2013 Fall Syllabus

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism  Jour72311 Video Storytelling for the Web, 3 credits Wednesday, 9.30-12.20 room 436

Instructor: Bob Sacha,  bio and examples of work                      email: bob.sacha@journalism.cuny.edu___

Bob Sacha Office hours: Wednesday, 1.30-5.00, in the cubicle farm near West 40th  ( or by appointment or Skype.) Please sign up for an available appointment here.  And if you need to cancel, please update this doc.  If you’re completely desperate, my mobile is 1.917.969.0201 BUT please text first, then email and then call.  I’ll answer text or email before voicemail.


*** Please view this syllabus as a work in progress. Things can change but the assignments, exercises & deadlines will not change.***



This is a class firmly rooted in journalism.

Students will learn to research, report, shoot, and edit short, focused video stories designed specifically for the web. This class will build on the basic video concepts and skills taught in first semester interactive and broadcast craft classes — using video cameras and editing in Final Cut Pro, shooting, transcribing and editing video for compelling visual journalism, telling successful stories through  strong characters, and basic interview skills — and move on to more advanced techniques in  these  areas.

Because web viewers demand highly engaging material, with a fast start, sharp focus, short narrative, and natural voices, students will focus on capturing stories with strong visuals and ambient audio of people personally affected by issues. We will focus on the concept of subjects telling their stories in their own voices, without heavy narration and without a reporter on camera.

Students will work in pairs at the beginning but solo by the end, to prepare them for the major shift in journalism requiring one journalist to be highly skilled in many jobs. They will also learn how to market freelance pieces to meet the growing demand for professional-quality video for a  growing number of websites.

We’ll be using Canon DSLR cameras to shoot HD video, to keep up with the industry trends.



At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify current and future trends in web video
  • Report and research topic to strengthen the video capture, edit and presentation
  • Find the voice of the story and understand story structure
  • Produce tightly focused video pieces with compelling narratives arcs
  • Write short summaries of their stories and provide web links to additional info
  • Write effective headlines and subheads following the 60/160 length of SEO
  • Effectively edit video stories using several forms of media
  • Create strong video stories of several styles
  • Write title cards that are concise and clear to help move a story forward without narration
  • Develop editorial judgment to critique their own work and the work of others in the industry for video storytelling
  • Instruct and supervise fellow journalists in choosing stories that can become effective video stories and guide them in the production of those stories for the web.
  • Freelance refined video pieces for the web.



In the class you will produce four exercises  and two assignments, all done outside of class time.

Exercises : all are pass/fail, extra points may be earned for creativity.

Exercise 1; due week 2—Document a location along the waterfront and edit it in ten shots (important elements are shots that tell a story, sequence, good clean composition, focus, exposure, and proper white balance)—(pass/fail; a pass will earn 10 points; extra points may be earned for creativity)

Exercise 2; due week 3—Light and Mic a Subject for an interview about justice with artificial lighting using three different frames. The final piece should be less than 2 minutes. (important elements are lighting; clean audio)—(pass/fail; a pass will earn 10 points; extra points may be earned for creativity)

Exercise 3; due week 5—Document an Action or Event related to the election  in ten shots (important elements are composition, focus, exposure, white balance) and edit (you need to include at least one matched action, shots tell the story; no interview)— (pass/fail; a pass will earn 10 points; extra points may be earned for creativity)

Exercise 4; due week 11— Create a Visual Poem with no interview, told predominantly through visual storytelling. Can have ambient sounds of conversation. (important elements include good composition, lighting, clean audio, and original sound design and music, edit for pacing and rhythm. (pass/fail; a pass will earn 10 points; extra points may be earned for creativity)

Exercise 5due week 14 — Profile a Relationship with action shots in natural lighting and create a natural sound design (important elements include good composition, lighting, clean audio, and original sound design and music, edit for pacing and rhythm. (pass/fail; a pass will earn 10 points; extra points may be earned for creativity. NO INTERVIEW allowed. Think visual poem.

(pass/fail; a pass will earn 10 points; extra points may be earned for creativity)

Assignments will be graded

This is a class that values good research and smart reporting. Visual storytelling is also key in the form of capturing compelling scenes and sequences and “visual evidence” of your story. We want to capture “present tense” storytelling.

Each assignment will consist of a short video (1-3 minutes)  for the web.

Assignment 1; due week o8—  A Person..see below for details

Assignment 2; due week 13—  An Issue…details to come

  • One of these projects must be done only with visual storytelling and without a sitdown,  formal interview.
  • You must work as a team of two for the first assignment, but you will share ALL assets  and each person must cut their own version in FCP.
  • You must work solo for the other  assignment.
  • One of your two projects must use some still photography.

