Video Storytelling for the Web 2017

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, JOUR72311



THURSDAY2 p.m. – 4.50 p.m., Room 438, CRN 36558, 3 credits


team thunderous

bio and examples of work here, here and here 

Office Hours: Tuesday, 1 p.m. – 5p.m. or by appointment  


Best way to communicate is a DM on


TUESDAY: 5.30 p.m. – 8.20 p.m, ROOM 436, CRN 36738, 3 credits


team tenacious

bio and examples of work

Office Hours:  Wednesday, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. or by appointment


Best way to communicate is a DM on 



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 Adobe Premiere 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 work 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 c100 cameras to shoot HD video. You can also use a DSLR camera. Let’s be honest, no one cares which camera you use, it’s the quality of your work and the strength of your visual storytelling that really matters.


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.


Good Journalists always arrive early and usually stay late, so….

    • We will start class on time.
    • Class participation, including being on time, equals 20% of your grade.
    • If you’re not in your seat when class begins, you’ll be marked late.
    • If you’re not in class, in your seat and present 10 minutes after we begin, you’ll be marked absent/missed class.
    • If you miss two classes without a written excuse or acceptable local (NYC) documentation, you will drop a full grade.
    • If you miss three classes, you will fail this class.
    • There are more details below in the ATTENDANCE section.

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

Things you’ll need to turn in, almost every week.


Do not be deceived into thinking that short visual journalism is easy.

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.”

Think of how difficult it is to write a brilliant headline, the ideal tweet, or condense a 90 minute documentary perfectly into 2 minutes. 

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



  • Each assignment will consist of a short video (1-3 minutes) suitable for web publishing.
  • 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, idealy with an unfolding action..
  • One of these projects must be done only with visual storytelling and with an “active” interview, that is, without your subject sitting down for a formal interview yes, NO formal interview.
  • One of your two projects must use some other form of visuals, like still photography or animation, etc.
  • The assignments will be graded.
  • REVISIONS: Once you receive your grade and critique, you will have one week to revise your project based on our feedback.
  • You must send us an direct message (DM) on SLACK with a link to your revision.
  • Late assignment: videos that have not been uploaded to Vimeo before the start of the class session they’re due will be automatically lowered a grade.
  • Each assignment must be accompanied by eight text elements detailed below. These text elements are 20% of your grade on the assignment.
  • Upload your video and all the text elements to Acclaim or the class Vimeo page


Assignment 1

due week 09  

An Odd Job

This is a team project. Some of these would qualify. Maybe these jobs would also work. Oh yes, the New Yorker Magazine even writes about some of these; the NYTimes too.

You will share ALL assets  and each person must edit and submit their own original version .

One of these projects must be done only with visual storytelling and with an “active” interview, that is, without a sit down, NO formal interview.

One of your two projects must use some other form of visuals, like still photography or animation, etc.


Assignment 2

due week 14  

A Pilot for a Non-Fiction Series

Here is an example of a pilot for a video series from the NYT, also a sceience/business series from the NYT: Robotica, (sponsored by Intel); next a wonderful everyday series from the SanFrancisco Chronicle: The Regulars and finally, if you love to travel and want a hit-and-run in 36 hours, enjoy this travel series (sponsored by Google).

This is a solo project though you can have a second shooter.

One of these projects must be done only with visual storytelling and with an “active” interview, that is, without a sit down, NO formal interview.  One of your two projects must also use some other form of visuals, like still photography or animation, etc.

Use this template for your pitch


Each final project must be posted on Vimeo before the class begins.  

If we log on at the deadline and I can’t watch your video, for whatever reason, we’ll consider it a missed deadline and you’ll be automatically dropped a grade to start.

Each piece must be accompanied by the following EIGHT 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.

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

All of these elements should be pasted into the box on Vimeo

  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. This must contain a sentence about the newsiness of your story; or “why now?”
  3. 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. Audience engagement is crucial: on the vimeo page you’ll need to show links to two out of three: a tweet, facebook post and blog post/tumblr . You can create a 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 . You could also make a gif. Try to engage your audience.
  7. custom poster frame that includes your title and your name (this improves click ability).
  8. List two potential outlets that might publish this video.
Remember it takes time to upload your video and it takes time for Vimeo to process your video, depending on the time of day, the traffic at Vimeo and the speed of your connection. This process might take  several hours.



  • All exercises are pass/fail. 
  • Extra points may be awarded for creativity.
  • Points will be subtracted for lateness.
  • Each exercise will be done solo.
  • Upload your exercises to Acclaim or the class Vimeo page. Be sure to title them and add your name to the title.


Exercise 1; due week 2 

Document a location 

Document a location that will be seen in ASSIGNMENT 1 and edit it in ten shots. 

NO interview.

Important elements: shots that tell a story, sequence, good clean composition, focus, exposure, and proper white balance.

THINK OF THIS AS A SILENT FILM (but you could add music).


