Video Storytelling for the Web Fall 2019

Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, JOUR73251




TUESDAY2p.m. – 4:50 p.m., Room TBA, CRN 63475, 3 credits


bio and examples of documentary work here and here; and video journalism here and here 

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


Best way to communicate is DM on Slack (Slack team TBA)





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 is an advanced video class. We will build on video concepts and skills you learned in Video Craft and Intro to Documentary to further develop your ability to tell craft engaging video stories through strong characters and compelling scenes.

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, though creative use of narration and/or reporter on camera may be used when appropriate. 

Students will frequently work solo, but may choose for one of the two main assignments to work as a team. You will be expected to transcribe your interviews and work with scripts before editing your piece. 

We’ll be using Canon C100 cameras to shoot HD video. You must edit in Adobe Premiere and you must have access to a computer with Premiere outside of school. Industry standards and favorites change, but 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:

  • Report and research a 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
  • 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.
  • Effectively edit video stories using several forms of media
  • Identify current and future trends in web video
  • Write short summaries, effective headlines and subheads for their stories keeping search engine optimization in mind

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


Don’t make the mistake of thinking that short-form visual journalism is easier than long-form documentary. Think of how hard it is write a brilliant headline, a perfect lede, or the ideal tweet. Short, compelling stories should stand out above the crowd. They should cut through the hundreds of visual messages we are bombarded with every day and say, ”Click here and be wowed.”

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


Please complete this feedback form after every class.


Working Solo vs. Working as a Team

  • As a video journalist in almost any production setting, you will be expected to be able to work as a one-man-band or as part of a team. You have done both of these things in your previous classes and you may find that you have a preference. Maybe you like total control, particularly as an editor. Maybe you enjoy having two minds at work. Because this is an advanced class, I am going to give you a choice.
  • In this class you will be required to do at least one of your two main assignments solo. However, you may choose to work as a team on one of your stories. Teams will not be assigned. You may work on a story together, but must get prior approval from me to do so. As you will submit one final video, we will discuss how the work will be distributed to ensure equal work between you and work that is comparable to fellow students in the class working solo.
  • My expectations are high for all of you, but if you are working as a team, I expect to see those extra resources reflected in the final product, e.g., more shoots, multi-camera interviews, more polished editing, etc.


Assignment 1

due week 08  

An Odd Job/Passion Project

You will introduce your viewers to the people and world of an “odd job” or an unusual project that deeply defines a person or group. 

This topic is just a starting point for you to find an interesting story that surprises and engages us. People who do very unusual things tend to be interesting characters and the “oddness” often lends itself to something visual. But it doesn’t have to be an actual “job” or profession. Interpret this assignment as loosely as you see fit.

Most people take this to mean a character profile of someone who does something bizarre, quirky, dangerous, or just something people haven’t thought about. And there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the video is well done. But there are a lot of “maker” videos out there on the internet, so let’s try not to add to the glut. Your approach should be from a storytelling perspective, not feel like a promotional video for your character’s website. This does not have to be character profile.

This story from Vice about a group of New Yorkers who hunt rats with a pack of dogs is a great “odd job” story that lends itself to present-tense storytelling. This is a a delightful character profile that is as quirky as its subject. And here’s a story about a group of men who have a nudist painting group (originally produced for this class in 2016). 


Assignment 2

due week 14  

A Pilot for a Non-Fiction Series

You will pitch a web series that feels relevant, timely and engaging. You will develop a pitch that includes three episodes with developed story ideas and characters. You will only produce the pilot episode. When thinking about a series, consider that it should not feel so specific as to be limiting (i.e., all episodes will feel too similar) or so broad that it doesn’t feel like a series at all. You may use a reporter on cam in your series, but it should feel natural to the style of the series and add to the storytelling. 

The Vox web series Borders, and ambitious series telling stories from country borders by Vox is a good use of reporter on cam. 

Some interesting online series include Robotica, a science/business series from The New York Times (sponsored by Intel); The Regulars, a wonderful everyday series from the SanFrancisco Chronicle; and Endurance Test, a series from Nowness about people pushing the limits of mind and body.

Use this template for your pitch
Those working on their capstone in this class may consider pitching their series at the start of class and producing two episodes as their capstone project.



  • Exercises will constitute 25 percent of your final grade.  
  • Extra points may be awarded for creativity.
  • Points will be subtracted for lateness.
  • Each exercise will be done solo.
  • Upload your exercises to Acclaim. Be sure to title them with your name in the beginning of the title.


Exercise 1; due week 2 

Document a location with “sights 
and sounds”

Document a location using visuals and ambient sound creatively and edit it in a minimum of ten shots. This should be a place that will be seen in ASSIGNMENT 1. You can use music, but you don’t have to. Consider this a one-minute “visual poem.”


Important elements: shots that tell a story, sequencing, good clean composition, focus, exposure, proper white balance, use of ambient audio. Edit for pacing and rhythm.

Here’s one that Bob Sacha shot.

This exercise is pass/fail.



Exercise 2; due week 4 

Build a scene

Capture a scene where something unfolds in front of the camera. Build the scene as something that might open your story or transition us from one part of the story to another. There is no use of interview or characters addressing the camera. We should feel like flies on the wall, experiencing something that piques our interest, either by making us want to know what happens next, or by giving us insight into a character or characters.

NO interview.

Important elements are that something happens and that it is edited to capture a moment.

This exercise is graded for technical proficiency and effectiveness in present-tense storytelling and editing.


Exercise 3; due week 5
A personal story

This is a story where you are the main character. The style and format are up to you, but it should be a story. The goal of this exercise is to evoke an emotional response in the viewer. That’s always the goal in storytelling, but in this case, you have the advantage of knowing your main character better than you will ever know any other character that you film, so dig deep and surprise us. Remember, there are a full range of emotions: surprise, fear, joy, laughter (humor), sympathy and sadness.