Do not be deceived into thinking that short visual journalism is easy. Think of how difficult it is to write a brilliant headline or the ideal tweet, or condense a 90 minute documentary perfectly into 2 minutes. That’s because these short messages are designed to stand out above the crowd, to cut through hundreds of visual messages each day and to say to someone ”click here and be wowed.”

Simple is hard.  It takes time and effort to make it good. That’s our goal.

Assignment 1:

Create a 1-3 minute compelling video story about a person who directly reflects  how the city has changed during the Mayor Michael Bloomberg years (2001-2014).

Jere Hester has kindly brainstormed  a few theoretical examples: someone benefiting/hurt in some odd expect way from major development (Barclays, Citifield, etc); a bike shop owner; a principal of a newly created — or closed — school; a bar owner skirting no-smoking laws with a backyard smoking area or some other clever way; A street performer who works on the Highline; the ticket taker at the 9/11 memorial, etc.

And here are some links to give you a head start on research and inspiration








Alternate choice: 1-3 minute compelling video story about a  person involved in immigrant sports, since it’s active and also could introduce some fun and little known sports.




Also in class for the first three weeks we’ll have “film festivals”

Here’s how they work:
Before Sunday at 8.00 pm you will post the URL of your submission for the film festival to the class VSW page. Your submission = an inspiring short doc video you find on the internet. Submission should be no longer than 10 minutes.)

Everyone must watch the videos and cast their vote for the strongest submission before 5 pm the following Tuesday. We will start the class by watching the winning short film.  Submission should be no longer than 10 minutes. The voting form is here

You can not use a video that we have seen in class or that’s on my class notes or has been on the VSW blog. However, you are encouraged to find work that is compelling or experimental or different from the usual run-of-the-mill garbage we see online.


Each final project must be posted on Vimeo before the class starts.  If I log on at the deadline and I can’t watch your video, for whatever reason, I’ll consider it a missed deadline and you’ll be automatically dropped a grade to start.

Remember it takes time to upload your video and it takes time for Vimeo to process you video, depending on the time of day, the traffic at Vimeo and the speed of your connection. This process might take  several hours.

Each piece must be accompanied by the following seven written journalistic elements which must be placed on Vimeo with the video. Vimeo has a 5,000 character limit  to accomplish all of these so use your words them wisely ..remember , a tweet is 140 characters so 5,000 characters should be no problem.

1) – a 240 character description of the story. (For use in TubeMogel)
2) – a longer 250 word description of the story. Details like name, age, addresses are important here.
3) – a compelling headline and subhead that  are SEO optimized plus at least 5 tags
4) – a word for word accurate transcript of the final piece
5) – at least three suitable links to the subject, story or theme from other sources
6) –  short behind-the-scenes story about how you found the character, something interesting that happened that’s not in the final piece, why you created this story, etc (great for blogging)

7) – a custom poster frame that includes your title and your name. (this improves click ability)

Your name MUST  be included in the title of the video you post on Vimeo.



You will need your own portable hardrive that is at least 500 gb,  7200 rpm and at least firewire 400 or even better, firewire 800.

You will also need your own digital media for the cameras. A 16 gb sdhc high speed card is a good start but it’ll will only capture 30 minutes at full HD (1920×1080) resolution. Be sure the speed of the card is at least  class 10.


Class ONE:           28 August 2013

Conversation      Syllabus, web video, a good web video, story structure, FILM FEST, choose a doc,
Hands On            Video with the DSLR, controls, tripods, BBC Five shot rule
Student work      SEQUENCE, shoot simple sequence of creating a paper airplane, all CU, work in  pairs
Turn In                  In-class sequence

Class TWO:           11 September 2013

Conversation       Reporting, Audio Basics, interviews, dual audio, 3 point lighting demo
Hands On             shoot 2 truths and a lie interview of classmate,
Student Work      play interviews, discuss story arc of interviews
Turn In                   Film Festival One vote by 5pm the day before class, 
Exercise One (waterfront) uploaded BEFORE class

Class THREE:     18 September 2013

Conversation      7 Basic Plots, Story Arc, Power of Characters/ the Shot list,  Review basic FCP X
Hands On            FCP X review, Cut Docs in class,
Student Work     Show  2 minute story cuts of docs
Turn In                 Film Festival Two vote; 
Exercise Two uploaded BEFORE class

Class FOUR:       25 September 2013

Conversation     Capturing Visual; Evidence, shooting and speaking in sequences, Matched Action
Student Work     Shooting in Sequences, Paper edits
Hands On            Everyone= 2 min. story pitch in class, shot list for Assignment One, choose best 7 stories
Turn In                Film Festival Three vote; 
Pitch Assignment One and shot list in class

