Students Talk to YOU, future Video Storytelling Student

On Thursday,03/27/2014 students in Video Storytelling for the Web class were asked to speak to the future.

Talk to the Future survey

The survey was anonymous and I’ve included every response in its entirety in the order they were submitted.

These comments are aimed at people who are considering taking the class next semester. The survey was anonymous and every response is printed in its entirety below.

☛ This is an absolutely essential class

if you are interested in doing video storytelling and multimedia as part of your journalism career. It is definitely a class that has a heavy workload. I would make sure to set up your semesters strategically, to allow yourself to focus on this course, when you take it. You will get the most out of this class if you have the time and motivation to create beautiful visual stories. Video stories take more energy and effort than print stories. They also take a lot of coordination with subjects that can be difficult with a tough course load. That said I have learned a lot of technical skills and narrative techniques that have improved by work as a videographer and storyteller. Bob is a really great professor and mentor, I’d highly recommend working with him during your time at the J School. The expectations are tough but the end results are worth it!


☛ The class’s reputation is spot on.

This is a ton of work, especially in the weeks around the two major assignments. Be prepared to give up Craft reporting days (if you take this in the second semester) and pretty much any free time you might have. But I’ve never shot a proper video before this class (I don’t count my broadcast piece in first semester…that was a mess) and have already learned a ton. A lot of it was in the field, which helped me learn quickly. I’m exhausted and stressed all the time for this class in particular but it’s worth it.

There isn’t much class time for learning the camera basics, so definitely get some practice beforehand if you are totally new to dslrs. If you hate the JVCs and stand-ups and have even a little bit of curiosity about making video, sign up. It has completely changed my thinking about my work and plans for the future. No other class has done that for me.


☛ Develop a sense of timeliness and organization

from the very beginning. Otherwise, you’ll be pulling your hair out, screaming at your computer, and downing bottles of 5-hour energy.

This isn’t necessarily an easy class, and you might hate it for a while. But it’s an integral skill, and Bob’s been doing it for a while. He beats the video drum, and while it may bug you for a time, listen to him. He’s got a deep understanding of story structure, and you’ll realize that the only way to produce work that people care about is to produce work that you care about.


☛ People who told me to combine VSW with an elective

with an easier workload was some of the best advice I got and I can’t stress how much easier my life has been as a result (though not easy). This class is a ton of work, and Bob really pushes everyone to do the best work they can. If I didn’t have time to make these pieces shine, the course really wouldn’t be worth it. If you don’t think you’ll have time to work hard, don’t take this class. You’ll be stressed and irritated and disappointed as a result. I had some video experience going into the class, but already I can see what a huge benefit this class has been. I’ve also been really impressed with how great the work that people with no experience has been as well, which is a testament to Bob’s teaching skills. He’s intense and scary sometimes but in the end it’s worth it.


☛ Invest in good external hard drives.

Big ones. A lot of them. Keep footage labeled consistently, and get used to staying freakishly organized. Do not start the class without having already figured out a workflow.

This class is completely awesome. HOWEVER… combining this course AND Feature Writing with Kaufman AND Broadcast Craft in one semester is not recommended.

There is no way to make this clear to you before it happens to you, but if you do decided to take Broadcast Craft and this course simultaneously, everything technical in your world is likely to collapse around you. Your computer will go into a coma. Import all of your media directly from the SD cards (after re-naming it), overnight, AS SOON as you’ve shot, so that if this happens–and it will–it happens right away.

Sign up for office hours ahead of time. Lock in a weekly spot now, or someone else will. Bob is a busy dude. But if you can manage to get a time slot, his one-on-one edits are golden and amazing.


☛ Take the exercises seriously.

I blew them off as busywork and then when it came to shoot my actual video, my skills were lacking. DO THE HOMEWORK.


☛ 1. The kind of videos we do in this class

are not a one-day broadcast-ish thing. You’ll spend weeks following your sources, shooting different scenes, and there is nothing that can be replaced by the time you spend with your character(s). With that being said, this is a very time-consuming class so make sure you make the right arrangement when selecting classes.

2. There is plenty of time for feedback in class. But I suggest you always discuss with Bob and/or other video coaches after class — that helped me tremendously with my story.