Exercise 2; due week 3 

Light and mic an interview subject

This interview should be a potential subject for ASSIGNMENT 1. The subject must be shot with at least two different light sources (one must be artificial light that you bring). Take a photo of the setup and turn that in.

The interview must use three different framings (closeup, MS, WS). You can (and probably should) keep it simple. Turn in less than two minutes. Important elements are two different types of lighting, three different framing compositions and clean audio.


Exercise 3; due week 5 
Create a Sight & Sound story 

This sight and sound piece should be related to ASSIGNMENT 1. Consider this a one-minute “visual poem.”

Important elements are composition, focus, exposure, white balance, strong ambient audio) and edit (you need to include at least one matched action, shots tell the story; NO interview!). Edit for pacing and rhythm.

Here’s a news based example, a lovely example, and killer example.

And another example.


Exercise 4; due week 15 

Create a short trailer/social video piece for Instagram or Facebook

This trailer/short social video would be uploaded to various social media sites to promote your second assignment. A social media piece should be between 30 and 60 seconds and involve graphics or text (since Facebook auto plays video without sound).

Why would anyone ever click on this thing is the most important element.



  • We will have three “film festivals ” where you will post a link to someone elses online video that you find inspiring or compelling or instructive or very bad.
  • Your participation is required in both posting films and voting on each film festival.. 
  • Everyone must submit a film, an inspiring short doc video you find on the internet. Submission should not be longer than 8 minutes. Crazy clever is encouraged.  We’re open to compelling work, preferably non-fiction.
  • You will post the URL of your submission for the film festival to the correct channel in in SLACK. remember to choose the correct Film Festival Number.
  • Everyone must watch the videos and cast their vote for the strongest submission before 7 p.m. the day before class.


TEAM THUNDEROUS (Thursday class)

  • You must submit your link to the correct Film Festival channel in SLACK before Sunday at 7 p.m.
  • You must vote HERE before Wednesday, 7 p.m.

TEAM TENACIOUS (Tuesday class)

  • You must submit your link to the correct Film Festival channel in SLACK before Friday at 7 p.m.
  • You must vote HERE before Monday, 7 p.m.


CLASSES week by week, Fall 2017

This is graduate school so we assume all of you are adults and we will strive to help you succeed in whatever way we can.

However, there are two areas where this class will reflect the real world so the following two problems will  not be tolerated:

  1. missing or late assignments
  2. arriving late to class.


Please feel free to complete this feedback form after every class

Team Thunderous:

Team Tenacious: 


Use them or we’ll lose them! Please make an appointment.


  • You will need your own portable hardrive that is at least 500 gb (1TB recommended), 7200 rpm and USB 3.0
  • You will also need your own digital media card for the cameras. A 16GB sdhc high speed card is a good start, but it will only capture 30 minutes at full HD (1920×1080) resolution. Be sure the speed of the card is at least Class 10.
  • We have a limited number of Canon C100 Cameras. This is very much like the real world so you must reserve at least 25 hours in advance  and supplies are first-come, first-served so please plan accordingly. It  is not required that you use this camera (you can use a DSLR if you like.)


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]


Each Assignment will be graded using the following metric:

50% Storytelling & Impact
30% Technical Skills: Focus, Exposure, White Balance, Sound
20% written materials (as posted to Vimeo)

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

Your final grade will be calculated as follows:
  • 25% Assignment 1
  • 25% Assignment 2
  • 30% Exercises
  • 20% attendance, in-class participation

Revisions: You’ll have exactly one 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 A DIRECT MESSAGE ON SLACK WHEN YOU POST YOUR REVISION, otherwise I won’t know you’ve revised.

This is the worksheet we use when I’m grading your stories:



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 a direct message on SLACK  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. I will only consider a written excuse from a doctor in the NYC  area that you have visited personally.

If you’re not in class, in your seat and  present 10 minutes after we begin, it will be recorded  as an absence/ missed class.

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

If you miss three classes, you will fail this class.

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.

You might not value your grade in this class, but I talk with a lot of editors and commissioning editors. I promise that if they ask about you and you’ve been late or missed class, I’ll be totally honest with them.


We’re all adults here so we 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.




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

Consider covering diverse and especially under-reported  communities.

Strive to show them in their “ordinariness” by including them in stories other than those about  race, class, gender, sexuality and social pathology.

Look for stories that are out of the mainstream press, particularly  those about black people, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, white women, the LGBT community, and poor people of all races. 

Use them as meaningful sources, as your “experts” Your sources  live the life, not someone who is sitting in an office with books behind them and an academic title on their desk.User those people in the office, the usual suspects of “experts” as research, not as voices.

Strive to tell stories that are free of euphemisms and stereotypes and that portray your subjects in a non- stereo typical fashion..


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 US.

Again,we want you to succeed and academic dishonesty is the worst kind of failure.

Also, there are no questions that are too obvious, too simple, too stupid. If you have a question, there’s a good chance your classmates have the same question. No one is ever penalized for asking any question…

@2017 Bob Sacha

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