Class FIVE:         02 October 2013

Hands On           Writing cards Exercise
Conversation      Spork, Context and Text,  Paper Edits & Radio Cuts,
Student Work     Watch Cards Exercise
Turn In                 
Exercise Three uploaded BEFORE class

Class SIX:           09 October 2013

Conversation       Advanced Final Cut: Sound Mix & Graphics, Cut on Action, The Poster Frame
Hands On              Present Radio Cut and print transcript for Each person
Student Work      Timed Critique of each Radio cut & transcript
Turn In                    
Radio Cut Assignment One uploaded BEFORE class

Class SEVEN:     16 October 2013

Conversation       Written journalism,  web video as part of a package
Hands On              Present Rough Cut Assignment One
Student Work     Critique Rough Cut Assignment One
Turn In                  
Rough Cut Assignment One uploaded BEFORE class


Class EIGHT:      23 October 2013

Conversation       Journalism ethics of the edit,Fair Use laws,
Hands On              Shooting a Sequence Camera Exercise Using Smartphone for 1 Minute story
Student Work     Review edits of exercise
Turn In                  
Assignment One Fine Cut uploaded BEFORE class

Class NINE:       30 October 2013

Conversation      Better Visual Journalism,
Hands On              Pitch assignment Two in 2 minutes
Student Work     Feedback on pitches
Turn In                  
Pitch Assignment Two and shot list

Class TEN:           06 November 2013

Conversation       Guest:  Music Good and Bad and Free and Not
Hands On              Present Radio Cut with copy of  Transcrit for all
Student Work      Critique Radio Cut and give notes on the Transcript
Turn In                   
Radio Cut Assignment Two uploaded BEFORE class 

Class ELEVEN:  13 November 2013

Conversation       SEO, representing video on the web, Delivery , mobile
Hands On              Present Exercise 4Radio Cut & complete transcript of radio cut in class
Student Work     Sound Exercise
Turn In                   
Exercise 4 uploaded BEFORE class

Class TWELVE:  20 November 2013

Conversation        Web context, delivery services, advanced exports, mobil
Hands On               Present Rough Cut 
Student Work      Critique Rough Cut
Turn In                   
Rough Cut Assignment Two uploaded BEFORE class


Thanksgiving Holiday: 28 November to 01 December, 2013
Class THIRTEEN: 04 December 2013

Conversation       Working in the real World, Guest, Portfolio
Hands On               Present Fine Cut
Student Work      Critique of Fine Cut
Turn In                   F
ine Cut of assignment TWO Uploaded BEFORE class

Class FOURTEEN: 11 December 2013

Conversation        From Specific to the Universal
Hands On               Present Exercise Five
Student Work      Critique Exercise Five
Turn In                    Exercise Five Uploaded BEFORE class

Since this is graduate school, I assume all of you are adults and I will strive to help you succeed in whatever way I can.

However, there are two areas where this class will reflect the real world so the following two problems will  not be tolerated: missing or late assignments  and arriving late to class.



Bob Sacha office hours: Wednesday , 1.30-5.00, in the cubicle farm near West 40th  ( or by appointment or Skype.)   Please sign up for an available appointment here.  If you need to cancel, please update this doc.

 If you’re completely desperate, my mobile is 1.917.969.0201 BUT please text first, then email and then call.  I’ll answer text or email before voicemail.

also available to help you:  Wonbo Woo- CUNY’s own rockstar video coach and NBCNews  producer.

Office hours :check with Wonbo via email for an appointment wonbo.woo@journalism.cuny.edu



The History of Online Video ok, the last 5 years (or here)

National Film Board of Canada:
Capturing Reality, the Art of the Documentary
check out their amazing interactives too