3. Start brainstorming your story ideas from now. It’s never too early to get started.


☛ Video is a time-consuming business, but it pays off.

These are skills that can help get you paid, so take them seriously.

That being said, make sure there’s room in your schedule for you to actually put the time in on this class (and others, for that matter). Sometimes, it feels like every class at CUNY is a full-time job in and of itself, so maybe after Craft II and VSW, try and pick some “lighter” options so that you have the time and energy to commit that’s necessary.

Always have extra batteries and memory cards. Always back up your files and data. Stay organized and god speed.


☛ VSW is one of the most rewarding classes you can take at CUNY

, in the sense that you are required to work your ass off and can see yourself actually improve throughout the semester. It’s one of the few classes that I love attending and love working on. When I first started the class I was thinking only of dabbling in video. That was a mistake — I didn’t watch a whole lot of online video and never got that excited about it. But I had to change that just to stay with the class, and my attitude about video changed quite a bit. So I’d recommend being serious about video if you want to take the class; it’s not one of those things you can spend an hour a week on and enjoy.


☛ Guys, you definitely want to take this class!

It is A LOT of work (but hey, that’s just the way video is!), so I would recommend taking it during your second semester and not your third.
AND start thinking about ideas/possible subjects for your video stories before the semester even starts… Trust me, it will make things SO much easier..



Previous feedback from the class of 2012>>>

On Wednesday,10/23/2013 students in Video Storytelling for the Web class were asked to speak to the future.


☛ This class is the best one I’ve taken

at CUNY. But, it’s also probably the most time consuming and hardest in terms of technical ability, interviewing, shooting and editing. My advice is not to take it when you’re taking craft, because you probably won’t be able to dedicate the time to the class that you want to. I took photojournalism the semester prior so I learned to use the DSLR. I also took Broadcast Craft the semester before, and even thought I shot with the JVC, it was still a really good precursor to this class because I learned the basics of how to frame a shot, pitch visual stories, shoot sequences and even work on my fcpx editing prior to entering this class. In short: be prepared, be ready to work and only take this class if you REALLY want to be a video journalist. Make sure you’re heart’s in it, and Bob can steer you no wrong.


☛ Take the class. You’ll regret not taking it

and then you’ll want to take it in the 3rd semester and then you’ll feel like dying. It’s a lot of work but you must take this class


☛ Take this class. It will help you

with your storytelling in every medium and every class — even broadcast news. It is a lot of work, so I would recommend taking this in a second or fourth semester. Also, be sure to work on your pitches asap – as soon as you get the syllabus.

☛ This is one of the best classes

I’ve ever taken. So take it. But keep in mind how this class was first treated when it was created; capstones couldn’t be done in this class and Professors like Scotty point out that the video pieces can’t stand on their own as a journalistic piece.

☛ I don’t see how you could leave CUNY

and do video without taking Bob’s class. This class is a must, and should be required.

☛ Look at syllabus, always try

to be ahead. This seems useful if you have class on Wednesday (or Thursday) like us because the weekend might create a sort of gap when you want to make phone calls to find a story – or the like. Or in any case, just try to move everything up so you’re not filming the day before class or editing into the night.

Also try to have fun.


☛ Video Storytelling for the Web is my favorite

class I have taken at CUNY. Bob is a video genius. You will work really hard, your shoulders will ache from carrying gear, you will have some sort of audio issue that will make you feel like your life is over, but you will learn a ton and your video work will improve.

If you are interested in multimedia storytelling take this class.

(Disclaimer: Bob did not write this comment. This is from an actual student. My shoulders hurt and I spent the last two weekends glued to my laptop working on a 3 minute video.)


☛ I knew I wanted to take this class.

It’s one of the reasons I came to J School. The type of video storytelling taught here is very current (and specific) compared to other video work being done in the journalism field. I would recommend people take this class because the tech elements to doing this kind of storytelling is not something I think most people can just pick up on their own. You need the hands on experience. Be prepared to find a new story each week and plan to spend 15 hours a week on this class. In that way, the class is a little difficult to work into work and other classes. But I think it’s worth trying to make it happen.


