Syllabus Spring 2013

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism  Jour72311 Video Storytelling for the Web, 3 credits

Instructor & Class Details: Bob Sacha_Thursday, 9.30-12.20 room 436

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

Bob Sacha Office hours: Thursday, 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 please text first then email and then call. I’ll usually answer text or email before voicemail.


Simon Surowicz & Samantha Stark_Monday, 2.00-4.50 room 438

Simon Surowicz

Simon’s office hours: Monday, 1 – 2 pm and 5-6:30 pm  in the cubicle farm.

Samantha Stark

Sam office hours: Mondays 1-2 p.m. and 5-6 p.m, or by appointment. In cubicles on the 4th floor. Cell (347) 327-1521.

*** 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 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 Canon DSLR cameras to shoot HD video, staying ahead of the industry trend.



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 3—Document a Location and edit it in ten shots (important elements are 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 4—Light and Mic a Subject for an interview 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 6—Document an Action or Event 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 12— 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 15 — 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

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

Assignments: are 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.

The assignment subjects will be, in order:

Assignment 1; due week 9—  A Person
Assignment 2; due week 14—  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 you will share ALL assets  and each person must cut their own version in FCP.
  • You must work solo for one the other projects.
  • 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.



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 Wednesday. 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 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 six( update: SEVEN) written journalistic elements which must be placed on Vimeo with the video. You have 5000 characters to accomplish all of these so use them wisely ..remember , a tweet is 140 characters so 5000 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)


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:           January 28 (Simon and Sam) / January 31 (Bob Sacha)

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
Turn In                 In-class sequence

Class TWO:           February 4 (SS) / February 07 (B)

Conversation       Reporting, 7 Basic Plots, Story Arc, Audio Basics, interviews, dual audio, choose a doc
Hands On              2 minute audio interviews of classmate
Student Work      play interviews, discuss story arc of interviews
Turn In                   Film Festival One vote by 5pm the day before class

Class THREE:     February 11 (SlS) / February 21 (B)

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
Turn In                  Film Festival Two vote; Exercise One uploaded BEFORE class

Class FOUR:       February 20 (Wednesday)(SlS) / February 28 (B)

Conversation     Power of Characters/ the Shot list,  Review basic FCP
Student Work     Shooting in Sequences, Paper edits
Hands On            2 min. story pitch in class, shot list for Assignment One
Turn In                Film Festival Three vote; Exercise Two uploaded BEFORE class

Class FIVE:         February 25 (SlS) / March 07 (B)

Hands On             Show  2 minute story cuts of docs
Conversation      Present 2 minute story Pitch
Student Work     Critique Assignment One Pitch
Turn In                  Pitch Assignment One and shot list in class

Class SIX:           March 4 (SlS) / March 14 (B)

Conversation       Journalism ethics of the edit, Advanced FCP,
Hands On              Present Exercise Three
Student Work      Critique Exercise Three
Turn In                    Exercise Three uploaded BEFORE class

Class SEVEN:     March 11 (SlS) / March 21 (B)

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



Class EIGHT:      March 18 (BEFORE SPRING BREAK for SlS) / April 04 (B)

Conversation       Graphics Powerful stills in web video,
Hands On              Present Rough Cut Assignment One
Student Work     Critique Rough Cut Assignment One
Turn In                  Rough Cut Assignment One uploaded BEFORE class

Class NINE:       April 8 (SlS) / April 11 (B)

Conversation      Better Visual Journalism,
Hands On              Present Assignment One
Student Work     Critique Assignment One
Turn In                  Assignment One Fine Cut uploaded BEFORE class

Class TEN:           April 15 (SlS) / April 18 (B)

Conversation       Guest:  Advanced Storytelling
Hands On              Present 2 minute Pitch, Assignment Two
Student Work      Critique Pitch,  Assignment Two
Turn In                   Pitch Assignment Two and shotlist

Class ELEVEN:  April 22 (SlS) / April 25 (B)

Conversation       Mastering FCP: Audio Mixing, Color Corrections
Hands On              Present Radio Cut & complete transcript of radio cut in class
Student Work     Critique Radio Cut
Turn In                   Radio Cut Assignment Two uploaded BEFORE class 

Class TWELVE:  April 29 (SlS) / May 02 (B)

Conversation        Web context
Hands On               Present Exercise 4
Student Work      Critique Exercise 4
Turn In                   Exercise 4 uploaded BEFORE class

Class THIRTEEN: May 6 (SlS) / May 09 (B)

Conversation       Web delivery services/ advanced Exports
Hands On               Present Rough Cut
Student Work      Working in the Real World
Turn In                    Rough Cut Assignment Two uploaded BEFORE class

Class FOURTEEN: May 13 (SlS) / May 16 (B)

Conversation        Guest who buys work (could be Skype)
Hands On               Present Fine Cut
Student Work      Critique Fine Cut
Turn In                    fine Cut of assignment TWO 
Uploaded BEFORE class

Class FIFTEEN:  May 20 (SlS) / May 23 (B)

Conversation        Guest who buys work (could be Skype)
Hands On               Present Exercise FIVE
Student Work      Critique Exercise FIVE
Turn In                    
Exercise Five Uploaded BEFORE class



Bob Sacha office hours:Thursday , 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 text is best with email next best.


Wonboo Woo- CUNY’s own rockstar video coach and NBCNews  producer.
Office hours :check with Wonbo via email

please email for appointment



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


#2 finding great stories


#3 on good taste


#4 on common pitfalls




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.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 fine cut assignment 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. YOu must send me an email when you post your revision.
this is the worksheet I used when I’m grading your pieces”


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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