OLD_Fall 2011 Syllabus

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
Jour72311 Video Storytelling for the Web, 3 credits
Fall 2011 Syllabus,
Wednesday  9.30-12.30, room 436

Instructor: Bob Sachabio and examples of work ,  best contact=  bob.sacha@journalism.cuny.edu

Office hours: Wednesday, 1.30-5.00, in the cubicle farm near West 40th  ( or by appointment or Skype.)  If you’re completely desperate, my mobile is 1.917.969.0201 but email is best.

*** Please view this syllabus as a work in progress. Some things might change but the assignments and the deadlines will not change.***


Course Objectives

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 or 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 reporter to be highly skilled in many jobs. They will also learn how to freelance pieces to meet the growing demand for professional-quality video for a  growing number of websites.

We’ll be using new Canon DSLR cameras to shoot HD video, staying ahead of the industry trend.



Course Outcomes:

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 understanding 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.



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.

You will have three assignments in the class.

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


The subjects will be, in order:

    1.  A person
    2.  A place
    3.  An issue

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 each person must cut their own verison in FCP.
  •  You must work solo for the other two projects.

One of your three projects must use some still photography.


There will be milestones due almost every week for these projects.

These include:

– a 2 minute in class pitch based on your reporting and research plus a shot list

– a radio cut, with a full word-for-word transcript.

– a rough cut

– the final story or fine cut


These milestones will  help you produce outstanding work for the final  pieces. Think of these projects as a giant lake that you will swim across for each assignment. The weekly milestones are like equally spaced platforms across the lake where you can stop, take a look at what you’ve done and have your fellow students act as your coach to improve your performance. These milestones also discourage you from doing something foolish, that is, swimming across the lake in a single go.

I suggest you do your interview before you pitch the class. That’s the very best way to know if the story is going to work, or even what your story will be. You are welcome to pitch me before you head out for the interview.

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 though 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.



Film Festivals

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

Here’s how they work

By Sunday, 5 pm you will post the URL of your submission for the film festival. Your submission = an inspiring short doc video you find on the internet. Everyone must watch the videos and cast their vote for the strongest submission by 5 pm the following Tuesday. We will start the class by watching the winning short film.  Submission should be no longer than 10 minutes.

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.



Requirements for Written Journalism and  Delivery of each project:


Each final project will be posted on Vimeo on or before the deadline. 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. 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.


Each piece must be accompanied by the following six written journalistic elements which must be placed on Vimeo with the video


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) – 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 (great for blogging)


Required Equipment

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 it is at least class 6 (which is the speed of the card.)



Wednesday, Aug  31 Class ONE

Conversation Syllabus, web video, a good web video, story structure, FILM FEST

Hands On Video with the DSLR, controls, tripods, BBC Five shot rule

Student work SEQUENCE, shoot simple sequence all CU, working  pairs



Wednesday, Sept  07 Class TWO

Conversation Reporting, 7 Basic Plots, Story Arc, Audio Basics, interviews, dual audio

Hands On 2 minute audio interviews of classmate

Student Work play interviews, discuss story arc of interviews



Wednesday, Sept 14 Class THREE-guest instructor

Conversation Reporting Video stories, Shooting and Lighting interviews

Hands On Shoot “True Lies”, partners will be assigned by random draw.

Student Work Cut “True Lies”, talk about watching docs



Wednesday, Sept 21 Class FOUR

Conversation Power of Characters/ the Shot list,  Review basic FCP,

Student Work Show True Lies Cuts,

Hands On 2 min. story pitch in class, shot list for Assignment #1:



———————-[FALL Break, Sept 28-30]—————————————-


Wednesday, Oct  05 Class FIVE

Hands On Show  2 minute story cuts of docs

Conversation Shooting in Sequences, Paper edits

Student Work Critique Radio Cuts Assignment #1:



Wednesday, Oct  12 Class SIX

Conversation Journalism ethics of the edit, Advanced FCP,

Hands On Present & Play Rough Cuts  Assignment #1

Student Work Critique Rough Cuts Assignment #1:



Wednesday, Oct  19 Class SEVEN

Conversation Written journalism,  web video as part of a package

Hands On In class Lab

Student Work In class lab



Wednesday, Oct  26 Class EIGHT

Conversation Better Visual Journalism, Powerful stills in web video,

Hands On 2 minute in class pitch of assignment #2, shot list

Student Work Present & Critique Fine Cuts of Assignment #1, Hand in written material



Wednesday, Nov  02 Class NINE

Conversation Guest

Hands On Present Radio Cuts of Assignment #2

Student Work Critique Radio Cuts of assignment #2



Wednesday, Nov  09 Class TEN

Conversation Guest:  Advanced Storytelling

Hands On Present Rough Cuts, assignment #2

Student Work Critique Rough Cuts,  assignment #2



Wednesday, Nov  16 Class ELEVEN

Conversation 2 min in class Pitch assignment #3

Hands On Mastering FCP: Audio Mixing, Color Corrections

Student Work In class Lab



Wednesday, Nov  23 Class TWELVE

Conversation Web context/ Graphics

Hands On Present Fine Cut Assignment #2

Student Work Critique Fine Cut Assignment #2, Hand in written material



Wednesday, Nov  30 Class THIRTEEN

Conversation Web delivery services/ advanced Exports

Hands On Present Radio Cut Assignment #3

Student Work Critique Radio Cut Assignment #3


Wednesday, Dec  07 Class FOURTEEN

Conversation Guest who buys work (could be Skype)

Hands On Present Rough Cut Assignment #3

Student Work Critique Rough Cut Assignment #3


Wednesday, Dec  14 final class Class FIFTEEN

Conversation Guest:  what is the next step, Future of web video

Hands on Present Fine Cut Assignment #3

Student Work Critique Fine Cut Assignment #3

final projects due DEC 14, 2011 at noon.


Human  resources: 

Bob Sacha office hours

Wednesday, 1.30-5.00, in the cubicle farm near West 40th  ( or by appointment or Skype.)  If you’re completely desperate, my mobile is 1.917.969.0201 but email is best.


Wonboo Woo– CUNY’s own rockstar video coach and ABC Nightline producer.

Office hours Monday nights, ~7-10pm. but please email for 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




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]



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 and  the following two problems are not tolerated: missing deadlines and being late to class.



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. 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 

70% assignments,

30% attendance, in-class participation,  and in-class exercises.


 You’ll have exactly 2 weeks from the final deadline 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.





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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