☛ During my first semester

alumnus Jacob Hodes picked up a piece of paper and wrote down “Bob Sacha and Fred Kaufman.” He handed it to me and told me those were the best classes you could ever get into at CUNY J-school. He was totally right.

You know how they say you should learn a foreign language through immersion? When you’re attending a Video Storytelling class with Bob Sacha, it doesn’t feel like you’re in class. You’re immersed in the best videos out there, the best movies, television, web video, your own work and other students’ work. You’ll be practicing the grammar of visual storytelling and speaking in “scenes and sequences” before you realize it.
Take a look at the syllabus, ask to sit in during one of our classes and patiently wait to join the great group of Sacha’s alumnae and alumnus.
I always look forward to my Wednesday morning class and you will too if you chose this class. Sofia Perpetua

☛ I learned three things*

in Video Storytelling for the Web: the first is that we need to be adapting the WAY we tell stories for a web-based audience, not just the medium in which we tell those stories. Adding video or audio or interactive graphics doesn’t mean squat if a person is still going to click over to Facebook and look at cat gifs. Our competition isn’t other news outlets or mediums: it’s everything. Everything on the internet is our competition. So we have to make our stories REALLY freakin’ compelling. And that, at the core of it, is the concentration of this course.

The second thing I learned is that I don’t actually care about doing breaking news. This might sound bad, but it’s not: it’s just a realization about the changing marketplace. Yes, there’s still a place for straightforward news, but it’s increasingly about quick, easily digested news bits. I want to tell stories. And that means largely looking beyond what happened today.

Third, I learned some stuff about capturing and editing video. It was informative and helpful.

If these sound like things that you’re interested in, you should probably take this course.

*I learned more than three things, but these are the broad strokes.

☛ First of all, definitely take this class.

You’ll learn a LOT in one semester. The pace of this class is also unlike the rest of the J-School electives. You actually spend weeks on an assignment, so you produce good, sellable work instead of a bunch of mediocre pieces. It’s also a lot of work and requires a lot of your time (also, blood, sweat and tears) so be sure to balance your classes (eg., don’t take it with a heavy reporting class or another video class) during the semester. Also, everyone in the J-School is going to be taking this class because everyone and their mothers will be recommending it, so definitely register within the first 60 seconds or it’s gone like a box of cronuts.

☛ Bob adds his two cents:

Just to be clear, things have changed since I first started teaching this class and you now can do your capstone in this class. Another change is that every capstone must be in multiple media. Also, assignments completed in this class have run on the home page of the New York Times (by Almudena Toral), Time Magazine (by Nadia Sussman) and many, many other mainstream (and not so mainstream)  publications.




In preparation for CUNY Grad Students to decide if they should take this class in the Spring of 2013, I asked the members of the current class to give me (and you) their thoughts, addressing you directly.

I promised the students in class that I would not use their name and I would print all of the responses without any editing, condensing or quote polishing…

Here’s the raw data, as it were..

☛ To next class:

Bob is definitely one of the best professors here. He is a genius when it comes to video storytelling, visuals, and capturing a whole story in two minutes. Unfortunately for me it means a whole lot of work and redos, but the class is making a much smoother video editor, and a better eye when I’m out shooting video. There will be a trial and error period when you got out, shoot, and ultimately find you did something wrong (didn’t capture audio, etc.). But part of the class is getting the habitual errors out of the way in the beginning of your video shooting career so that later in the class, and once you leave, you are a skilled videographer who doesn’t sweat the small stuff anymore. This is a highly recommended class.

☛ Heard that the class was a lot of work,

…but I didn’t realize how much it would be until now. I spent the most of my time working on assignments for this class and there are many sleepless nights too where I am editing or re-editing my videos. But the class is worth-taking and I highly recommend it.

☛ This class provides lots of hands-on opportunities

…for us to practice video skills in all aspects. The workload looks heavy but if you do it step by step it is actually very reasonable.
I like the way that Bob asks to complete a video project: audio cut –> rough cut –> fine cut. These steps help me get feedback from my peers and in the meantime I have a plenty of time to make it better.

☛ Honestly, that it actually IS doable.

