By Simon Perez, Associate Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism, Syracuse University
The wish list for an MMJ can be long: sometimes it’s for a source to pick up the phone on the first call, sometimes it’s for an opportunity to work with a videographer, sometimes it’s for batteries that really do last as long as the meter on the outside says they will. These may or may not apply to you. But what every MMJ has wished for is more time.
The relentless tick-tick-tick of the seconds passing by during the day is in the back of the minds of all MMJs. There’s no getting around it. Every decision an MMJ makes is viewed through the lens of deadline. There’s no point in trying something if missing deadline is the consequence.
So, to that end, a few tips to help MMJs save time and make deadline:
1. Once is always faster than twice. This might seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget under extreme deadline pressure. When you’re scrambling to get that package edited and uploaded to the server, the temptation is to go faster. Don’t. Hurrying leads to mistakes, which you have to go back and correct. Speeding through the video export process, for example, might seem like a good idea, but when you realize you haven’t exported audio channel 2 and have to do it all over again, you’ve only made your job harder. Instead, go more slowly. Be methodical with your writing, editing, uploading, live shot setup. This will reduce mistakes, and, in the end, actually be faster.
2. Log what you’ve shot. Before writing a script, MMJs should review (log) the video, sound bites and natural sound they have. You don’t have to play through every sound bite or every piece of nat sound, you already know what the good stuff is – just review that. But make sure what you think is the good stuff really is there and really is good. You don’t want to write your package around a particular SOT, only to find out when you start to edit that the wireless mic gave out in the middle of that great sound. Without that SOT, you have to go back and re-write the entire script. Maintain the self-discipline to log before you write, because, invariably, the only time there will be a problem is the one time you skip this step.
3. Do it now, use it later. This point synthesizes the first two. Nearly all MMJs write a web story after they finish presenting their package during the newscast. That means at some point, they’re going to need the verbatim of the quotes. You might as well write down the verbatim for the web story while you’re logging the SOTs for the video story. Then when you sit down to write the web story, you don’t have to go back to see what the person actually said, you’ve already got it – copy and paste.
4. Make sub-clips. There are nearly as many ways to pick soundbites out of an interview as there are MMJs working on deadline. Some MMJs write down the time code, some put a marker at the beginning of each SOT, some drag all the potential soundbites down to the timeline before editing. To each his or her own. But I’ve found creating sub-clips is the most efficient way to choose SOTs during the logging process. Nearly all non-linear editing software programs have a sub-clip function. Basically, you put an in and out point around your SOT and then “make sub-clip.” This creates a new, separate file of only that SOT in your source bin. You can rename it to help remind you what was said (e.g., Mayor – I quit.) Now, when it’s time to edit, you neither have to go scroll through the entire interview to find the SOTs you want nor wade through a bunch of clutter on your timeline. Instead, you’ve got building blocks of SOTs neatly lined up in your source bin with all the rest of your package elements, ready to be dragged and dropped in an instant.
5. Listen to your mother - put your stuff away. MMJs have tons of equipment, and it’s all necessary. You might not think a mi-fi charging cable is that big a deal, until you don’t have access to wi-fi and you need to upload your package to the server, right now. One sure way to take years off your life is to frantically hunt for a vital piece of equipment on deadline. So, it’s a good idea to put your stuff away, in the same place, in the same way, every time. This establishes a routine, and allows your mind to go on auto pilot when the deadline pressure cranks up. Spare batteries, stick mic, extra SD cards - if we know where they are, we can find them quickly.
6. Pack your lunch!
Simon Perez is an associate professor of broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. In the summers of 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 he returned to his former job as reporter for KPIX TV in San Francisco. He has chronicled his newsroom experiences and the lessons he hopes to bring back to the classroom at http://www.simonperez.com/blog.