spent 68 days sleeping outside the Apollo Theater in 2009 to honor Michael Jackson. He is showing me photographs and news clippings, when two tourists walk up to a jewelry stand a few yards away.
CAYARD 4: Hi folks! Where you guys from?
ANONYMOUS WOMAN 1: North Carolina!
CAYARD 5: Okay welcome! North Caroline in the house y’all!
SIEGMAN 5: Cayard does more than work to spread Harlem’s culture to the world, though. He also works to enrich Harlem’s culture here in New York. Indeed, everybody calls Cayard the professor. He spends the summer months teaching children how to paint on large pieces of cardboard at his table.
CAYARD 6: It’s important for kids to do artwork in the open, not just in the
classroom…We have through painting, through painting a chance to heal the world
and take a new step to leave behind bigotry, racism behind, inequality behind.
SIEGMAN 6: Cayard has ambitions to grow his influence and reach out to a wider range of individuals. He hopes to soon open a second table in Midtown, New York. With the help of his son, Robert, Cayard is currently working to navigate a multitude of city ordinances.
CAYARD 7: The trees with the paintings and the music is the making is a
prototype for the city of New York and beyond. It gives very good energy and good,
better health to the city of New York.
SIEGMAN 7: 10-year-old Devita walks by the table and Cayard pops out of his chair, eager to introduce me. Devita has taken painting lessons with Cayard in the past.
SIEGMAN 8: What do you like about D.E.’s painting?
DEVITA 1: I love all of it. He’s really creative and he has, like, great style, I love what he
does. I think it’s really nice.
CAYARD 9: What kind of work do you do yourself?
DEVITA 2: I sing.
CAYARD 10: Can you sing a little something for us before you go?
DEVITA 3: Okay. Um.
SOUND: ((Devita singing)).
SIEGMAN 9: A stranger gives a standing ovation as Devita says goodbye and continues her walk home.
CAYARD 11: We should not have to continue living in any kind of closed society.
We have to be able to express ourselves. Human beings need, now more than ever, to
be able to express themselves.
SIEGMAN 10: The rest of the afternoon I meet more of Cayard’s friends and learn what makes this man just so qualified to represent Harlem’s culture. From Harlem, New York with D.E. Cayard, this has been Alex Siegman.
-Narrate a bit looser - as if you were talking to a friend at a bar.
-Similarly, write loosely. For instance, I would never say "Indeed" in real life. Keep the writing simple and conversational. Subject --> Verb --> Object!
-Note the importance of writing a strong ending, and how the absence of one can fail to pull a piece together.
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