I heard a lot from previous classes about the huge workload, how time consuming VSW is, etc. So I was prepared for that, and perhaps because I expected it to be so daunting it has actually been less crazy than I thought it would be.

☛ For future classes:

Most important point about VSW: this is the most organized and efficient class you will take at CUNY. Bob is has more energy than any 3 professors and he will meet you half way on everything. If you don’t meet him halfway, he’ll just forget about you, which is great. Something about him makes you want to work.

Be careful with your schedule. You will want to dedicate all your time to getting things right for this class, but your other classes will suffer a bit. That’s ok. It’s worth it. Do yourself a favor and learn FCP X before you show up. Check out a dSLR during the break and mess around with it. You will save yourself hours of headache and you won’t screw up your deadlines for this class because of technical issues.

Start watching web video now. Vimeo is a good place to start. It’s a different medium than you think. Your stories have to be concise and tight. I came from a world of documentary film where I was very focused on mood and subtlety. Those are great skills for the web, but you really have to focus on tight storytelling. VSW is a great class to couple with audio writing. You want to learn short and tight. Which I have not. Just do it. Video is great.

☛ Bob is one of the most organized professors in the school.

He is uber responsive to student problems and questions. He packs each class full of energy and helpful ideas to strengthen your video storytelling craft. This is one of the classes that is a must take.

☛ The workload is heavy,

…but you will definitely be comfortable working as a one man band when you’re done. Remember–like you should in all classes–that feedback is there to help you improve. Finally, your hard drive absolutely will fail. Back it up regularly.

☛ While it helps to have some familiarity with the camera,

…it’s more important that you can appreciate good web video. It’s even OK if you know what you like when you see it but can’t quite describe it in the web video vernacular. Bob will help you with all of that.

That said, the take-aways from this class aren’t confined to the realm of video. Bob’s emphasis on storytelling – what makes a good story? why should we care? – have, I believe, made me a better writer. I am more diligent about story structure yet more comfortable letting my creativity roll.

Is it a lot of work? Yes. But this is the nature of the beast. You can’t really make up for lost time when doing video. There are no last minute phone calls when you’re putting together a video story.

Bob does a better job that a lot of professors in giving you a sense of the journalism landscape – where things are heading and what skills you need. This is much appreciated….

☛ I came into this class with very little experience using cameras but I’ve enjoyed it thus far.

The workload isn’t as heavy as I thought it would be and Bob is very helpful. It’s definitely a fun class, except for the lights!

☛ For the next class:

Every class is packed with great videos, tips, and inspiration. That said, the workload is intense. You need to make sure you schedule your time well so that you get out and get your material and start working on it right away. Overall, it’s seriously a worthwhile use of your time here at j-school… and always go back to the notes afterwards – there will be more great stuff in there.

☛ I would tell the next class that Video Storytelling is a worthwhile class to take

…because it gives a fresh look on news video. But if you take this class, you’d probably better not take any other demanding classes and expect to be incredibly stressed out. It takes at least triple if not quadruple the amount of out-of-class time to just finish all the work compared with other classes, so just be prepared for that. And a general word of advice: take independent study for your capstone. That way you’ll actually be able to work on your capstone and not get bogged down by classwork.

☛ For future students:

I enjoyed the pacing of the class, & the in-class assignments. Bob is an excellent instructor — organized, resourceful, and accomplished. He shares inspiring work from other journalists, and gives insightful & useful feedback

☛ For next year’s students:

I recommend planning out your stories weeks or months in advance. If you know you’re taking the class the next semester, start talking to people and coming up with story ideas. Have a list of people ready to go.

☛ For next year’s students:

I recommend planning out your stories weeks or months in advance. If you know you’re taking the class the next semester, start talking to people and coming up with story ideas. Have a list of people ready to go.

It makes the pitching process easier, along with the shooting schedule. People need to feel comfortable spending extended periods of time with you — these stories shouldn’t be “quick hits”. As your J-school experience becomes considerably more demanding each semester (with the addition of internships and jobs), make it easier on yourself.

Also, practice with the equipment. Take a camera out and spend time with it, not just during your assignments—-


Fall 2011 is the second semester of Video Storytelling for the Web class. There have been a few changes to the class based on the feedback from the Spring 2011 students.