This video should be under two minutes. You may use a second shooter in filming this story.

We will do one revision of this story.

This exercise is graded for concept, technical proficiency and creativity.



Exercise 4; due week 15 

Create a short trailer/social video for your Web Series

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 autoplays video without sound).

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

You will also create the content for a social media post to engage people with your story. 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. Try to engage your audience.

This exercise is pass/fail.


  • We will have three “film festivals ” where you will post a link to a published online video that you find inspiring or compelling or instructive
  • Your participation is required in both posting films and voting in each film festival.
  • Videos do not have to be strictly journalism, but they must be non-fiction. Submission must not be longer than 8 minutes
  • You will post the URL of your submission for the film festival to the correct channel in Slack. Remember to choose the correct Film Festival number.
  • Everyone must watch the videos and cast their vote for the strongest submission the day before class.

CLASSES Week by Week, Fall 2018


This is graduate school so we assume all of you are adults and we will strive 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 and/or poor attendance




Your final grade for the class will be calculated as follows:

50%  Two main video assignments 
          Your first assignment is worth 20 percent and the second one is worth 30 percent (see below for assignment grading breakdown)
25%  Main exercises
          Two of your exercises are pass/fail and two are graded
15%  In-class exercises and in-class participation
 Includes in-class engagement, following instruction, offering good ideas and feedback to fellow students, film festivals

10%  Attendance, punctuality and communication
Being in class and on time, keeping in contact on progress of stories, organization and planning


If you are doing your capstone in this class, your final capstone grade will be weighed additionally into your final grade in the class. This will differ for each project depending on how the video work of your capstone is done in relation to the class assignments. That said, the capstone grade, together with your main video assignments, will account for 60 percent of your final grade. So for those doing their capstone in this class, your final grade is calculated as follows:

         60%  Main assignments and capstone
         20%  Main exercises
         20%  In-class exercises, class participation, attendance and communication


Your first assignment will be graded using the following metric:

45%  Pitch, Storytelling and Impact
30%  Technical Skills (Framing, Focus, Exposure, White Balance, Sound Quality)

25%  Editing (Creativity, Editing Style, Revisions, Transcript, Poster Frame)

Your web series grade will give more weight to the concept and pitch as follows: 

        50%  Web Series Pitch, Series Concept, Storytelling and Impact
        25%  Technical Skills 
        25%  Editing

Grades on a 100-point scale:

A+     98 – 100        A future Online Journalism Award winner perhaps?
A       92 – 97          
Publishable quality, with minor edits or questions
A-      89 – 91          
Nearly publishable, with just a few minor issues
B+     86 – 88          
Better than just good … with more work, it could possibly be published
B       81 – 85          
Good, solid work with several minor issues or a single major problem
B-      78 – 80          
Decent work with several bigger issues
C+     75 – 77          
Missing obvious or essential elements to make it complete, major issues with the execution
C       71 – 74          
Gaping holes in reporting, story doesn’t make sense, severe issues with the product
C-      65 – 70          
F        0 – 65          
 Just don’t get here

You’ll have two weeks from the day you receive the final cut feedback to revise your final cut. Your final assignment grade will be the average grade of the final cut and the revised cut. If you miss the final cut deadline, you will also forfeit your chance to revise.

This is a sample worksheet that I use for grading your stories:


We have coaches available with a huge wealth of video expertise. Use them or we’ll lose them! Please make an appointment.

  • Rashida Jones: Senior Vice President of Specials, NBC; Broadcast, writing, storytelling, reporting, resume tapes, career guidance; Office Hours by appointment. Email:
  • Bob Sacha, Video storytelling, video for social media, 360 Video, Virtual Reality, Multimedia – Cubicle 419L. Office Hours by appointment:
  • Emmanuel Alexandre (Broadcast staff), Cameras/DSLR, Lighting, Cinematography for non-ficton, Documentary filmmaking, Premiere/Video Editing – Room 338. Office Hours by appointment. Email:
  • Sebastian Bednarski (Broadcast staff), Cameras/DSLR, Premiere/Video Editing, Videography – Room 336.  Office Hours by appointment. Email:
  • Setty McIntosh (Broadcast staff), Premiere/Video Editing, Motion Graphics, Graphic Design, Videography – Room 342.  Office Hours by appointment. Email:
  • Onel Mulet (Broadcast staff), Pro Tools audio editing/mixing, Premiere Pro video editing DaVinci color correction, field and studio audio recording and mixing, Reaper, Adobe Audition, and Digital Photography – Room 334. Office Hours by appointment. Email:


  • You will need your own portable hardrive that is at least 1TB, 7200 rpm and USB 3.0. You must have a second drive with at least much memory for a cloned backup of your projects. A BACKUP OF YOUR WORK IS REQUIRED.
  • You will also need your own digital media card for the cameras. A 32GB sdxc high speed card is a good start, though I usually use a 64GB one. Be sure the speed of the card is at least Class 10, like this one. I strongly recommend having two cards.
  • 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.


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 Block has 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]

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 percent 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 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.



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

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

I will provide a copy of all the notes from my presentations in class in our Slack channel. Your computer should only be open in class if we are editing. 

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.




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’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.

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.



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 African Americans, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, white women, the LGBT community, and underpriveleged 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. Use those people in the office, the usual suspects of “experts” as research, not as voices in your video.

Strive to tell stories that are free of euphemisms and stereotypes and that portray your subjects in a non-stereotypical 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 ME.

Again, I 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.


@2019 Bob Sacha, Nyier Abdou

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