Ira Glass on storytelling

#1 the basics


transcript http://public.youtranscript.com/zs/868.html

#2 finding great stories



#3 on good taste


transcript: http://public.youtranscript.com/zs/864.html

#4 on common pitfalls


transcript: http://public.youtranscript.com/zs/870.html


SUGGESTED READINGS: these are in our CUNY J School Library

In the Blink of An Eye, by Walter Murch
by the brilliant Oscar winning editor and sound designer, with great advice for all visual storytellers.[$8.43….ISBN-13: 978-1879505629]
The Visual Story, Second Edition: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media
Bruce Blockhas written the classic book that explains how to relate visuals to your story by understanding visual structure. If you’re lacking an education in visual storytelling, this book will bring you up to speed.[$22.95… ISBN-13: 978-0240807799]
Writing for Story, Craft Secrets of Dramatic Non-Fiction    [$9.17….ISBN-13: 978-0452272958]
by Two-Time Pulitzer Price Winner  Jon Franklin. Best book ever for thinking about stories, characters and dramatic story structure in print, video, radio.  No high brow theory, just practical stuff. [$9.17….ISBN-13: 978-0452272958]
DSLR Cinema, Crafting the Film Look with Video
by Kurt Lancaster. Geeky, tecky and right on the money. Uses all the same tools and work flows we do but explains them in depth. Also has excellent case study chapters.  [$24.86 …. ISBN-13: 978-0240815510]
Telling True Stories, A Non Fiction Writers Guide
edited by Mark Kramer & Wendy Call, Nieman Foundation, Harvard
A huge well of great insight into non-fiction storytelling.  Just substitute  “video storyteller” everytime they use the word “writer. Probably 99% of what makes a great dramatic nonfiction print story  works in video.[$9.52 … ISBN-13: 978-0452287556]


In the fast paced world of online journalism, deadlines seem to come constantly and repeatedly. They are also very serious business (check the first citation in Merriam Webster) So please regard them with awe and don’t even think of missing them. If you are late on a deadline, even by a minute, your grade will automatically be lowered by a half grade. Your grade  will drop a half grade for every day you are late.

Plan ahead. It almost always takes more time than you think to complete these assignments, so please don’t leave this to the last minute.  If you’re encountering difficulties reaching a source or finding information or shooting or editing come see me or contact me via email  at least 48 hours before the deadline.I can help guide you.

I want you to succeed but I will not tolerate last minute excuses.


Attendance is mandatory and unexcused absences will be reflected in your final grade.

Job interviews, work obligations, computer problems, routine medical appointments, meetings with advisers, transportation issues, and even scheduled source interviews are not valid reasons for missing class.These excuses, err, reasons will be considered an unexcused absence. Only a severe personal illness or family emergencies are valid reasons for missing a class—and you’ll need to provide a written excuse and documentation before I’ll consider them.

If you miss two classes without a written excuse or documentation, you will drop a grade.

I will hold you to the same standard as your editor at the New York Times: that is, missing class for a wedding or because you feel crummy is not excusable in the real world and it won’t work in class either.


We’re all adults here so I feel silly saying this:

Please be on time.  A sign in sheet  will be passed around when  class begins.  If you have not signed in,  I will assume it was because you were not in class and you will be marked absent.

Please don’t take phone calls during class. It’s insulting and will not be tolerated.

Also, I suggest you don’t post to Facebook or Twitter or answer your email during class because those will be  the first things I remember when you ask me for a job recommendation or when your employer asks me about your work habits.


I will grade each assignment on the 100-point scale:
A+     97.1-99.9        A future Online Journalism Award winner perhaps?
A       93.0-97.0        Publishable quality, with minor edits or questions.
A-      90.0-92.9        Nearly publishable, with just a few minor issues.
B+     87.1-89.9        Better than just good…w/ more work, it could possibly be published.
B       83.0-87.0        Good, solid work with several minor issues or a single major problem.
B-      80.0-82.9        Decent work with several bigger issues.
C+     77.1-79.9         Gaping holes in reporting and severe issues with the product
C       73.0-77            Poor
C-      70.0-72.9
F         0.0-69.9

Each Assignment will be graded:
50% storytelling,
30% Technical,
20% written materials

Final grade will be
80% assignments and exercises (each exercise 10%, each assignment 20%)
20% attendance, in-class participation

Revisions: You’ll have exactly 1 week from the day you receive the fine cut feedback to revise your fine cut. Your final grade will be the average grade of the fine cut and the revised cut. If you miss the fine cut deadline, you will also forfeit your chance to revise. YOU MUST SEND ME AN EMAIL WHEN YOU POST YOUR REVISION otherwise I won’t know you’ve revised.

this is the worksheet I use when I’m grading your pieces


Please consider how you might include topics of diversity in your reporting and visual storytelling.

Consider covering diverse and under-reported  communities and stories that are out of the mainstream press.



All work in this class must be your own. Plagiarism is the use of another’s ideas or words, video or recordings or ideas without properly and clearly acknowledging the source of the information.

Using other people’s work,  video, audio, music, text  or ideas without attribution and their written permission will result in an F for the assignment or potential dismissal from the course depending on the severity of the infraction.

Other forms of academic dishonesty include:


Unauthorized collaboration.

Fabrication of information, quotes or sources.

Impeding the work of others.

If you are still unsure whether you’re about to cross over to the dark side, PLEASE COME SEE ME. Again, I want you to succeed and academic dishonesty is the worst kind of failure.

If you have any other questions, please check the student handbook or ask me.


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