In preparation for CUNY Grad Students to decide if they should take this class in the Spring of 2012, I asked the members of the current class to give me (and you) their thoughts…

I have not deleted, edited or changed a single word. And I’ve reproduced every single answer.

☛ Advice for the next year’s students:

I was expecting this class to be a lot more work because of the warnings of the previous class. I think that’s an exaggeration especially if you can find subjects that are just open to letting you shoot what and when you need. Most people think it’s “cute” that a student wants to make a film about them.

I think if you want to really learn how to edit, how to tell a story, how to shoot – than this class is maybe even more helpful than broadcast craft (which concentrates more on cnn-new york one – newsiness and type newsy video). You’ll learn not only how to use Final Cut’s bells and whistles, but you’ll learn how to shoot no matter the camera and how to tell a story without relying on narration.

If you don’t like participating in class and talking constructively in a group, don’t bother taking this class. You’ll just be a lump. Class is fun because everyone helps.

☛ This is a really useful class.

I don’t consider myself a video journalist, and my primary interest is in print, but as a class to get you to be able to handle the workflow that is involved in producing a video, it’s really useful. Bob breaks down video production into its smallest component parts: the story pitch, shot list, shooting techniques, audio cut, rough cut and fine cut, so it feels manageable and gives you a lot of time to get comfortable with the medium.

☛ For next year’s class:

Probably the hardest class you could take here, but no class will teach you as much about storytelling than this one, whether you want to be a videographer or not.

☛ The class is great for thinking about telling stories through video.

The nature of the medium is demanding, and so is the class, but it seems to be paying off. Be open to different ways of telling stories and try to watch some good examples of web videos.

☛ Great class, exceptionally demanding,

Be prepared to learn a lot, and work really hard doing it – and doing much of it on your own in the field. Very worthwhile, but not for the faint of heart.

☛ I highly recommend taking this class, but take it during the spring/2nd semester

–not during the final/3rd semester. Why? Because during the final/3rd semester, you may be more concerned about your capstone and getting a job. I wish I were able to take this class in the spring semester because I would have been able to dedicate 110 percent to this class. Now, unfortunately, I am conflicted–torn between applying to jobs, doing my capstone, etc. If you’re able to do the fourth semester, then by all means, do it and take the class then (most 4th semester students take fewer classes throughout the program so you have more time to devote to your assignments).

That being said, you’ll get out of the class what you put in. It’s demanding, but doable.

VSW is a different type of video course. It’s challenging, unique and fun. He teaches you the one-man band method, which seems daunting, but it’s really not that bad. Plus, these are marketable skills. Bob is a great professor with a wealth of knowledge and he brings in some top experts who have incredible work.

Good luck!

☛ If you are interested in classic broadcast journalism:

don’t take this class. If you are interested in telling visual stories: go for it. If you want to add something to your broadcast experience: certainly go for this class. It is hard work, but at the end, it pays off. You get great examples, great discussions and a great way of teaching a class.

☛ For next year’s students: VSW is great,

but I would make sure you have the time to plan, shoot and edit. It’s time consuming, but the class is a fun/creative way of looking at stories. Looking at all the work folks put in will give anyone a profound appreciation for any three minute video they see in the media that doesn’t look crappy.

☛ Make sure you’re not taking another long-form class,

… like narrative. This class requires a lot of time–not just for production periods, but also for finding the perfect voices and images for your stories.

Deadlines approach faster beginning in the middle of the semester, which means you don’t have enough time to work on your stories. Make sure you stake out your story subjects FAR in advance so that you have sufficient time to work on them. It may seem cruel that Bob doesn’t give us enough time, but guess what: that’s how it is out there in the real world.

☛ Dear next class.

Expect to tell stories that have nothing to do with news. It’s nice. Forget about the corny broadcast TV discourse, forget about relaying information to viewers. Find things that interest you, stuff that you love. And get started NOW. Seriously. This stuff takes FOREVER.

Bob is really good at finding the ‘punctum’ of a story, something that pricks him in a certain way. He is good at finding the universal appeal of one person’s life.

The feedback that you get back from the class and from Bob is some of the best you will get in this school. It’s not a love meeting. It really makes you a better storyteller.

☛ I highly recommend the class

…to anyone who wants to learn or improve their visual storytelling skills. The class is demanding, so keeping on top of the class deadlines is a must.

☛ For the 2012ers:

The slower pace of the VSW class this year is appreciated. I assume that the idea is to give us more time to get into a mode where we can do quality work. Don’t waste any of this time. This VSW stuff takes time. Where a decent print piece might take a few hours, video can take days, and still be crap.

☛ Advice to the next class:

+ Budget time to edit the assignments. Sounds obvious, but with deadlines and mid-semester burnout, it happens. Make your life easier (and plan for unexpected glitches) by starting the editing process a few days before deadline.

+ If you’re not photographer and/or you’ve never taken out a photography class, check out a digital SLR photography for dummies book so you know what all those buttons mean and how to make your footage look its best. Another way to learn ISO/Aperture/shutter speed: play with this simulator

written Spring, 2011

This is the first semester for the Video Storytelling for the Web class and for me it’s been a ton of work but a great experience. I’m looking forward to tweaking some things next semester as a result of how things worked (or didn’t work) this semester.

In preparation for CUNY Grad Students to decide if they should take this class in the Fall of 2011, I asked the members of the class to give me their thoughts…

I have not deleted, edited or changed a single word. And I’ve reproduced every single answer.

☛ I would tell prospective students the following:

  • It’s demanding but manageable.  Be able to meet deadline
  • You have access to several different people that know a lot about FCP and the cameras
  • Be ready to get your hands dirty and get out into the field and do what real journalists do.  That means audio and video, sometimes flying solo.  It’s hard, but there’s only one way to learn

☛ As for what to say about the class,

it’s a lot of hard work and heavy lifting but the product you come out with is something you are proud off. We’ve all grew up watching these types of videos and being moved by them. It’s exciting to have the chance to finally make them.


☛ Tell the potential students:

After they take this class, they will feel more confident about telling stories in video. It takes away the fear of a camera and a making a movie, short or long one.


☛ To answer your question about what to say in the electives presentation:

I think the key thing about this class is that it is totally, totally different than Broadcast. I think some people did broadcast craft instead of VSW, but VSW is a completely distinct form, and I think that’s the one of the coolest things about the class.


☛ I think the class is also a kill-three-birds-with-one-stone kind of deal,

because you’ll end up improving your audio/radio skills and photo skills as well as video skills. It might also be good to mention that we have something due every week. But it’s a great class; I think everyone in it is excited about what we’re doing and learning so much. And we get the coolest gear.


☛ For your pitch to next semester’s class:

In my opinion, this class is really amazing, but it is really hard. Going through this semester, I sort of have a love/hate relationship with this class. I love what we’re doing and it excited me, but it’s definitely been a major source of stress. It requires A LOT of work, effort and dedication. I would definitely focus on all the exciting things about this class: cool cameras, shooting amazing quality videos, having so much creative freedom with the subjects we shoot and how we shoot it, and how fun it is…. but people should also be prepared for a lot of work.


☛ The class works if…

you don’t have other video classes at the same time. It offers a creative alternative to video broadcast.


☛ Like I said,

I would like to continue this course with a second semester VSW2. Every lecture is well-structured in a away that engages the class and sheds light on another tool or strategy to making great video for web (and for any other video medium as well). Critique and pitch sessions are guided in a way that make them very useful in making your story stronger. This is achieved by limiting the time and ensuring that comments stay on topic (e.g. what’s the story, what can make it better, rather than the audio should be turned up here or there). Each class period builds on the lessons of previous classes to enhance our knowledge and skills in successful web video storytelling. This class has challenged and pushed me to take my video storytelling to the next level and inspired me to transfer those skills to other coursework. I never feel like any assignments are ‘busywork.’ Each assignment is a carefully selected exercise that teaches us something new or makes us better at something we may already know. Also, feedback on each assignment is thorough, timely and helpful in improving for the next assignment. Expectations for the course are clear and reasonable. I’ve been advising all students who ask to take this course if they can.


✌ p.s.The names have been eliminated to protect the innocent…….by Bob Sacha, 28 March 2011, updated 26 October, 2011



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